Steven Shields has been studying various Mormon schismatic groups since he was in Seminary in the 1970s. We’ll get acquainted with him in this first episode, and learn more about his background, and why he got so interested in our Mormon cousins. What does he know about the temple lot? There are several sections in the Doctrine & Covenants where Joseph Smith received revelations on a temple in Missouri. That temple was never built. Who owns the original temple lot on Independence, Missouri? It turns out some of our Mormon cousins own it.
Steve: The Hedrickites is a name that people use. I don’t like to use -ites or schism or break off or offshoot or splinter. I’ve tried to avoid all of that language in my new addition because I don’t think it’s helpful. All that stuff started out as pejorative, and in some ways it’s still used as a pejorative.
And so I thought, let’s try and get away from that, you know? We don’t say Pope-ites or Luther-ites or those kinds of things. So maybe we can get out of that mode in the Latter Day saint movement, I don’t know.
GT: There’s too many -ites in the Book of Mormon.
Steve: That’s where it all probably comes from. I guess. I’ll let you keep Israelites. But yeah, to be honest, my paper on the earliest church was an anti-RLDS apologetic and my seminary teachers loved it.
We’ll talk more about how Steve go interested in our Mormon cousins. Find out our next conversation….
If you’re interested in other groups, here’s an interview with Jim Vun Cannon, Counselor in the Remnant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
We’re about ready to finish our conversation with John Hamer and Lachlan MacKay of the Community of Christ and do a Mormon Schisms Tour! In this next conversation, we’ll talk about how confusing it must have been to live following the death of Joseph Smith.
John: You might have a branch where at a certain point, you’ve heard Joseph Smith has been killed. You are very sad. Brighamite missionaries come through. They say the Twelve are now in charge and things like that. Everyone says, “Hey, now we got it. We’ve read about that in the newspaper and this kind of thing.” Then, a couple of months later, somebody from Voree comes with the Voree Herald and they explain how the Twelve are in apostasy, and this and that, and why all of the prophetic gifts that prove that Strang is the successor, and they are like, “Oh, we’re Strangites now.”
There isn’t anything in particular that necessarily happens for the branch. So like I say for the Hedrickites, they are one of five, maybe, of these branches that are in a cluster around Bloomington, Illinois. I think probably at some point or another, they will have been affiliated with Strang, but at a certain point, maybe when he “affiliated,” whatever it even means. Strangite missionaries will come through there, and that’s one of the reasons why maybe they didn’t gather and go west.
We’ll talk about the founding of the RLDS Church.
John: This is the origin of the Reorganization. So the branches start to pray about it. They fall back on individual personal revelations for the individual congregations, the pastors. They start meeting together. As they are thinking about it, William Smith has a church in the meantime and William Smith has been promoting the idea of lineal succession. There has been, (I think I mentioned a while ago), there’s the sense that Joseph Smith’s posterity, somebody, one of his sons is going to be the successor or will emerge as the successor. They start to regather these branches and the form a conference organization, which is a loose structure. There’s no corporate entity here still.
So they pass resolutions together in conferences where they say they are going to wait for one of Joseph Smith’s sons, probably Joseph Smith III to emerge to receive the prophetic calling and to accept that mantle. So when that happens in 1860, he comes to a conference of the New Organization, what becomes the Reorganization and what becomes Community of Christ, then that becomes something that all these little branches start to get really excited about. Fairly quickly, then that Reorganization draws from all the different tradition churches, including people who had gone west who are dissatisfied with what was going on under Brigham Young in Utah.
It turns out that some other Mormon schismatic groups are contemporaries of Joseph Smith III. John talks briefly about several of these churches, “There’s more –ites; that’s hardly an exhaustive group so I don’t mean to be leaving anybody out. They are very interesting.” He’ll briefly discuss founding of the Hedrickites, Williamites, Josephites, Cutlerites, Whitmerites, and their relationship to the RLDS Church. Lachlan MacKay will also tell when and why the Kirtland Temple changed from a bluish-gray color to the current white color it is today. It’s going to be a fun conversation. I hope you check out our Mormon Schisms Tour!
Yesterday was President Monson’s funeral. When an LDS President dies, the First Presidency is dissolved. Have you ever wondered why that is the case? Historian John Hamer and apostle Lachlan MacKay of the Community of Christ will talk about why that happens in the LDS Church. It’s a really interesting conversation as we discussion several succession claims.
John: One of the last acts that Joseph Smith does before going to Carthage is he had given another one of these special blessings to Joseph III and several of these where Joseph had been prophesied at one point or another that he would be in his father’s role in being prophet, but he was what? He was eleven?
Lachlan: Eleven or eleven and a half.
John: He’s eleven, so ok. He wasn’t going to be the successor at that point. What I argue, I think anyway, I think that the person who had the best claim at the point, in terms of both civil, and canon, which is to say church rules and law is Sidney Rigdon, who even though he’s been a little on the outs, he is still actively campaigning as the vice-presidential candidate in Joseph Smith’s U.S. presidential election. So Joseph Smith then Sidney Rigdon; Sidney Rigdon is the only guy left in the First Presidency.
Even though in the LDS tradition, there is this idea that the First Presidency dissolves, and then the senior most apostle always succeeds, the only reason that is the idea is because they didn’t want to have Sidney Rigdon be in charge. It doesn’t say that in the Doctrine & Covenants or anything like that. There’s no canonical, there’s no canon law that says anything of the kind. The First Presidency had been a completely distinct [quorum] in the early church tradition from the Twelve.
Lachlan: There’s nothing that says it dissolves.
John: There’s nothing that says it dissolves and also not like the First Presidency is just like three more of the Twelve or something like that. It’s a completely distinct [quorum.] Anyway, so what I say is Sidney Rigdon is the last surviving member of the First Presidency and then according to the actual incorporation like we’re talking about the Church’s possession, William Marks had signed it over to Joseph Smith on behalf of the Church. The Church is incorporated in the state of Illinois, and part of incorporation and the documents in Carthage, it says held by Joseph Smith as Trustee in Trust for the Church and my successors in the First Presidency.
Because of that, when Brigham Young does take over, he doesn’t create a new First Presidency; the Twelve just take over headquarters. It’s one of the reasons why he is not able to get title to these temples is because James Strang knows about that because he has a lot of these guys in his group. They know about this incorporation ruling. This is really complicated details, but anyway, part of the idea of it is he charges that since he is the successor to the First Presidency, he has organized a new First Presidency. This doesn’t in Brigham Young’s church until 1847, so he’s operating that way with the First Presidency, and so he says, “You don’t have a First Presidency. I have title to the Nauvoo Temple. You’re trying to sell my temple.”
GT: James Strang created a First Presidency and said that should be the successor?
John: Yeah, he did that at that point. But before that, I’ve got to dial it back. The person who was the surviving member of the First Presidency then is Sidney Rigdon. Sidney Rigdon gets outmaneuvered in this showdown between Brigham Young and Sidney Rigdon. He gets kicked out of Nauvoo, or flees for his life and he goes back and reorganizes and creates a new headquarters of the church in Pittsburgh. But at that point, he suffers one of these things that all kinds of schismatic Mormon Latter Day Saint heritage churches do which is, then they start asking themselves: where did we go wrong?
We will also talk about some of the other leaders who wanted to take over leadership of the LDS Church in the early days. There’s a lot more people than you may recognize. I also encourage you to check out the video. John was kind enough to share some slides about the Succession crisis, and I have included them in the video. Don’t forget to check out our conversations with GregPrince and Jim Vun Cannon on the Succession Crisis. Check out our conversation…..