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Elijah Ables’ Attempt for Temple Blessings #BlackHistoryMonth

We’re continuing our discussion of Black History Month with Russell Stevenson.  He’s the biographer of Elijah Ables, and we’ll talk about the end of Elijah’s life.  Did Elijah Ables affiliate with any other groups like James Strang, William Smith, or Sidney Rigdon?

Russell:  Going with that, we can maybe conclude that Elijah was certainly diplomatic and kind and charitable.  If you really want to go further out on a limb, more than the evidence that we have suggests, you can say that he affiliated with William Smith, the movement.  I’m not inclined to say that we have evidence to suggest that.

We’ll also talk about how Elijah worked on the Salt Lake Temple, but was never allowed to get his endowment.  Did he continue to try through the end of his life?

Now in 1879, he does petition to receive his temple endowment.  By this point his wife has passed away.  We do have some evidence that he petitioned Brigham Young at some point, but again that’s pretty late and we don’t have any contemporary documentation to back that up.

Check out our conversation…..

(Don’t forget to check out our previous conversations about Elijah Abel’s early life, his mission to Canada, and his troubles in Cincinnati.)  You also might want to check out what Paul Reeve said on this topic!

Photo from dedication of the Salt Lake Temple dedication in 1892
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Start of RLDS Church & Mormon Schisms Tour

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!

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Mormon Followers of the Prophet James Strang

James Strang was one of the most unlikely people to succeed following the death of Joseph Smith in 1844.  Historian John Hamer will talk more about James Strang and his group, sometimes called the Strangites.

John:  Yeah.  Of all of the different people that could have emerged in the Succession Crisis, this is the one that would be most unexpected to anybody before Joseph Smith’s death because he had been a relatively recent convert.  He had been to Nauvoo.  Strangite recollections are that he had been baptized by Joseph.  He lived in Wisconsin, and so he wasn’t an insider in any significant way.

But what happens fairly quickly is that he announces all sorts of new prophetic signs, callings, and things like that that, or examples.  For example, there’s a new set of plates that are found by a new set of official witnesses.  There’s a new translation.

One thing he says, at the same moment that Joseph Smith is killed, an angel appeared to him and ordained him to be prophet, seer, revelator, and translator to the church.  There can only be one on the planet at a time.  So there’s not a thing where Joseph Smith can just give a bunch of keys to different people and then you collect the keys or something like that.  It only can be one guy at a time and it’s not because you can’t—if we ran out of elders in the LDS Church, you can’t have a deacon ordain some new elder, so Strang says you can’t have apostles ordain a prophet because that doesn’t make any sense.  You can’t a lower ordain [a higher.]  Essentially the only way, according to Strang, that you could have had a successor is the same way that Joseph Smith became prophet which is through angelic ordination, or two, there is a verse in the Doctrine & Covenants that says if Joseph shall fall, he will not have any power save it be the need to appoint another in his stead.[1]

So James Strang had a letter.  His interpretation of the letter is that it appointed him to be the successor, Joseph Smith’s successor.  It’s a little bit ambiguously worded in that way.  Also nobody who wasn’t a Strangite believed the letter was genuine.  So it’s a contested letter, but he used the letter also as a claim on the two fronts there:  there’s angelic ordination on the one hand, and he’s also been appointed the successor.

We’ll learn more about some golden plates that he translated.

GT:  Ok.  He also had some plates.  I think there’s The Book of the Law of the Lord,[2] and yesterday you talked about the Voree Plates.

John:  Yes.

GT:  Let’s talk about those.

John:  The first set of plates are the Voree Plates.

GT:  Oh that was the first set.

John:  Yes.

GT:  Oh I didn’t realize that.

John:  Yes.  The first set of plates that Strang announces are the Voree Plates and it’s just very interesting story.  I could talk about it for hours and hours.  But anyway the idea of it is that near Strang’s house in Burlington, Wisconsin in a place that comes to be known as Voree.  There’s a hill.  An angel in a vision, Strang says, told him where plates are buried.  He brings four guys to that spot.  He shows them where the angel told them.  They have shovels or whatever, and then Strang leaves.

So they dig up what I told you, they believe that the earth has never been disturbed and that they actually have to get under the roots of this big old tree and things like that.  They are convinced that the thing had been buried many, many years ago before this oak tree was on top of it and that kind of thing.

Anyway they dig up plates.  They are plates, though, that people physically see and it’s not simply the official witnesses who see.  Thousands of people see the plates including obviously lots of non-members including the local newspaperman who is the newspaper editor of the Kenosha newspaper and he actually goes on to be the guy that invents the QWERTY typewriter keyboard.  So that guy saw them.  He didn’t pass judgment on them or whatever.  He said some people thing they are pretty marvelous.  But the point is it was a physical artifact.

So Strang prints a translation of it through the gift and power of God.  He says that he able to translate these plates.  The gist of the translation is again, it’s a people that are killed off, just like the Nephites.  It doesn’t say Nephites, but anyway, a Native people that have died in a great battle at this spot again, but this spot is going to be a place of refuge that at some point or other the church, God’s people, are going to, the forerunner, essentially the first prophet Joseph Smith—it doesn’t say it in those terms, but I’m just going to read between the lines here, Joseph Smith is going to get executed and the people are going to have to flee, the first refuge, and so they’ll come to gather to Voree, the great successor is going to emerge.

Check out the video or audio to hear John talk more about his life.  Strang was also martyred, similar to Joseph Smith, and his followers suffered even worse persecution on the shores of Lake Michigan.   (Don’t forget to learn about another schismatic group, the Bickertonites in our previous conversation.)  Check out our conversation…..

[1] Alice Cooper was a famous man from the “shock-rock” performer from the 1970s.  His performances included special effects that made it appear his head was chopped off, and other gruesome acts during the concert.  He continues to perform.  He was born February 4, 1948 and his birth name was Vincent Damon Furnier.

[2] More information can be found at https://mormonheretic.org/2010/07/20/the-mormon-myth-about-alice-cooper/

[3] See D&C 42:10 found at https://www.lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/42.78?lang=tha&clang=eng

[4] Basic info found at Wikipedia:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_the_Law_of_the_Lord