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The Mormon Myth about Alice Cooper

caption id=”attachment_1130″ align=”alignleft” width=”150″ caption=”Alice Cooper at the Scream Awards in 2007″][/caption]

If you’re Mormon, you’ve probably heard the myth that Alice Cooper was a Mormon.  Most of you have probably dismissed the myth as complete hogwash.  Well, it turns out there is an element of truth to the myth.  For example, his father’s middle name is Moroni and his grandfather was an apostle!  Yes it is true!

Alice Cooper was born with the name Vincent Damon Furnier in Detroit, Michigan.  His  father was a preacher by the name of Ether Moroni Furnier for The Church of Jesus Christ, based in Monongahela, Pennsylvania.  Cooper’s grandfather Thurman Sylvester Furnier served as an apostle for the church.  The church is also known as the Bickertonite church, and has roots with Sidney Rigdon.  According to Cooper’s biography, he was active in the church until the age of 11 or 12.  His family moved to Phoenix, Arizona when he was about 16 years old.

So, I thought it might be nice to give some information about his church.  As you may remember, just prior to Joseph Smith’s death, he was running for President of the United States.  His Vice Presidential candidate was Sidney Rigdon.  The US Constitution prohibits the President and Vice President from residing in the same state, so Joseph sent Sidney on a mission to his home state of Pennsylvania to establish residency.  Rigdon settled near Pittsburgh (the place of his birth) when he received the news of Joseph’s death.  Rigdon was there just a few weeks.

Rigdon returned to Nauvoo with the rest of the apostles.  There was a special meeting on August 8, 1844.  I blogged about it previously when I discussed the Sidney Rigdon Biography I read.  Let me quote the stunning meeting again.

As Assistant President of the Church, and also known as “Spokesman for the Church”, Sidney told Jedidiah Grant ‘that he felt prepared to claim “the Prophetic mantle” and that he would “now take his place at the head of the church, in spite of men or devils, at the risk of his life.’  Rigdon seems to have underestimated Brigham Young, who had succession ideas as well.  From page 338, “Rigdon was without question Young’s oratorical superior, but Young, never a passive observer, was more clever, ambitious, and politically astute.  Not content to let the mantle of leadership pass him by, he simply wrestled it away from Rigdon in mid-descent.”

On August 8, 1844, the saints met for what was supposed to be merely a prayer meeting.  From page 339,

Hyde reported that Rigdon was just “about to ask for an expression of the people by vote; when lo! to his grief and mortification, [Brigham Young] stepped upon the stand… and with a word stayed all the proceedings of Mr. Rigdon.  Young, who later recalled the event in 1860, stated:  “[W]hen I went to meet Sidney  Rigdon on the ground I went alone, and was ready along to face and drive the dogs from the flock.”

Anyway, most of you know that Rigdon and Young excommunicated each other.  Rigdon went back to Pittsburgh and started his own church.  In the appendix is a reference to the Bickertonites on page 473.

Sidney’s Rigdon’s Church of Jesus Christ of the Children of Zion disintegrated within a decade after his death.  And both the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints relegated him to footnote status when their official histories were written.  But the Church of Jesus Christ, a small sect organized in 1862 by William Bickerton, still venerates Rigdon.

Bickerton, an 1845 convert to Sidney Rigdon’s Church of Christ, found himself adrift after Rigdon’s failures in Pittsburgh and the Cumberland Valley.  For a brief period in the early 1850s Bickerton affiliated with a branch of the Utah Mormons at West Elizabeth, Pennsylvania, although he personally declared that “his testimony… is that the blessing he received came thru obedience to the restored Gospel in 1845 with Rigdon’s people.”

After the Utah church publicly announed its long-term practice of polygamy in 1852, Bickerton left that organization.  In 1854 he held a successful conference in West Elizabeth at which several persons were baptized.  By 1858 he had attained a following of nearly 100 persons and had organized them into branches in Wheeling, West Virginia; Pine Run, Allegheny; and Greenock, Pennsylvania.

In an 1859 conference Bickerton was acknowledged as a prophet by his followers.  Two years later he was sustained a “Prophet and President of the Church” with counselors Charles Brown and Beorge Barnes.  During a July 1862 conference at Greenock twelve apostles and a number of evangelists were ordained.  The church was officially organized during this conference although not legally incorporated until 10 June 1865.

The church, which maintains its world headquarters today in Monongahela, Pennsylvania, at last report numbered 10,000 members.  The current First Presidency is Dominic Thomas, Paul Palmieri, and Robert Watson.  The church is organized into seven districts in the U.S., and has missions in Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, Kenya, Nigeria, India, England, Italy, Holland, and Germany.

The Bickertonite Church is the 3rd largest Mormon sect, behind the LDS Church and RLDS Church (known now as the Community of Christ.)  Alice Cooper’s grandfather was an apostle of this church.  I think it’s pretty safe to say that Cooper was raised with a pretty firm knowledge of the Book of Mormon.

I’ve heard Cooper attends a Methodist Church, and an Assembly of God Church.  I don’t know if either of these rumors are true.  He has been interviewed and said,

 

 

 

Although he tends to shy away from speaking publicly of his faith, Cooper has confirmed in interviews that he is in fact a born again Christian.[Article in which Cooper speaks at some length about his faith and career][World Net Daily article in which Cooper speaks of his wish to shun so called celebrity Christianity] He has avoided so called “celebrity Christianity” because, as Cooper states himself: “It’s really easy to focus on Alice Cooper and not on Christ. I’m a rock singer. I’m nothing more than that. I’m not a philosopher. I consider myself low on the totem pole of knowledgeable Christians.[Interview with Radio Talk Show HostDrew Marshall] So, don’t look for answers from me”.[Cooper speaking in a a World Net Daily article]

When asked by the British Sunday Times newspaper in 2001 how a rebellious shock-rocker could be a Christian, Cooper is credited with providing this response “Drinking beer is easy. Trashing your hotel room is easy. But being a Christian, that’s a tough call. That’s real rebellion!”[Cooper’s response to The Sunday Times is quoted in an online Good News magazine article dealing with well known rock musicians who have a Christian faith]

So, what do you make of the Bickertonite’s most famous member?  I don’t believe Bickertonite’s like to call themselves “Mormons”, but they firmly believe in the Book of Mormon, so I think the label could apply in this case.  So no, Alice Cooper is not technically a Mormon, but I bet the rumors hold a bit more truth than you ever believed.  Am I right?

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14 comments on “The Mormon Myth about Alice Cooper

  1. Just to be a stickler, and to add some trivia, the Constitution does not prohibit the Pres and VP to be from the same state. It requires that the electoral college of a particular state to cast their vote for one member of the ticket (Pres or VP) who is not from their state.

    So, for example, if Cheney had not switched his residency from Texas prior to the 2000 election, the State of Texas could not have given its electoral votes to both Bush and Cheney.

  2. At some point when I was tracking down the source of this myth, I found one quote that Cooper had said that he was familiar with the Book of Mormon from his upbringing and believed that it was true. However, this source is now nowhere to be found. It seems plausible, but I think more plausibly Cooper attends a mainstream Christian church now and then and doesn’t stay in touch with his Bickertonite roots at all.

    Also, “Pick Up The Bones” rocks.

  3. He goes to church incognito.

  4. firetag, who is the most famous rlds person? I know bruce jenner went to graceland, but he is not a member.

  5. I had always heard growing up that Cooper was a member of the RLDS church. I guess that is closer to the truth than Mormon.

    Is there any record in the scriptures where different people claimed/fought for prophethood?
    Just seems shifty to me. You would think that God would make it clear who the new prophet was assuming the original prophet was really a prophet. Same goes for the one who replaced him.

  6. Chicken, thanks for the clarification on the constitution. I’m definitely not a constitutional scholar.

    Bishop Rick, “Is there any record in the scriptures where different people claimed/fought for prophethood?”

    The Bible is written to show a simplistic, natural evolution of the true faith of the Jews, so it isn’t going to emphasize divisions on theology. That would be counter to the “one true gospel” narrative that the Bible editors want to show. As Richard Friedman stated in the Documentary Hypothesis, the Bible appears to come from 2 sources: the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. While the editors tried to weave the 2 narratives together, it seems that the Bible seems to emphasize southern, Tribe of Judah prophets. The stories we see of Amos, for example, are a southern prophet calling the northerners to repent. We don’t see it the other way around.

    Many of the ancient Biblical Jews worshiped Jehovah in a pantheon of gods, along with Asherah, Baal, etc. Now there are stories of Elijah bringing the idol worshipping priests and having a contest to see who could call fire down from heaven (of course Elijah won that battle), so I suppose you could consider the Baal worshippers as a form of prophet, though it’s not exactly analogous to a Bickertonite prophet, or Strangite prophet, or RLDS prophet.

    BiV over at Mormon Matters discussed the divided kingdoms of Israel/Judah with the schismatic Mormon groups. I loved FireTag’s response to my comment over there. I said,

    Is the kingdom divided? I guess the answer is yes, technically. The 2nd largest group is the RLDS, but they aren’t even 2% as large as the LDS church. the next largest group is the Bickertonites and they are about 4% of the RLDS in size. These other restoration churches are really a drop in the bucket compared to the LDS church, so I have a hard time calling our kingdom divided in any practical sense.

    FireTag said,

    Less a divided kingdom, I think, and more like fragments forming a tail of a comet.

    Sometimes FireTag has some really vivid imagery! 🙂

  7. Good point. Of course the Bible would not show any internal struggles. I wonder if there are any writings which DO mentions internal struggles, but were simply left out of the canon for that very reason.

  8. Well, I can’t speak for really ancient Judaism (because I don’t know), but I can speak a bit of Gnosticism. (Sorry to keep bringing it up.) Anyway, the Gospel of Judas elevates Judas as being smarter than all the other 11 apostles. So that is an example of rivalry a bit. The problem is that the Gospel of Judas pretty much ends the story at the betrayal. Gnostic beliefs were that the body was a waste, and that for true enlightenment, one must shed the body. Judas helped Jesus shed his body. So if the gospel accounts are correct that Judas commit suicide, perhaps Judas was more interested in shedding his body for enlightenment than establishing a church. Nonetheless, Gnostics (or at least who ever wrote the Gospel of Judas–it certainly couldn’t have been Judas) venerated Judas as the only righteous, enlightened apostle. Judas was the one whom Jesus trusted most, and obtained secret knowledge that the other apostles simply weren’t aware of because they weren’t righteous enough. The Gospel of Judas really is a polemic attack against Orthodox Christianity.

    There are also many scholars that claim that Jesus brother, James was actually the leader of the ancient church, rather than the traditional claim of Peter. Certainly Peter and Paul had some spats over who was right on the Law of Circumcision, though it appears that Paul acquiesced to Peter. Obviously if this were true, it would have repercussions not only for Catholics that believe Peter was the head of the ancient church, but also for Mormons that believe Peter, James, and John restored the Melchizedek Priesthood. (But perhaps we could rephrase it as James, Peter, and John….)

    I just picked up a book called “Lost Books of the Bible” by William Hone. It contains many books left out of the biblical canon, such as Mary, Nicodemus, The Apostles’ Creed, Ignatius Epistle to Philippians, 1-3 Hermas, The Lost Gospel According to Peter, and a bunch more. I’ve already got a busy reading list, but it was on sale last night and I couldn’t pass it up. Most of these books are short, so I may do a series of posts on them, but I don’t know when. My current StayLDS book club is already about 8 months long.

  9. I’m not sure Paul really acquiesced. He never reversed his position on circumcision. He may have performed circumcisions, but that doesn’t mean he believed they were necessary for salvation. He said otherwise in Galatians, Colossians and Philippians.

    I have read that it was James also, but I don’t understand how this affects PJ&J restoring the Melchizedek priesthood. Please explain.

  10. Most biblical commentators that I have listened to have said that Paul loves to brag about his showdown, but the fact of the matter is Peter later asked Paul to circumcise a new convert, so it doesn’t really sound like Paul won, despite his bluster. But that’s a subject for another day…

    As for Peter, both Catholics and Mormons quote the scripture that it is upon Peter, whom Christ will build his rock. Therefore Peter is seen as the head of the ancient Christian church. If it was really James, the brother of Jesus, then why is Peter getting all the credit? John Hamer mentioned this in a recent interview with John Dehlin and compared it to Joseph and Hyrum.

    If Hyrum had lived through the martyrdom, as Assistant President of the Church, he would have been the most logical choice to lead the early Mormon church, and there likely would have been no succession crisis. But since he died too, there was a succession crisis, because there really was no clear #3.

    It makes a lot of sense that James, the brother of Jesus would have led the church. This is where I get a bit rusty, but I believe that both Peter and Paul paid tithes to James in Jerusalem, which would seem to indicate that James was really the leader of the ancient church. LDS quote the scripture about Peter where Jesus gives him the power to bind on earth, and in heaven. (Catholics use the same scripture to signify he was the first pope.) But if James was really the head of the church, then Peter is really in a supporting role. It would seem that James (supported by Peter and John) should have been the one to restore the Melchizedek Priesthood to Joseph and Oliver, rather than Peter supported by James and John. (And there were 2 James in the original apostles. James, Jesus brother is also called James the Great, and the other James who is known as James the Less. I’ve always wondered which James was part of the 3-some, but I assume it was Jesus’ brother. Perhaps John Hamer is reading this and can straighten me out.

  11. @Bishop Rick
    For an example internal strugle within early Christianity, see Galatians 2.

  12. Never mind. I see that Mormon Heretic already alluded to this conflict. Carry on…

  13. […] traces its roots to Joseph Smith.  I previously discussed its most famous former member, rock star Alice Cooper.  I thought I could give a bit more history of this church and discuss basic beliefs.  Larry […]

  14. Awesome post! I completely thought this was a rumor with no element of truth to it.

    I think it is fine to call the Bickertonites Mormons b/c isn’t that why Mormons are Mormons? They believe in the Book of Mormon…maybe a intersting future post could be where Mormons got their name?

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