A few months ago, I attended several family reunions. At the time, I was reading John Hamer’s book, Scattering of the Saints. I was absolutely fascinated with all the accounts of Mormon schismatic groups. I was especially interested in Strangism and the Church of Christ with the Elijah Message. As I told the story of their founding, the reaction of my relatives was incredibly interesting to me.
As Mormons, we all take the visits of Moroni, Jesus, God the Father, John the Baptist, Peter, James, and John as pretty much fact. In order to be a Mormon, you pretty much have to believe these things happened.
We take it as a fact that Moses received the 10 Commandments carved by the finger of God, Mary saw the Angel Gabriel, and many other heavenly angels visited mortals on earth.
But if it’s not in the Bible, Book of Mormon, D&C, or Pearl of Great Price, we just don’t take angelic visitations seriously. We don’t know what to think about non-biblical angels. For example, we don’t accept it as fact that the Angel Gabriel visited Mohammed, or that Joan of Arc had a heavenly visit, or the Virgin Mary has appeared to numerous Catholics, or that Jesus appeared to Ann Lee (founder of the Shakers), or anybody else. When we hear these stories, we say, “Yeah, whatever.” As Mormons, you’d think we’d be more open to the idea, but we’re not.
I’ve discussed Strangism previously, but I want to share a little more about James Strang’s “First Vision” (for lack of a better word.) Robin Jensen details the beginning of the Strangite movement in Hamer’s book,Scattering of the Saints. The title of his chapter is called “Mormons Seeking Mormonism.” James Strang joined the church in February 1844 (baptized by Joseph Smith in Nauvoo), just a few months prior to Joseph’s death. A few days after his baptism, he was ordained an elder, and Smith sent Strang back to his home in Wisconsin with the idea that it could be a possible future home of the saints. Strang wrote a glowing letter praising Wisconsin. Strang claims that he received a letter from Joseph Smith, appointing Strang as the next prophet of the church, known by Strangites as the “Letter of Appointment”. Quoting from page 117,
On the same day that Smith is supposed to have written the letter, Strang reported that he received a vision: a future Mormon city called Voree—spectacularly built up near Burlington as a gathering place for the Latter Day Saints.9 Ten days later, on the fateful day of the martyrdom of Joseph Smith—but weeks before Strang would have received the Letter of Appointment—Strang reported that he experienced a second vision. This time an angel appeared to him, anointed his head, gave him instructions concerning his mission, and prophesied about the future.10 The followers of Strang would argue that the Letter of Appointment and the two visitations authenticated Strang’s succession to the leadership of the Latter Day Saint movement.11
As you can imagine, there was controversy from the beginning about whether the letter was authentic, and whether Strang had really received an angelic visit. I remember relating this story to a relative, and his reaction was “Yeah, Whatever.” I will mention that Strang convinced Joseph’s brother, William to join his movement for a time (William later left for the RLDS church), and convinced Martin Harris to go on a mission for the Strangite church. The official name of the Strangite Church is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints; it has different punctuation than the Mormon church’s official name of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I spoke with Robin Jensen at the MHA conference and learned that one of his ancestors served a mission with Martin Harris for the Strangite church. In the 1840’s-50’s, the Strangite church rivaled the Brigham Young church in size. It was definitely a force to be reckoned with until the death of James Strang.
But that’s not the only angelic ministration of a Mormon group, or even recent ministrations. (I’ve highlighted some other ministrations in a longer version of this post.)
Otto Fetting, a former RLDS members was ordained to the Council of Twelve Apostles in the Church of Christ (Temple Lot).
As apostle, Fetting wrote and preached on the need to build up Zion, both spiritually and physically. He also made this topic a matter of intense personal study and contemplation.42 According to Fetting, a wonderful event happened to him on 4 February 1927. He described an event where John the Baptist appeared to him on February 4, 1927 at his house in Port Huron, Michigan.
After the Messenger who said that he was John the Baptist, the Elias that was for to come and restore all things, had brought Thirty (30) Messages Brother Fetting passed from this life. Four (4) years later, the Messenger came again to continue his unfinished mission. This time he came to a young Elder W. A. Draves. To date, of this reprint, there are Ninety-Six Messages full of inspiration, instruction, warnings, and prophecy.
So, what do you make of all these angelic visitations? Why do you think Mormons are so quick to accept Joseph Smith’s visions, while discounting all of these others?