Mormonism Lite: The RLDS/CoC Church

Posted: July 22, 2018 in Community of Christ, Lisa Smith, Mormon Studies, RLDS

A Community of Christ World Conference session.

by Lisa Smith
If you’re not familiar with the RLDS (the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, who officially changed their name to Community of Christ (CoC) in 2001) they share a common history with Mormons – that is, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After Joseph Smith’s death in 1844, when Brigham Young led the majority of the group to Salt Lake City, a small group (including Emma Smith, Joseph’s widow) stayed in the Midwest. When their oldest son (Joseph Smith III) I reached adulthood, he was ordained Prophet-President (1860). Hence those in the Independence, Missouri headquartered RLDS/CoC are known by those in Mormon Studies as “Josephites” as opposed to the better known “Brighamites” in the LDS Church that’s headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.

I left this church in 2001, so my response is based on my research and experience at that time. My and my husband’s departure came after we came to a saving knowledge of the biblical Christ in 1997. We started attending BSF (Bible Study Fellowship) and came to understand the biblical definition of salvation (which was not taught in the RLDS church.) We learned that we were all sinners and that without accepting the salvation paid for by Jesus’ death on the cross, we would not be forgiven of our sins but God, and would go to hell. We both (separately) admitted to God that we were sinners and asked for his forgiveness, and acknowledged that surrender to God through Jesus was the only way to Heaven. We made the decision to stay in “the [RLDS] Church” at that time, with the hope that we could influence others for Christ. It was only after a friend gave me copies of “Part Way to Utah: The Forgotten Mormons” by Paul Trask and “Reorganized Latter Day Saints Church: Is It Christian?” by Carol Hansen that we realized what an aberrant foundation the church had, and made the decision that it was time to leave ourselves.

After reading a recent page on MormonThink “10 Things Common to Scientology and Mormonism,” I was asked how the RLDS/CoC Culture compared. Here are my thoughts based on the 10 points addressed in that article. (It will make more sense if you read that article first so that can see the framework that my analysis is based on!)

1) Keeping secrets about the religion from its members
In the CoC, it’s less an issue of “keeping secrets” and more of a refusal to face/actively repudiate the non-biblical foundations of the Church.

The RLDS/CoC still revered Joseph Smith during the time that I was in it, though even then they were likely to ignore anything unflattering. They didn’t want to acknowledge that he had approved (much less participated in) polygamy. The temple ordinances common to Mormonism (baptism of the dead, receiving Temple Endowments and wearing special undergarments, etc) came after the migration to Utah, so the RLDS/CoC don’t have that as part of their history or practice. (They revere the Kirtland and Nauvoo temples as part of their history but tend to ignore issues like the Masonic roots of the Temple or Smith’s “translation” of the papyri known as the Book of Abraham, etc, even though Smith was part of that development.) The Community of Christ built a temple in the early 1990s in Independence MO (across the street from the Temple Lot, where Joseph Smith prophesied that Christ would return, as well as from the Independence Mormon Visitors Center). CoC members pride themselves on not having secret ceremonies, advertising that it is open to all people at all times (at least during visiting hours!)

The RLDS/CoC also has minimal connection to the Masonic roots that Smith established in Nauvoo. They also minimize any discussion of what the “Urim and Thummim” actually were. There is no discussion of the Book of Abraham. I had never heard of it until I started researching church history!

Rather than a “quad”, we used the 3-in-1: the Inspired Version (Joseph Smith’s altered version of the Bible also known as The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible or “JST”), the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants (both are slightly different from the Mormon versions).

2) You’ll be lost without the church
This was one of the biggest obstacles to leaving the Church! On my side, I was 7th generation RLDS on my mother’s side, 3rd on my dad’s. Both of my grandfathers converted to “the Restoration” after being a Methodist (maternal grandfather) and Baptist (paternal) minister. My husband’s family went back 6 generations on one side. Most of our family were RLDS, as were most of our friends. (My brother had converted to Catholicism, but that was excused in my family because “he had to for his wife.” My sister was actively participating in New Age worship and studying as a Native American shaman.) My leaving the RLDS church was a much bigger deal—family members were devastated by our decision, and our closest friends disfellowshipped us. While many of our former church “family” tried to be understanding and invited us to “worship with us anyway,” we felt compelled to get ourselves and our young kids into a Bible-based church.

3) Excessive financial conditions for Church membership
Honestly, the church financial teachings are “milk toast.” Because they are not a Bible-based church, they don’t teach the biblical principles of tithing. Because they pride themselves on being “nice,” no one ever talks to you about whether you’re giving appropriately. I never understood tithing until I took a Dave Ramsey “Financial Peace University” class at our new church! (Now we tithe because we know that everything we have is from God and we want to give Him our first fruits and because we know intimately the blessings of obedience to a loving God!)

4) Believers often defend the religion with the comment that “it’s a good organization”, whether or not it is literally true.
The RLDS/CoC is filled with many nice people — that’s probably why we stayed as long as we did! Like the rest of society, It also has its share of very evil people. They are sinners who don’t know God’s redeeming love and grace.

5) Read only faith-promoting materials produced by us.
While I was never told not to read anything, I know that books that were more Biblical were disparaged as “closed-minded”. There is a strong trend towards mainline theologically liberal Christianity, so anything that supported that viewpoint was talked up. Theologically conservative Christianity tends to be viewed as closed-minded, backward and runs counter to the spirit of the Restoration.

I love the irony that what drove us toward attending BSF was a comment from then-prophet/president Grant McMurray at World Conference. He told the audience that as a faith, the Community of Christ was scripturally illiterate, and we should get into our scriptures more. I don’t think he intended for us to have our eyes opened by the Bible and leave the church, though!

6) Churches use Internet filters to block some websites that frankly discuss some of the problems of their organization.
I can’t speak to this, as it wasn’t really an issue when we left. (We didn’t even have smartphones back then and the Worldwide Web was just coming of age). Members do tend to smile blankly when you try to tell them why this isn’t a biblical church, though.

7) Detractors of the faith are labeled as liars and “anti.”
It’s not that we were labeled as liars or “anti” — it’s just that there’s such a cultural and historical sense that this is the “one true church” and that they alone are entrusted with the truth that Joseph Smith restored to the earth that they can’t fathom what we’re telling them about the Bible and Jesus! My mother-in-law came to me at one point to “bear her testimony that this was the Truth” and she left in tears that we were taking her grandchildren away from “the Restoration”. To her credit, she did come to our baptism service a few years later, when our whole family was baptized (my parents refused), but she didn’t like it.

8) The founders and top leaders are hero-worshiped.
There’s some truth to this: the “First Presidency” and the “Apostles” (really, anyone who works for the “World Church”) are looked up to and treated reverentially.

9) Tear families apart.
No, it’s not formal “shunning.” Yes, some people manage to make their marriages work even with one spouse becoming Christian. In my experience, that’s mostly because the believing spouse tries to honor Paul’s counsel about being married to an unbeliever. (Obviously, sometimes this doesn’t help anyway, because the unbeliever will leave — but it’s inspiring to watch a believer do what they can to live out God’s Word.)

In our case, we count it as one of God’s great blessings that He brought us to saving faith at the same time, and to the decision to leave the Church together. In God’s great humor and timing, the BSF study where we both came to salvation (separately) was on the Acts of the Apostles. When I questioned her about what God really meant about “wives submitting to their husbands,” she challenged me to pray that week and ask God to show me what He meant.

That was the week our marriage changed – and for the better, I might add!

As I said before, our closest friends severed relationships with us. I was doing a book study with my two best friends at the time. We had raised our babies together and seen one of us through the loss of a husband to cancer, widowhood, and marriage to a new guy. I thought we would be friends forever. They told me that they couldn’t continue being friends with me if this is how I really felt about the Restoration.

The relationship with my parents was marred for the rest of their lives. My dad never accepted it. He died about 14 years later, and to my knowledge, he never came to a saving relationship with Jesus. He actually mocked me to friends, telling them Duane and I had “left the church and become fundamentalists.” (Our first church after leaving was a Baptist church with solid biblical teaching; we moved a year later to the non-denominational church where we stayed for 14 years — also a great biblical church.). My mother and I had a rocky relationship until her death 16 years later (worsened by the fact that she had a serious personality disorder.) In God’s great mercy, he allowed me to lead her to His throne days before she died. The last words she ever spoke to me were to say that she was a sinner and she needed a Savior. I’m so grateful I will get to see her mentally healed in Heaven!)

10) Have been labeled as a cult and the members as brainwashed.
On this side of leaving, I would say that it is not as much of a cult experience as Mormonism (especially after some of the stories some LDS have shared on the Internet, especially in Ex-Mormon recovery groups!), but it isn’t not a cult either! I liked this excerpt from the aforementioned MormonThink article:

Steve Hassan is considered one of the leading experts on cults and mind control. He is involved with the Freedom of Mind Resource Center to help those concerned with cults and dangerous organizations. Hassan appeared on CNN in the days following the airing of “Going Clear” to discuss the documentary on Scientology.

Regarding Mormonism, Steve has an article on his blog entitled “An Expert Responds to the Cult Controversy re: Mormonism – 12/12/2011 – by Steve Hassan”. Steve does not flat-out call Mormonism a cult. He leaves that judgment to the individual to decide. Steve uses the BITE (behavior; information; thoughts; emotions) model when he applies it to organizations that have attributes of cults. An Ex-Mormon applied the BITE model to Mormonism and posted the results here

Steve Hassan was invited to speak at an ex-Mormon conference in 2008 and gave his perspective being a former Moonie and now a cult expert. Here is the YouTube video of Steve’s presentation. I personally attended the presentation and very much enjoyed it. I do remember someone asking at the end if he thought Mormonism was a cult. Steve did not reply with a yes or no but said, “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck—it’s a duck”.
(“Scientology and Mormonism”, MormonThink website)

So friends, if the RLDS/CoC looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck—it’s a duck.

Leaving the CoC required a willingness to walk away from everything we knew and trust God to provide. I will always be said that I lost relationships, but 17 years down the road, we can both say that God has replaced what the locusts have eaten. Things settled down with my husband’s family, and we have good relationships with them now (although we don’t talk about religion or our church experiences — ever!). I’ve been able to witness to my sister, and I think she is almost “there” in terms of surrendering to God! My kids (19 & 24) are currently both in a slightly spiritually rebellious time in their young adulthood — knowing God but not willing to walk with Him at this time (although my daughter has started attending the young adult ministry at our church on occasion.) We have surrendered that to God and are their most dedicated prayer warriors. We are in a strong biblical church, serving and growing. We’d do it all again in a heartbeat.

The RLDS/CoC is probably described accurately as “Mormonism Lite”. If Mormonism is 180-degrees off from biblical teaching (Temple ordinances, Law of Eternal Progression, belief in false scripture & priesthood, etc.), CoC is maybe only 45-degrees off (false priesthood, false scriptures, refusing to accept the Bible as authoritative, false claims of modern-day revelation, etc. They also ordain women to the priesthood— still a distinction between them and Mormons and much of mainstream Christianity.) Either way, neither of them lead people to a saving relationship with God through the sacrifice of Jesus. The failure to see the need for personal salvation and the attitude of “tolerating” everything as many of the liberal Christian churches do keep them from seeing God’s plan for them.

If this brief article has whet your appetite and you want to learn more about the RLDS/CoC, I’d suggest checking out Refiner’s Fire Ministries website at http://help4rlds.com/. My friend Paul Trask has been a mentor to me through this process, and I will always be grateful for his willingness to just tell the truth. If you have questions about what I’ve written, I’d be happy to try to answer. This is just my experience, but through it, I came to know my Savior!

The Community of Christ Temple in Independence, Missouri. The Community of Christ is both Trinitarian and doesn’t eschew the cross – two things that distance it from Brighamite, LdS Mormonism.

 

Comments
  1. Sheryll Beaty says:

    I grew up RLDS – the shunning I experienced — was lead by an abusive group in the congergation — that enjoyed abuse both physically and mentally – or else they wont be practicing shunning —
    Adults whom experience parents whom shun them — is the only way these parents can continue – abuse they hid all along towards you — the manipulated use of other adult siblings to have a greater punch —and effect —
    It’s a witness of God — it’s a witness of uncontrolled mental and physical abuse and lack of love they have —
    My parents have never – acknowledged themselves as abusive parents —they hid behind a abusive cult – –
    I used feel bad about being shunned – then I relished they never loved any of my siblings — because they used and exploited them and any grandkids they had —- for a tool abuse in shunning – they never loved anybody —

    Like

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.