Saturday, November 20, 2010

Marriage, Religion and the State : A Mormon history (Part 5)

Reorganized Latter-Day Saints ( Community of Christ )

The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (RLDS) has its’ origins in the early church membership who did not accept Brigham Young’s leadership claims. From the very beginning, there was a strong suspicion that polygamy was being practiced by members of the Quorum of the Twelve. However, the 1852 open declaration of polygamy, together with its’ doctrinal justification intensified the struggle to define the meaning and legacy of the Restoration movement. Led by key leaders such a Jason Briggs, Zenos Gurley and William Marks, an organization1, which eventually became the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS) began to form in response to the Utah faction.

In October, 1859, during the semi-annual conference of the new RLDS organization, it was decided to start a newspaper to publish their positions. The first edition of this paper, called “The True Latter-Day Saints’ Herald”, was published in January, 1860 under the banner “Hearken to the word of the Lord, for there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife: and concubines he shall have none - Book of Mormon2”. The first major article, entitled “Polygamy contrary to the revelations of God” began with “A more delusive idea never entered into the heart of man than the belief that polygamy is one of the doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It is a favorite doctrine of the Salt Lake Church, because that church has “turned the grace of God into lasciviousness” and plunged themselves into this iniquity in direct opposition to the plain and positive commandments of the Lord our God...3” William Marks, who had been President of the Nauvoo Stake, contributed an article entitled “Opposition to Polygamy, by the Prophet Joseph Smith”. Marks related how by the beginning of June, 1844, he was convinced the Church “had departed from the pure principles and doctrines of Jesus Christ” and as he became increasingly troubled about the condition of the church he prayed earnestly for understanding4. In response to his prayer, he experienced a vision that led him to understand that the church had become overcome by sin and it was necessary for the church to be disorganized in order to purify it again. A few days after this vision, Marks met with Joseph Smith who wanted to speak with him about polygamy. In this discussion, Marks claimed that Joseph told him that polygamy “eventually would prove to be the overthrow of the Church, and we should soon be obliged to leave the United States, unless it could speedily be put down.” Calling it a “cursed doctrine” Smith asked for Marks’ help in freeing the church of the practice. Before this course could be followed, Joseph was killed. After the death of the prophet, Marks tried to mention this conversation to others, but to his disappointment it was “soon rumoured that Brother Marks is about to apostatize”.

The leaders of this new movement became convinced that Joseph Smith’s eldest son, Joseph Smith III, would be their new prophet. Initially refusing this invitation, Joseph III eventually felt the calling to lead the organization. In 1860, Joseph III traveled to Amboy, Illinois to accept leadership of the new church. In his initial address he explained how he had attempted to stay unbiased regarding the various LDS groups, except for “one principle taught by the leaders of any faction of this people that I hold in utter abhorrence; that is a principle taught by Brigham Young and those believing in him. I have been told that my father taught such doctrines. I have never believed it and never can believe it. If such things were done, then I believe they never were done by divine authority5”. Three months after being ordained as prophet and president of the new church, Joseph III spoke at a special conference held at Council Bluffs, Iowa, in June 1860. Referring to rumours that he would soon emigrate to Utah, Joseph stated “To those who know me, it is needless for me to say that I am not going to do any such thing while the doctrine of polygamy and disobedience to the laws are countenanced there6.” Continuing to address the principle of religious toleration, Joseph continued “so long as any denomination shall keep within the pale of the law, so long it is entitled to the consideration and protection of the government; but when those bonds are exceeded, the claim is forfeited, and society ought to ignore it, and the law proclaim against it”. Perhaps surprizingly, Joseph III did not feel led to name a “Gathering Place” for the saints to form their unique economic community as his father had done, rather asking the saints to live their religion in their own community.7. Nevertheless, the new organization quickly began organizing missionaries who traveled throughout the US and to Europe to challenge polygamy and Brigham Young’s leadership of the LDS church.

After arriving in Salt Lake during August 1863, RLDS Elder E.C. Briggs immediately sought an audience with Brigham Young and was invited to meet with him in the company of “his harem” 8. On hearing of Brigg’s intentions, Brigham is reported to have claimed that Joseph III was only acting under the influence of this mother, who was “a very very wicked woman”. President Young reportedly sent warning about the new missionaries throughout the Utah settlements and banned them from using local meeting houses for their addresses. Nevertheless, Briggs and his companion Alexander McCord quickly reported success among members of the original LDS church who did not support Brigham’s “accursed polygamous system”9 By December 1863, Brigham Young had made good on his word. Doors were closed to the RLDS missionaries, LDS members who offered them hospitality were excommunicated and the missionaries were regularly followed and threatened with violence10. Converts to the RLDS position were threatened with physical violence, destruction of property and virtually shunned by LDS members. Most left Utah and migrated East as soon as they were able11. In spite of the opposition, the RLDS Elders openly and directly challenged Brigham Young on his right to the presidency, the Adam-God doctrine and polygamy.12

By 1867, hundreds of RLDS converts were leaving Utah through the organization of transport at US Fort Douglas. RLDS Elder Gillen noted that “it is almost impossible to keep them in Utah after they unite with the church, and indeed they cannot remain without great loss13” By August 1868, Lucy Mack Smith’s history of the prophet Joseph Smith arrived in Utah. Brigham Young reportedly ordered that all copies of the books be gathered up and destroyed. Brigham claimed that it contained nothing but falsehoods, primarily because it painted a positive picture of Emma Smith, who had been a staunch opponent of polygamy.14.

In 1869, David and Alexander Smith, sons of Joseph Jr. and Emma, went to Utah on a mission for the RLDS church. During July, they met with Brigham Young to seek permission to use the LDS tabernacle give an address. Brigham sought to convince them that their father had been opposed to placing the article on marriage that condemned polygamy in the Doctrine and Covenants (Section 101, 1835 ed.) 15. Brigham also continued in his condemnation of their mother, Emma, calling her a liar and claiming that she had tried to poison Joseph and had stolen property from Hyrum’s family. Brigham refused to allow the Smith brothers to use the Mormon tabernacle, however they were able to use the Independence hall, which was owned by non-Mormon business men, for a meeting where Alexander Smith gave “polygamy a thorough disapproval16”. During the address, Joseph F Smith, their cousin and future LDS president, made several interruptions. While both sides probably claimed their side had won the day, David Smith reported that they baptized 8 new converts immediately after the meeting. The Smith brothers continued to make significant inroads in Utah and by November 4, 1869, Alexander reported that there had been more people cut off from the Brighamite church in the past two months than in the previous two years.17. Later the same month, David Smith wrote a scathing denunciation of the prevalent policy that prohibited the “Josephites” from publishing in Utah newspapers, restricted their places of baptism and burned the history written by his Grandma Lucy Smith. He further related that people were being cut-off from the LDS church for reading the Doctrine and Covenants and RLDS converts were being fired from their employment, immediately confronted for their mortgages and debts, slandered, watched, followed and intimidated by LDS church members.18.

During October, 1869 a LDS movement started in Salt Lake City under the leadership of William Godbe. This movement proclaimed the right to refuse principles presented by the priesthood leadership according to the light within each individual. They further stood for the right to discuss all measures presented by the priesthood, provided it was done in a spirit of moderation and in regard to other’s feelings. They argued it was not legal to expel members because they did not admit the divinity of all measures presented by the priesthood. They protested against the counsel for members of the church to watch one another, the practice of teachers to catechize members on their private views and the spirit of compulsion that existed in Utah. On advice of Brigham Young, Godbe and all who admitted sympathy with his position were excommunicated.19.

A year later, in November 1870, Elder Blair reported that the citizens of Utah were very much aware of the new anti-polygamy bills that were making their way through congress. These actions, along with the development of the mineral resources and the federal government taking control of the Utah militia created a moderating influence in the state. After reporting on the latest round of RLDS converts who were leaving Utah, Blair indicated his belief that it would soon be possible for people to join the Josephite church, remain in Utah and procure a living.20

In April 1872, President Joseph Smith III, wrote a long address concerning Utah’s emerging statehood movement. Joseph clearly stated that he did not favor admitting Utah into the Union with a constitution that permitted polygamy, especially with the understanding that it was a religious tenet of the original Mormon faith. However, Joseph deplored the tendency of the liberal Salt Lake press to foster divisiveness through harsh and acrimonious editorials. Arguing that even if “Brigham Young is responsible for much of the evil and wrong the people of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints have suffered”, he observed that whenever a man or group in the church had fallen on “hard lines” in the church and has severed the bonds of unity with the body, that this unmasked a fierce enmity. Predicting future events, Joseph stated if Utah were admitted into the Union on the condition that the Mormons abandon polygamy, that the RLDS would take this as an admission that the claims regarding the divine origin of polygamy were false.21 Further giving insight to his unique position as the son of the prophet Joseph Smith Jr. and the the defender of the “faith of the fathers” of the church, Joseph III admitted that he had feared what things might come out of Utah concerning his father’s personal history. Stating that he had largely outgrown those fears and recognized that he was not responsible for the acts of those who lived in the past, nor could he change or obliterate the record they have made, he was now prepared for “whatever those revealments of the past might be.22” Stating clearly that he was not an apologist for Brigham Young, he went on to declare that he was an opposer of persecution, unjust denunciation and “building up of reputation out of the vices and follies of others”.

Later that same year, in August of 1872, Joseph III wrote an article on marriage. Rather than being another simply being another condemnation of polygamy, Joseph III addressed the importance of the marriage bond and expressed his feeling that marriages were being entered into hastily and without due preparation. He further struggled with the question of divorce and thoughtfully offered his opinion that this should only be a matter of last resort and mostly in consequence of adultery.23

By 1880, the Reorganized church started a series of legal actions to establish their right to claim property which had been held by the original LDS church. The first of these cases involved the RLDS claim for the movement’s original temple in Kirtland Ohio. The court filings claimed that the RLDS church was “founded and organized upon the same doctrines and tenets, and having the same church organization, as the original Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, organized in 1830, by Joseph Smith, and was organized pursuant to the constitution, laws and usages of said original Church”. The Utah church, under the direction of President John Taylor, was characterized as having “ materially and largely departed from the faith, doctrines, laws, ordinances and usages of said original Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and has incorporated into its system of faith the doctrines of celestial marriage and a plurality of wives, and the doctrine of Adam-god worship, contrary to the laws and constitution of said original Church.”24 The court found in favor of the Reorganized church, declaring that it is “the True and Lawful continuation of, and successor to the said original Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, organized in 1830 and is entitled in law to all its rights and property25”. The findings went further to suggest that “polygamy and kindred false doctrines were first promulgated and adopted by the church in Utah, such doctrines not having any place in the faith of the original church during the days of the Prophet Joseph Smith”.

The majority of Utah Saints did not take this decision very seriously, in fact the LDS church did not even represent itself in court during the case26. However, it set the stage for a larger court challenge over the Temple Lot property in Independence Missouri that commenced in February 1894. This property, which was set aside by revelation as the Centerplace for the city of Zion has tremendous value for all the LDS churches. Once again, the courts decided that the RLDS church was the legal successor to the original LDS church. While the primary lawsuit was between the RLDS and the Hendrickites Church of Christ (Temple Lot), the LDS church assisted the Hendrickites and provided a significant number of key witnesses in the case. In the final judgement, the court decided that the church had been one body from 1830 to 1844 and that after Joseph Smith’s violent death, the church split into factions and scattered to different parts of the country. The findings stated that “Brigham Young’s assumed presidency was a bold and bald usurpation27” over Joseph Smith III’s claim as a lineal successor and Brigham’s assumption of the office “under the claim of something like a transfiguration” was against the law of the church.

Ultimately, the case was decided on the precedent that the property belonged to the group, no matter how few in number, that best represented the original doctrine and law that existed at the time the property was acquired.28 The doctrine of polygamy became central in this case, with the Utah church attempting to prove that it was official doctrine at the time of Joseph Smith Jr. The court, under Judge John Phillips, doubted the testimony of witnesses who claimed they had been intimate with Joseph and noted that no children could be proven to have resulted from any of Joseph’s alleged unions, while he had fathered children with Emma over the same time period. Judge Phillips also commented directly on signed statements that LDS President Wilford Woodruff had made in 1843 certifying that he only knew of one rule of marriage in the church, as stated in the Doctrine and Covenants, and that the “spiritual wife system” was an invention of John C Bennett. In the final analysis, the court concluded “if it were conceded that Joseph Smith and Hyrum his brother, did secretly practice concubinage, is the church to be charged with those liaisons, and the doctrine of polygamy to be predicated thereon of the church? If so, I suspect the doctrine of polygamy might be imputed to many of the Gentile churches. Certainly it was never promulgated, taught, nor recognized, as a doctrine of the church prior to the assumption of Brigham Young.”29 The final decision was in favour of the RLDS church, because its doctrines and teachings were the same at the original LDS church.

Probably not surprisingly, the RLDS church also became a subject of the sensational Reed Smoot senate hearings. On December, 13, 1906, Senator Burrows commented on his understanding of the polygamy situation “ In order to induce his followers more readily to accept this infamous doctrine, Brigham Young himself invoked the name of Joseph Smith, the Martyr, whom many sincerely believed to be a true prophet, and ascribed to him the reception of a revelation from the Almighty in 1843, commanding the Saints to take unto themselves a multiplicity of wives, limited in number only by the measures of their desires.... Such the mythical story palmed off on a deluded people30” Regarding the RLDS church, Burrows further stated that “the courts have repeatedly declared this organization (RLDS) to be the legitimate successor to the original Mormon church and its adherents, numbering some 50,000 peaceable, patriotic, and law abiding citizens scattered throughout the United States in small church societies, conforming to the laws of their country wherever they may be and adhering to the faith of the founder of their creed, repudiating and denouncing the doctrine of polygamy and its attendant crimes”.

1 RLDS Hist. v3 p. 215
2 True Saints Herald V1 No1 Jan. 1860
3 ibid p. 6
4 True Saints Herald V1 No1 Jan. 1860 p. 22
5 RLDS Hist v3. p. 248
6 RLDS Hist v3. p 275
7 RLDS Hist. v3 p. 280
8 RLDS Hist v3 p.331
9 RLDS Hist v3 p.333
10 ibid p.368
11 ibid p. 377
12 ibid p. 378
13 ibid 476 1
4 ibid 502
15 ibid 532 Note that Section 101, which condemned polygamy remained in every edition of the D&C until 1876, when it was removed and replaced with Section 132 (see The Story of the Doctrine and Covenants, Ensign, December 1984 by Robert Woodford.)
16 idid 536
17 ibid 548
18 ibid 549
19 RLDS Hist p. 559
20 ibid 601
21 ibid 691
22 ibid 692
23 RLDS Hist p. 704
24 The Church in Court by Elbert A Smith
25 Reorganized church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day saints vs lucius williams et al p 488 record
court of common pleas lake county courthouse painesville, Ohio
26 Joseph Smith III and the Kirtland Temple Suit by Roger Launius 27 Reorganized church vs the Church of Christ et al p. 35
28 Reorganized church vs the Church of Christ et al p. 40
29 ibid p 44
30 Congressional Record Dec 13, 1906 as reproduced in The Church in Court by Elbert Smith

No comments: