In this 4 part series, John Hamer discusses the history of the Community of Christ (RLDS church).
Part 1 — Restoration Origins to the 1844 Succession Crisis: In Part 1, John Hamer briefly discusses the diversity within Latter Day Saint or Restoration heritage churches. He then walks us through the early history of the Restoration to explain how the seeds that have ultimately flowered with the Community of Christ and the LDS Church were planted even before Joseph Smith’s martyrdom. John talks about the rapid evolution in Mormonism from its origins to 1844, its inherent tensions, and the direct causes of the schism that emerged after Brigham Young’s showdown with Sidney Ridgon for church leadership in Nauvoo.
Part 2 — Aftermath of the Succession Crisis, 1844-1860: In Part 2, John Hamer talks about the pivotal period from 1844-1860, when different Latter Day Saints came up with different solutions for how to remain faithful to their religion in the wake of the founder’s death. John conceptually divides successor churches into three categories: (1) Those who sought to “purify” the church and go back to an earlier form of Mormonism, (2) those who sought to “preserve” the church as it existed in 1844, and (3) those who wanted to continue to “innovate” by having a new prophet ever revealing new doctrine and practices on the model of the founder. John describes how polygamy continued to be the main point of contention and how the organizations of most of Brigham Young’s rivals had faltered by 1860.
Part 3 — Regathering the Old Saints, the Reorganization 1860-1910: In Part 3, John Hamer talks about how Latter Day Saints living in the Midwest who continued to oppose polygamy were able to regroup and come together as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. These members included Joseph Smith Jr.’s immediate family. Joseph and Emma’s eldest surviving son, Joseph Smith III, led the RLDS Church as prophet for 54 years. Described by his biographer as a “pragmatic prophet,” Joseph III was able to successfully weld diverse old Saints who had been Strangites, Cutlerites, Wightites, Whitermites, Rigdonites, Thompsonites, Brighamites, Morrisites, and more, into a Restoration tradition church that took the Kirtland era as its model. The fact that Joseph III grew up in the ruins of Nauvoo and had learned to live with his neighbors influenced the Reorganization’s strong peace tradition.
Part 4 — The Transformation from Reorganization to Community of Christ: In Part 4, John Hamer tells the remarkable story of the RLDS Church’s transformation from a inward-looking sect with a negative, exclusive identity to a progressive denomination with a positive, inclusive identity. Although both the RLDS Church and the LDS Church were faced with the same basic challenges in the societal transformation in North America after World War 2, the churches had completely opposite responses. In the wake of the challenges posed by professional scholarship of the “New Mormon History,” RLDS leaders chose to “embrace truth and do what is right, let the consequence follow,” rather than to retrench, deny, and retreat into territory that is intellectually indefensible. The path has not been an easy one, but it has led Community of Christ to become a church whose values include “unity in diversity,” “the worth of all persons,” and the principle that “all are called.” Today, women serve at every level of church leadership, up to the First Presidency. Community of Christ has had apostles from Latin America, Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Pacific Islands, in addition to North America. LGBT members have full priesthood participation in North America and Australia, and in states and countries where it is legal, priesthood members may perform same-sex marriages as a sacrament in Community of Christ.