Q & A – The Community of Christ and Latter-day Saints

By Common Consent has invited David Howlett, a believer in the Restoration and a religious scholar, to be a guest blogger. We have started with a question and answer format to help our readers understand how the CofC and LDS communities are similar and how they are different. Please welcome David to BCC.

David Howlett is a PhD student in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Iowa. He studies American religious history under Dwight Bozeman and is currently reading for his comprehensive finals. David’s current research interests include millennialism in America, the human body and religious discourse and praxis, and the anthropology of pilgrimage. He has published articles in the Journal of Mormon History, the John Whitmer Historical Association Journal, Communal Societies, Fides et Historia, and has a forthcoming article in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. In the summer, David teaches early Mormon history courses through Graceland University to the Community of Christ guides in Nauvoo, Illinois, and Kirtland, Ohio. As a native of Independence, Missouri, David was baptized into the RLDS Church at age eight, raised in the Restoration Branches movement (fundamentalist RLDS), and reactivated his membership in the Community of Christ as a young adult. Currently, David attends Coralville Community of Christ in Coralville, Iowa, where he serves in the office of member.

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How is the Community of Christ organized? Are there equivalents to the LDS wards and stakes? How autonomous are the local congregations? Is tithing money retained and used locally, or is it sent to headquarters which allocates budgets according to need?

Until the late 1990s, the Community of Christ was organized by branches (or congregations), districts (several congregations), and stakes (several districts). Since then, we have been organized in mission centers–the rough equivalent of stakes, except that they cover larger geographical areas and have a larger number of people per unit. A mission center president may work full-time for the church or she may be a volunteer; financial officers (bishop’s agents) also may be full-time or part time. The mission center secretary is usually a stipend position. In my mission center, we have a volunteer mission center president, a volunteer mission center financial officer (who works three days a week for us), and a full-time secretary.

In comparison to LDS wards, CofC congregations are relatively autonomous. We have our own congregational budget that we approve every year in an agonizingly long budget meeting. A small percentage of our budget supports our mission center’s ministries based on a per capita member assessment. Our congregation’s budget comes from voluntary contributions. Individual members choose how much tithing money to contribute to their local congregation, the Community of Christ’s denominational budget, and charities of an individual’s choice (all three areas are seen as valid for tithing money). Currently, the Community of Christ’s presiding bishopric suggests that members give fifty percent to local ministries/charities and fifty percent to denominational ministries. And, yes, in a budget-strapped church that recently went through employee cuts, we definitely encourage tithing. In the past, priesthood members needed to be tithing paying members before ordination (in addition to observing non-use of tobacco and alcohol). To my knowledge, this is still officially encouraged, but flexibly applied.

At the congregational level, we elect our own pastor or presiding elder (the equivalent of an LDS bishop but with less power). In my congregation in Coralville, Iowa, we have a three-person volunteer pastorate; they keep the congregation going and manage our expenses. A few congregations in the Community of Christ, like our inner-city Baltimore congregation, employ a full-time pastor who functions much more like a Methodist presiding elder (pastor). However, most CofC pastors are coordinators rather than the main minister in a congregation. We have a lay priesthood and ten percent of Community of Christ members serve in the priesthood. Any member may be ordained to any office at any point in their life. Priesthood is not connected to exaltation in the afterlife.


How is the Book of Mormon used and thought of in the CofC?

I am asked this question a lot by LDS people. Inevitably, they say, “I have heard that the CofC no longer uses the Book of Mormon.” Yes and no. Some no longer use it as frequently as they did in past decades; a North American congregation may or may not use the Book of Mormon in worship services on any given Sunday. Tens of thousands of CofC members have never used the Book of Mormon, such as members in Haiti or most in Africa. These people joined our community for other reasons (the worth of persons as an ideal, lay ministry, respect for indigenous expressions of the gospel, peace and justice advocacy, or
belief in spiritual gifts, etc.) but not for the Book of Mormon. However, the Community of Christ officially recognizes the Book of Mormon as an additional Scriptural witness that supports the Bible’s testimony of Jesus Christ. The Community of Christ lectionary includes Book of Mormon references along with Bible and Doctrine and Covenants references. Use of the Book of Mormon varies by region, congregation, and individual.

Members think of the Book of Mormon in various ways. No one is required to believe in the Book of Mormon to be a member of the Community of Christ; only Jesus is seen as worthy of “belief in,” as one of my CofC theologian friends reminds me constantly. In addition, the CofC First Presidency does not require that members hold a certain belief about the Book of Mormon’s historicity. We officially take positions on doctrine, but not on historical issues (well…sort of). Some members see the Book of Mormon as a history of ancient American peoples. A few see it as an ancient record phrased in the idioms of nineteenth-century America. Others see it as a nineteenth-century Scriptural parable that offers inspired counsel to those with ears to hear. Still others see it as not very important at all–but not as something evil. While there is no poll out, I personally think that most Community of Christ leaders fall into the last three categories. How does the Book of Mormon impact the Community of Christ today? Almost everyone embraces the Book of Mormon’s doctrines of believer’s baptism, emphasis on personal agency in salvation, emphasis on personal sanctification, and communion (sacrament) prayers–whether or not they directly use the Book of Mormon. In addition, the fact that we still officially use the Book of Mormon opens us to constant criticism from evangelicals and orthodox Christians that we meet in our ecumenical activities. This is not going to be overcome anytime soon, too. Personally, I love the Book of Mormon and have read it cover to cover seven times. I am convinced that it is Scripture that arose from Joseph Smith’s creative interaction with nineteenth-century evangelical America; I can respect other viewpoints, too. In my congregation and family, there are divergent beliefs about the Book of Mormon.

So…use of the Book of Mormon is very, very complicated in the Community of Christ.


I take it that the CofC has de-emphasized, or perhaps rejected, what LDS people would call the work for the dead. Is that true? What does the CofC think about ordinances, especially temple ordinances?

Early RLDS members embraced the principle of baptism for the dead; Alexander H. Smith’s personal conversion experience was based on the possibility that his deceased brother Frederick (d. 1862) could be saved through this ordinance at a future date. (Alexander was a son of JS, Jr., and the first RLDS Presiding Patriarch.) While embracing the principle of baptism for the dead, nothing was done to actually practice it beyond discussions about it in church General Conferences. However, by the mid-twentieth century, even conservative RLDS members questioned the theology behind vicarious ordinance work. The most conservative RLDS prophet of the twentieth century, Israel A. Smith (1946-1958), was profoundly disturbed by baptism for the dead–primarily due to his understanding that baptism does nothing for infants who die or for adults who die “without the law.” In short, Israel A. Smith did not know how to reconcile Joseph Smith’s baptism for the dead revelations with the doctrinal content of the Book of Mormon. He left this for another generation to tackle. Through 1970 World Conference legislation, Joseph Smith’s baptism for the dead revelations were moved to an “historical appendix” in our Doctrine and Covenants, and then removed altogether in 1990 conference action–an action called an “appendectomy” by the then church historian Dick Howard (my personal hero). All theology in some way is a reaction to something before it–whether we see it as a restoration, a correction, or a new emphasis. The Community of Christ’s temple theology in part reacts to LDS temple theology–even if it is simply a caricature of LDS temple theology. (After all, most critiques of any religious group are caricatures.) Community of Christ Prophet W. Wallace Smith (1959-1978) stated in a 1968 canonized revelation that “there is no provision for secret ordinances now or ever, although there will be provision for instructional activities [in the Independence Temple] . . .” (D&C 149A:6). I realize how offensive this verse sounds to LDS members; I’m simply trying to answer honestly, though.

So what happens in the Community of Christ Temple in Independence? In some ways, our theology is based on the uses of the Kirtland Temple–a place for public worship, education, and church administration. Due to the emphasis on peace and justice theology in the last thirty years, the Independence Temple is seen as a place for healing, for reconciliation, and for finding peace between groups and individuals. Yearly peace colloquys draw members and non-members far and wide (typically six hundred registered participants with a thousand attending opening addresses). A daily prayer for peace is held in the temple sanctuary at 12:30 p.m. CST; each day, a different nation or region is upheld in prayer. The intentional openness found in these temple rituals and meetings should not simply be seen as a reaction against (misperceived) LDS rituals. It’s actually also a transformed millennialism. The gigantic bronze doors of the Independence Temple bear witness to this with the Community of Christ seal–a lion, a lamb, a little child, and the words “Peace” under them. The temple, then, is a place that imperfectly tries to realize God’s gracious intention for all of creation–wholeness, restoration, and peace. The theme of the last chapter of Revelation is inscribed on the geographical, theological, and linguistic center of our movement.


To what extent is ritual important to you? Do you bless babies in church, anoint the sick with oil, etc?

Ritual is an increasingly important topic of theological reflection in the Community of Christ. There is a big contemporary emphasis among CofC seminary students, theologians, and leaders to embrace the power of the church’s (small “c”) sacraments. The Community of Christ has eight sacraments (we formerly used the Baptist-influenced term “ordinance” to describe “sacraments” due to our nineteenth-century origins). These eight sacraments are blessing of children, baptism by immersion, confirmation, marriage (for time only), ordination, “administration” or the laying on of hands to heal the sick (with oil), evangelist blessings (formerly called patriarchal blessings), and communion or the eucharist (what LDS frequently call “the sacrament”).

While we do not claim these eight sacraments are universal practices necessary for the entire Church (the two billion Christians that inhabit the globe), we testify that God’s grace is manifest to us through these ritual practices. Nearly everyone I know can relate a healing experience of themselves or a loved one through administration. My evangelist’s blessing, done while I was still in the fundamentalist, separatist wing of the CofC, was a singularly amazing outpouring of grace in my life. I was shocked by its affirmations and content; it deeply spoke to my spiritual needs at the time. I have experienced deeply meaningful administrations for spiritual healing, too, by CofC elders.


What are some positive things you see in the way that the CofC and LDS church interact? What could be done to improve the relationship?

Perhaps the most positive (and potentially the most explosive) interactions between LDS and CofC happen at historic sites common to both of our traditions. Relations between staff, guides, pilgrims, and guests have greatly improved over the past thirty years. Religious contestation still happens at these sites, but it is much more covert rather than overt. As a former guide and now as a summer instructor of Community of Christ guides in Kirtland and Nauvoo, I know that CofC guides make a special effort to use accessible, non-offensive language for our LDS pilgrims and curious guests. However, accessible language may not be what all guests want, and some are offended that we do not testify in the same way that LDS interpreters often do. We are not just LDS with a differently colored name-tag; we are genuinely different. Still, CofC sites no longer exist “to ruin LDS visitor’s vacations” as they once undoubtedly did. Cooperation between our two groups really now does exist. For instance, in Kirtland, LDS missionaries and CofC staff often cooperate in efforts such as yearly picnics and hymn festivals.

Relationships between scholars, too, have generated far more understanding than ever existed in the past. The Mormon History Association and the John Whitmer Historical Association have been the primary sites for building these bridges (along with healthy academic sparring). Since the 1970s, LDS and CofC frequently cooperate in the exchange of historical documents, preservation of several manuscripts, exchange of micro-film of holdings, and access to otherwise inaccessible materials.

I’m excited that LDS scholars interested in peace and justice issues are beginning to emerge. Certainly, common social justice issues could at least draw individuals together.

How could we improve relations? For the future, we could continue cultivating respect for each other with two related strategies–both already in use. First, some LDS members already see the CofC as blessed guardians of sacred sites rather than as simply apostates.
This is a conservative strategy, but shows genuine charity and works within a realistic framework for the average LDS member. Second, some CofC members approach their LDS friends as they would approach their Buddhist neighbors–with a spirit of trying to understand the “other” without defaming them. Understanding does not mean assimilation, either. (Yes, I know this is a complicated hermeneutical issue.) This second approach applies an existing Community of Christ ecumenical framework toward our LDS cousins. It could easily be applied by liberally-minded LDS to CofC, too.

Comments

  1. Mark Brown says:

    David,

    Thank you for your thoughtful and informative responses. In the past, I’ve considered myself to be a reasonably well-informed observer of the Community of Christ, but your answers taught me some new things. In particular, I found your evangelist’s blessings fascinating.

    And thank you for the work and training you do with the guides at the historic sites. I get to Nauvoo three or four times a year, and I’ve been to Kirtland three times in the last three years. Without exception, your guides have been kind, well informed, and respectful, and they have enhanced the experience of visiting our shared history. Please know that many of your LDS cousins deeply appreciate what you are doing.

  2. Great interview, David and Mark! Thanks for this.

    David, a common perception of the CoC among thoughtful LDS folks is that it’s dying because of its experimentation with a less literalistic approach to scripture, a more inclusive approach to priesthood, and a more flexible approach to history and theology. From your point of view, is that an accurate perception, or are LDS folks drawing incorrect lessons?

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks for the wonderful Q&A. I agree that relations between the two groups have warmed considerably in recent decades. I think it was Bill Russell who said something to the effect that as our churches have diverged further theologically, we have become better friends. No longer chicken fighting over succession issues probably helps a lot.

    I personally have evolved in my own appreciation for the CoC. When I was young I viewed the RLDS with suspicion, but now with great appreciation. Of course, I go to MHA and once, when it was in Nauvoo, JWHA, and I visit the historic sites. I used to wish the CoC would sell the Kirtland Temple to the LDS, but now that I understand the history better I have come to greatly value the role played by the CoC in preserving the temple.

    It is my hope that the friendship, appreciation and cooperation will proceed apace, and I am confident that it will. I personally have very warm feelings for my CoC cousins.

  4. David, welcome:

    Interesting interview and thoughts. I’m curious about your comments on the Book of Mormon. You describe its use as very, very complicated in the COC; however, it appears that the COC is actually attempting to distance itself from the historical claims of the Book, and what the Prophet Joseph taught about the Book of Mormon:

    “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book”

    This year, at its world conference the COC ruled as “out of order” a resolution to affirm the Book of Mormon:

    From the Central Mission Center:

    Whereas, current confusion exists as to the official position of the church concerning the Book of Mormon, therefore be it

    Resolved, that we, the Community of Christ, reaffirm the Book of Mormon as a divinely inspired record.

    The COC in ruling this resolution out of order stated they did not want to mandate belief or dogma. Yet, isn’t that in fact what a Church should do? Doesn’t there need to be some core beliefs and dogma that forms the basic framework of religious belief in the religious body?

    In taking such a position on the Book of Mormon, is the COC distancing itself from the literal history and translation claims taught by the Prophet Joseph as they relate to the Book of Mormon? Is the COC position on the Book for Mormon a way to mute the criticism from evangelicals, which you described above?

  5. David, thanks for participating. I quite enjoyed having lunch together at MHA and am looking forward to your posts.

    I imagine that all of us have a lot of questions, and like the others I learned a lot from you interview. It sounds , from your description, like the CofC is essentially post-millennialist. Is that a fair statement? I see some similar tendencies in certain LDS leaders.

    I’m intrigued by your comments on rituals. This is an area of great interest to me and the focus of my research, though I haven’t spent much time on CofC. It was my understanding that there has been official counsel discouraging the healing rites. Have I been mis-informed?

    Lastly, is there the same diversity on Joseph Smith as there is on the Book of Mormon. The recent Dialogue essays by Linaus and Reese (and I know that is a Liberal sample), would seem to indicate a dramatic deemphasis.

    I hope all the comment remain respectful, and I think this is such a wonderful opportunity to take a fresh look at our cousins in Faith. I think we tend to stereotype.

  6. David, thank you for taking the time to share this with us. It’s very much appreciated and genuinely informative. Thanks agian.

  7. Steve Evans says:

    David, thanks for your thoughts. I guess one of my questions is, do you see the LDS Church following in some of the institutional footsteps of the CoC?

  8. BCC just got even better. Thank you and welcome, David.

    I must thank you for your work with the historical sites. Here’s one LDS woman who would always pick a CoC site over an LDS one. Your guides are so informative and have been able to answer most of my questions. (LDS missionaries seem to make no attempt to learn any but the canned speech of history from their sites.) I love that you furnish the sites with period pieces, preserve the original whenever possible and demonstrate life as it was with working models rather than keep the buildings as empty as possible to cram in as many people as possible to hear a quick canned summary of history and a testimony like the one given in the last building. For instance, the women, dressed in heavy corsets and clothing, who demonstrate daily chores at the Mack home are so interesting. You’ve got it right.

    Sorry if I have offended anyone involved in our historical sites. It’s just my take.

  9. Hi David,

    I have a Demographic question for you. If I walked into 10 COC congregations at random who would be in the pews?

    I ask because my impression is that it would be very different then my suburban LDS ward. (AKA majority of people on sunday are under 20 in my current ward) (120 kids under 12, 40-45 kids under 20 and maybe 100-120 adults)

    My feeling is that the Demographics in COC are similar to say a Episcopal or other mainline church. Tending towards older folks and singles.

    I ask this because I have observed that.

    A. Liberal theology

    Equals

    B. Low birthrates/marriage rates

    Can you comment on this?

  10. Christopher says:

    David,

    Thanks for doing this Q&A. I thoroughly enjoyed your article in the JMH last year on RLDS, Zion, and the Great Depression. I’m curious as to your feelings regarding the proposed name change of JWHA to the Society for Latter Day Saint Studies?

  11. Kevin Barney says:

    Interesting; I was unaware of such a proposal. Does this mean that the focus of JWHA would no longer be strictly on history, but would then include other areas (scripture, theology, etc.)?

  12. Struwelpeter says:

    David,

    Can you say more about what you call the fundamentalist or separatist RLDS movement. I am not familiar with it, and suspect I am not alone in my ignorance.

  13. I love this type of respectful forum to learn about others’ beliefs. I really appreciate the tone of the questions thus far.

    My question: How does the CofC view and talk about revelation? I have to assume, given the number of changes in the last few decades, you still teach continuing revelation – but that might be just my outlook / terminology. Is there a belief in what we would call “continuing revelation” – at the top levels and at the local / individual levels?

  14. David Howlett says:

    #2 I’m not a sociologist of religion, but as one who has dabbled on the edges, I can say that your perception is somewhat correct–though there needs to be several caveats here. First, some of the changes in the past forty years have actually resulted in growth in international areas–especially in Africa and Haiti. De-emphasizing our Mormon roots in these geographical areas has resulted in steady growth.

    Second, transitions are always uneven and the CofC may be best characterized as a “big tent” church rather than simply as a liberal church. In a single congregation, you may find a wide spectrum of beliefs on many issues–some explicitly conservative, some quite liberal. Holding together groups with such diversity proves no small feat, too.

    Our socially constructed boundaries between ourselves and the world in North America have definitely lessened in the last forty years, and we have not grown at the rates we did in the past. It is possible that we are a dying movement; it is equally possible that we are simply going through a time of transition that will result in a new way of being part of the Restoration movement–a transition as fraught with possibilities for growth and slow deepening as it is fraught with a slow decline. A similar precarious transition faced the LDS church in the early twentieth century.

    I was once in a meeting of CofC intellectuals where a question was posed as follows: is it good enough to just say that we have lived righteous, prophetic witness and die as a movement because various forms of fundamentalism allay people’s fears better at this moment in modernity (or postmodernity)? What happens if “evil” wins? The speaker specifically referred to a similar question posed by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his Nazi jail cell. It isn’t good enough to just go along with a prophetic witness and proclaim a vision of justice if there is no audience. I know that leaders in the CofC are very aware of this, and they are trying to be both “prophetic” and “pastoral” in their approach to social issues and doctrinal statements. It’s a hard balance. I would not want it any other way, though.

  15. David Howlett says:

    #4 I think evangelical critics will not stop their criticism of the CofC short of it becoming a fundamentalist Protestant denomination that signs off on the rapture, Scriptural inerrancy, and all the current conservative social issues. Obviously, this will not happen, so whenever we are noticed by such critics, there will be conflict.

    Any interesting twist in evangelical evangelism of the CofC lately has been to play up the idea that the CofC is not Christian since some members have tried to have honest conversations about Scripture and homosexuality. Simply entertaining the possibility of conversation on this subject is too much for these critics.

  16. David Howlett says:

    #5 The CofC does seem much more post-millennial or even amillennial in its current emphasis. By amillennial, I mean a variation of Augustine’s view of the millennium as an allegory for the redemption of the believer. The CofC’s amillennialism is not individualistic, however. True to our roots, we still see a very collective dimension to this imperfect world-wide redemption. We are saved together or not at all. Most average believers (and many theologians) do still proclaim the eventual coming of Jesus, but very few are interested in speculating on the “signs of the times.”

    To my knowledge, healing rituals have not been de-emphasized. I think the opposite has actually happened. A greater emphasis on the healing ministries of the church has been part of recent CofC discourse, especially as it relates to the temple. I just heard an excellent sermon by Becky Savage, a CofC First Presidency member, that did just this. I think the emphasis has shifted, though, more to spiritual healing and healing through social justice and peace making. However, any CofC member that I know seeks blessing by the laying on of hands when they go through a serious health crisis. When someone is the hospital, even marginal members call for the church elders to come and pray for them.

    An excellent article that addresses “healing” in the context of the CofC’s current theology is Richard Waugh, “Heterotopia: The Postmodern Zion,” in Restoration Studies VII (Independence: Herald Publishing House, 1998).

    Finally, yes, there is the same diversity on Joseph Smith as their is on the Book of Mormon. He is a complicated guy.

  17. David Howlett says:

    #7 In some ways, the LDS church probably will follow in some of the CofC footsteps. I honestly think that the LDS church will eventually ordain women, but they definitely want to avoid the deep schism that my movement went through in the 1980s. Eventually, too, I think that the LDS church will deal with the Book of Mormon differently.

    The CofC, in this way, is the laboratory of the Restoration movement in which these contemporary social and intellectual issues are being worked out, just as the “mainline” Protestant denominations are the centers for social change that eventually even conservative Evangelicals will adopt. If we look at the issue of “race,” for instance, mainliners marched with King, while many neo-evangelicals (the descendants of early twentieth century fundamentalists) wanted segregation. Now, no neo-evangelical would dare advocate such policies in society or the church. The few who do are on the fringe.

    Of course, significant forces within the LDS church also will be part of future changes, even if these changes do not happen in our lifetimes.

  18. David Grua says:

    David: Thank you for your insightful comments. I have a question about your use of the word “cousin” to describe LDS folks, which has since been repeated by some of the commenters. I am very much interested in how Mormons construct identity through their descriptions of others, in this case, others that believe in Joseph Smith but not Brigham Young. We certainly would not call the Strangites “cousins,” much less the fundamentalists of southern Utah. Any opinions on why Brighamites and Josephites feel comfortable calling each other cousins? Any guesses as to when this started? For some reason I can’t imagine that moniker being used during the Temple Lot case.

  19. David Howlett says:

    #9 Demographics are very different depending on what congregation you attend. My congregation in Coralville, Iowa, is fairly small–30 on Sunday mornings, with a wide age range (kids through people in their eighties). The heart and soul of the congregation tends to be the older generation, though. Some congregations are going through a demographic transition and dying for sure, while others have so many kids that worship services are almost distracting with the constant hum. I have been to a few in Independence like the latter. Most CofC congregations will be on the small side outside of the KC metro area. The largest congregation in my mission center has 70-100 on Sunday mornings–a nice size in my opinion.

    Does liberal theology equal low birth rates? I don’t know of any study that affirms this; it may be true. I suspect that income levels and education levels play more of a factor–but I am treading on thin ice here. Also, I can not affirm that CofC have marriage rates any lower than a national average. Certainly, there would be more single CofC people (like myself) than there would be LDS singles, but I do not see any great differences when compared to a larger sampling of American society. Again, I have no data to go on so I am just hypothesizing based on my own personal experience. So, sorry for this somewhat nebulous answer.

  20. David Grua, I tend to think that the “cousins” appellation is fitting because of the early 20th century leadership structure where you had Joseph F. Smith (and the Presiding patriarch) on one side and Joseph Smith III and other literal cousins on the other.

  21. David Grua says:

    J. Stapley – That definitely has something to do with it. But when did the cousin appellation move from being a designation between individuals (JFS and JS3) and come to be applied to whole groups?

  22. FWIW, I have heard the churches referred to as the Joseph Smith Church (CofC) and the Hyrum Smith Church (LDS). Cousins, indeed. Insightful, methinks.

  23. David (#17), thanks very much for your reply. Some really interesting thoughts here.

  24. David #19, I think you’re right about the birth rates. Demographers have widely studied the so-called “demographic transition” from an equilibrium of high birth rates and high death rates to a new equilibrium of low birth rates and low death rates. For the most part, the transition can be explained — theoretically and empirically — by reference to technology, education, and generational turnover without much discussion of theology, etc. The fact that birth rates have fallen a lot everywhere in the U.S. in spite of very little theological liberalism here is a good case in point.

  25. Christopher says:

    J. Stapley (#20) and Ray (#22)-

    The literal familial ties between the churches do make sense of the term, “Cousin,” and I’m comfortable with it. However, I’m not sure that 19th century Brighamites or Josephites would have been at all comfortable with the term.

    David Grua (#21)-

    My guess is that the term is a 20th century construction that reveals something about the ecumenical efforts of both groups in the last 30 years.

  26. Christopher says:

    David Grua (#18)-

    I think you’re spot-on wit your assessment that “we certainly would not call the Strangites ‘cousins,’ much less the fundamentalists of southern Utah.” What moniker do we give them then? Are Fundamentalist Mormons our bastard children? Our stunted step children? Do we feel any relation with the Strangites at all? Are they the equivalent of a second cousin, three times removed, related only through marriage anyway?

  27. #17,

    I have to say I disagree.

    Mainline denominations and the COC are commonly used in the LDS circles I run in and the mainlines are used by my Evangelical Fundy coworkers in as an example of how not to run a prosperous denomination. A quick look at the data shows that denominations that embraced the social changes of the 1960’s regarding scripture, ordination of women, gay issues etc are in deep decline in the US.

    (birthrates to JNS)

    The evangelical publishing houses periodically run pieces making this same point from time to time.

  28. I’m not sure that 19th century Brighamites or Josephites would have been at all comfortable with the term.

    I agree. The discomfort to Church leaders that patriarch Smith’s closeness with his Reorganite cousins caused is probably evidence for that.

  29. Hi, This has been quite interesting. I have a couple questions, too.

    First, I was struck by the relatively small % of members who are priesthood holders. Has it always been this small, or was this a change that accompanied a re-definition of being a priesthood holder at some point in time (perhaps when it was extended to women?)? Relatedly, being that it is open to women, about what % of the CoC priesthood is women as opposed to men?

    Second, how does the CoC address the first vision? You said a great deal about the importance of ecumenism, and the descriptions of the theology I’ve seen make it very much like liberal mainline theology in Methodist, Lutheran, Presybterian, and Episcopal circles (maybe even some more conservative unitarian ones, too, if that’s not an oxymoronic phrase). The articulation of sacraments is also very very much like the traditional mainline beliefs. The diminution of the church’s claims of authority (particularly of the prophetic authoirty) (which I am reading between the lines, but which seems to be here) also seem to be tending toward the protestant mainline mean (certainly, they seem much weaker than those of either the LDS church or doctrinal catholicism). All of this seems to be moving the CoC very firmly into protestantism. Yet my reading of Joseph Smith’s account of the first vision seems to say that methodism, presybterianism, etc. are not the way to go. So how do you mesh these? Is it by derrogating the theological meaning of the first vision?

    Third, to some outsiders, the progress of the CoC over the past few decades has seemed like that of a family running away from the legacy of some crazy ancestors. (I’m not saying that that’s true, but it could be read that way.) Has it felt like this? Is there a strong sense that mainline protestantism (with a few archaic quirks) is the ultimate destination? In your opinion, what elements of the CoC’s mormon founding (and which are distinctive from mainline protestantism) are not negotiable, and will continue to comprise the core of CoC identity/belief/practice?

  30. David Grua says:

    While we’re talking about terms, I wonder if David can tell us if “Reorganite” has historically been seen as a term of opprobium?

  31. bbell #27, I’m not sure what the valence of your birthrate comment was. Do the evangelicals run pieces claiming that theological liberalism drives down birth rates, or claiming that birth rates fall due to education, technological change, and generational turnover? In either case, it’s worth noting that the birth rate among evangelicals in the U.S. has dropped at about the same rate as the birth rate among liberal protestants in the U.S. over the last 50 years or so, although from different starting points. The same, by the way, is true of LDS Mormons vs. liberal protestants; everybody’s birth rates seem to be falling in similar ways.

  32. David Howlett says:

    #10 and #11 –I personally think that the proposed name change for JWHA will be helpful for outside scholars who usually do not know who John Whitmer is or what our organization does. Yes, there is thought about expanding JWHA (or whatever it will be named) to include sociological, anthropological, and theological studies. This is all still in the works, though.

  33. Let me cast a vote in favor of expanding JWHA/whatever to include social-science approaches to Mormonism, which are not well-represented to date. Even though they are the best tools for answering some of the questions Mormons care about most.

  34. JNS different starting points I think is the key to the whole birthrate issue discussion. The Evangelicals run pieces about how the mainliners are essentially withering away quite regularly. They typically blame liberal theology for said withering.

    Anyway.

    David,

    2 more questions

    1. Can you address the First Vision from a COC perspective? Do your fellow congregants take it literally?

    2. What do you make of sections (in the LDS standard works) 132 and 133 of the D&C?

  35. Fascinating questions and answers. Thank you David.

  36. Note, bbell, that those sections weren’t in the D&C until 1876, long after the schism. Early efforts of the Reorganization cast polygamy in terms of apostate Brighamism. Some of the liberalism in the current CofC is the result of dealing with historicity of the Nauvoo innovations.

  37. During a recent trip to Nauvoo, I chatted with a Graceland intern in the CoC bookstore. She was an excellent ambassador of the faith. She said a few things that intrigued me. 1) She thinks very highly of Pres. Veazy, but is not sure that he is a prophet. 2) She and other interns came to their semester in Nauvoo not knowing much of Joseph Smith’s importance to their faith tradition. They were bit miffed that they had to serve in Nauvoo to find out.

    My husband is a PhD candidate at the University of Iowa too (Comm. Studies), but we are moving in 5 days! I’m sorry we were not able to meet you in person. Good luck.

  38. bbell, the trick is that the different starting points can be traced back to the mid-19th century — probably before liberal theology really came onto the table in a meaningful way.

  39. Kevin Barney says:

    Actually, it wouldn’t bother me to call Strangites or fundamentalists “cousins.” I see the term as simply a metaphor for the fact that we all have a common “ancestor” (i.e., Joseph Smith).

  40. David Grua says:

    I’m sure that David can give us more details (and clear up my misconceptions), but like J. Stapley said, the RLDS fought hard during the nineteenth and most of the twentieth century to prove that JS had never practiced or taught polygamy.In an important 1983 article, RLDS historian Richard P. Howard officially revised this view by stating that JS had indeed taught polygamy, but it was a historical accident. Basically, it was the logical extension of eternal sealings (Elder Oaks type polygamy), but never an intentional part of JS’s theology. Also, Howard implied strongly that JS had never practiced polygamy himself; but that others took the idea (read: BY) and applied it to this-world life.

    In a 1985 article RLDS historian Alma Blair criticized Howard for not going far enough, but I’m not aware of anything official coming after those articles. What am I leaving out David?

  41. Kevin, I agree. We actually have a lot in common with the Strangites. In some ways more than with the CoC — Strangites and LDS share the experience of persecution for polygamy, etc.

    David Grua, I’m also eager to hear the answer to your question. In my handful of conversations with CoC folks, I’ve run into a few who affirm that Joseph Smith only ever had one wife. In an era when Todd Compton’s book is available in most good libraries, that seems hard for me to understand. Perhaps there is a good argument here that I’ve only ever seen one side of. If so, I’d love some references to the most cogent statements against Smith having practiced polygamy. Alternatively, I’d love references to RLDS statements since Howard/Blair that clarify the issue.

  42. David Grua says:

    JNS – From what I understand, the CofC bookstore in Independence sells _In Sacred Loneliness_, but there are still people that don’t believe it. In a 2003 article in the JWHA journal on the Temple Lot case, the author S. Patrick Baggette (apparently an attorney) really takes a conservative RLDS view on JS’s practice of polygamy. So even in scholarly journals the more conservative view is tolerated.

    I just looked in my bibliography and saw that David Howlett wrote “Remembering Polygamy: The RLDS and American Spiritual Transformations in the Late Twentieth Century,” John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 24 (2004): 149-72, which I have not read yet. But I’m sure it’s the best thing on the topic.

    If you have access to the JWHA journal take a look at the two articles I mentioned above, as well as Linda King Newell, “Cousins in Conflict: Joseph Smith III and Joseph F. Smith,” John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 9 (1989): 3-16. There’s also an unpublished dissertation entitled “JS III and the Mormons of Utah” by a Warner, I think. I’m sure that David can point you to other secondary sources.

  43. David Grua says:

    Oh, and Launius has a couple of articles on JS III and antipolygamy that preceeded his bio of JS III. Both were in 1987, one in Dialogue and the other in the JWHA journal.

  44. I’m not really sure how common the view point is, but obviously there are still traditionalists:

    http://restorationbookstore.org/jsfp-index.htm

  45. SC Taysom says:

    David H.,
    Welcome to BCC and thanks for the great post. I look forward to seeing you at the Communal Studies Association Conference next month.

  46. #15 I am a critic of CoC doctrine but hopefully kind to people. Try me sometime, David.

    And I don’t know if any of the original architects of Protestant fundamentalism would put the rapture or millennial eschatology on par with the core fundamentals they would militantly defend or what they published in The Fundamentals.

  47. David Howlett says:

    Wow, I am thrilled by all of the comments, but a bit behind in responding. So, I’ll tackle a few questions and try to clarify a few comments. Please forgive my netiquette–this is my first time blogging.

    Polygamy–It’s still a bothersome issue. I optimistically wrote in 2004 that the CofC had dealt with this issue and affirmed its historical existence with Joseph Smith. However, I was too optimistic. Perhaps 1/4 of the members still struggle with the Joseph Smith’s involvement in polygamy (this is just a guess). I had student interns in Nauvoo who had parents that adamantly stated Joseph Smith had nothing to do with polygamy. These individuals are definitely in the minority, but even a few staff members in Nauvoo take this position. Most people who support the “Brigham Young invented polygamy” theory get their stuff from Richard Price, an excommunicated fundamentalist RLDS member who has a publishing house in Independence. He is the author of the material on the web in post #44.

    #12 –Fundamentalist, separatist RLDS–These folk broke with the CofC over the ordination of women (1984) and later open communion (1994). Most commonly, these folks are called Restorationists, or members of the Restoration Branches movement. Some call themselves RLDS without any other qualifiers. All meet separately from the CofC and do not recognize the authority of it as an institution or its priesthood as authoritative. A good website to check them out is http://www.centerplace.org. I have a chapter on them in Hamer and Brighurst’s forthcoming volume, “Scattering of the Saints: Diverse Expressions of the Restoration Movement” from John Whitmer Books (available by the JWHA conference in September).

    #13 What about revelation? Yes, it is conceived as continuing. Last conference approved section 163 of the CofC D&C. This was the first revelation from Steve Veazey. It contained the following statement about Scripture:
    7 a. Scripture is an indispensable witness to the Eternal Source of light and truth, which cannot be fully contained in any finite vessel or language. Scripture has been written and shaped by human authors through experiences of revelation and ongoing inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the midst of time and culture.

    b. Scripture is not to be worshiped or idolized. Only God, the Eternal One of whom scripture testifies, is worthy of worship. God’s nature, as revealed in Jesus Christ and affirmed by the Holy Spirit, provides the ultimate standard by which any portion of scripture should be interpreted and applied.

    c. It is not pleasing to God when any passage of scripture is used to diminish or oppress races, genders, or classes of human beings. Much physical and emotional violence has been done to some of God’s beloved children through the misuse of scripture. The church is called to confess and repent of such attitudes and practices.

    d. Scripture, prophetic guidance, knowledge, and discernment in the faith community must walk hand in hand to reveal the true will of God. Follow this pathway, which is the way of the Living Christ, and you will discover more than sufficient light for the journey ahead.

    This probably summarizes best official position. While Scripture like the D&C is not seen as universal for all of Christianity, even CofC members in Kenya who are suspicious of the BofM are fine with saying that present counsel from our Prophet-President is part of God’s message for our community in this moment.

    Last night, I attended a preaching service put on by the First Presidency that expounded on various paragraphs of 163. This is part of a larger summer series that uses 163 as its jumping off point for each sermon. So, while we may have many affinities with our mainline sisters and brothers, we are definitely still unique. No Protestant church would do the same with resolutions from a denominational conference.

  48. David Howlett says:

    #46–You are right about the intellectual architects of Protestant fundamentalism such as those associated with the “Princeton” school of theology; later fundies, too, like J Gresham Machen (sp?) were definitely not into eschatological speculations. However, popular theology at the same time certainly did affirm some of this. I am using as my source for this a rather old work by Ernest Sandeen called “The Roots of Fundamentalism: British and American Millenarianism, 1830-1930″ (1970?). Sandeen argues that fundies who believed in the rapture were tolerated as allies in the fight against liberal protestantism. Definitely, though, their theology was taking off from the margins and moving into the “mainstream” of what would become “Evangelical” culture by the early twentieth century. I’m missing my notes right now, but another author who wrote a book from Baker Academic Press in 2004 does a good job of arguing this last point. The title was something like “On the Road to Armageddon: How Evangelicals Became Israel’s Best Friend.”

  49. David Howlett says:

    #29 and #34 The First Vision–what do we make of it? This is still an important part of CofC heritage, if only for the reason that it says that if you have hard questions, God will answer. Since the 1970s, we have increasingly emphasized the 1832 account, with admitted selectivity. Typically, we emphasize that Joseph was seeking forgiveness for his sins and received it in a personal way. Again, this goes back to a common theme in current CofC theology–healing and wholeness.

    If you talk to CofC intellectuals, they would certainly be very uncomfortably with basing entire doctrines for the church on one person’s experience, so some elements of JS’s 1838 account are not emphasized–or they are said to be flatly wrong. In this way, it is an attempt to affirm that knowing Christ comes through a community’s discernment–both the historic church in the past and the church in the present testifying to who Christ is. This means that no one experience can settle a doctrine of God or proclaim other groups as heretical. I understand that this is not how most LDS use the First Vision. It is a point of difference.

    Interestingly, I have met many international CofC members who like parts of the First Vision. As one Kenyan stated, “Joseph was a poor man, like me, and God talked to him.” The idea of Joseph’s rural, somewhat impoverished roots, is very, very appealing to many members; “God rides the broken horse; God uses the rotten wood,” said Martin Luther. Joseph was the broken horse, if you will–imperfect, wrong about some things, but still used by God for other things. So Joseph is not completely thrown out, even if some are suspicious of parts of his theology. Obviously, there is variation among members on this issue. Not all like nuance,but very few would simply say that Joseph has nothing to say to our movement.

  50. David Howlett says:

    #34–Wow! You must obviously know John Peters, then (a fantastic Comm Studies professor at Iowa). I just met him last spring, but I am extremely impressed with him.

    For everyone else, John Peters is the branch president of the LDS singles branch in Iowa City–and a leading American communication studies theorist. There is a great interview with Peters coming out in Dialogue soon, too! Everyone should read it–he is a fascinating guy.

  51. Mark Brown says:

    David,

    I just wanted to say that there is certainly no need for you to apologize for your netiquette – it’s been great! I think your responses have been thoughtful and very enlightening, and you have certainly exceeded expectations in terms of the way you have taken each question seriously. Many thanks.

  52. David Howlett says:

    #8 and #37 CofC historic sites–Thanks for your kind remarks about our sites. I have little to do with much of it; I’m only on site for a few weeks each summer. Lachlan Mackay in Nauvoo and Barb Walden in Kirtland have everything to do with the scripts and interpretive practices; they are site directors in each place and are great historians, too. I was fascinated by your comment, Joane, too, about the guide you met. It goes to show that people connect to movements in diverse ways. I was just reading a great book on the readers of the Left Behind series. Amy Frykholm affirmed that people can not assume the homogeneity of even the rapture-believing Evangelical readers of the series; they had some very different, idiosyncratic beliefs when she engaged them in in depth interviews.

    As promotion, too, everyone needs to visit the new CofC Visitor’s and Spiritual Formation Center in Kirtland. It has a really, really cool museum. On display are things like the real “Book of John Whitmer,” the real “Kirtland Elder’s Council Minutes” (I think), etc. So, come to Kirtland again!

  53. Christopher says:

    David, thank you so much for answering so many questions. It’s nice to have someone coming from your unique point of view that still appreciates the Restoration on the bloggernacle. Any chance of you becoming BCC’s resident CoC expert blogger?

    I will be in Kirtland for the JWHA/CSA conference next month, and look forward to checking out the new Visitors’ Center (I was unaware that it was also a “Spiritual Formation Center”, as well. What exactly does that entail?).

  54. David, I would like to echo Mark in #51. I would never guess that this is your first time blogging, and your attention to detail and consideration of each question is appreciated greatly.

  55. #50 — Yes, John Peters is a fearless, gentle genius. I wish he did more work in Mormon Studies, but it’s clear that his religion does inform his scholarship (if you know what you’re looking for).

    One more thing: it seems that CofC members are not out to convert the world the way Mormons are — not because they think it’s impossible, but because they don’t invoke the “only true and living church” as strictly and literally as we do. They are (now?) more about peace and consensus than bold exclusivity. Yet there are missions and missionary work throughout the world…?

  56. Wonderful posting. Hope to see more like this.

  57. Jon in Austin says:

    Thanks for taking your time to explain your beliefs, David. I appreciate the dialog and tone of this discussion and look forward to more.

  58. Excellent reading! Thank you.
    Following what Joanne said in #55, what is CoC’s take on where they stand in the playing field of the world’s religions? Are all organized religions seen as presenters of truth? Does the CoC have more?

    Can you see theological and/or practices within the CoC that have changed since the ordination of women, perhaps shaped by them?

  59. Jeff Spector says:

    I too appreciate knowing more about the CofC. We have a branch here in Colorado Springs. I was in Independence a few years ago and encountered the Restorationists who felt that their Church (the RLDS) was taken from them and turned into a “vanilla” Christian denomination. They say it started with Women Priesthood ordination, lack of direct succession in the Presidency of the Church, de-emphasis of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith, adoption of Protestant sunday school materials and finally, the open communion and name change. I don’t think that the LDS Church will ever make those kind of wholesale changes. The CofC membership has diminished substancially since those things occured and I think the same would occur in the LDS Church, leaving only the less-active who don’t really pay attention to what is going on in the Church. I felt really bad for those folks who felt that they lost their Church.

  60. David Howlett says:

    #59–Jeff–I can understand your concerns. I was raised as a Restorationist and once thought like the people you met (I may even know them). Obviously, I think differently now, and, like any convert, am a very committed and enthusiastic member of my faith.

    Any time a group goes through changes (even minor ones), some people will be left feeling that their organization has left them or marginalized the most important parts of their beliefs. Let me give you an example. A few years ago, I was in a Restorationist priesthood meeting (I was a deacon then and in my last year of high school) and our pastor presented to us a letter from a Utah-based group. This group had heard about our existence and read our story on the internet. They told us that they sympathized with our plight; they had gone through very similar circumstances by being forced out of their churches, they told us. They too had seen liberal changes creep into their church and lead it into apostasy. The group who wrote to us was a recent polygamous Mormon group (I think it was the TLC), and, of course, the liberal apostate church they referred to was the LDS church. My pastor brought this up to our priesthood, but he advised we do nothing about the matter. We did nothing. Obviously, one person’s faithful community is another’s apostate oragnization.

    Membership statistics are hard to get a handle on. Probably a third of the tithing payers left with the Restorationists in the 1980s, but they have since been replaced. The CofC has had a membership of 250,000 now for twenty years. When you take into account that we went through a church schism where 30,000-60,000 faded away or met in other groups, it is amazing that we are not smaller.

    Yes, I think that conservative members tend to be faithful tithing payers. Several studies I have seen recently seem to confirm this at the national level in the U.S. As for the Community of Christ, I think it would be interesting to do a study on how equally committed liberal members tithe in comparison to their conservative counterparts. I’m not sure what we would find. Anecdotally, my congregation in Coralville Iowa is fairly liberal and has a very strong tithing base for its size.

    As a young conservative, I used to think that liberals had to be uncommitted, clueless, and had no idea what they believed. As I grew older and met people in the Community of Christ, I found that I was misinformed–as badly misinformed as liberals are who think of conservatives as incapable of critical thought. Why do we paint such simplistic pictures of others? I think a lot of it has to do with boundary maintenance strategies that we all employ to allow the world to make sense. If my “enemy” is not truly sincere, if they are flakey, if they lack all commitment, then I feel much better about myself. If they are really genuinely good, committed, and articulate, then my own position does not quite own the high and lofty ground I once imagined. Even knowing this, I am all too often guilty of painting my opponents as less than they really are. Restorationists, Community of Christ people, and LDS members are all very committed followers of their faith. They simply differ on their particular commitments.

  61. Ben There says:

    Jeff (59):

    I don’t think that the LDS Church will ever make those kind of wholesale changes.

    The fundamentalist Mormons actually do see similar problems with the LDS church of having become a plain vanilla protestant denomination, as a result of wholesale changes: elimination of polygamy; elimination of the united order; changing of the temple ordinances; changing of the sacred garment; misorganization of the priesthood (i.e. the president of the church is not automatically the prophet, nor the president of the high priesthood; these are all separate offices, or should be); dumbing down of the gospel doctrines, teaching only milk and never offering meat to those who are hungry for it; increasing ecumenical activities with protestant denominations; empahsis of salvation to the de-emphasis of exaltation; female missionaries; written sermons in church; and on it goes.

    My point is that the LDS church members, through their belief that the church can never be led astray, have accepted many changes that keep moving the church closer and closer to plain vanilla protestant Christianity, and exactly what you describe as having happened to the RLDS church has happened and is still happening within the LDS church since the late 1800’s.

    Your fundamentalist cousin,
    Ben

  62. Left Field, Vanilla Lover says:

    Aaargh!

    There’s nothing “plain” about vanilla. it’s one of the most delightful and distinctive flavorings available.

    Just an off-topic pet peeve.

  63. Ben There says:

    LFVL: I agree. I love the flavour of vanilla, but the plain white colour of it is a bit, well, plain. So maybe that eases the pain a bit?

  64. Left Field, Vanilla Lover says:

    Vanilla, both the bean and the extract, is dark brown.

  65. Ben There says:

    I know. But how many brown-coloured vanilla ice creams or brown vanilla flavoured anything do you see on store shelves (aside from vanilla extract)?

    I believe the case could be made that vanilla has been wrongfully maligned by making all of its products white rather than its natural colour.

    Then again, if chocolate ice cream and vanilla ice cream were each brown, I think the universe would go into a tailspin. It would be too much to bear.

  66. Ben There says:

    Before any dairy farmers or milk connoisseurs rant against me, I want to make it perfectly clear that I meant nothing negative, at least from a culinary perspective, about the church serving only milk instead of meat. I love milk quite a lot myself, but preferably brown….as in chocolate brown, not vanilla brown. (Meat’s good too, but only in moderation, and in winter or times of famine.) ;-)

  67. Jeff Spector says:

    David:

    Thanks for your further insight. As an LDS member, I had/have big problems with the RLDS/CofC anyway on doctrinal grounds. but, I’ve always had a rule that I would never demean anyone’s sincere involvement with their faith. I suppose I’ve come close in intense doctrinal discussions, but I’ve tried not to. So I respect your faith tradition and willingness to fully participate. The overall object of the game is to make us better people than we were. Whatever way that is accomplished is, in the end, a good thing.

    I’ve also decided to no longer use terms such as “liberal” or “conserative.” I find that more often than not, they are being misused as pejoratives to lable someone a “flake” or a “fanatic,” depending on which side you are on.

    I wish there were other terminology.

    I am sure you know the folks I spoke with. They own the bookstore. Thanks again.

  68. Jeff Spector says:

    “61” Ben, I guess perspective is always important in any discussion. I see what you are saying and I am sure you have heard all the arguments against your position. My take has always been (at least for my 25 years as an LDS member)if the leaders of the Church had actually led it astray, then the Priesthood authority would have been taken from the earth (which I don’t believe). I would not accept that it was handled over to so-called fundimentalists just because they wanted to comtinue to practice polygamy anymore than I think that William Law had the authority to form the RLDS.

    If TLC, FLDS and Rulon LaBaron are the examples of the best you can do, I’d say there is a real problem with your position.

  69. Ben There says:

    hi Jeff,

    I am not trying to convince you of my doctrines, anymore than David is trying to convince of CofC doctrines. I am only making the point that an analygous situation exists to what you described, among the “Brighamites”: mainstream LDS, and Fundamentalist Mormons.

    Yes, I have heard all the arguments against my position, just as you have probably heard all of the arguments against yours, and just as David has heard all of the LDS arguments against the CofC position, I would assume.

    if the leaders of the Church had actually led it astray, then the Priesthood authority would have been taken from the earth (which I don’t believe)

    The position of the fundamentalists is that the priesthood power was taken from the church and resides with the Priesthood, those who were ordained by John Taylor to carry on, in the eventuality the church strayed. Joseph Smith said the priesthood would never be taken from the earth again, but no one ever said it couldn’t be taken from the church or from any other man who deviates from the fulness of the gospel.

    I would not accept that it was handled over to so-called fundimentalists just because they wanted to comtinue to practice polygamy anymore than I think that William Law had the authority to form the RLDS.

    Nor do I believe in the claims of priesthood succession that the CofC/RLDS give. Nor that of the Strangites. Nor that of Gordon B. Hinckley. This is the big issue for every brand of Mormonism out there, pretty much: who has the keys?

    f TLC, FLDS and Rulon LaBaron are the examples of the best you can do, I’d say there is a real problem with your position

    Thank God they’re not. Also, thank God the TLC is a tiny minority (about 150 out of 40,000 fundamentalists), and that Warren Jeffs is losing his grip over the good people of the FLDS. Warren is a perfect example of what can go wrong when we place our trust in one man. Don’t believe for a moment that if GBH went nuts that most LDS wouldn’t follow him; the LDS church has the same doctrine of “follow the prophet without questioning” as does the FLDS.

    If the LDS leaders (incl. GBH) who believed Mark Hoffman’s lies and forgeries are the best the LDS church can do, I would think twice (and did) about believing in their position as prophets, seers, and revelators.

    Anyway, I was hoping not to get into a discussion of fundamentalist Mormon positions per se, but merely drawing the analogy that you claimed did not exist.

    As a side note: I know of no Rulon LeBaron. Perhaps you are thinking of Rulon Allred or Rulon Jeffs (Warren’s equally evil father), or maybe Ervil LeBaron or some other LeBaron. Rulon Allred was a fine man, and well respected even by many mainstream LDS, before he was shot and killed by Ervil LeBaron’s wives.

  70. Jeff, this is not the place for arguments over who is right – particularly not in the tone of the last paragraph in #68. We (LDS) have enough bad apples that could be sited to render that line of reasoning ludicrous. Please refrain.

  71. Ben There says:

    Ray: allow me to apologize in advance for any mischief or trouble I may have caused, or may have further contributed to with my response to Jeff. I really only was trying to draw the aforementioned analogy, not debate the fundamentalist position or priesthood claims.

  72. Ben, I have no authority here. I just like to play an authority figure.

  73. Ben There says:

    Ray: You had me convinced. :)

  74. Jeff Spector says:

    Ben,

    Thanks for clarifying. Sorry, if we got in trouble. It was not my intension. I like discussion. And as I said in a previous post, I respect those that faithfully practice their beliefs. Boy, did I get those Rulons all mixed up. Sorry about that as well.

    Gees, this is my first day here. I didn’t think I would run into the police so soon. :) Or, is that my Dad?

  75. I have to admit, guys, that part of my comment was tongue-in-cheek – given the discussion going on in another thread on this site. I couldn’t resist, although perhaps I should have.

    I would add my own smiley face, but I don’t want to offend the emoticon police by making it three in a row.

  76. Razorfish says:

    David,

    Thanks for your informative and transparent discussion of the CofC. Two questions –

    Joseph Smith was quoted to have said, “A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things, never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation.”

    I’m curious to know if by reducing the level of sacrifice and commitment (spiritual, temporal, etc) in terms of redefining tithing, backing away from literal claims in the restoration, relevance or importance of the historicity of BOM, decentralizing Church administration and oversight,
    and adopting more progressive policies (ie extending priesthood to women) reflects a more progressive and culturally sensitive Church, but also comes at a heavy cost – it alienates the conservative base of the church, creates schisms, and as the quote suggests, by requiring and asking for less sacrfice from the average member, it doesn’t produce sufficient faith in some or many of the lay members to keep the body of the church as healthy and growing as would be hoped? Do you see any possible causal connection here (which if not in the COC is certainly evident in many mainline Protestant movements). Most churches are in decline, except for those that ask the most of its members. I wonder if you agree?

    Second question relates to the view of the prophet Joseph Smith. Is it fair to say that your church views him as indeed greatly blessed and inspired in terms of bringing forth additional light and knowledge to Christendom, but that ultimately he was tragicly flawed in some of his revelations (ie polygamy, Book Of Abraham translation, or other foundational claims that weren’t literal (just inspired). And so, I’m wondering is there a sense that Joseph was on one hand deeply inspired, but also tragically flawed and that some of his teachings and revelations (ie King Follet, Nauvoo innovations – LDS temple rites, etc), polygamy were more his own innovations rather than as coming from God.

    I hope I have asked these questions respectfully enough as I do value your input, perspective and sincerity with which you live your faith. Thanks for your thoughtful contributions you have shared with us.

  77. Ben There says:

    Jeff: no hard feelings, friend. I respect those who respect those who practice their faith sincerely. I wish others were as kind. (I also wish crazy whacked out fundamentalists didn’t give us all a bad name, but that’s another post.)

    Ray: Is there some other hotly debated thread, possibly related to fundamentalism, priesthood claims, polygamy, etc., that I have somehow missed? I’d hate to not jump in if there is. It does seem like it is about that time of the week when one of the blogs should bring up one of those subjects.

  78. Sorry, Ben. It was the discussion about the bloggernacle – a tangent my twisted brain made. It used to drive one of my HT companions crazy – the tangents, not the bloggernacle.

  79. Jeff Spector says:

    Ben,

    My friends and I had a long runnning debate going about whether the Lord “took away” certain principles from the Saints because of their “unbelief.” Can’t say that we came to any real conclusion, but it is easy to see where you are coming from. I have always been very intereested in the other branches of Mormonism but have never quite figured out how they could justify their origins based on Priesthood authority. Last might, I saw parts of a show on the WE network on Polygamy. Some folks love it, some have been abused by it. I don’t believe I’ve seen a show or read where the men complained too hard :). Unfortunately, many women and young girls have been severly abused by the situation. Not withstanding that the same sorts of things have occurred in so-called “traditional” marriages. It is unfortunate that the “wacky-o” tend to garner the most attention.

  80. David Howlett says:

    #76–Razorfish–Yes, I think that, at this point in history, faiths that do not require a good amount of commitment will decline. Years ago, I read a 1990s study by a sociologist that took up the “Why Strict Churches are Strong” question posed in the 1970s. Laurence Iannaconne (or something like that) argued tht a faith community has to achieve “optimal strictness” to deal with the issue of “free riders”–those who gain the benefits without the sacrifice. If a faith is not strict enough, there will be little incentive for people to stay part of it if all can get the benefits; however, if it is too strict, it will likewise decline. For instance, the Bagwan Rashneesh maintained optimal strictness by moving to Antelope, Oregon, and requiring something of his members that required a definite sacrifice on their parts. However, few probably would have followed him to the Arctic Circle if he had chosen that site instead.

    This observation, of course, is completely amoral. After all, when we start referring to other human beings as merely “free riders” that have to be minimized to maintain a strong faith community, we have taken a large step away from the Jesus of the gospels who welcomed all. Of course, this same Jesus did ask His followers to leave all and follow Him, too. So, we have a paradox between full inclusion and full commitment.

    Does the CofC require less of its people than it once did? Yes, and no. Change does not mean less sacrifice–it may even mean more, actually. The current emphasis on “discipleship” in the Community of Christ is in response to a feeling that many had of “what do we believe now?” In addition, there is a large emphasis now on “identity formation” and “core values.” This may simply be rhetorical bunting, but, as an active member, I feel that something important is happening in the movement with these moves. It’s almost as if a corner has been turned and a new assurance has come that, yes, we will be okay in the days ahead. We won’t just drown in a cacauphony of voices; we do have something real and definite to proclaim to the world. At least, that’s how I have seen it.

    Now, as for Joseph Smith, I think that your observation is a fair assessment of the consensus poisition in the Community of Christ. When you talk to individual members, you will receive many different answers, but if you imagine all of those answers as points on a graph, they probably will form a pattern like you set out–Joseph as inspired at times, tragically flawed, and having something to say to the larger Church that inhabits the earth.

  81. Jeff Spector says:

    David,

    Can you so over the way that the CofC assigns Priesthood? Is it more of a calling than an ordination? When I was in Kirtland years ago, I encountered a 70 year Deacon and an 18 year Elder. I thought they told me that they are called to those positions and then released rather than the “age-based” ordinations the LDS have.

    Thanks,

  82. David Howlett says:

    #81–Jeff–There is a different use of calling and ordination between the CofC and LDS. It took me a while to realize this as guide in Kirtland. Most CofC would use these to describe different parts of the same process that we would see as priesthood ordination (not a general ordination to Aaronic or Melchisedek priesthood, but ordination to a particular office contained within these orders). A person may be “called” to an office at any time in their life and may remain in that office until they die or are “superannuated” through a formal ceremony when they are incapable of functioning any longer in that office (due usually to physical incapacity in old age). This recognizes their lifetime service and recognizes that their ministry is now changing.

    A calling to a particular office happens when the pastor feels that someone has a particulatar ministry in an office. This may happen through the pastor discerning this through prayer, having a dream, or simply God’s still small voice speaking to her. A mission center conference approves the calling and the ordination happens in the individual’s congregation. An individual may be ordaine to any office at any time in her life. For offices above elder, higher authorities discern these calls.

  83. David,

    I’ve noticed that you have used “her” and “she” almost exclusively when talking about ordination and leadership in the CofC. (the original post and the last comment) Is that a conscious decision based on a Mormon audience, a conscious decision you use generally, a recent CofC focus, a subconscious usage due to general public sentiment, or something else entirely?

    I really am interested in this. It isn’t meant as a criticism, at all.

  84. David Howlett says:

    #83–Ray–Yes, it was a self-conscious choice for this post on ordination. In my writing in general, I try to be more gender-inclusive in terms of pronouns. I’m not offended by the use of masculine pronouns, though.

    Thanks

  85. Razorfish says:

    Re # 80,

    Thank you..

  86. Jeff Spector says:

    David, Thanks for that explanation on ordination.

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