By Eric Johnson
In his book Divergent Paths of the Restoration (Bountiful: Restoration Research, 1982), Mormon Steven L. Shields documented more than 150 splinter groups that have been formed since the death of Joseph Smith, Jr. in June 1844. The first major split took place in 1846/7 when Brigham Young brought most of Smith’s followers west, eventually ending up in Utah.
Meanwhile, some of the Latter-day Saints stayed in Illinois; eventually Smith’s son, Joseph Smith III, took the leadership reins of what became the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS), which today is known as the Community of Christ. Based in Independence, MO, this church was led by the descendants of Joseph and Emma Smith for many years.
In recent times, dozens of new splinter groups claiming to be the true followers of Joseph Smith have cropped up, including a number who practice polygamy. There have also been many factions from the former RLDS Church. One such group formed in 2005 is called The New Organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (shortened to “New Organization” in the rest of this article). On May 17, 2011, two members of the church’s Seventy—Bob Moore and Patrick McKay (and we’ll identify for the rest of the article by their first names)—met at a public venue in South Jordan, UT with several people who were interested in learning more about their church.
The New Organization began in April 2007, two years after the Community of Christ leaders ordained Steve Veazey as their new prophet. Since W. Grant McMurray was named as the RLDS president in 1995—the first in the church’s history with no direct blood line to Joseph Smith—this organization has been led by non-relatives of Smith. Yet it was, according to the New Organization, Veazey’s “ordination (that) violated the scriptures and was as invalid as the ordination of Brigham Young to the presidency in 1847, 158 years before. Just as the 1847 unlawful act disorganized the original church and created the Utah Mormon Church, the 2005 unlawful act disorganized the Reorganized Church and created the Community of Christ.”
The New Organization had a General Conference in 2008 and formed a quorum of Seventy; rules were established in November 2008 for the ordination of priests. Currently the church is very missionary-minded, looking to establish members wherever possible. When enough members are made, they are placed into “branches”; eventually branches are then placed into districts.
Using timelines based on Old Testament passages, the church holds that Joseph Smith’s successor as predicted in the Bible is about to be discovered. Bob said his father was an RLDS missionary who participated in the original priesthood ordination of Wallace B. Smith (1929- ), who later became the last RLDS president with a direct blood line to Joseph Smith. When that event took place, “He (Bob’s father) saw Joseph the Martyr when he laid his hands on Wallace’s head and he (his father) was carried away in a vision.” According to the father’s testimony, the mantle literally went from Joseph’s head and “landed on Wallace’s shoulders.”
Yet Bob admitted that Wallace—who was 82 years old in 2011—has not yet joined the movement that aims to restore Zion to its former glory. According to Bob, Wallace promised that he would pray about his future involvement with this new church. Yet this fascination with Wallace is odd, especially since much of the criticism that the Reorganization’s leaders have toward the Community of Christ comes as a direct result of Wallace’s actions. For instance, in 1984, Wallace announced Section 156 of the RLDS’s Doctrine and Covenants, which gave priesthood ordination to female members. When he retired in 1996, Wallace allowed for the nomination of W. Grant McMurray; even though he was still living, Wallace put aside his title as “prophet, seer, and revelator” to become Prophet Emeritus, allowing someone with no direct blood lines to Joseph Smith to become the new leader. While Wallace has been retired for the past 15 years, he continues to advise the Community of Christ leadership, which has now ordained female apostles.
It seems that the New Organization is attempting to return to the earlier policies and theology of the RLDS Church as practiced three decades ago. Not only are the New Organization’s leaders against the ordination of women and female apostles, but they also oppose homosexual marriage and other liberal political policies that have been embraced by recent Community of Christ leaders. Because it is believed that the Community of Christ lost its keys of authority, the members of The New Organization believe that the mantle of authority has been transferred to their church.
Among beliefs of The New Organization:
- The two Seventies publicly disagreed on whether or not Joseph Smith was ever married to other women. However, they both said that he certainly would not have had sex with anyone other than Emma, despite the historical basis for this claim.
- Joseph Smith is a direct descendant of King David and has the blood lines of Judah in him.
- Instead of the Trinity, the “Duality of the Godhead” (comprised of God the Father and Jesus Christ) is taught. They do not believe they can become gods but rather the “sons of God.”
- Misquoting 1 John 4 (“This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God”), Patrick claims that 2,500 people in ancient America were able to “thrust their hands into (Jesus’s) side and feet and bore witness that He came in the flesh.” Therefore, anyone who says Jesus came in the flesh is from God, including those today who hold to the Book of Mormon.
- There is a rejection of Joseph Smith’s later teachings. In addition, they do not believe that everything Joseph Smith said can be trusted as he sometimes was “wrong.” For one, since Joseph Smith III rejected his father’s translation of the Book of Abraham plates, they also reject this Mormon scripture, even though it took place in Smith’s earlier trustworthy ministry (1835). His translation of this was a “mistake,” which means that the New Organization does not recognize this book.
- Despite their belief that Smith could be wrong in his teachings, including doctrine, they do not feel that Deuteronomy chapters 13 and 18 (talking about tests for determining a true prophet) are valid since “we’re not under the law of Moses anymore.”
- Temple work, including work for the dead, is not necessary for today. The New Organization also does not practice the wearing of physical temple garments (D&C 76 should therefore be taken figuratively), and they take the Word of Wisdom only as advice, not a command.
- The Inspired Version of the Bible was definitely completed and is the correct Bible version. Smith was able to fix many errors, even changing things that were not in any biblical texts available today, but this was to only correct the errors the Jews and other translators incorporated into the text. However, the simplistic view that Smith fixed the errors created over the past two millennia does not coincide with the vast majority of textual critics.
- As far as Smith’s Inspired Version, Bob said, “Joseph wrote inspired explanations in the scriptures and did not return the text to the original state, but instead wrote the text as God would have it translated today.” In essence, Isaiah, Zechariah, and Matthew apparently did not have the same insight as Smith had centuries later to expand on their words.
- The Book of Mormon is literal history that took place in Mesoamerica. Patrick said that he knows this is true because the Book of Mormon never talks about cold weather and snow, even though the New York area is cold one-third of the year. When asked how the gold plates arrived in New York from Mesoamerica, they said Moroni had three decades to transport them there, so there was plenty of time to do so. They could not give a reason why he decided to head to cold-weather territory himself.
- Borrowing some of the Postmodern ideas from the Community of Christ, the organization “maintains that God reveals himself to every nation and kindred that seeks his counsel.” While they say they are not pluralistic, the two members of the Seventy insist that they could never say anyone with an opposing viewpoint was wrong. “We’re not going to judge anybody,” Bob said. When they were then asked if Smith was a true prophet, they adamantly affirmed this proposition. When asked if it is a wrong proposition to say that Smith was not a true prophet, Bob agreed, effectively canceling the idea that it’s impossible to tell someone that his or her viewpoint is wrong.
- Over and over again in explaining scriptural interpretation, they said, “This is what it means to me” and “To me, this says…” This language is very common as well in the Community of Christ organization today as well as with many other Postmodern thinkers.
- Eternal life comes through faith, baptism, and repentance. Salvation is a “free gift,” though good works are also important. Practically everyone who has ever lived will receive one of three levels of heaven since, they claim, almost everyone is a good person. Hell is merely a temporary state.
- The end of the world is very close, but Smith’s blood relative will have to be in place at the head of the church before this can happen.