John Hamer returns (sort of)! A Look at the CoC

Mormon HereticMormon 49 Comments

Over the last year, I have come across a few bloggers who are members of the Community of Christ (formerly known as RLDS).  I have always been curious about the Community of Christ, and have often wondered the differences in worship between their services, and LDS services.  I wanted to share some of the stuff I’ve learned.  (This is a shorter version of my post which can be found here.)

This is a compilation of questions and answers from my blog, as well as a post from Mormon Matters by John Hamer, LDS Myths about Reorganized Latter Day Saints.  The following answers come from John Hamer, Margie Miller, and FireTag, who are all Community of Christ members.  I’ve corrected spelling, and changed the formatting to make this appear to be in an interview format, but it is just an ongoing conversation.  Many people on Mormon Matters and my blog asked these questions.

Do Community of Christ members like to be called Mormons, or some other nickname?

John Hamer,

Community of Christ members use the term “Latter Day Saints” to refer to themselves, but they only rarely use the term “Mormon” to refer to themselves. Generally speaking, only LDS members, fundamentalist Mormons and Strangite Mormons use the term “Mormon” to refer to themselves. The reason for it is that members of the early church used almost always put quotes around the term and said “so-called Mormons” or emphasized that it was outsiders that called the Saints “Mormons.” Then, during the late 19th century, LDS Mormons were reviled nationally because of polygamy. RLDS people who were violently anti-polygamy wanted no share of that opprobrium, so they tended to say things like “we believe in the Book of Mormon but we’re not the Mormons.”

When/Why did the RLDS church change it’s name to the Community of Christ?

John Hamer,

Charles D. Neff, who was one of the more important RLDS apostles in the later 20th century, was actually a convert. He told the story that when he first heard the name of the church, “The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints,” his reaction was, “that is a terrible name for a church.” And he was right. Frankly, the LDS church has a terrible name too.

The church was established in 1830 as the “Church of Christ.” That name was indistinct and was often confused with other churches of the same name, especially the Campbellite Church of Christ (Disciples of Christ). So, in 1834, the name of the church was changed to “Church of the Latter Day Saints.” That change upset members who had come to believe the Campbellite doctrine that God’s true church must have Christ’s name in it, so in 1838 the name was changed to “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.” (The spelling “Latter-day Saints” was used occasionally in the early church, but LDS church only formalized that spelling in Utah.) “Reorganized” was legally added to the name in the late 19th century in order to protect church property from the Federal anti-polygamy legislation.

The change in 2001 to “Community of Christ” was meant to evoke the church’s heritage (by returning close to the original name), while emphasizing one of the core values that Reorganized Latter Day Saints have always drawn from their organization: the special sense of community.

I wonder if I walked into a Community of Christ meeting, how similar or different would it be from an LDS meeting?  I’ve heard you only do communion/sacrament once/month instead of weekly, but I’m wondering what other things are similar/different?

John Hamer,

There is a lot of local control, so meeting styles vary at the congregation level. Talks I’ve listened to seem just as likely to quote the Book of Mormon as any other scripture. Possibly they have the most emphasis on the New Testament, followed by the D&C, with the Book of Mormon and Old Testament taking up the rearguard.

The services I’ve attended are somewhat like an LDS service: there is congregation business, hymns, musical numbers and prayers and there’s a main talk. They do sacrament/communion once a month and they use the same prayer that other Latter Day Saints use, so that’s familiar. Their offeratory is not familiar to LDS service. They can have a little bit of litergy, which is definitely unfamiliar to LDS ears.


[We] do serve open communion…

Worship practices vary widely throughout the church, not only from country to country but from congregation to congregation. Most of our congregations are very small; I haven’t had an actual home church that wasn’t in a converted home or a school since I came to the East Coast 35 years ago. That certainly affects the form of worship; since there are often not enough priesthood (because priesthood calls were in no sense fairly automatic), we’ve long extended worship leadership to non-priesthood.

You will also notice a much greater emphasis on the most recent D&C sections (we’re up to 163 now) and the New Testament than on any works of Joseph Smith. We are certainly Christ-centered in all of our teaching.

There is absolutely no emphasis on the afterlife …The Book of Abraham is not regarded as Scriptural, so there is no doctrine of exaltation or sealing for eternity. There are no special Temple ordinances at all, and we, in fact, encourage the use of our Temple for interdenominational gatherings whenever possible.

Are local CoC leaders “professional” clergy (i.e., trained, paid ministers) or are they laypersons, as is the case in local LDS wards?

John Hamer,

The Community of Christ has the same general priesthood offices as the LDS church without the Utah-era practice of title inflation. It’s quite normal for adult men and women to be teachers or deacons. Bishops are financial officers at the Stake (“Misson Center”) level, rather than “ward” leaders. They have “Pastors” – a title that was also used in the early church – which is effectively “Branch President” or “Presiding Elder” of a congregation. Most Pastors are volunteer lay ministers. They do have some paid pastors in large congregations. Church headquarters has full-time paid employees like the LDS headquarters. The leadership includes the First Presidency, the Council of the Twelve, the Presiding Bishopric, the Presiding Evangelist (patriarch), the Presidents of the Seventies, the presiding Quorum of High Priests and the Standing (presiding) High Council.

The First Presidency and the Apostles are generally all in their 50s or 60s because they serve for a number of years and then they retire.

Do CoC members observe the Word of Wisdom?

John Hamer,

Some do some don’t; it’s not a test of fellowship. My friend Ron Romig (who is church archivist) doesn’t smoke, drink or drink coffee. However, other Community of Christ friends of mine do drink and drink coffee. (I don’t know any who smoke.) A famous story Jan Shipps tells is that when she met Bob Flanders (a leading RLDS historian) in the 60s, he sat down with her at lunch, bringing a full mug of coffee. She had never seen such a thing among Latter Day Saints, and she was apparently staring. He told her, jokingly, “You’ll observe that I let it cool before drinking it.”

What is your position on the Plan of Salvation/Three Degrees of Glory?


The various glories exist in our belief system, but I actually haven’t heard anyone teach anything about them since I was a teenager.

I know you technically believe in baptism for the dead, but (as I understand it) only do it for family members, and it is downplayed much more than in the LDS church.  Is this correct?

John Hamer,

The Community of Christ does not practice baptism for the dead, although it was not opposed as a practice with the same kind of vehemence as polygamy. The sections of the D&C on baptism for the dead were only removed in the 1970s.


We, in principle “allow” baptism of the dead in response to direct revelation by the prophet, but no such revelation has been received or expected in 150 years…   We see no need to baptize the dead.

What happens to rejected revelations?  How does the conference decide what is authentic revelation and what is not?

John Hamer,

The D&C sections on Baptism for the Dead were voted by a World Conference resolution which moved them to a “Historical Appendix.” Then a later Conference resolution removed the appendix.

Another example is the doctrine which was called “Supreme Directional Control” – a controversial effort by Prophet/President Frederick M. Smith to centralize authority under the First Presidency. Although the membership approved the doctrine (causing a certain amount of schism), within a decade the policy had effectively been abandoned as the stresses of the Great Depression saw the return of financial power to the Presiding Bishopric.

How do you view temple ordinances?

The Community of Christ believes in the concept of endowment, but does not associate the concept with a particular ceremony. Indeed, the flow of the Spirit through the ordinances of the church is more “organic” than it seems to be in LDS.

Does the Community of Christ view the Book of Mormon as historical?

John Hamer,

I do think people who view the Book of Mormon as a literal history book are in the minority in the Community of Christ. However, these same believers have a generally more sophisticated view of scripture in general. Much of the events of the Bible are not literal histories, from Adam and Noah to the Judean kings. There doesn’t have to have been a real person named Job to make the scripture inspired.

Does the Community of Christ believe they are the “one true church”?

John Hamer,

What the Community of Christ has scrapped is the exclusivist claim to be “the one and only true church.” The church now understands that while its own heritage has been inspired by God, other churches and individuals have also been inspired and are valid.

I’ve always heard that the CoC wants to act more protestant, and every time I’ve heard that by LDS members, it is always meant in disdain (and makes me cringe.)  What do you make of such a comment-is it true that the CoC wants to appear more protestant?

John Hamer,

I’ve said elsewhere that it’s an academic argument whether the LDS church is a Protestant Christian denomination, whether it is part of a new branch of Christianity, or whether it is part of a new world religion altogether. However, because the RLDS church never embraced the King Follet discourse theology, it seems hard to argue that it ever strayed far enough away from the fold to have been anything other than Christian (and frankly Protestant). That’s not a recent change; that dates back to the 1860s.


The church has moved strongly into the “peace and justice” wing of progressive Christianity under the last two prophets. You’ll notice that everywhere.

The church also now sponsors an intern to work with the largest Quaker lobbying group in the country and is trying to actively promote political alliances with progressive denominations and interest groups on legislative agendas within the federal government.

Could you explain a little on how the RLDS church approaches the issue of GLBT persons in comparison to the LDS SLC church?

John Hamer,

I have in my hands the proof copy of a new book, Homosexual Saints: The Community of Christ Experience, edited by William D. Russell with a preface by D. Michael Quinn. You may be interested in getting it:

This is a book of 26 personal essays about the lives of gay, lesbian and transgendered RLDS members and their friends, relatives and allies. It also has a detailed historical overview of the evolution of RLDS thinking and practice on the issue.

The back cover has an endorsement from retired Prophet/President Grant McMurray:

What is the CoC position on polygamy?  Is it still the case that RLDS/CoC members tend to deny that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy?

John Hamer,

In terms of who started polygamy: all of the Community of Christ leaders I know are aware that Joseph Smith Jr. is the originator of polygamy and that’s true for most of the membership I’ve talked to. However, there is a whole segment of members (especially the older generation) who don’t believe the evidence is there.


The Community of Christ position was and remains that Joseph was NOT inspired regarding a practice that was among the key reasons the RLDS, from whom we are descended, would not unite with the LDS who embraced it (whether they did so resentfully or willingly). The change in the CoC position is now to acknowledge that Joseph did indeed wholeheartedly participate in a practice that we continue to condemn.

We hope, for Joseph’s sake, that he DID recognize that he had been deceived before the end of his life and was trying to rid the church of the doctrine.

The Community of Christ asserts, as I’ve said previously, that “monogamy is the basic principle on which Christian married life is built”. The second prophet of the CofC, Joseph Smith III, stated his belief that his father had never been involved in polygamy, but that if evidence ever showed otherwise, he would continue to regard the doctrine as abhorrent while not discounting the truths his father had taught before becoming entangled in the error. That has more-or-less been the official default position until recently…

Is it true that the Community of Christ allowed polygamist members to join in the 1970s?

MH:  Missionary work commenced in India, where polygamy is legal.  FireTag tells that a revelation allowing polygamist Indians to be baptized.


The revelation brought to the church and confirmed by the general conference established for us the principle that “monogamy is the basic principle on which Christian married life is built” and authorized the First Presidency and the Quorum of 12 (Apostles) in their field jurisdictions to interpret that principle as directed by the Spirit.

The implementation ultimately meant that newly baptized polygamous people were allowed to remain in those marriages for the rest of their lives, but were not allowed to take additional marital partners into the marriage. The latter act would be treated as adultery or fornication under church law (I forget which).

This ruling became a schismatic issue for a number of people.

Margie Miller discussed this amazing development on my blog.  In her words,

Community of Christ had a valid reason for allowing that practice to continue in 1970. I was one of the people who took exception to it at the time and made a special trip to Independence to visit with President Shehee about it. I was appalled! He had [asked] me to read a couple of books about the culture beforehand and then gave me an appointment the week before World Conference. I went up determined that I was right.

He told me about the cultural situation. In that culture, if the church had insisted that all but the first wife be put aside, those woman and their children would be ostracized in their culture and would never be able to find another man to marry them.

The Indian men considered virginity to be very important.

That was not long after the war between India and Pakistan. Many women were roaming the countryside after being raped by soldiers. No man would marry them. Many of them had children from these terrible circumstances and the women traveled in groups begging for food for their children and themselves. The UN was trying their best to find men who would marry these women and give their children a home. It was very difficult.

We had gone into their villages with a horticulturist to help them to find a better strain of wheat to grow in hopes of alleviating their poverty. That was very successful and then they were more wealthy then their neighbors. The church wanted them to share their technology with the other villages and had to teach them the principles of sharing in love before that would happen. It was very successful!

A few went back to adding more wives but then the village elders excommunicated them for that. That was the agreement. The church has been very successful in a mission there in East India.

Due to many theological changes in the Community of Christ over the last 30 years, there have been splinter groups, and even a new group calling itself the RLDS.  Can you talk about that?


We have proportionally as many splinter RLDS groups as you have splinter LDS groups. (I know – from where you stand, we’re the largest surviving splinter!) Those who splinter to the cultural right do so over many issues – some of them going back to the original 1844 successor to Joseph Smith, others over Scriptural literalism, others over allowance of polygamous converts on the Indian sub-continent in the 1970’s, others over open communion, the movement to select a prophet who was not a lineal descendent of Joseph Smith, etc.

We have at least a few more equally traumatic issues coming down the road over the next year or two, so we’ll continue to replace cultural conservatives with cultural progressives among our membership within North America.

Is the Community of Christ trying to distance itself from Joseph Smith?


There does seem to be movement away from tracing our roots to Joseph Smith, and recasting our founding with Joseph III. Expect tremendous controversy in the CoC over the next 18 months as this plays out in the context of official guidance from the current Prophet of which the April 5, 2009 Sermon on is only the first preparatory word.

Is there anything to the rumors of the CoC having financial difficulties? Haven’t many of the paid jobs (i.e. in the historical department) been eliminated due to lack of money? If so, do you see this as a temporary setback or a sign of things to come?

John Hamer,

I’m confident the Community of Christ will remain viable for the foreseeable future.

There is some basis for rumors of RLDS money troubles. The truth is that the RLDS church has always had more ambition and vision than they have had resources. The Auditorium is an enormous structure for them to have attempted in the 1920s and the onset of the Great Depression was very untimely for their finances.

RLDS doctrine of tithing (10% of increase) has always been significantly less lucrative than the post-Lorenzo Snow LDS church’s practice. The Community of Christ initiated an ambitious plan to have more paid ministerial support in the late 1990s called “transformation 2000.” This increased expenses, but revenues did not increase to cover the costs. The result in the last few years has been a budget deficit, which resulted in downsizing a fair number of jobs at church headquarters. However, the church historian, the director of historic sites, the church archivist and most of the other heritage team positions were not affected. The restructuring had the long-term in mind. The fact is that a single Community of Christ donor gave the church $50 million just a couple years ago.

And finally, on a lighter note, is Bruce Jenner Graceland College’s most famous graduate? Was he ever interested in the RLDS church?

John Hamer,

As far as Bruce Jenner goes, I don’t think he was ever tempted to convert. I think the most famous non-LDS Mormon is Alice Cooper – who was born and raised Bickertonite.  🙂

So, do you have any other questions/answers?

Comments 49

  1. They say the RLDS or Community of Christ, gave the priesthood to women in 1984. How can you give what you do not have?

  2. I’m interested in your question about the CoC’s treatment of GLBT — John Hamer references a book which discusses “detailed historical overview of the evolution of RLDS thinking and practice on the issue.” Does anyone know a little more about this? I remember going to a Sunstone workshop a couple of years ago with Carol Lynn Pearson which was attended by CoC Apostle Susan Skoor. At that time Susan said she was attending this particular workshop because the CoC was trying to formulate some policies and strategies on the gay issue. I’d like to know more about how they handle this and what the history is.

  3. Post

    Jon, from the CoC perspective, the LDS lost the priesthood due to its embrace of polygamy, and to quote the D&C 121,

    36 That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.
    37 That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.

    If Joseph III restored the priesthood in a vision similar to his father, who’s to say they don’t have the real deal? With their at least 163 sections of the D&C, it does appear that they might have a more open link to heaven, doesn’t it? We don’t have any new sections since 1918. The revelation on blacks and the priesthood doesn’t even deserve a new section in our D&C.

  4. This may be more an issue of phraseology, but I noticed that every single CofC member I talked with when I visited Nauvoo and Independence in 2007 consistently referred to the founder of the Mormonite movement as “Joseph Smith, Junior” instead of “the Prophet Joseph” or “the Prophet” as LDS are likely to do. Any comment on this?

  5. Phouchg, my impression is that the LDS church maintains historical sites for missionary purposes, both in the sense of stengthening members and recruiting converts. Historical concerns are invariably second to missionary concerns, such as the entirely falsified naming of the Nauvoo Masonic Hall as the “Cultural Hall.”

    On the other hand, my impression is that the CofC tends to focus more on the historical nature of their historic sites. Yes, there is an element of proselytizing, but they ultimately tend to frame their site interpretations in a “scholarly” sense, which would reflect the sort of name usage you noticed.

  6. Post

    Phouchg, I think they refer to Joseph Smith Jr, because the next prophet was Joseph Smith III. If they refer simply to Joseph Smith, it can get confusing as to who they were referring to.

  7. “Historical concerns are invariably second to missionary concerns, such as the entirely falsified naming of the Nauvoo Masonic Hall as the “Cultural Hall.”

    I have to agree with Nick here. I was visiting Nauvoo and went into the Masonic Hall building. The sister told me the story and invited me up to the third floor. She told me the marks on the original floor were from the dances held there. I didn’t have the heart to correct her because she was nice to let me up there and because she had the story down so well….. 🙂

    Thanks for MH, John and Firetag for the great information. Ehen I was in Independence, I talk to some of the “restorationists” and they are not happy campers with the direction the CoC has taken.

  8. Bored:

    There is a major ongoing thread, with links to official positions, and the struggles the CofChrist is now having with this issue in trying to reconcile a largely conservative American church, with largely liberal leadership, and address concerns affecting non-American cultures, where our future lies. See here .

    Phouchg: MH’s explanation is correct.

    Jon: We trace our priesthood to ordinations at the hands of JS just as LDS. Since we don’t consider ourselves the one and only true church as you still do, we think that God grants authoritative priesthood wherever He will, and are currently considering the implication of those ideas for the acceptance of ordinances performed by ministers outside the church. As noted in the post, we already practice open communion.

  9. A very interesting interview! Thanks to all who put this together. I have often been impressed with the scholarly approach of the CoC guides at shared church sites, and the CoC’s service-oriented mission. I suspect that CoC is never going to be an appealing branch of Mormonism for those who are literalists, social conservatives, or who consider authority to be the most important LDS claim (although priesthood lineage can be traced through both). But there is clearly much good being done in the CoC. Personally, my fantasy is that someday all the branches of Mormonism (perhaps not the FLDS, though–sorry, folks) could come together again, with just a wider tent for more varied interpretations of things being acceptable; however, this is pretty clearly a fantasy given the distance between the sects at this point in time.

  10. Interesting post. Lots of great information all in one place!

    Like Jeff, I spoke to some CoC members last time I was in Independence who weren’t happy with the way their church is changing. Of course, I wasn’t too surprised, as we have our own groups of dissatisfied members in the LDS Church.

  11. I still think the point is valid. How can you give what you do not have?
    For example, everytime I see certain people that knock at my door I say
    Spanish: La doctrina falsa no tiene poder salvador.
    False doctrine has no saving power.
    This has been a point of contention with the LDS and RLDS, now known as CofC.
    When the RLDS broke away, they broke away from any true authority.

  12. I was visiting Nauvoo and went into the Masonic Hall building. The sister told me the story and invited me up to the third floor. She told me the marks on the original floor were from the dances held there. I didn’t have the heart to correct her because she was nice to let me up there and because she had the story down so well…..

    Jeff, when I was still living in Nauvoo, I obtained permission to go up into the third floor to do an extensive examination of the floor. The heaviest wear marks correspond precisely to where people would be standing and/or kneeling during key parts of Masonic rituals. 🙂 By this means, I was able to do a measured “reconstruction” of the arrangement and size of the altars, diases, etc.

  13. Post

    Jon, Please don’t turn this into an argument. They can just as easily say that LDS believe in the false doctrine of polygamy, and were rejected as a church by God. Turning your words against you, “False doctrine has no saving power.” I’m not sure your purpose of trying to turn this thread into a contentious debate on authority–that was never my purpose, but rather it was to try to learn a little about our “cousins” who also believe in the Book of Mormon.

    Thanks DrewE, it has been fascinating to learn more about the CoC.

  14. Nick,

    By this means, I was able to do a measured “reconstruction” of the arrangement and size of the altars, diases, etc.’

    That would be a great reconstruction. Not sure why the guides at Nauvoo play down the Masonic influences from that period. They played such an important part. It’s like the US government saying, “The Washington Monument? Yeah, that’s just a tall pointy tower. the dollar bill? Just some nice artwork on the back.”

  15. Hawkgrrrl:

    There is a former CofChrist (and NASA, surprisingly)historian, Roger Launias, who took the position that the RLDS provided a stable resting point for those somewhere between Mormonism and conventional Christian denominations.

    I agree that the differences between the denominations are unlikely to result in a “big tent” approach. But perhaps the LDS left and CofChrist right can maintain what have been fruitful dialogues in the past and carry them into the future.

  16. Some years ago, I lived just a block or so from the RLDS stake center in Detroit. The building also served as the polling place for my precinct. One Sunday, I walked down and attended their services. I was at that time in my early to mid 30’s and was quite clearly the youngest person there. Literally everyone there appeared to be in their 50s or older. There was not a single child, teenager, or young adult. Is that an unusual situation? Do younger families with children typically attend different congregations? Are worship services generally restricted to adults? Perhaps my small sample was not representative, but the demographics did seem startling, coming from an LDS perspective.

  17. Thanks for posting this. I live very close to a Community of Christ chapel and drive by it several times every day. I often wonder how their meetings and policies differ from the ones I’m accustomed to. I’ve thought it would be fun to visit some time when the meeting times don’t conflict with those at our church.

    I visited Nauvoo for my first time about a year ago, and the guide brought up Masonry (though without a lot of details). I have no idea whether they have some sort of policy or whether what you get is based on the knowledge of an individual guide.

  18. Left Field:

    I grew up in Detroit Stake, and there ARE some unique circumstances with the history of the congregation there (Redford). It was once a congregation of 450, or nearly a tenth of the entire stake, and the largest in the stake by a lot. Depending on when you visited, what you saw could have reflected the general movement out of Detroit, or North of 8 Mile Road, on the part of younger families when economic conditions began to deteriorate for city government after the 1967 riots. If it was in the 1980’s, it could have reflected a rebellion against the decision to ordain women to the priesthood, since many of the priesthood most resistant to the idea in the stake were pillars in that congregation.

    The congregation basically collapsed over the years, but has since been reestablished as an inner city ministry called “Detroit Hope”, the inner city having come to it.

    Your general observation holds true, however, for the church in North America. North American baptisms are less than 25% of their peak value in the 1950s, which creates a vicious cycle. Thus, the age distribution of our population as a whole reflects a “rising generation” that is considerably shrunken from their parents’ generation, although Sunday morning worship isn’t the best place to see the youth.

    Congregations that do the best at holding their youth are often doing it through specialized programs, at Mission Center or even world church levels. For example, the church places tremendous emphasis on events such as “Spectacular” held at Graceland College for high school kids throughout the US each summer.

    The issue is one of great concern at the First Presidency and Apostolic levels.

  19. Great interview, thank you.

    I do have a question: Is it true that Emma Smith left the LDS church shortly after Joseph’s martyrdom and went with her son (J. Smith III) into what he formed to be the Church of Christ? And if so, why is it then that the LDS church still honors her?

    Thoughts from both sides would be appreciated.

  20. Post

    Sundance Kid,

    You might want to see the longer interview on my blog, as well as my newest post which partially addresses your question as well.

    While John Hamer is a better expert than I am on this topic, let me tell you the answer as I understand it. Following the death of Joseph Smith Jr in 1844, there was a great debate as to who should lead. Emma sided with the group of people supporting a leader against polygamy (I believe it was William Marks, but I could be mistaken), while Brigham was leader of the pro-polygamy group. (There were several other groups led by Rigdon, Strang, Law, and others.)

    Anyway, Emma never really followed any of the groups, and married a non-Mormon man by the name of Lewis Bidamon. Following Brigham Young’s exodus to Utah, there was a group in Nauvoo wanting to reorganize the church, and they supported Joseph Smith III as the leader. He refused for quite some time, because he did not feel inspired to lead, and Emma did not encourage any of her children in any religious movements. However, in about 1860, Joseph III eventually agreed to lead the RLDS movement. Emma’s prior baptism was accepted, so she did not need rebaptism into the RLDS.

    Despite her and Brigham’s animosity toward each other, her membership was still part of the LDS Church, and nobody on either side attempted to remove her records. Brigham did send her money from time to time, and LDS missionaries stayed at the Nauvoo House when they visited, though she never wanted to join the “Brighamites” in Utah.

    Emma’s contributions to both the LDS and CoC movements are considerable. She helped translate the BoM, created the first hymnal, inspired the Word of Wisdom, was first Relief Society president, first endowed woman, and a multitude of other things. Your question seems to imply that she does not deserve honor in the LDS church. I disagree vehemently. She lived a remarkable life in tumultuous times, and who can blame her for any of the decisions she made? Personally, I am a huge fan of Emma, and think she deserves tremendous praise for all the things she did. I also think some of the other people in Mormon history, such as Sidney Rigdon, Oliver Cowdery, the Whitmers, deserve more recognition and praise in LDS circles, despite some of their problems with Brigham Young.

  21. I’m not sure any of our CoC friends would agree with me, but I have long believed that both Joseph and Emma founded religions: Joseph founded the LDS church (it might be even more accurate to say BY did), and Emma founded the CoC. The CoC has many of the admirable traits of Emma: her devotion to service, her open-mindedness, her higher education and scholarly approach, and the more equal treatment of women that the first RS president was accustomed to (under Emma, the RS was its own organization, not under the male Priesthood). Also like Emma, the CoC denied that JS was practicing polygamy even though he was. The LDS church’s view of Emma has been redemptive, and it’s a fairly recent change (in the last 25 years or so). She was not always revered. BY could not stand her and was very unkind to her as JS’s widow whose financial involvements were completely entangled with the church. This (along with her utter rejection of polygamy which BY had entered into) contributed to their falling out, and her decision to remain in Nauvoo when BY took his group of LDS westward.

    Interestingly, another successor, Strang, took a faction to Wisconsin (the Strangites), following the same theology minus polygamy, but after 15 years, Strang as prophet announced he was wrong and that they were going to practice polygamy. The sect at its height was about 50K and rivalled the size of its Rocky Mountain cousin, but is now only about 1,000 members worldwide.

    Looks like we were writing at the same time, Mormon Heretic. Still, I’ll just leave this as is. Emma was actually married to Lewis Bidamon longer than she was married to JS, and IIRC, Bidamon was also unfaithful.

  22. Post

    Yes, you’re right Hawkgrrrl, I was going to mention that Bidamon fathered a child with another woman while married to Emma. Emma not only raised the child, but hired the mother to work. It’s mentioned briefly at the end of the movie, Emma Smith:My Story, which I highly recommend.

  23. Post

    I will also add that Joseph’s brother, William Smith followed the Strang movement for a time. I had someone on my blog claim that Emma moved to Wisconsin as a follower of Strang, but I don’t see any evidence to corroborate this claim. William eventually settled with the RLDS, and became Church Patriarch, I believe.

  24. Thanks for the information, FireTag. This would have been in the mid-90s.

    Whenever I went there to vote, I often took the opportunity to wander around, read the bulletin boards and help myself to pamphlets. One day I went in during the week and spoke to someone working in the stake office. I wanted to find out when services were, although it turned out to be a year or two before I got around to it. She said that they had both “traditional” and “contemporary” services. I would guess the younger demographic would gravitate to the latter, but still it was surprising that there weren’t even a few younger members, or that those attending the traditional services wouldn’t have children who attended with them.

    Going off on a tangent, I’ve often wondered why LDS Church policy prohibits the use of church buildings as polling places. It would seem to be a good opportunity to generate goodwill, get people in the building, looking around, and perhaps feel comfortable enough to come back for a visit, as I did at the RLDS Church. On the other hand, you’d have to scrupulously avoid any appearance of proselyting. It would be a total disaster to have some over-enthusiastic missionaries or ward mission leader thinking it would be a good idea to work the polling lines.

  25. I always liked this statement which the church had on it’s website for years.

    Our Faith and Beliefs

    Recognizing that the perception of truth is always qualified by human nature and experience, there is no official church creed that must be accepted by all members. However, through the years various statements, such as those listed below, have been developed to present the generally accepted beliefs of the church. All people are encouraged to study the scriptures, to participate in the life and mission of the church, and to examine their own experiences as they grow in understanding and response to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

  26. “I will also add that Joseph’s brother, William Smith followed the Strang movement for a time. I had someone on my blog claim that Emma moved to Wisconsin as a follower of Strang, but I don’t see any evidence to corroborate this claim. William eventually settled with the RLDS, and became Church Patriarch, I believe.”

    That’s odd. I was under the impression that William Smith wanted to be Presiding Patriarch but the RLDS refused. I was under the impression that he eventually went west and joined the LDS.

  27. Margie,

    I think you’re right about William wanting to become Presiding Patriarch, but Joseph Smith III refused. My memory was a little rusty there. But I did some digging, and came across this Wikipedia entry, which I believe is pretty accurate. It is well-footnoted, and agrees with my memory (albeit weak) of William Smith. See

    On October 6, 1845, over a year after the assassinations of his brothers Joseph and Hyrum, Smith was disfellowshipped from the church and removed from the Quorum of the Twelve by Brigham Young, the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.[15] Smith responded by submitting a statement to an anti-Mormon newspaper in which he compared Young to Pontius Pilate.[16] As a result of Smith’s statement, Young excommunicated him for apostasy on October 19.[12]

    As a result, Smith did not follow Young and the majority of Latter Day Saints who settled in Utah Territory and established The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). Rather, Smith followed the leadership of James J. Strang and was involved with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite).[17]

    In 1847, Smith announced that he was the new president of the Latter Day Saint church and that he held a right to leadership due to the doctrine of lineal succession. He excommunicated Young and the leadership of the LDS Church and announced that the Latter Day Saints who were not in apostasy by following Young should gather in Lee County, Illinois.[17] In 1849, Smith gained the support of Lyman Wight, who led a small group of Latter Day Saints in Texas.[17] However, Smith’s church did not last, and within a few years it dissolved.

    Smith’s relationship with Young remained strained until Young’s death in 1877. Smith believed that Young had arranged for William’s older brother Samuel H. Smith to be poisoned in 1844 to prevent his accession to the presidency of the church.[18][19][20] However, in 1860, Smith wrote a letter to Young in stating that he desired to join the Latter-day Saints in the Salt Lake Valley.[21] However, shortly thereafter Smith became involved as a soldier in the American Civil War, and after the war he did not show any interest in moving to Utah Territory

    In 1878, Smith became a member of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS Church),[17] which was organized in 1860 with Smith’s nephew, Joseph Smith III, as its leader. The majority of Smith’s followers also became members of the RLDS Church. While Smith believed that he was entitled to become the presiding patriarch or a member of the Council of Twelve Apostles of the RLDS Church, his nephew did not agree and William Smith remained a high priest in the RLDS Church for the remainder of his life.[22]

  28. Hawkgrrrl:

    It would certainly be true that the CofChrist holds Emma in high regard and her actions as ESSENTIAL to the formation of the RLDS. As we approach the remembrance of our 150th Anniversary, her contributions will be more heavily noted in our activities.

    But we do not consider her as the founder. We trace our origins to local leaders outside of Nauvoo in the Midwest who rejected polygamy and held their congregations together on the basis of their original priesthood ordinations before JS death until Joseph III had his own experience of call in 1860, and was accepted by the already reorganized church as Prophet/President.

    Most prominent among these local leaders were Jason Briggs and Zenas Gurley. This wiki entry looks like RLDS history 101 as we used to teach it — nothing pops out at me as incorrect, anyway.


    What you’ve said about William Smith and the position of Presiding Patriarch also looks right. As you see above, we have a long history of leaving top leadership positions unfilled until we understand them better and who God wishes to put in them. Joseph III felt that he did not understand the role of the Presiding Patriarch, and left it unfilled for a long time. In fact, there have been unfilled offices in the councilors of the first presidency, the Twelve, or the presiding bishopric at times into the mid-20th Century (and may be again).

    Left Field:

    My mother was Secretary to the Stake Bishop (Financial Officer) for a number of years when I was growing up, so I spent a lot more time in the basement of that office than I wanted to in summers as a boy. Thanks for bringing back some memories.

  29. FireTag – thanks for your additional information. I suppose I was using the term “founder” loosely – I really just feel that CoC was heavily influenced by Emma’s character and reflects her influence, moreso than the LDS church. Technically, both (all) branches have a common founder: Joseph Smith. I’ll look at the information on Jason Briggs and Zenas Gurley. It’s interesting to me to see how our cousins in Mormonism manifest the religion, including hymns, differing sections of the D&C, what teachings are emphasized, and rituals like washing of feet and washings & anointings. I’ve also enjoyed reading about the Bickertonites and Strangites.

  30. Hawkgrrrl:

    Emma’s influence on her son is undoubted. The three prophets that followed Joseph III into the mid-20th Century, were her grandsons, and the sixth prophet was her great-grandson. The preservation of our Scriptural forms of the Bible was also essential. Yet, once Joseph III was in place she was content to largely stay out of our history, as if she felt her work was done, except to defend the reputation of her husband in the eyes of non-Mormons.

  31. I am curious about the comment that the “Latter-day Saints” spelling was standardized only in Utah. As a lawyer, I have had the occasion to be opposing counsel to the LDS church (of which I am a member) on two occasions and once had the Kirton & McConkie lawyer on the other side correct my spelling of “Latter Day” to the “Latter-day” version. He never knew I was a member of said church.

  32. Thanks for the info on Emma, MH. I will indeed go read more about the subject.

    It is just curious to me why the LDS church still honors her though, because wouldn’t she be considered an apostate for having left the church and even denounced one of the then-fundamental practices of the religion (being of course polygamy)? It seems that if she spoke out about things she disliked during a time where that would be really unacceptable, especially for a woman to have done, it seems that the LDS church would want to sort of distance themselves from her instead of just focusing on the time that she was married to Joseph.

    I mean not to provoke or suggest that she shouldn’t be honored, I am just curious as to the thought process that says she’s still an honorable member.

  33. Sundance Kid,

    I don’t know if you’ve been following the new thread talking about the church being more open to academia. I guess Emma is a bit like Galileo somewhat. While Galileo was thought of as a heretic, his stance is pretty much taken for granted now, and he is being accepted more by the Catholic church. I think Emma could become similar in nature. I don’t know if you saw my polygamy post, but I believe polygamy is not a true teaching. As such, Emma would be right, and be gaining some new respect for her position.

    On the other hand, I don’t believe the church supports my thinking, so I guess I shouldn’t try to insinuate that the church is backing away from polygamy. However, I think it is incredibly difficult to separate Emma from Joseph. Even Emma’s “rehabbed” image talks about her faithfulness to Joseph, and ignores her problems with polygamy. The lessons we hear about Emma deal with the parts of her history that are in harmony with current LDS beliefs and practices. You will never hear anything about Emma after June 1844 (Joseph’s death) in a church setting–all of the references to her are prior to Joseph’s death, where she seemingly put up a good front for the church. Everything she did prior to that is honorable (excepting polygamy of course, which isn’t really talked about historically anyway.)

  34. Sundance Kid – Emma was not always revered as she is now. She was almost never mentioned except with criticism when I was younger. It’s really only in the last 20 years that the church has been “reclaiming” her as a latter day saint and first RS president. People frequently said unkind things about her in church prior to that. Some of what I heard members say was that she was spiritually weak, she didn’t support her husband when things got tough, and that she lacked the faith to go westward with the saints. There’s also the infamous exchange between JS and BY in which JS said “a man would go through hell and back for a woman like Emma,” and BY retorted, “for a woman like that, you’d have to.” I also often heard people speculate that she was half crazy from grief over the loss of so many children and not in her right mind. These are just things I have heard said at church many years ago.

  35. I’ve really enjoyed this post. I don’t know much about the CoC, but I like most of what I hear. I would have to say that my personal perspectives on faith and religion are more “progressive Christian”, and I think I’ll read some more from some of the current CoC leadership (I read D&C 163 on the CoC website a couple months ago and was impressed by its message; I’m not certain I would consider it revelation, but these days I’m not sure what qualifies as bona fide revelation).

    Thanks to all who made this post possible.

  36. “The lessons we hear about Emma deal with the parts of her history that are in harmony with current LDS beliefs and practices. You will never hear anything about Emma after June 1844 (Joseph’s death) in a church setting–all of the references to her are prior to Joseph’s death, where she seemingly put up a good front for the church. Everything she did prior to that is honorable (excepting polygamy of course, which isn’t really talked about historically anyway.)”

    Exactly what I’ve noticed! Thank you MH and Hawkgrrl, both of you helped me to see this more clearly. I had a feeling that surely the fact that she had left the church didn’t go unnoticed by leaders and Saints alike. Thanks again.

  37. Thanks for the post. I loved it.

    The book From Mission to Madness, which I bought at the CoC Kirtland Temple visitors center had some interesting quotes about Brigham and Emma’s feelings towards each other and how Joseph’s financial arrangements for the church (or lack thereof) left Emma in an awkward position.

    It also had an interesting quote from David Hyrum Smith, in the time of his life where he suffered from mental illness, where he sharply accused his mother of deceiving him regarding his father’s participation in polygamy. Although it could have been a point of vindication for the “Brighamite” reader, it was ultimately a sad moment because of the events in David Hyrum’s life that leading to and culminating with that moment.

    Like Firetag, I hope there will be more fruitful dialogue in the future. Did President Hinckley and President McMurray connect in a fruitful way, or was it just long enough for the photo opportunities that took place?

    I had a coworker at a college job that I had know for months. One day, my car was broken down at the LDS institute and I asked her for a ride back there after work. When she saw the sign that said “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints” she told me that she was also a “Mormon”. I was a little surprised, as I had seen her smoking on breaks day after day. She told me that she was RLDS. So, by her culture, she seemed to identify with the “Mormon” appellation.

    I remember my last trip to Nauvoo, we skipped the CoC visitors center and went EARLY to the JS Homestead, where the guides were in the midst of a special tour for their young summer interns. They politely explained that this was not one of their regular tours, but invited us to join with them regardless. I was appreciative of their flexibility. I regret moments when members of my family were not such respectful guests towards their CoC hosts at CoC historical sites. I am also saddened to read of the disappointing experiences CoC members at Liberty Jail, etc. It seems that the hosts should have the experience and talents to adapt the presentations to edify all restorationist believers who desire a meaningful connection to these sites. I wish, in fact, that the Nauvoo Temple had been rebuilt with the ground level assembly room being open to all, rather then BEHIND the recommend desk. It would be a good spot for interdenominational meetings.

  38. I too wanted to thank all involved with providing this interview. Thanks MH for having a relationship of trust with John and Firetag and others which helps bring us such “interfaith dialogue”. I found it interesting and informative, especially as a follow-up after I took the time recently to read over the CoC official website. That too was educational to see how the history is presented, and to learn of each subsequent prophet. Thanks, also, for dispelling the “myths” on the other post; I’m glad I didn’t have to feel stupid for wondering about the shift in importance of a literal Smith descendant being the leader. I suppose the best answer is that you too believe in “inspiration” and modern revelation, no matter where it takes you. I still have questions in my mind about the McMurry resignation, beyond his official statement, but I suppose I’m not alone.

  39. I think LDS people have a hard time granting a prophet “emeritus” status, but it appears to me that is exactly the direction the CoC is headed. I suspect Pres Veazey will resign at some point, as will the next prophet, and that McMurray’s resignation will be seen as a natural progression of leaders, once we get a few more prophets in the CoC “behind us.”

  40. We will probably never know the story behind Grant’s resignation, but even most of the rumors (which I will not repeat) hold him in a favorable light, and he is still held in personal high regard by most members of the church.

    The precedent for “emeritus” has been well established since W. Wallace Smith named his son Wallace B. Smith as his successor, so I’m sure that will be followed by Steve as well.

    What was unusual about Grant’s resignation was that he declined to name his successor — and that has always been done in the past, even when prophets held the office until death. We’ll see whether Steve names his successor, or allows the “full quorum” status of the Presidency to lapse, devolving the power to select the prophet to the Twelve.

    Notice, however, even were that to be the case, there is not yet precedent for whom the Twelve would pick; it could be any High Priest in the church. Historically prophets have been chosen from lineal descendents who were being previously prepared as councilors to the prophet, from the church’s secretay, and from the senior Apostle. It could be a junior apostle as well, for example.

  41. I agree, mh, I believe that’s kind of the direction they’re heading. I was just referring to the real “insider” reasons/rationale for him stepping down when he did, beyond his official statement. His letter said that he had “made some inappropriate choices, and the circumstances of my life are now such that I cannot continue to effectively lead the church…It is not appropriate for me to function in a priesthood capacity as I work through these personal issues.” I suppose I must use discretion since wondering more would probably be verging on gossip. The better “angel of my nature” perhaps shouldn’t even ask or care or wonder, but the “natural” man in me would like to know more of the facts. I wonder if most CofC members have just let it be and moved on.

  42. I must have begun typing my previous comment right before FireTag posted. “Even most of the rumors (which I will not repeat) hold him in a favorable light, and he is still held in personal high regard by most members of the church.” That was kind of my sense, too. Thanks for confirming.

  43. I too attended Detroit Center and am pleased with the renewal. i am currently mission center historiran for headwaters and hope for a greater dialogue among restorationists. John Whitmer association is a great meeting place. Feel free to contact me at as I am working on the Wisconsin. Minnesota, Michigan history of the restoration.

  44. Regarding a comment I read on this or the previous one of John’s RLDS/CoC blog about the RLDS wanting to become more like a Protestant church: I think that being in the midst of the general Christian population contributed to this since they were not isolated like the Mormons in Utah and wanted to feel at least a small amount of acceptance.

    Evidence of this might be found in serving of the sacrament only once a month instead of weekly; calling their stake local units “congregations” instead of wards; using the terms pastor and evangelist (while definitely scriptural and mentioned by Joseph Smith) but not in the normal parlance of the early church; totally rejecting baptism for the dead; using the cross at least by the 1950’s, referring to the sacrament as communion by the 1970’s and referring to the ordainces as sacraments by the 1980’s. The Independence Temple dedication itself was with the exception of one mention of “Joseph & Emma Smith” was totally lacking any reference or music uniquely restoration. (I was pleasantly surprised to see the Sacred Grove depicted in etched glass though). Perhaps the name change and calling women to the priesthood could be added to the list. However, since the name was cumbersome (as well as embarrasing to some) and women receiving the priesthood was done by way of direct revelation they in themselves are not evidence of such an attitude


  45. I should point out that the LDS church has also sought degrees of greater Christian acceotance themselves, although not the types of things like those above. It starting with the “Great Accomodation” at the beginning of the 20th Century and continuing up unto this day. These would include the definite down playing of plural marriage in current church lesson books and President Hinkley’s public retrechment of the doctrine of eternal progression.

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