The Divided Kingdom Today

Bored in VernalMormon, succession 27 Comments

Avatar-BiVOT SS Lesson #27

“Take an old piece of clothing,” our SS lesson advises, “or a piece of paper that is cut in the shape of a piece of clothing and tear it into 12 pieces. Explain that toward the end of Solomon’s life, the prophet Ahijah prophesied that Jeroboam, one of Solomon’s 12 superintendents over taxes and labor, would take over much of the Israelite nation. To illustrate this, Ahijah seized the garment from the back of Jeroboam, tore it into 12 pieces, and gave 10 of the pieces to Jeroboam.”  The lesson teaches that the influence of wicked leaders was instrumental in dividing the kingdom of Israel after Solomon’s death.

The Savior taught that “every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation” (Matthew 12:25).

I read this with some consternation, because lately I have been perusing a very interesting website.  It is a wiki collection of groups belonging to the Latter-day Saint movement put together by Alan Unsworth.  Does it surprise you to learn that there are at least 116 active groups and denominations which trace their history back to Joseph Smith, as well as 204 “Restoration Branches” and 154 defunct denominational groups?  And because many of these are secretive and insular, I don’t believe that this list includes them all.

One of the things that impressed me about the Mormon Church when I joined as a young adult was that Joseph Smith had received an answer and provided a solution to the tumult of opinions and the multiplicity of church organizations which surrounded him in nineteenth-century America.  I didn’t realize at the time of my baptism that beginning with his death, there have been serious divisions in the Church which continue to this day.  The more I have delved into the succession situation which faced the Church in 1844, the more I realize that several of the contenders for President of the Church at that time had legitimate claims.  The “main body” of the Church followed Brigham Young to the intermountain West, but those who gave their allegiance to Sidney Rigdon, William Bickerton, Granville Hedrick, or James Strang (and later Joseph Smith III) had good reasons for doing so.  The major movements can be easily viewed in the following visual:

Another major schism took place in the years immediately preceeding the Manifesto issued by Wilford Woodruff halting the practice of polygamy.  Many of the Mormon fundamentalist groups trace their history to an 1886 revelation given to John Taylor authorizing five men to carry on the work of the New and Everlasting Covenant of Plural Marriage and to ordain others to do so.  Other fundamentalist groups claim an apostasy in the LDS church and a restoration similar to that of Joseph Smith.  They ask their adherents to pray and receive revelation regarding the truthfulness of their claims, just as does the main body of the Saints.  A helpful chart of the major branches of the fundamentalist movement was produced by Brian Hales (click on image for clearer view):

When reading of the Divided Kingdom of Israel in the Old Testament, there is nothing which so reminds me of the situation the covenant people faced as the division among Restoration churches today.  Do you view the LDS Church as part of a divided kingdom?  Do you think it is justifiable to compare our situation today with that of Israel in the Old Testament?

Comments 27

  1. I realized some time ago that a church which has its origins in a personal revelatory experience as a revolutionary foundation provides ammunition for other folks to basically challenge their authority and beliefs with the same thing. Not that it’s a bad thing, but ultimately the experience is personal. It’s the old “I know what I know and I believe what I believe and I’ve felt what I’ve felt” subjectivity which everyone is entitled to. I used to study those “splinter group” charts as a hobby, but haven’t paid much attention for awhile. I actually worked with a guy once whose wife came from the Allred group. She joined the LDS church when she was about 20 or so. She says they’re all crazy, but they’re family so you gotta love ’em.

    Yep, one restoration, followed by another, followed by another.
    I don’t remember exactly who, I’m thinking Joseph Fielding Smith (but I could be off by a couple of decades) spoke or wrote some pretty scathing words about The Church Of The Firstborn, saying essentially that their use of that name brings their apostacy up one notch.

    Eh, divided kingdom? I don’t think so. We’ll see, though. Maybe one day a horde of Canadian Episcopalians will swoop down and take one group away into bondage. Which group?

  2. they’re all crazy, but they’re family so you gotta love ‘em.
    Huh. I’m not related to any Mormons, of any flavor, but this is sort of the feeling I have toward all of the restoration groups.

  3. but this is sort of the feeling I have toward all of the restoration groups.


    Actually, they make me think of all the “Cowboy” Churches you see in Texas. Little churches, often with the name “Cowboy Church” or something similar (or an express desire to be one, even with a different name). Do they really count as different Christian schisms or are they really just family like small clusters? Different congregations of the same movement.

    Generally nice people though. This just isn’t really a world for cowboys anymore.

  4. biv, I love this topic and I like how you have tied it into the lesson. i’m reading john hamer’s book ‘scattering of the saints’ (and I will probably post on it in a month or so.)

    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.

  5. BiV: I’m personally convinced by scholars who consider the united kingdom of Solomon to be a myth, created by exiles from the Northern Kingdom (which had previously been the central Israelite power under King Omri) after the Assyrian conquest, in order to ingratiate themselves with the Davidic Kings of Judah (the surviving Israelite kingdom). In any event, the idea that anyone is totally unified should probably be relegated to the status of a philosophical ideal or the myth of a theoretical golden age.

    On this subject in regards to Mormonism, I find this quote from Joseph Smith Jr. to be full of irony:

    “I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me… the followers of Jesus ran away from him; but the Latter Day Saints never ran away from me yet.”

    [Taken from the Journal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 26 May 1844.]

  6. John, the “United Kingdom” was not terribly unified.

    The succession of the north was already started when Solomon started hunting his general …

    But there are good arguments that it occurred as a part of the creation of nation states rather than tribal affiliations. Makes me think of Scotland, really.

  7. BIV:

    I see an error in the chart, one that could possibly be misleading. It shows Emma Smith and Joseph Smith III. I am fairly certain Emma Smith did not have much to do with this, or any church. By her own account, the only time she attended any church after her husband’s death was when her son Joseph started the restored church. She did not even attend her son David’s church.

    My great, great grandfather was the president of the Eastern States Mission headquartered in Saint Louis. He received a letter from Brigham Young to take Elder Young (Brigham’s son) and Elder Pratt (Parley P. Pratt’s son) to Nauvoo; and, while there check on the status of Emma Smith Bidamon. A copy of the letter is included in my great grandfather’s journal.

    When they arrived in the Nauvoo, he recorded the events of their encounter with Emma and Lewis Crum Bidamon. It was the first time LDS missionaries had been to this area since Brigham and the saints traveled west. He recounts the encounter with Emma and recorded the conversation they had. She never denied the fact Joseph was a prophet of God, or his divine calling. However, she wanted nothing to do with any church, including that of her son’s. If you think it would be helpful, I could scan the contents of the conversation along with the letter to and from President Young.

  8. Stephen: On those links and discussions — I generally tend to agree with Israel Finkelstein. Like him, I’m not an ultra-minimalist, but I’m not convinced at all by the maximalist proposals. Obviously, the discussion and research are ongoing.

  9. I believe some mormon splinter groups actually began while JS was still alive. The problem was he didn’t leave a clear-cut pattern of succession. Each of the advocates after 1844 could cite an example from the scriptures or JS history for their claim.

    Mark Hoffman’s forged “succession document” hoodwinked quite a few in 1981, but apart from that………………..

    #11 guest, RLDS (CofChrist) history states that Emma was received into their movement on her original baptism when her son assumed leadership April 6,1860. A few years later she gave them the JST manuscript. I don’t know how active she was in the years before her death.

  10. guest, #11:
    I believe Emma’s name is there because of the support she gave her son Joseph III when he decided to take the leadership of the RLDS. She traveled with him to Amboy for the conference where he was sustained as president in 1860, and became a member of this church (without rebaptism, as her 1830 baptism was considered valid). She turned over the manuscript of Joseph’s revision of the Bible to the RLDS church in 1866. She was a Reorganite at her death, and the funeral services were under RLDS auspices. I’m not sure that she had much to do with the formation of this branch of the Restoration, however. The chart was taken from a Wikipedia article.

    I would be interested in looking at the letter and information you have:

  11. Stephen, interesting links. I wasn’t aware of this debate, but I am not surprised to read of it. As John said, complete unity is an ideal which is difficult to find in actual practice.

  12. Emma Hale Smith Bidamon was an active member of the RLDS Church (Community of Christ) from 1860 to her death.

    The main reason why there’s confusion is that what she did was affiliate with the “new organization” of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Days Saints meeting in general conference at Amboy. Later that new organization rejected the phrase “new organization” because it defiantly decided it was not “new,” it was merely a “reorganization” of Joseph Smith Jr.’s 1830 organization of the church. (It was likewise viewed as critical by all Mormons that Joseph Smith Jr. had not “founded” his church in 1830, merely organized it, since the church itself was understood to have been been founded by Jesus Christ and was believed to be merely in a state of disorganization). As you know, that Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS Church) officially changed its name to Community of Christ on April 6, 2001 (by action of the 2000 World Conference).

    The fact that Emma “affiliated with” rather than “joined” generates confusion, but it was part of the early RLDS Church’s obsession with arguing that it was the sole legal successor to the early (1830-1844) church. Because Emma had already been baptized and had been a member of the early church, it was obviously unnecessary for her to be baptized into the RLDS Church — since the two were said to be one and the same. Thus she was not “re-baptized” when she joined the Community of Christ, she merely recognized it as the original church and the church, in turn, recognized her as a member in communion.

    One of Emma’s roles in the early church had been to prepare hymnals. Her first hymnal was dated 1835, but printed in 1836 in Kirtland, Ohio. Her second hymnal was published in 1841 in Nauvoo, Illinois. She took the same role in the Community of Christ, which published her third and forth hymnals in 1861 and 1864 in Cincinnati, Ohio. See Richard Clothier, “150 Years of Song: Hymnody in the Reorganization, 1860-2010,” pp 6-7. Clothier notes that during the Nauvoo period, the Twelve Apostles (later leaders of the LDS Church in Utah) published their own hymnal in England, which was significantly different from Emma’s 1841 hymnal and that Utah hymnals perhaps unsurprisingly were built on the apostolic hymnal. Emma’s 1861 hymnal, by contrast, ignored the apostles’ hymnal and was almost entirely based on her 1841 edition. Subsequent Community of Christ hymnals have her work as their foundation, see Clothier pp. 17-19.

    Emma had also kept possession of her husband’s Biblical glosses, which she called his “New Translation” of the Bible, “Inspired Version” in RLDS speak or “Joseph Smith Translation” (JST) in LDS speak. She entrusted these into the hands of the RLDS Publications Committee in 1866 and the church published them for the first time in 1867. (Because the manuscript was in Emma’s hands and RLDS hands, the LDS Church has never published this work of Joseph Smith Jr., although in the 1970s or 80s they began to include notes in their KJV edition indicating JST glosses.)

    Emma Hale Smith Bidamon attended the local RLDS congregation in Nauvoo. According to her obituary in the “Nauvoo Independent,” a local secular newspaper, “Mrs. Bidamon was a member of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and her funeral services were conducted by elders and members of that body of believers” see Emma’s Nauvoo, ed. by Ronald E. Romig, p. 79.

    In sum, her active membership in Community of Christ isn’t in doubt; the confusion arises out of the early RLDS need to avoid language like “she joined in 1860,” in order to try to make the rhetorical point that the church after 1860 was the only true successor to the church 1830-1844. Community of Christ no longer makes that claim. The church is one of the successors of the early church, but is clearly not the sole successor or the one and only true successor.

  13. To parse John’s last sentence for LDS readers who haven’t seen that wording before, the Community of Christ would say it is “a” true church rather than the “one and only” true church. Nor would it say that the Restoration is the “one and only” true branch of Christianity.

    Fair, Johm?

  14. Ditto #6 on the numbers and their implications.

    Stephen #8: “But there are good arguments that it occurred as a part of the creation of nation states rather than tribal affiliations.”
    Given that the concept of the nation state is thoroughly modern and has only been around for a few centuries (depending on where you want to label the start), the notion of trying to to look for a rudimentary nation state looks unviable at a time 2.5 or more millenia before the concept developed in a region where we have only minimal conclusive archaeological evidence and lots of mystical text whose facts are unverifiable.

  15. We are not talking about a divided kingdom here. The church is whole – the splinter groups are not part of the church and thus cannot be classed a part of the whole.

    The divided kingdom only comes in if the church leadership decide to teach different ideas than the others as doctrine, and the members decide who they want to follow, but it is all still considered a whole. This is definitely not the case in the LDS church.

  16. Non-Arab Arab, a nation state as opposed to a city state is a concept that was clear for both Alexander and for Rome and Persia.

    Or are we using the words differently?

    Macedonia was a nation state. Greece at the time was a collection of city states. Scotland was long a federation of tribes.

    One step is the evolution of city states, but it is also possible for tribes to meld into nations. My analysis is that it took a bit of kingmaking before the tribal federations became nations.

  17. The U.S. Military definition of nation state is “a sovereign state whose citizens or subjects are relatively homogeneous in factors such as language or common descent.”

    That fits the tribes of Israel when they become a nation. Arguably it does not apply to tribal federations.

    Another definition would be “Particular type of state, characteristic of post-medieval and modern times, in which a government has sovereign power within a defined territorial area, and the mass of the population are citizens who know themselves to be part of a single nation.”

    The tribes of Israel, while not being post-medieval, had a defined territorial area and a mass who saw themselves as Israel. Ethnic tribal federations with kings are natural nation states.


    Home > Library > Literature & Language > Dictionary
    A political unit consisting of an autonomous state inhabited predominantly by a people sharing a common culture, history, and language.

    Quite frankly, I see nation states as one method for the evolution of nations, one that was not terribly common in Europe but that really fit other nations that developed (e.g. Macedonia or successor Greek state in the Alexander successor states).

    Just because northern Europe may have come late to the game doesn’t mean that it started there.

    Consider the early Caliphate, binding various Arab peoples together in one heritage (Islam), one ethnic group and one nation. Is it any surprise that the prophet’s grandson would end up dead and the empire splintered on ethnic, history, culture and language grounds with the Persians on one side and the Arabs on the other, or that Egypt has a historic identity that reasserted itself?

    Anyway, I’m getting a bit off topic, but hope that makes what I am presenting clearer.

  18. I do not know about confusing but there is a large amount of knowledge and information that when one takes the time to study and pray about it surely shows the answers to TRUTH OF GOD”S WORD

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