Richard Bushman is the world’s foremost scholar on LDS church founder Joseph Smith. He is also a former LDS church stake president and patriarch, and is an active, devout church member. This interview is a re-release of the interview conducted by John Dehlin on Mormon Stories Podcast conducted in January, 2007.
I just learned of “A Thoughful Faith” podcast and was excited to see the 5-part interview with Richard Bushman. I downloaded them, synched my iPod and took off on a hike in one of Southern Utah’s marvelous red rock canyons, ear buds inserted. By the time I got back to my car, I had listened to all five podcasts!
I can’t thank you enough for making these interviews available! I am one of those people who was described repeatedly in the podcast (i.e., became disillusioned by the disparity between what the historical record indicates and what is taught institutionally by the LDS church). Dr. Bushman referred to a “black and white” type of thinking that will “get people in trouble” when they try to reconcile the historical record with the version they get in Church. I have an important point to make regarding this: Black and white thinking is cultivated in the LDS church. Therein lays the problem. It’s a non-sequitur to cultivate black and white thinking then expect members to be anything other than disillusioned when they are confronted with a thousand shades of gray. Disillusionment is not an aberration, it’s the norm.
I met Dr. Bushman in person back in 1997. I just finished reading his book “Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism.” While I enjoyed the book and thought it an accurate biography of Joseph Smith, it did not build my testimony or my faith. I sent Dr. Bushman an email, asking for further clarification on specific points in his book. He suggested that I pay him a visit. He happened to be a visiting scholar at the Huntington Library in San Marino, CA. He was so gracious to visit with me and even bought my lunch. I sat with him in the Huntington gardens and we talked for about two hours. He told me I would never “know” the church is true the way I “know” that other material things exist. That wasn’t news to me. Part 5 of the podcast reminded me of our conversation that day. He suggested I focus on what is good in the church and hoped that I would find like-minded members in the wards where I would attend.
Since then I have lived in three states and attended church in several wards and held many callings. In none of these places have I found it possible to discuss church history honestly and openly. While I continue active in the church I have given up on the hope that I will ever be able to have an honest discussion about church history at church. This type of discussion is discouraged institutionally and individually. I find it very sad, but long ago gave up hoping it would happen. So I am grateful that at least I can listen to a podcast and feel validated in my questions and thought process.
I’m hooked on your podcast. Keep up the good work!
Gerald I feel like I con completely relate to what you are saying. I feel like there are those that I rub shoulders with at church who have similar feelings as you and I do, but the environment just isn’t inviting enough to discuss them. I’ll be honest that I have strong doubts about the origins of the church I find it difficult to feel like i fit in with the rest of the LDS members at church. I haven’t listened to this podcast yet but I have read a rough stone rolling I really have found a breath of fresh air to hear an active Mormon who isn’t afraid to confront the good and bad of Joseph Smith. I’m a medical student and I feel as the more I learn the more and more diffiult it is for me to believe, but I just wish I could have a conversation like this with people at church because as it is now, I feel that it will be very difficult for me to stay active. Anyways, I hope you can respond to this.
Just because someone may know everything about Church history or Joseph Smith, etc, doesn’t mean they understand or see it correctly.
People usually believe what they want to believe and ignore true principles and go along with falsehoods no matter how much knowledge they may have.
There are people who have the scriptures practically memorized or who study them hours a day their whole life but who don’t understand them or live them righteously.
As Christ and even Joseph Smith taught, it takes the very rare trait of ‘Charity’ as well as knowledge, to really understand the Gospel and history or people or leaders and to know if they were righteous or not.
I would like to see authors interviewed who truly believe in Christ and Joseph Smith and who understand and stand by their teachings, like the Prices who wrote the book ‘Joseph Smith Fought Polygamy’. They may not be as scholarly as Bro. Bushman, but they seem to understand and believe in Joseph Smith’s testimony and teachings, and not in all vile unfair unproven hearsay against him despite the amount. They seem to understand what a true prophet is like and needs to be in order for people to listen to him.
It is clear and unfortunate that Bro. Bushman sides with Brigham Young’s testimony and doctrines and does not believe in Joseph Smith and his testimony and teachings nor Christ’s.