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Sidney Rigdon’s Church Falls Apart (Part 2)

Sidney Rigdon was a major impact on William Bickerton.  Dr. Daniel Stone talks about how Bickerton lost faith in Rigdon.

Daniel:  William Bickerton really had progressed, had become a major member of the Rigdonite movement, but didn’t know Joseph Smith. So, he ends up leaving Sidney Rigdon’s church pretty quickly. So, in June of 1845, William Bickerton joins. But then in August of 1845, Sidney Rigdon is kind of wanting to create another communal society because he wants to reenact the United Order. He was always into communal living. He was even into that when he was a Campbellite minister in Ohio when he met Joseph Smith. So, he wanted to kind of reenact that and he believes he’s having revelations that they should build the new Jerusalem in the Cumberland Valley of Pennsylvania. So eventually they are having these revelations. He’s presenting them to the church. And Sidney Rigdon had organized another School of the Prophets just like Joseph Smith had and William Bickerton as a member of that school, they are praying, and they read liberal arts, things like history, English, and this would have been really interesting to Bickerton because he was not well educated. He was a coal miner. So being able to be schooled and be able to talk with men that were learning as well, it would’ve probably been very interesting to him. And they’re also learning the gifts of the spirit, how to be good ministers for the Gospel. So, William Bickerton says that as a member of the school, they’re having revelations as members of the school of the prophets, that Sidney Rigdon is going astray.

We also discuss Bickerton joining the LDS Church under Brigham Young for a short time!

Daniel:  William Bickerton is a devout LDS Mormon. And when you read the minutes, it’s quite interesting. I mean at one of the meetings that they have, he actually leads the vote to sustain Brigham Young and the Twelve in their offices. It’s kind of a ceremonial thing because obviously they don’t have power, but he’s showing their support for them and he’s a member of the LDS Church for 10 months. And so, when they start the West Elizabeth congregation, they appoint William Bickerton as the presiding elder and they go from nine members, by the end of 10 months they have 27 members. So, William Bickerton helps triple his congregation within less than a year. So, you know, he was busy preaching.

And what ends up happening is why he ends up leaving Brigham Young is because in March of 1852, there is a meeting that is held for all the Mormons in the area in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, which is now the north side of Pittsburgh. And in that meeting they’re basically preparing the elders for the announcement that’s going to come later in the year in August for plural marriage. And this is what makes William Bickerton’s story so interesting.

Don’t forget to check out the Great Conflagration of Pittsburgh!  How did Sidney Rigdon react when the town was on fire?  Check out our conversation, as well as our previous conversation with Daniel!

William Bickerton was baptized by Sidney Rigdon, but soon became disillusioned with Rigdon's leadership.
William Bickerton was baptized by Sidney Rigdon, but soon became disillusioned with Rigdon’s leadership.
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Different Succession Claims: Other Mormon Groups

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 Greg Prince and Jim Vun Cannon on the Succession Crisis.  Check out our conversation…..