CES Reply: Lunch with Jeremy Runnells

So it’s not quite Pope Francis meeting President Nelson, but it was still pretty cool.

That’s me on the left and, on the right, Jeremy Runnells, author of the CES Letter, a man I’ve wanted to meet since I first began my reply to his work back in 2016.

So you may have a lot of questions, and I probably don’t have as many answers as you might like. The rules of the lunch were that it was just going to be Jeremy and Jim breaking bread with each other. Nothing was recorded, and we spoke “off the record.” This wasn’t an attempt to dig up dirt that we could use on our respective websites; it was an opportunity to get to know each other as human beings.

And what I learned is that Jeremy Runnells, live and in person, is quite a delightful human being.

That doesn’t mean we don’t still disagree, or that I was able to convince him to rejoin the Church, or that he has convinced me to leave it. Rather, it was a fulfillment of my father’s wisdom. Dad always used to say that it’s very hard to hate someone once you get to know them. I think that’s a lesson that people in and out of the Church sometimes forget.

So how did it happen?

Well, my podcast conversations with Bill Reel led to Jeremy reaching out to me with his reactions in an email. We went back and forth, and then I suggested we talk it to over hamburgers, and he agreed immediately. It really was that easy.

Getting there wasn’t as easy. We were going to meet at Cubby’s in Lehi, and like Michael Scott driving into a lake when his GPS gave him and directions, I ended up at the Cubby’s in American Fork. He waited longer than he should have for me to get to the right place, and the first few minutes of our meeting involved me apologizing profusely for my terrible sense of direction.

We then talked about our backgrounds. Both of us grew up in Southern California, so there was a lot of common ground there. He served his LDS mission in Manhattan, and some of my earliest memories were visiting my grandparents who served as mission presidents in the Church’s old mission home at 976 5th Avenue, kitty corner from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and right across from Central Park. I told him my wife has given me permission to buy that mansion once we have a billion dollars.

So it was light and friendly until Jeremy finally had the courage to say, “So what inspired you to go after me?”

And so we got into it. We talked about the Church – why I stay, and why he left. We went over some of the issues in the letter and the reply, and we got a better sense of where each of us are in terms of our individual faith journeys. I thought we were open and frank with each other, but I never felt like he was being unkind or argumentative. I also realized that there were several things in my reply that were unnecessarily combative or insulting, as well as several items that are either out-of-date or entirely inaccurate.

To begin with, Jeremy wasn’t too happy with the goofy graphic that kicks off the second version of my reply. It shows Jeremy’s head on Joseph Smith’s body, with him expounding from the CES Letter as if it’s a copy of the Book of Mormon. Next to him, there’s a picture of my face – unshaven, with disheveled hair – superimposed on a hobo’s body, with a knapsack labeled “CES Reply” on the end of a stick.

Now from my perspective, this was an attempt to be self-deprecating – after all, he’s the prophet; I’m the hobo. But I can see how that can be interpreted as more insulting than I had intended it to be. I plan to take that out and replace it with the picture at the top of this blog post.

In the latest version of the reply, I also take issue with the several times Jeremy has publicly insulted his critics, specifically names he has called BYU Professor Daniel Peterson. I also recounted the incident where he refused to allow Tarik LaCour, a faithful Latter-day Saint preparing his own reply to the CES Letter, the opportunity to buy a printed copy.

Jeremy told he has privately apologized to Daniel Peterson and that Dr. Peterson has accepted his apology. He also pointed out that he has publicly apologized to Tarik LaCour and even provided him with a free printed copy of his CES Letter. I plan to remove my criticisms about those incidents from my reply as well.

Lastly, Jeremy made it clear that I was dead wrong about how much money he was making from the CES Letter. I had been told that in 2016, he was making $10k a month in donations, and I put that figure in my latest reply and speculated that that figure had only grown with time.

Jeremy insisted that his best month ever was $6k, not $10k, and that he averages about $3k per month. I also mistakenly stated in my reply that the CES Letter is Jeremy’s full-time job, and it is not. He works in Internet marketing – I can’t remember the title he used, but he made it clear that he’s not getting rich off of post-Mormonism. I plan to update that information in a new version of my reply.

Please note that it may take two or more weeks to edit the entire reply and put up a new PDF. I hope Jeremy and the rest of you can be patient with me, and that you can take this blog post as a sign of good faith that those corrections will eventually be made, and the incorrect text as it now stands does not represent my current position.

I don’t know what else to add. I want to honor the terms of the discussion and not try to betray any confidences or say anything negative. Although I don’t think either of us said anything during the lunch that we haven’t said elsewhere – i.e. there were no hidden secrets or bombshells that would surprise anyone. What was most surprising to me, however, was that the lunch, which was scheduled to last an hour, lasted for three hours, and it could have easily gone on much longer if we’d had the time.

So I want to publicly thank Jeremy for agreeing to meet with me and for demonstrating that good people can hold sharply divergent opinions and still be kind to each other. There’s nothing you can’t accomplish over a few burgers, as long as you go to the right location and don’t ask me for directions.