The Mormon Faith & Black Folks
Question #43

Q. Isn’t there a group of Reformed Mormons who have always allowed blacks to become ministers?

Yes. But they don’t refer to themselves as ‘Reformed Mormons’. Indeed, they don’t refer to themselves as ‘Mormons’ at all. They often refer to themselves as ‘Latter Day Saints’ (as opposed to Latter-day Saints which Mormons sometimes refer to themselves as). They are members of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or “RLDS Church” (now also called “The Community of Christ”).

*Historical Background of the RLDS Church

After the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were killed in 1844, there was debate among the Mormons as to who should succeed him. Joseph Smith wanted Hyrum to succeed him after his death, but Hyrum refused to leave his brother’s side in Carthage Jail, and died several minutes before Joseph did. There were basically five claimants to the successorship:

1. Sidney Rigdon: the 2nd Counselor in The First Presidency.

2. The Council of the Twelve Apostles; headed by Brigham Young as Senior Apostle.

3. William Law: excommunicated 1st Counselor in The First Presidency, and his cabal of excommunicated Priesthood-officers.

4. William Smith: the younger brother of Joseph Smith and an Apostle.

5.James Jesse Strang: presiding elder of a small branch of Mormons in Michigan.

There was a huge outside meeting of the Saints in Nauvoo only months after the Prophet and his brother Hyrum were killed, and each claimant was invited to present their claims to the faithful. However, William Law did not show; because many of the Saints blamed him for the death of Joseph and Hyrum. Law and his cohorts had started the Nauvoo Expositor; which claimed that Joseph was a ‘fallen prophet’. Law and his cohorts hoped that the Church would excommunicate Joseph and install themselves as leaders, but this did not occur. Instead, they were blamed for the deaths, and the vast great majority of Mormons wanted nothing to do with them.

Sidney Rigdon had been 2nd Counselor to Joseph, but had been excommunicated once, and then reinstated, and then disfellowshipped. He was a good man, but a very stubborn one who often demanded his own way. There is also evidence that he suffered from "melancauly" (i.e. bi-polar disorder); which caused his moods, and loyalties, to change and swing wildly. Because of this the Saints had very little confidence in him. He spoke for several hours offering his claims.

Brigham Young was the senior Apostle in the Council of the Twelve Apostles. In those days the Counselors in The First Presidency were not Apostles, but merely High Priests. Brigham Young gave a very short speech, and said that he did not care who lead the Church, but only that the LORD would decide. Many people that day swear that as Brigham Young was speaking his voice and facial features changed, and appeared like Joseph Smith. Many that day believed that the divine mantle of Joseph fell upon Brigham Young, and saw this miracle as a confirmation from the LORD that the Twelve Apostles (headed by Brigham Young) should lead the Church. The great majority of Mormons in Nauvoo decided that day to follow the Twelve Apostles.

William Smith was an Apostle in the Church, but had been dropped several times from the Council because of his temper and violence. He even once physically assaulted his brother Joseph, who promptly forgave him. Few of the Saints had much confidence in him, or his claims. They saw no reason to install him as President of the Church merely because he was the Prophet's brother.

James Jesse Strang, the final claimant, claimed that he had a signed letter from the Prophet Joseph Smith, written only a few months before his death, which appointed Strang was his successor. Strang presented this letter as he traveled around the Great Lakes region, and many of the Mormons living in isolated places believed it. The letter still survives today, and has been examined by experts who have determined that it is a cheap and obvious forgery.

There was a small group of Priesthood-officers in Nauvoo who did not side with William Law and his cohorts, but who did not accept the Apostles (headed by Brigham Young) as the new leaders of the Church. They believed that Joseph’s introduction of plural marriage (polygamy) into the Church was a mistake.

These men knew that Brigham Young accepted and lived plural marriage, but they hated the concept; even though they knew Joseph Smith had taught it and lived it for years before his death. So, they accepted the claims of James Strang, and joined him in Michigan. Several of these men were to become of the founders of the ‘Reorganizaton’; later known as the RLDS Church.

Strang gathered several thousand followers and started a colony on Beaver Island, in Lake Michigan. Only a few years later he introduced polygamy and temple rituals; which the dissident Priesthood-officers in Nauvoo, who later joined Strang, had rejected when Joseph introduced them years before. Over time the behavior of James Strang became more and more ‘strange’. He had glorious robes and a crown made for him, and had himself ordained King of the Earth. He began to demand more and more young women in the colony. Eventually, in 1856, some of his own followers killed him. Many decades later his secret diary was deciphered by historians. In it he admitted to forging the letter which appointed him Joseph’s successor. The diary said that he had wanted to be the King of England by marrying the Queen, but eventually he knew that would never happen. He decided that to lie was good as long as it served his own purposes.

Several of the men who had been dissident Priesthood-officers in Nauvoo, and who had accepted Strang as Joseph’s successor, were Jason W. Biggs (1821-1899) and Zenos H. Gurley Sr. (1801-1871). Gurley was one of the 7 Presidents of the 7 Quorums of Seventy. He had at first followed Brigham Young, but several days before the mass Mormon exodus from Nauvoo, Biggs decided he believed the various "revelations" from several Mormons that said that Brigham Young was leading the Saints into the wilderness to die. He refused to go follow the Mormons in what he believed would be their deaths in the wilderness.

Jason Biggs at first supported the claims of Sidney Rigdon, and joined his church in Pennsylvania. But, he soon become disillusioned with Rigdon. He then followed James Jesse Strang, and was ordained an "apostle" of Strang on Beaver Island, Michigan. But when Strang introduced polygamy on Beaver Island, and began acting "strange", Biggs lost faith in him and left. Later, he decided that the Church had become "disorganized" with Joseph Smith's death, and that he and other would "re-organize" it. He, with former Nauvoo Stake President William Marks, approached William Smith, Joseph’s younger brother, but after meeting him did not feel that he should lead the small remnants of Latter Day Saints who did not follow Brigham Young. They still rejected the claims of Brigham Young and the Twelve. One of them even received a ‘revelation’ that said that Brigham Young would lead his followers to the wilderness to die, and that his 'faction' would ‘come to nothing’. They eventually gathered and decided that the eldest son of Joseph Smith, Joseph Smith III (called “Young Joseph”) should lead a ‘Reorganization’ of the Church. In 1853 seven ‘Apostles’ were chosen by committee, and they ordained Briggs and Gurley as the leaders of the Reorganization.

These men claimed that when Joseph and Hyrum were martyred the Church became ‘disorganized’, and that it had to be ‘reorganized’. They had accepted the claims of Strang, but rejected him after he introduced polygamy and after his behavior became too strange. Undaunted by their mistakes with Strang, they decided to ‘reorganize’ the Church with Young Joseph (Joseph Smith III) at it’s head. They approached Young Joseph several times; who was still living in Nauvoo with his mother Emma Smith Bindamon (she married a Gentile named Bindamon). Young Joseph was involved in Spiritualism, and wanted nothing to do with Mormonism.

Emma Smith did not like Brigham Young. She was also convinced that her husband’s plural marriages was what led to his death. She was determined that her sons would not suffer a similar fate. She apparently believed the ‘revelations’ being received by various dissident Priesthood-officers that Brigham Young would lead the Saints to die in the American wilderness. So, she stayed in Nauvoo, and her young children, naturally, stayed with her.

Young Joseph eventually became disillusioned with Spiritualism, and accepted the position of President of the Reoganization; which took the name The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. This was in 1860. He was ‘ordained’ to the office of President by Briggs and Gurley.

The claim of the RLDS Church from 1860 to the early 1980s was that the true successors of the Prophet Joseph Smith had to be his oldest male direct descendants; although the Prophet is never recorded to have said that. There is nothing in the Revelations to the Prophet Joseph Smith which allude to this. This claim is based upon ‘revelations’ received by Briggs and Gurley; who were never ‘Prophets, Seers, and Revelators’ of the original LDS Church. They had been members of the Nauvoo Stake High Council.

Joseph Smith III became the first President of the RLDS Church, and after him his three sons succeeded him:

Frederick G. Smith

Israel A. Smith

William Wallace Smith

The son of William Wallace Smith, whose name is Wallace B. Smith (1929-) became the President of the RLDS Church when his father retired. Wallace B. Smith also retired, and appointed Grant McMurray as President. McMurray is not a descendant of the Prophet Joseph Smith. The RLDS Church now claims that lineal descent was never ‘really’ a true doctrine of their church to begin with; although this was their claim to be "one true Church" for over a century.

*The RLDS Church and Black Folks

The attitude of the RLDS Church towards black folks has general been positive. Young Joseph had been taught by his father that racism was evil, and that Negroes were not inferior to whites. Joseph Smith III announced that his wish was that “prejudice of race, color, and caste would soon be done away among the Saints.” (Invisible Saints: A History of Black Americans in the Reorganized Church, p.126)

On May 4, 1860, Joseph Smith III authorized that Negroes be ordained to the Priesthood “to be ministers to their own race.” (RLDS D&C sec. 116) Like many Protestant churches in America at that time, the RLDS Church ordained black men to preach and minister to black people.

Joseph Smith III once got into a political debate with a Gentile named Whitefield. Young Joseph asked the man if one candidate was black, and the other white, but the black candidate was a better man, whom would he vote for? The conversation went like this:

Whitefield: “Well, you can be right sure I wouldn’t vote for the nigger.”

Young Joseph: “Well, I would.”

Whitefield: “Aha, perhaps you would like to have your daughter marry a nigger!”

Young Joseph: “Mr. Whitefield, if I raise my girl in such a way that when she comes of age she prefers a Negro to a white man, I will not interfere with her choice.” (Saints’ Herald, 30 April 1935, p.530)

In 1893 Joseph Smith III wrote:

“We believe that God will discriminate in favor of the righteous man, whose deeds are commendable, and not save a man simply because his skin is white. If his soul is white no matter what the color of his skin, the man is sure of salvation.” (Saints Herald, 13 May 1893, pp.289-90)

Like most Protestant denominations at that time, the RLDS Church authorized separate black congregations in the South, and segregated seating areas for blacks in white congregations (Invisible Saints, pp.158-9)

While RLDS Church members usually pride themselves that ‘their’ church has been ‘racism free’, the evidence says otherwise. In 1905 then RLDS Church President Frederick Smith (the son of Joseph Smith III) gave a talk at the RLDS ‘Indian Lake Reunion’ in Michigan. Attending that reunion was a young black RLDS woman named May Robbins. RLDS historian Roger Launius writes:

“Then Smith began to speak. He first began talking about having a ‘nigger’ working for him and how he came to have ‘one’. (Restoration Studies 5:136n4)

Robbins herself later wrote:

“I did not remember anything more that was said in that talk. I don’t think in all my life I ever had such a hurt, such a bitter disappointment,....My eyes were filled with tears, my face burned with shame and humiliation...because I was what the Prophet [Frederick Smith] would call a ‘nigger’.” (Restoration Studies 5:131)

*The RLDS Church begins to reject doctrines from the Prophet Joseph Smith

Both Zenos Gurley Sr. and Jason Briggs, the real founders of the RLDS Church, knew Joseph Smith personally. They knew that he practiced and advocated plural marriage (polygamy) in Nauvoo. They knew he taught the doctrine of the plurality of gods. They knew that he introduced the Temple rituals that came to be known as Sealings and the Endowment. They knew these things. The very first edition of The Truth Latter Day Saints’ Herald (the official RLDS Church publication) said that it was because of polygamy that Joseph Smith had ‘fallen’, and that he had been killed by the LORD. However, after Joseph Smith III became President, this began to change.

Young Joseph loved his father dearly. His father had taught him to love and respect black folks. He was a young boy when his father had been killed. He utterly refused to believe that his beloved father had additional wives other than his beloved mother Emma. He simply refused to believe it; even when some of his own apostles told him they knew Joseph Smith personally and knew his father preached and lived it! Today, we call it ‘denial’. Biggs and Gurley and other early member of the Reorganization assured him it was true, but he refused to believe it. Gurley once wrote a letter to Joseph Smith III in response to an editorial wherein Young Joseph denied his father practiced or authorized plural marriage:

“Your editorial...has just been read by me, and I notice that you have taken very ultra [extreme] grounds in relation to the ‘Polygamy’ question. You state that ‘neither Joseph nor Hyrum...ever built-up polygamy’. Will you inform me why Hyrum Smith did teach it?***You absolutely refuse to believe the evidence which would convict [your father].” (Mormon Enigma, p.300)

Like most people in his day, polygamy was considered no different than adultery. The fact that many prophets in the Bible practiced it was neither here nor there. It was evil and a sin in the eyes of 19th century Americans. Joseph Smith III wanted to clear his father’s name (which was also his name) from all references to polygamy. He spent the rest of his trying to convince others of this. He told Biggs and Gurley to never mention his father’s plural wives again, or to speak of it. Eventually, both of them left the RLDS Church; the very church they had founded-because they could no longer continue to deny what they knew to be the truth.

Eventually, the few people in the RLDS Church who had known that the Prophet Joseph Smith had plural wives either left the RLDS Church or remained silent until their deaths. The younger generations were told that Joseph Smith had ‘nothing to do’ with polygamy, and that it was an invention of Brigham Young. This lie continued for over a century.

The RLDS Church claimed for over a century that it was the ‘only true church’ upon the face of the whole earth, that the ‘Utah Mormon Church’ under Brigham Young was false, and that it was Brigham Young, and not Joseph Smith, who introduced the Temple rituals known as Sealings and the Endowment and the doctrine of Eternal Marriage. Polygamy, a plurality of Gods, exaltation, etc. This is course, was not true.

The RLDS Church at first accepted Baptism for the Dead, and looked forward to the day when they could build their own temple in order to practice this ordinance. However, over the decades, they eventually dropped this doctrine as well.

Today, RLDS historians and scholars admit that it was the Prophet Joseph Smith, and not Brigham Young, who introduced plural marriage into the Church during the ‘Nauvoo Period’. Some of them have even written books or articles that admit this, and those RLDS members who read these articles also know. Yet, most do not. The RLDS Church today will admit, if asked, that the Prophet Joseph Smith introduced plural marriage into the Church. Of course, most of their members never ask, and simply accept what they were told as children; that Brigham Young invented it and falsely ascribed it to Joseph Smith.

Even though the RLDS Church was pro-black, and ordained black ministers from the year 1860, it failed to attract many black members. In the late 1960s the RLDS Church started missionary work among blacks and in the Caribbean. Yet, by the early 1980s, the RLDS Church boasted of only about 1000 black members in the world. By the early 1980s the LDS Church had anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 black Members.

*The Liberalization of the RLDS Church

Beginning in the early 1960s a number of RLDS members began attending liberal Protestant theological seminaries. Unlike the LDS Church, the RLDS Church believed in theological training for its pastors. Many of these graduates entered the ‘ministry’ (full-time paid administration) of the RLDS Church, and began a policy of ‘change-from-within’. The RLDS Church had up to that time been a very conservative organization. Yet, when more and more liberals began to enter its various ministries, they began to de-emphasize various doctrines. They began more and more to conform the RLDS Church to a more liberal form of Christianity; emphasizing the ‘Social Gospel’ more and more. In other words, they began to drop their claims of being the ‘only true church’ and the literalness of the Bible and The Book of Mormon, and began to interpret the Gospel in ‘social’ terms; the gospel as not about cleansing from sin, but about helping the poor and oppressed and emphasizing peace, social justice, women’s rights, and environmental issues. The RLDS Church is now trying to slowly move its people to accept gays and lesbians as ministers.

One RLDS member wrote the following letter to the "Community of Christ" (new name of the RLDS Church) Secretary in August, 2002, which reflects the attitude of many conservative members that have left that church:

"Dear Brother Lindgren,

After prayerful consideration, I have determined that I can no longer in good conscience support adn represent as a priesthood member the current doctrines and polices promulgated by the Community of Christ organization and therefore by this letter withdraw my membership.***Adoption and embrace of same-sex 'marriage' by the [RLDS] First Presidency of the Community of Christ AND indirectly by a majority of delgates at the 2002 World Conference is one of those issues that forces a decision. I absolutely reject the sanctioning by the Community of Christ of the 'blessing' of homosexual unions, as it is a mockery of the Christian sacrament of marriage. The increasing homosexual corruption of the church is epitomized by the ongoing use of church facilities in several jurisdictions to perform same-sex marriages.***The former RLDS organization at the World Church level has devolved into a metaphysical debating society bound together only by leftwing political activism. A casual observation of current Community of Christ World Church programs and communications shows an ever-increasing tendency to promote leftist political causes, cultural degeneracy, anti-Americanism and antipathy to traditional Biblical Christian doctrines" (Letter from an RLDS Melchizedek Priesthood-holder to the First Presidency, alt.religion.mormon, 30 August 2002)

Many conservative RLDS Members saw what was happening and began to rebel against the liberalization of the Church. However, in 1984, the RLDS Church ordained women to its priesthood. For many of the conservatives, this was the ‘last straw’. Tens of thousands of them quit the RLDS Church and formed their own independent churches or organizations; all claiming to be the ‘true successors’ to the Reorganization. These collectively became known as ‘Restoration Branches’. These believe they are the ‘true remnants’ of the Reorganization, and each claims to be the ‘one true church’.

The RLDS Church eventually did build one Temple; near their headquarters in Independence, Missouri. They call it the ‘Temple of Peace’. It has no rituals therein. It is basically a large spiral building; with a large chapel inside. It includes offices and a Temple School. It’s main purpose is to ‘promote communities of joy, hope, love, and peace’’; in other words, to educate and indoctrinate RLDS Church members into the Social Gospel. The RLDS Church no longer teaches that Christ will return in the flesh, but that the ‘Millennium’ will arrive when the world achieves-through its own efforts and the efforts of others-peace and unity.

In the year 2000 the RLDS Church decided to change its name to “ Community of Christ”; to distance itself from not only the LDS Church, but from its Mormon past altogether. Evangelists (missionaries) for the Community of Christ are told not to discuss The Book of Mormon or the Joseph Smith story, but to emphasize the teachings of Christ on peace, equality, social justice, combating poverty, and the environment. RLDS Church Historian Richard P. Howard wrote:

“The RLDS Church seems intent on shedding many of the vestiges of its sectarian background of early Mormonism.” (RLDS Church, p.3 online)

Very few African-Americans feel drawn to the current “Community of Christ/RLDS Church” because it can offer them nothing that any liberal Protestant church cannot also offer. The LDS Church, on the other hand, can offer them Eternal Life as Adams and Eves on other worlds. The “Community of Christ” claims to be working towards “communities of joy, hope, love, and peace” (i.e. the social gospel). About all the “Community of Christ” can offer its members is the same thing any Liberal Protestant church or denomination can.

The RLDS Church changed its name from The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to “Community of Christ” because it wanted to further distance itself from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The RLDS Church (“Community of Christ”) used to claim it was the “rightful heir” of the Prophet Joseph Smith, but now it doesn’t bother making such claims. Outwardly it wants to present itself as just one "Community of Christ" among many fellow Christian churches. Inwardly, the liberal leadership of the Community of Christ wants to transform the former RLDS Church into a liberal social-activist organization where the social-gospel is promulgated, and gays and lesbians are welcomed with open and assisting arms.

The RLDS Church has lots tens of thousands of members since the early 1980s because of its pulling away from its historical roots in the Prophet Joseph Smith, its insistence that The Book of Mormon need not be historical, its ordination of women to its various priesthood councils, its pro-Choice stand on abortion, its warming to the idea of practicing homosexuals in full communion and good standing, its new teaching that Jesus will not literally return to the earth in glory, and its ecumenicalism with liberal denominations and literal causes.

Conservative ex-RLDS members have formed new “Restoration” churches, branches, and denominations; with new ones forming almost monthly: all claiming to be “the One True Church” and all other churches (both the “Community of Christ” and the LDS Church and well as all others) to be lost in apostasy. They’ve taken names such as “Restoration Branches”, The Restoration Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, The Church of Christ Restored, The Restored Church of Christ, etc. But all evidence points that none of these organizations will attract many members, and even when they do attract a thousand of more ex-RLDS members the organization soon divides again over even the smallest of issues; with new leaders claiming divine revelation and new churches forming around them.

The Community of Christ (the former RLDS Church) has built a temple in Independence, Missouri. Its temple is totally unlike Mormon Temples; which are basically large buildings with many small ordinance rooms. The Community of Christ temple is basically a very large chapel; built to resemble a seashell; with one large spiral reaching up into the sky. Some ex-RLDS members, and a few Mormons who live near, have remarked that the “Community of Christ” temple resembles the description of the “Rampeumptom” in The Book of Mormon; a spiral-staircase on the top of which the high priest of the Zoramites would pray one a year; thanking God that they were the chosen, and that they knew the truth that there would be no Christ.

The RLDS Church taught for over 100 years that Christ would return in His Glory. Today, the “Community of Christ” teaches that Christ will not return in any way other than the nations living in peace one with another.. They call their temple the “Temple of Peace”. There are no ordinances performed there. It serves as an auditorium for speakers (of any religion or no religion) to come speak about peace, women’s issues, and other Liberal causes.

The lesson of what happened to the RLDS Church is clear: once you begin to reject some Revelations of the LORD you don't particular like there is no stopping it. The early RLDS leaders knew that Joseph Smith revealed plural marriage, the Endowment, the plurality of Gods, but they rejected these Revelations. But, they still accepted the Bible doctrines they were raised, as Protestants, to believe and hold dear. However, later generations later rejected Bible doctrines. And the rejection of biblical doctrines and Christian values is still continuing in the "Community of Christ". Whatever the World (i.e. Western Liberal society) says is "good" the Community of Christ is calling "good". And whatever the World says is "bad" the Community of Christ is calling "bad". They have truly "bowed the knee" to Ba'al!

So too, in the LDS Church, many are rejecting the Curse of Cain legacy; either denying it (as the RLDS denied that Joseph Smith preached plural marriage), or calling it a "mistake". They too believe they can accept what pleases them, and rejects which displeases or embarasses them. Like the RLDS Church, many liberal Members of the LDS Church are seeking positions of authority and responsibility in the Church; either as secretaries, historians, scholars, assistants, managers, publishers, or as priesthood-officers, in the hopes to change the Church from within. They want to do for the LDS Church what liberals did for the RLDS Church. Many orthodox Mormons know this. They know that many "Sunstone" Mormons work for the LDS Church as managers, or publishers, or secretaries, or historians, or assistants. But they don't fear; because they believe that "All is well in Zion", and that what happened to the RLDS Church could not possibly happen in the LDS Church!

The “Community of Christ” has its own version of the Doctrine and Covenants which leaves out or consigns to the Appendix those revelations and epistles of Joseph Smith that it doesn’t wish to adhere to or practice; while at the same time adding sections. The sections which were added basically have the president of the RLDS Church calling and releasing various priesthood-officers. Yet, both the LDS and the RLDS version of the D&C still contain this statement from the LORD:

“For thus shall my church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter~day Saints.” (D&C 115:4)


Please feel free to e-mail Darrick Evenson

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