Getting a Grip on History

By: hawkgrrrl
March 18, 2014
There has been a lot of discussion in the b’nacle about what the church can do from a practical standpoint to address the thorny issues in church history.  The traditional approach has been to: 1) keep the curriculum uplifting and free from controversy, 2) to never speak ill or contradict leaders of the past or present even if they have been demonstrably wrong, 3) to let FAIR and FARMS apologetics address any tricky issues raised by external critics, and 4) to remind people that “we simply don’t know” when it comes to conclusions about the trickiest issues.
With the internet and ready access to information, the church has now published several in a series of comprehensive articles addressing some of the most difficult issues.  While some have criticized these efforts and others (particularly those who toed a very black and white view) have found them faith-shaking, the articles have been a huge improvement.
Our sister sect, the Community of Christ, has traditionally addressed thorny historical issues by following a list of 9 principles for dealing with church history. Since we are sharing the same set of history, their principles are worth a look.

Church History Principles

  1. Continuing exploration of our history is part of identity formation. As a church we seek always to clarify our identity, message, and mission. In our faith story, we see clearly God’s Spirit giving this faith community tools, insights, and experiences for divine purposes. A people with a shared memory of their past, and an informed understanding of its meaning, are better prepared to chart their way into the future.  (It feels like this is a little too intellectual for us, although I don’t see anything that is directly contradictory to our views.  I think it also implies a consensus-based faith tradition that differs from our authority-based tradition.  In the LDS side of the house, we take our divine instructions pretty literally, and as individuals, we don’t get a vote.)
  2. History informs but does not dictate our faith and beliefs. The foundation and continuing source for our faith is God’s revelation in Jesus Christ. Studying history is not about proving or disproving mystical, spiritual, or revelatory experiences that birth or transform religious movements. (Is this a swipe at the LDS church’s truth claims?) Sound history informs faith (whereas inaccurate history misleads faith in either direction), and healthy faith leads to insights about history (ergo, unhealthy faith leads to misconceptions about history)Theology (too big a word for us – half our membership just tuned out) and faith, guided by the Holy Spirit, must play an important role in discovering the enduring meaning of such events as well as the deeper truths found in them (implying:  not just superficial truths based on an inaccurate understanding of history). Our understanding of our history affects our faith and beliefs. However, our past does not limit our faith and beliefs to what they were historically.  (This last statement holds more true to the CoC than it may to the LDS church.  The LDS church is more reliant on truth claims that are rooted in history.)
  3. The church encourages honest, responsible historical scholarship. Studying history involves related fields. Historians use academic research to get as many facts as they can; then, they interpret those facts to construct as clear a picture as possible of what was going on in the past. This includes analyzing human culture to see how it affected events. Historians try to understand patterns of meaning to interpret what the past means for our future. This process should avoid “presentism,” or interpreting the past based on a current worldview and culture instead of the culture of the time.  (This bias of interpreting the past based on current worldview is at heart of a lot of negative views of history and is a worthwhile caution).
  4. The study of church history is a continuing journey. If we say that a book on history is the only true telling of the story, we risk “canonizing” one version, a tendency we have shown in the past. This blocks further insights from continuing research. Good historical inquiry understands that conclusions are open to correction as new understanding and information comes from ongoing study.  (This is an excellent point that the LDS church could easily adopt).
  5. Seeing both the faithfulness and human flaws in our history makes it more believable and realistic, not less. Our history has stories of great faith and courage that inspire us. Our history also includes human leaders who said and did things that can be shocking to us from our current perspective and culture. Historians try not to judge—instead, they try to understand by learning as much as possible about the context and the meaning of those words and actions at the time. The result is empathy instead of judgment. Our scriptures are consistent in pointing out that God, through grace, uses imperfect people for needed ministry and leadership.  (I love this one, and find it very useful.  However, I think this points to a generation gap that has been discussed elsewhere by the handsome Carter Hall.  There is a bias among the older generations to view flawed heroes as insufficiently heroic.  Baby boomers and onward tend to prefer flawed heroes.  Promoting “perfect” heroes results in disillusionment for these later generations, IMO).
  6. The responsible study of church history involves learning, repentance, and transformation. A church with a mission focused on promoting communities of reconciliation, justice, and peace should be self-critical and honest about its history (of course, these are not the focus of the LDS church.  Instead our verbs are “perfecting, redeeming, proclaiming, and caring” – very action oriented verbs.  Hmmm.  Not a religion of reflection). It is important for us to confess when we have been less than what the gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to be. This honesty prompts us to repent, and it strengthens our integrity. (Again, this is an interesting perspective.  It takes the faults of the organization and personalizes them.  In the LDS church, the tendency is to view sin or flaws as personal failings, not organizational.  We do not internalize the flaws of the organization or personify the organization as something capable of repentance.)  Admitting past mistakes helps us avoid repeating them and frees us from the influences of past injustices and violence in our history. We must be humble and willing to repent, individually and as a community, to contribute as fully as possible to restoring God’s shalom on earth.  (I don’t think this part translates well for us.  This emphasis on communal responsibility and repentance is a bit foreign to the LDS church.  I suppose that’s a byproduct of CoC being more of a consensus / communal authority rather than authoritative/oligarchical.)
  7. The church has a long-standing tradition that it does not legislate or mandate positions on matters of church history. Historians should be free to draw their own conclusions after thorough consideration of evidence. Through careful study and the Holy Spirit’s guidance, the church is learning how to accept and responsibly interpret all of its history. This includes putting new information and changing understandings into proper perspective, while emphasizing the parts of our history that continue to play a role in guiding the church’s identity and mission today.  (This one is interesting.  For one, the LDS church doesn’t really take a direct stand on historical matters.  Richard Bushman and Truman Madsen can write two very different books on the same topic, and the church does not officially endorse either.  Yet we do emphasize lessons that are based on history but only presented with the intention to edify and increase commitment.  If the history is damaging, we do not discuss it in our lessons because it would be counter-productive.  Whatever does not promote the mission of the church is correlated away).
  8. We need to create a respectful culture of dialogue about matters of history. We should not limit our faith story to one perspective. Diverse viewpoints bring richness to our understanding of God’s movement in our sacred story. Of course, historians will come to different conclusions as they study. Therefore, it is important for us to create and maintain a respectful culture that allows different points of view on history. Our conversation about history should be polite and focused on trying to understand others’ views. (I do think this is an area where the LDS church could improve.  We tend to be extremely defensive when confronted with any negative interpretations of our history.  I think we could do better at being polite and focused on understanding while maintaining our own more faithful interpretation of events.  But to do that, the faithful interpretation of events needs to pass muster, which it frequently fails to do.)  Most important, we should remain focused on what matters most for the message and mission of the church in this time.
  9. Our faith is grounded in God’s revelation in Jesus Christ and the continuing guidance of the Holy Spirit. We must keep our hearts and minds centered on God’s revelation in Jesus Christ. As God’s Word alive in human history, Jesus Christ was and is the foundation of our faith and the focus of the church’s mission and message.  (A great wrap up statement for both churches, IMO).

Not even remotely accurate depiction

Are these principles that the LDS church should likewise espouse or are they problematic in their own right?  Would the LDS church have difficulty with some of these principles if put into practice?  Is there a better approach?  IMO, the CoC approach has some good elements we could adopt, but does not directly translate into LDS culture due to the following points:

  • Community vs. authority.  The LDS church doesn’t take doctrines to referendum.  Decisions are made in consensus at the Q15 level, based on prayerful consideration.  If the Q15 don’t agree, status quo prevails.  By contrast, the CoC is more egalitarian in its decision-making, making decisions “by common consent.”
  • Responsibility for the past.  Because the LDS church is more of a top-down organizational church and less of a “faith community” (as evidenced by the fact that the term “faith community” sounds like some sort of PC term for a free-love hippie commune to most LDS ears) there is no group ownership for mistakes of past individuals, even generally among the leadership, but certainly not among the membership.  Passages that reflect this POV don’t resonate for that reason.
  • Directness.  The LDS church definitely doesn’t favor this kind of direct approach that ties our hands.  While the CoC talks and writes about openness and change, creating collateral materials that can be reviewed time and again, the LDS church prefers to minimize collateral.  Even the collateral that exists (, Gen Conf talks, etc.) is often subtly contradictory and written from contrasting viewpoints that enable multiple interpretations, creating a pantheon of doctrinal viewpoints.
  • Intellectual approach.  There are a few church leaders who favor an intellectual approach and who would find these principles appealing; yet, the style of these principles and the ideology seems like it might be inaccessible or off-putting to many lay members and leaders of the much larger LDS church.

Mansplaining in Nauvoo. “Joseph, we just invited you hoping you would bring the cookies.”

Here are some principles or talking points that I would suggest for the LDS church:

  • All history is biased.  Historical elements in scripture are also biased by authors, cultural markers, and limited understanding.  Church history is similarly biased.  Understanding history requires a respect for the inherent biases in what we are reading, whether those biases are in favor of or against the church or an individual.  And our understanding of history is biased by our personal experiences, our views, and time in which we live.
  • Understanding history can provide insight.  We can better understand patterns that influenced behavior and that tend to repeat over time within a culture.  We can empathize with our predecessors; our hearts are turned to our fathers and mothers in reviewing their experiences.  We are given countless examples that illuminate our own path, either as cautionary tales or as role models and most often as both.
  • Church history is still being written.  Although divine instruction is timeless, our ability to understand it can shift over time and the relevance of different instructions can change as circumstances change.  We should be mindful of the temporal biases inherent in our human understanding as we strive to follow God’s will and comprehend our common history.
  • Personal experience leads to faith.  We encourage church members to follow the spirit and to prayerfully seek instruction from Heavenly Father.  This type of humble truth-seeking can help us avoid errors in discernment and criticism of others that can lead to self-justification and sin.
  • Our aim is to lead people to Christ.  While history can inform us and provide insight, ultimately it is through seeking a personal relationship with Christ and following His teachings that we grow spiritually and achieve our potential as sons and daughters of God.  What others have written or experienced, even if found in scripture, is less important than having a personal relationship with the savior.

I believe these points are consistent with the church’s new approach to dealing with the difficult issues, and yet the unreadiness of some of our members and leaders to handle the revised approach is something I didn’t anticipate. The principles that have created this brittleness seem to be:  focus on obedience and authority as the yardstick of orthodoxy, anti-intellectualism, pitting science against faith, poor scholarship among the correlation committee, and manuals that haven’t been refreshed for too long.  Now that the essays are coming out, the next step is to fully integrate them into the curriculum (easier said than done) and to help members be familiar with their contents, regardless their level of education.  Right now, they seem to be largely the purview of those seeking more information, which is probably not the majority of members.


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28 Responses to Getting a Grip on History

  1. Howard on March 18, 2014 at 6:58 AM

    I applaud the new essays as a step in the right direction. In a misinterpretation of the 13 article of faith the church (Packer and Oaks) elevates faith promotion over truth ignoring the first part that reads ‘We believe in being honest…”. With a wink and a nod lying for the Lord is a common LDS trait that breeds cultural hypocrisy. A direct extension of this dishonesty is Oaks lawerly (truth is relative) self serving assertion that the brethern aren’t to be critized even if the critism is true! To the extent that LDSs can think for themselves they know this smells! But the faithful R2D2s simply follow allong beeping in adoration. The church uses every psychological sleight of mind trick to keep inconvient truths from members conscious minds even spinning truth as a tool of the devil! Becomming honest will cost the church membership but that honesty is now being FORCED upon them! So what will they do?

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  2. Howard on March 18, 2014 at 8:02 AM

    Regarding poor scholarship, LDS thinking is thinking WITHIN the orthodox box which compromises even the best LDS scholarship to the point of being at least mildly apologetic. It’s largely an exercise in mental masturbation. A cooking competition with book sales for the most creative dish given the ingredients list!

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  3. Jeff Spector on March 18, 2014 at 9:42 AM

    While I mean no offense to the CoC, they have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to our common Church History, both as the constituted CoC as well as the restorationists.

    Using their principle 2 and 7, there is a question of the entire of the authority of the formation of their Church. Also, they pretty much deny the polygamy of Joseph Smith and his role in the foundation of the doctrine behind it pushed forth by Brigham Young.

    As for now, they have pretty much moved away from the entire restoration story from what I can tell.

    Now, on the LDS front, I think I see a lot more intelligent analysis of Church History, as more information is discovered and as real study of it has taken place. This certainly started in the Leonard Arrington era and now more fully embraced by the Church after a brief respite. I think the newer generation of Church General Leaders are far more comfortable with this than in the past. But I also think the past was plagued by lack of real information and relied on the anecdotal stories rather than historical fact (or the complete story)

    I actually like the principles, but certainly the history informs us but also shapes us and bear testimony to the sacrifices of those who went before for the beliefs and testimonies that they processed.

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  4. Howard on March 18, 2014 at 10:03 AM

    This certainly started in the Leonard Arrington era and now more fully embraced by the Church after a brief respite.

    True but it certainly wasn’t as smooth or seamless as this sentence suggests. To your a brief respite; the the Leonard Arrington era brought us D. Michael Quinn who did bring us truth which brought him excommunication and the result brought us dark ages statements like: Some things that are true are not very useful

    Some of the truth Quinn presented was the brethren simply lied to continue polygamy beyond the first manifesto. The church has a serious problem with the truth.

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  5. Jeff Spector on March 18, 2014 at 11:34 AM

    “Some of the truth Quinn presented was the brethren simply lied to continue polygamy beyond the first manifesto.”

    But, Quinn did equivocate somewhat in his conclusions in the BYU Studies article on Post-Manifesto Polygamy. I doubt anyone would do that again.

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  6. Howard on March 18, 2014 at 11:59 AM

    For clarity: you see that as progress? That Quinn broke the ice? Both? If that’s what you mean, I see your point but it’s frustrating that those who struggle to bring truth forth are bruised by God’s anointed in the process.

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  7. Mormon Heretic on March 18, 2014 at 1:29 PM

    Jeff, “they pretty much deny the polygamy of Joseph Smith and his role in the foundation of the doctrine behind it pushed forth by Brigham Young.” This is no longer true. About 5 years ago CoC president Steven Veazey reputed this publicly. (I posted it on my web, but it crashed and I haven’t pulled the backup copy yet.) The CoC now accept that polygamy was practice by Joseph Smith. They even baptize polygamists in India now, provided that they don’t take any new wives after baptism. This was done before they published these 9 principles.

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  8. Mormon Heretic on March 18, 2014 at 1:31 PM

    One other thing–the Church’s new essay outlines that there was post-Manifesto polygamy. We don’t have to take Quinn’s word for it–they Church has acknowledged it. I’ve got a new book on apostle Anthony Ivins, and he performed many of these marriages in Mexico.

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  9. Jeff Spector on March 19, 2014 at 6:56 AM


    “The CoC now accept that polygamy was practice by Joseph Smith.”

    Interesting, I either missed that or forgot it. I wonder where they sit on Temples and those saving ordinances. They denied those as well.

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  10. Mormon Heretic on March 19, 2014 at 8:14 AM

    I hope John Hamer comes by (I’m missing his BoM posts), but he could answer better than me. From what I understand from FireTag, the CoC generally reject almost all temple ordinances, especially from the Nauvoo period. FireTag said that their Independence Temple follows more of a Kirtland model than a Nauvoo model. They reject sealings, endowments, etc. The Kirtland Temple was more open, and more of a combination of a Tabernacle and Temple from a modern LDS view. The Kirtland Temple held tours, such as when they displayed the Egyptian Mummies that Joseph Smith purchased along with the papyri of the Book of Abraham. The Kirtland Temple has always been open to the public, unlike the Nauvoo Temple period onward.

    Baptism for the Dead pre-dates the Nauvoo period, and there was some talk of whether the Independence Temple would have a font, but leaders feel that practice is not essential and elected not to put a font in their temple. I believe the section on baptism for the dead was removed from their version of the D&C about a decade ago.

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  11. Jeff Spector on March 19, 2014 at 9:03 AM

    Thanks for that. I been to the Kirtland Temple and I was surprised to learn that they do not accept our D&C 110, Christ appearance to Joseph and Oliver on the altar of the Kirtland Temple. When I asked why, it was due, in their opinion, that the revelation was published after the death of Joseph and not directly attributed to him.

    I guess my thinking is that if they are now willing to accept Joseph’s polygamy, after years and years of denial (though I imagine the Restorationists still do), what else are they willing to now reconsider?

    Gees, I miss having Firetag here to help us any these questions. Calling John Hamer!

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  12. Mormon Heretic on March 19, 2014 at 10:45 AM

    I miss FireTag too. You might want to review his old post on that vision in D&C 110.

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  13. Jeff Spector on March 19, 2014 at 1:25 PM

    MH, I see that he used the pciture, but there seems to be no specific discussion on it in the post. I also see a discussion on the meaning of endowment, which now I wonder why i wasn’t in on.

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  14. Hedgehog on March 19, 2014 at 1:39 PM

    The sooner the essays are incorporated into the curriculum the better, in my view. Though possibly training may be required to introduce them to he worldwide leadership – perhaps a worldwide sunday school leadership or teacher training meeting?

    Also missing John Hamer’s posts, and of course FireTag. Thanks for that link MH, it occurs to me I ought to read his backlist.

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  15. Rich Brown on March 19, 2014 at 1:50 PM

    This is one of those times when I, too, miss Fire Tag’s insightfulness. My LDS sisters and brothers probably don’t fully appreciate the significance of this post by hawkgrrl in which the LDS church is critiqued using Community of Christ standards (rather than the other way around), so just for that—thank you.

    Jeff (#3) is right to highlight questions regarding “restorationism” and authority. As someone reared in the Reorganization I know how deeply ingrained was the idea of a restoration of exclusive authority for priesthood and the church as a whole. It’s been 13 years since we officially changed the church name and a lot longer since we began to move away from such claims of exclusivity. That’s been hard on a lot of folks and no doubt contributed to a significant exodus to the so-called Restoration Branches and, to a lesser degree, to the LDS Church.

    Among other things this has led current CofC members to try to redefine the term “restoration,” usually without much clarity. Although we’ve dropped the idea of being the One True Church with exclusive priesthood authority (and using our history as support if not proof for that), that doesn’t mean we don’t consider ourselves legitimate successors (maybe” children” is a better term here) to what was brought forth in the early 19th century by action of the Holy Spirit. Another idea we’ve begun to drop (albeit reluctantly, I think) is our formerly held opinion that Joseph Smith Jr. had nothing to do with polygamy. For that we can thank CofC historians (Dick Howard, Paul Edwards, Mark Scherer, and a host of others involved in the John Whitmer Historical Association) and the generational passing of the Reorganization as a Smith-family “club” intent on protecting the founder’s image. I don’t mean for that to sound as harsh as it probably does.

    Mormon Heretic (#10) is correct regarding the CofC’s total rejection of Nauvoo-style temple ordinances. Our temple in Independence follows the functions of the Kirtland House of the Lord. BTW, Baptism for the Dead was debated in the 1860s and 1870s before being set aside (many RLDS members simply viewed it as a possibility once a temple was built) but by the 1970s and 1980s it was expunged completely from our D&C and theology.

    Our respective faith movements have diverged so much since the mid-1800s, and even more so since the 1960s, that I’m not sure how appropriate it is to do much compare-and-contrast activity now. That being said, one of the helpful insights presented here in this blog posting is that the CofC has moved away from being understood primarily as a religious organization and toward being a faith community. Those are two rather different animals. Maybe one reason the Reorganization was never a spectacularly successful organization had to do with the kind of folks it attracted from its early formation in the 1850s. There’s an old RLDS joke that “Brigham got the obedient ones; we got the free thinkers.” That’s sort of the religious version of apples and oranges. Any organization/community needs a balance of both but probably the percentage of each will vary a good deal.

    The current generation CofC members lean toward de-emphasizing Basic Beliefs and giving greater attention to the Enduring Principles. That’s appropriate for us—and these Church History Principles reflect that—but perhaps might not be as much for LDS members. I’m in no position to judge, however. That’s for LDS folks to determine.

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  16. hawkgrrrl on March 19, 2014 at 7:26 PM

    Rich Brown: “There’s an old RLDS joke that “Brigham got the obedient ones; we got the free thinkers.”” Very interesting and insightful! Thanks for that, and for adding your two cents to the discussion (which was worth much more than that).

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  17. Mormon Heretic on March 19, 2014 at 8:11 PM

    Jeff, you inspired me to rescue my old post about the Kirtland Temple. (I have about 200 posts that need rescuing.) Anyway, there are a few references to the Kirtland endowment. (Barbara Walden was the director of the Kirtland Temple for the Community of Christ.)

    Barbara Walden, “You also had the same heavy, canvas curtain hanging above the pulpit on both sides of the room. And these curtains could be lowered through cranks that were located at each level of the pulpit. So priesthood members could raise and lower the curtains as they wished, just like members out in the pew boxes could. But these curtains would come down and divide off each level of the pulpit to give privacy to each level of the priesthood. There are a number of accounts of private meetings taking place in the pulpits, of people kneeling down for prayer.

    I think one of the most well-known, or famous accounts comes right after the dedication when Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith kneel down for a time of private prayer. As they begin to rise from prayer, they see the Lord standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit before them–a remarkable account that was recorded in Joseph Smith Jr’s journal. For many of our visitors, it is the sole reason they come to the Kirtland Temple–to see the pulpits where that event took place.

    John Larsen, “Yeah, in the Salt Lake Doctrine and Covenants, that’s section 110 I believe, where they saw Moses, Elias, and Elijah right there on the pulpit.

    Barbara Walden, “That’s right.”

    JL, “So they are heavier than the sort of thin veil that you might see in the temples today–at least in the Salt Lake branch temples.”

    BW, “Right”

    John Hamer, “I was there just last month and it was for the Remnant Church. The Remnant Church was having a semi-annual conference and they were having their priesthood meeting in the temple as a retreat. In fact all the leadership of the church was there and they had spent 30 days trying to prepare themselves for this kind of special endowment–where we’re talking a Kirtland endowment where they would be endowed with power in order to further the work of the Remnant Church in terms of their reorganizing efforts and rebuilding efforts.”

    See the whole interview at

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  18. John Hamer on March 20, 2014 at 10:04 AM

    Hey folks — I’m sorry that I’ve gone missing the past month or so. I took on several new jobs, including being in charge of the downtown Toronto Congregation of Community of Christ’s property search for a new building in the city’s downtown. It’s been a wonderful challenge and we think we may have found the space, which will be a ground-floor commercial condo within a brand-new residential tower. (More on this when I have final news.)

    Thanks for this post, Hawkgrrrl. I really love Community of Christ’s Church History Principles — (one of my other new jobs is that I was called last month to be church historian for Canada East). I think your commentary does a good job of highlighting how the two traditions speak and hear very different languages and I’m pleased to have your glosses because I’ve begun to “go native” to the point where I need to be reminded the LDS reading.

    Let me try to give my own thoughts on some of the “paging John Hamer” questions.

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  19. John Hamer on March 20, 2014 at 10:24 AM

    Jeff: For Community of Christ, rejecting or accepting conclusions about history is very different than the questions of scriptural canonization and the necessity of particular sacramental practices. In other words, accepting that Joseph Smith was the originator of Mormon polygamy (which I and — to my knowledge — all Community of Christ historians do), is unrelated to the question of “accepting” LDS D&C 110 as part of Community of Christ’s canon of scripture (it is not a part of it), or “accepting” Nauvoo-era spiritual practices such as baptism for the dead, the Nauvoo endowment, or the “Law of Adoption” as somehow literally necessary in a cosmological sense.

    Regarding all spiritual practices, I would argue that in Community of Christ we view spiritual practices as “meaningful” because they are symbolic and are performed to build, remember, and renew our connection to God and our community — as opposed to simply being somehow cosmologically necessary in a literalistic sense.

    The church itself has core sacraments: baptism, confirmation, communion (“sacrament”), laying on of hand for the sick, marriage, blessing of children, ordination, and evangelical blessing. However, that doesn’t mean that these are the only valid spiritual practices. Members are open to all sorts of other spiritual practices that help us connect to God and each other. Employed to that end, it’s valid for Community of Christ members to engage in spiritual practices drawn from anywhere (including other religious traditions) as well as from our history. For example, I know several years back at a special spiritual retreat at Kirtland Temple, some CofC members revisited some of the Kirtland-era endowment practices. I was told this was a very meaningful spiritual experience for the participants.

    The Community of Christ’s Doctrine and Covenants differs from the LDS D&C, in part, because out in Utah, Orson Pratt sifted through Joseph Smith material and added many sections that were not part of the Kirtland D&C or the Nauvoo D&C. Since the RLDS Church at the time was not in communion with the LDS Church, these sections are not part of the Community of Christ canon. (In the same way that all the many subsequent revelations of RLDS/CofC prophets are not in the LDS version.) Regarding the historicity of the experience in LDS D&C 110, I think it’s reasonable to say that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery had a spiritual experience, which was visionary, and the text is how they understood it.

    Community of Christ understands revelation to be the human response to the divine (D&C 163:7). This allows us to easily explain the otherwise problematic error at the core of the vision, i.e., that “Elias” is simply the King James Version of the Greek name for the same person whose Hebrew name the KJV renders as “Elijah.” Joseph Smith was not aware of this fact and in his mind they were two distinct historical figures. The vision can only have taken place within Joseph Smith’s own historical context, as all scripture is necessarily dependent on the historical context of its individual authors. This doesn’t invalidate the vision as a spiritual experience for Joseph and Oliver, but it does illustrate why (in my own view) we need to know the historical context of the author(s) in order to interpret scripture responsibly and also why should always avoid interpreting scripture literalistically.

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  20. mark gibson on March 20, 2014 at 1:13 PM

    MH #10

    For the RLDS 1970 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, The First Presidency authorized removal of the Nauvoo-era sections to a “historical appendix” at the back of the book (LDS sections 124/127/128/135. These sections were referred to as having “uncertain authority” which meant they appeared in the 1844 edition without a conference vote of approval like the 1835 edition. There was no question as to their authenticity.

    At the 1990 RLDS World Conference, a resolution was proposed that the historical appendix be removed entirely from the Doctrine and Covenants; the thinking being that investigators/members would get confused studying doctrines the Church didn’t believe. The spokesman for the resolution called the Revelations from Nauvoo “the goofy stuff” ( I was there as a delegate).

    Members opposed to women’s ordination tried this tactic at the conference following its adoption. A resolution was proposed to remove the section (156) to the appendix and another resolution to remove it entirely. Both were ruled out of order by their First Presidency.

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  21. mark gibson on March 20, 2014 at 1:39 PM

    Rich Brown #15

    Revelation in the Community of Christ seems to be “binding” only if included in the Doctrine and Covenants. No matter what counsel the leadership gives through sermons/articles, if it is not presented to the conference body for a vote of approval, there’s no further regard for it.

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  22. Jeff Spector on March 20, 2014 at 2:35 PM

    HI John,

    ” For Community of Christ, rejecting or accepting conclusions about history is very different than the questions of scriptural canonization and the necessity of particular sacramental practices. ”

    We’re not really talking about CoC at this point but historical RLDS.

    What has always confused me is the selective acceptance of Joseph’s teachings. Joseph himself introduced temple ordinances in the Red Brick store. I think they even refer to that during the tour (which is CofC-owned). The RLDS accepted JS III as their prophet because they believed that the Prophet Joseph chose him to be his successor. But there is little prove of that. Yet there is ample proof of the teaching of baptism for the dead and the higher ordinances. We’ve already addressed polygamy.

    I realize the CoC have a totally difference POV on all that now, but what of the historical church? I know they clearly wanted to differentiate themselves. Was that the way they did it?

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  23. Mormon Heretic on March 20, 2014 at 5:35 PM

    Jeff, from what I understand, many of the RLDS believed that Joseph was in apostasy with polygamy. Since this coincided with the temple, and since historic RLDS have always rejected polygamy, they reject temple ordinances of the Nauvoo era as well. FireTag said they preferred 1838 era doctrine. (The Kirtland Temple was completed 1838.) As John said, they therefore reject most D&C sections after about 1838, which is why 110 isn’t canonized by them.

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  24. Jeff Spector on March 21, 2014 at 9:09 AM


    That sounds right. We could really use a Firetag replacement who lived through a number of the changes that they made in the last 25 years or so.

    Not that we could have really replaced him.

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  25. mh on March 21, 2014 at 9:38 AM

    Rich brown and/or Mark Gibson, would you bee interested in writing some posts from a CoC perspective? Email me at Mormon heretic at gmail dot com.

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  26. John Hamer on March 21, 2014 at 9:43 PM

    Jeff #21: In fact, there is more than ample historical evidence that Joseph Smith set apart his son to be his successor on multiple occasions. This is very well attested and LDS historians agree. But, of course, as Michael Quinn points out, Joseph Smith endorsed multiple, contradictory succession alternatives.

    Community of Christ folks do not question the historicity of baptism for the dead in Nauvoo — it happened just as assuredly as Joseph Smith prophesied that his son would succeed him. So baptism for the dead happened. No one denies that. So what?

    Baptism for the dead is a spiritual practice; I myself think that done properly for close relatives or associates, it may well have some spiritual benefit for the living in the same way that a funeral does. Community of Christ doesn’t practice it because: (1) we’ve had revelations over the past century that it was a specific practice for specific times, such as early Nauvoo, and (2) we don’t believe the idea of baptism for the dead has any theological merit in a literalistic cosmological sense.

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  27. mark gibson on March 22, 2014 at 12:55 AM

    Let me add a little to John Hamer’s explanation #26

    The RLDS officially began in 1860 but didn’t make a statement concerning B.O.D. until a conference resolution in 1886 which said, in part, it was “binding on the Reorganization only so far as they are either reiterated or referred to as binding by commandments to this church.” IMO, they had no facility to perform them so they just tabled the matter.

    It was then believed that once a temple (presumably Independence) was built, the practice would be authorized. In 1968 W. Wallace Smith’s revelations on the Independence Temple’s planning mentioned “no provision for secret ordinances now or ever” which was the last official word on the subject. Again IMO, temple ordinances were regarded as a “mormon” thing and the RLDS were steering clear of that association.

    Joseph Smith 3rd led the RLDS for 54 years, but when first approached by their elders about doing so he refused outright. It was almost 4 years later that he accepted. Later on, there was a movement of discontented members to replace him with a younger brother David H Smith, but he replied in the negative.

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  28. mark gibson on March 22, 2014 at 2:24 AM

    MH #23

    Actually the Kirtland Temple was completed in 1836. I remember the 1986 sesquicentennial observance.

    LDS sections 109/110 are in RLDS history but have no official status.

    Very true that RLDS had Kirtland-era leanings. I once saw an aerial photo of the entire Independence temple lot which described the buildings as representing 3 periods of mormon beliefs: Fayette, New York(Church of Christ), Kirtland(RLDS), and Nauvoo(LDS).

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