Following the death of Joseph Smith, several vied for leadership of the Church. While most people recognize Brigham Young and Joseph Smith III, there were several other leaders like Alpheus Cutler, Granville Hedrick, James Strang, and others who led movements still leading congregations today. Not only that, but others have broken off from these leaders, creating new churches numbering in the hundreds of “Mormon” congregations. John Hamer will discuss the reasons for schisms, and how these schisms continue through the present day. Check out our conversation…
1844 Succession Candidates
John: So, obviously, the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith is the most important one of these and that leads to–this all background for the topic, which is the succession crisis and its aftermath, which is the general topic here today. And so Hyrum was member the First Presidency. He is the Associate President of the Church. In some ways, because Joseph Smith had talked about restoring the kingdom, he had been giving the sense that Hyrum was the one that was now going to be in charge of the Church and so forth. In that sense, Hyrum was would have been, if Joseph had been killed alone, Hyrum would almost certainly have been the successor who would have assumed leadership of the Church. But, of course, both of them were killed together. And so, as a result of that, there was no clear successor at the time of Joseph Smith’s death. Shortly after Hyrum and Joseph died, Samuel H. Smith also dies. And so that leaves the Smith family with only one surviving kind of adult male, William Smith, who’d been one of the original apostles, but was not particularly seen as a stable or popular apostle. And in any event, he had been kind of presiding over some of the Eastern missions, and his wife was ill, and so he doesn’t actually show up at Nauvoo, anytime soon. So, it’s many months later, before he goes back at all.
Joseph Jr. also gave several blessings like that you will be my successor, he said in Liberty Jail, and a special blessing. And he also gave him one more blessing to that effect as, as he left to surrender himself to Carthage. So lots of people felt that Joseph the third would eventually be the successor. The problem is, he’s 11-year-old kid.
William McLellin remembered that that designation when David Whitmer had been designated successor way back around the time of Zion’s camp or something like that. And so and so because of that. McLellin said, well, Whitmer is the is now the successor. And so he went there and sort of convinced David Whitmer that that was the case. And then, having kind of got their lukewarm tentative agreement. McLellin went to Kirtland where there’s a whole bunch of Latter Day Saints who are not affiliated really with any particular church at that point. And he reorganizes his own church there, but it’s a Whitmerite church, that he is kind of the viceroy. So he makes a newspaper and he’s running this whole thing. And you know, the Whitmore’s get this newspaper and they’re like, “What is going on.?This is like so what McLellin has his own sort of Whitmerite church without the Whitmer’s.
I put Strang the last on this list, nobody would have thought of Strang as a as a claimant at this point. But he becomes a claimant very fast.
Rival Church Organizations 1844-53
What ends up happening then is everybody flees Nauvoo in rival church organizations happen. So within this broad group of the church, all the branches, like I say, the different branches will look to different headquarters organizations, the biggest of which, as the Twelve, and then after 1847, it’s led by Brigham Young and his new First Presidency off in Utah. Like I said, on that chart, you can see Cutler was kind of going halfway with them, but stayed in Iowa, and so then it’s not part of them. So the Cutlerites in Iowa. Lyman Wight went to Texas. We mentioned James Strang, who’s originally in Wisconsin, and he ultimately moves to Beaver Island in Michigan as its headquarters. Sidney Rigdon, I said was scared out of town by out of town loyalists to the apostles and so he relocates to Pennsylvania, where he reorganizes his church. David Whitmer, as I said, had a church that was kind of organized in his name in Ohio and later he reorganized as his own church in Missouri, much later.
We’ll learn how modern groups descend from older groups including Cutlerites, Hedrickites, Strangites, Brighamites, and Josephites. It’s an amazing conversation you don’t want to miss. Check it out!
Strang/Thompson/Morris Prophets are Innovaters
Strang has new scripture, new revelations, new doctrines, and so forth. He has new plates. His new plates have new witnesses. Those evolve into new scripture.
John 22:44 [After James Strang is killed] most all of the Strangites ended up joining the reorganization. So, the reason why there’s so few Strangites today is because Strang didn’t appoint a successor. The existing people who have stayed in the movement have done so without having additional prophetic leadership. They’re waiting for another prophet, but they have never had one. And so as a result, they were easy prey to Reorganized missionaries/Josephite missionaries. Actually Strang had even said that Joseph III would one day be a prophet. And so, there was a lot of reasons why most of them all joined. There are no Strang descendants in the Strangite Church, just like there are no Cutlerite descendants in the Cutlerite Church. But I have lots of friends who are who actually descended from Cutlerites in the Community of Christ. And same thing, who were descendants of Cutler, in addition to Cutlerites. And there’s also descendants of course of Lyman Wight and also of James Strang in the Reorganization. The Reorganization pulled the majority of all the non-Brighamite groups together.
John 23:53 So Charles Thompson is a different guy. He also he has his own revelations and things like that. So if he’s known as Banimi, and he has this oracle. He gets everybody to move to western Iowa, where they’re going to have a communitarian settlement. So he gets everybody to essentially sign over all their property to him. But then everybody gets very angry with his leadership and they want their money back and so they sue him and so forth, and the whole thing collapses. And so, most of the Thompsonites who stay in the church anyway also end up joining the reorganization then. It collapses in 1858. And the Reorganization really takes off in 1860. So
John 24:39 Then likewise, Joseph Morris, then is a convert who claims the prophetic gift in Utah. And so he starts to issue his own prophecies and things like that. He becomes, not a major challenger, but a bit of a mess for the regular/mainline Brighamite Church, because again, this is something that is the idea of new prophecy, new revelation and things like that. This is something that’s really absent from what’s happening in Utah. In other words, that’s not the apostolic-led structure that’s happening. And so, people who are attracted to that start gathering around him. And so that becomes the Church of the Firstborn, the Morrisites. Where are they? Weber? Anyway, they’re in Ogden or something like that. And so they gathered.
Sidney Rigdon relocates to Pittsburgh. The Hinkle-ites actually and William Law’s church kind of affiliate with Sidney Rigdon. Like I say, Sidney Rigdon’s church sort of becomes the main opposition group to Brigham Young and the Twelve. So anybody who doesn’t like them kind of says, “Okay, well, we’ll make common cause with Sidney Rigdon.” And so he kind of absorbs them all up.
John 31:18 As we mentioned, his Church totally unravels because of their both unpeeling the onion and not deciding where to go. And when they decide where to go, it’s to have all things in common, which doesn’t work. And so Sidney Rigdon’s church organization, there’s branches that continue to meet. One of his very last apostles that he has called in his structure, William Bickerton is kind of a leader of one of the congregations and then when Brigham Young and James Strang have both publicly announced that they [practiced polygamy, Bickerton leaves LDS Church.] So, Brigham Young had always been publicly denying that they that they practiced polygamy. James Strang had initially been a major opponent of polygamy before he embraced it openly.
John 32:03 At that point, William Bickerton reorganizes the Rigdonite Church, as the Church of Jesus Christ, which continues to this day. I might not even have the most recent leader of the Twelve. But they’re led by then a Council of Twelve. They pull back to–I’ve got this blue, but it’s kind of like a blue-green. [They are] an early kind of Kirtland-style church, because they have apostles, but they have eliminated other kinds of offices, like First Presidency, things that are not biblical. And they are also among the churches, for example, that agree with David Whitmer, that changes to the Book of Commandments revelations were wrong. So they don’t like the Doctrine & Covenants. They don’t consider that to be part of their [canon.] They’re the kind of church that does everything by the Spirit as it’s called. So in other words, in the same way that LDS people, Brighamites, generally speaking, will not do a pre-written prayer, and then just read a prayer. You tend to pray from the spirit or whatever. In other words, orally composing your prayer as you speak, but you will tend to write down a talk. You tend to write the talk down and read a talk at church.
John 33:17 So they don’t believe in writing the talks down. So you’ve got to give the talks the same way that you give prayers, which is by the Spirit. I’ve been to the church. You’re going to have fun when you go there. They also often don’t believe in writing a bulletin down. So in other words, the presider of the service will by the Spirit, decide what’s the next thing. They’ll say, “Brother, Rick, do you feel called to come up now and give a talk on tithing?” He might give you the topic. He might not. And then you and then you’re kind of like, “Yeah, I do. I do feel called to do that.” But you’ve got to get up. Give a talk.
John 1:02:03 Cutlerites. So the Cutlerites also had the unfortunate the unfortunate thing of having Josephite missionaries find them. Almost everybody, including Cutler’s descendants ended up in Iowa ended up joining into the Reorganization, but there was one group under Chauncey Whiting who said, “Okay, we’ve got to get away from these Reorganites. We’ve got to get away from these Josephites. And so he had a vision to go and settle the church in Minnesota. So they go up to the frontier. Minnesota has just had a massive Indian uprising. And so they go to a part of the place where there aren’t any settlers, and they create their new headquarters there. And they live there. And they’re doing all kinds of Cutlerites stuff, which includes a Nauvoo-era endowment, and it also includes a united order kind of thing. So they are sharing property. And they go up and relive what they were had been doing in Iowa there. But the problem is, then the RLDS church finds them up there too. And so again, they lose half the people, as they all start joining the Reorganization. Some of the people that are left decide that they need to gather back to independence. And so, for a while, there’s essentially two congregations, one in Minnesota and one in Missouri. And for a time, they’re not really on full speaking terms. And so, I draw them here as kind of different. But eventually they kind of go together and the Minnesota branch dies out. They’re now left. Who’s the leader here? They’re now left with just a handful of people that are in the Cutlerite headquarters that is just south of where the temple lot is in Independence.
The interview with John is about 4 hours long, so we go into even more groups than I’ve discussed here, including fundamentalist Brighamites, and the Elijah Message. How familiar are you with these groups? Are there other groups you are curious about?
This is a fascinating series. Thanks.
If the early Church was an organization lead by God, you would naturally expect the succession decision to be worked out. If the Church was man-made in which doctrines were constantly changing, you would expect a succession crisis. This crisis doesn’t prove that the Church was not lead by God / Jesus but even TBMs have to admit it’s not a good look for an organization that claims to be the restored Church.
I’ve often been critical of Brigham Young. He’s an easy target. But I admire his honesty when he expressed discomfort at being called a prophet. He knew he wasn’t one. He knew he was simply the president of a church. And maybe every succeeding president knew it too until David O McCkay. But of course we’ve gone full circle with RM Nelson who indeed believes he’s a prophet to the point where every feeling and thought of his is seen as revelation.
The Church has a good system in place now although as far as I can tell it is not based on any revealed truth. They simply pick the Q15 member with the most seniority as the next “prophet” (note: seniority used to be based on age, not time in office, so even that is changed). It’s all very fascinating.
I know it is important to many people, but I find questions asking “If the early Church was an organization lead by God/man” as completely uninteresting. I just like learning the history. I know I’m weird, but I just don’t need to invest the emotional energy into proving the history “true” or “false.” I know others are interested in resolving the emotional trauma many of you feel, and I encourage you to reach out to them. Valerie Hamaker has a great podcast called “Latter-day Struggles” for those of you who are struggling with the emotions of the history. I really like Valerie an I think she is great.
Of course StayLDS.com/forum is also a great resource. And if you’re inclined not to stay LDS, John Dehlin and RFM (among others) have communities for ax-grinding. I just love learning the real history, and I’m sorry I’m not a fan of fanning the angst.
Every church president has been sustained as a prophet. You can look it up in the Conference Reports. Besides the formal sustainings, you can also find other instances of the current president being referred to as a prophet in early general conferences.
Here’s a little extra info on succession controversies in case it’s not in the rest of the Hamer interview:
Joseph Smith 3rd led the RLDS for 54 years. At some point, dissatisfied members tried to replace him with his youngest brother, David H. Smtih, who declined.
Frederick M. Smith faced a crisis in 1925 and submitted a letter of resignation. It was refused and he remained Prophet.
Israel A. Smith served as Prophet for 12 years generally unscathed.
W. Wallace Smith submitted a letter of resignation in 1978 to allow his son Wallace B. Smith to replace him. Wally retired in 1995 and designated W. Grant McMurray, not a Smith heir, to replace him.
After 8.5 years, McMurray resigned.
IMO, this contributes to the fact that the RLDS/CofChrist has never grown beyond its worldwide membership of 250,000
I love hearing John Hamer talk about the Succession Crisis, and this was great info. I’m kind of like Rick B in that I find the history interesting, but I’m not that into the angst over it. That’s not because the angst isn’t warranted! It’s because being upset about the history being different than the Church has claimed (or hell, continues to claim) is just not as bad as the actual misogyny and homophobia and racism that currently exists in the Church and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere soon. If untruthful history is upsetting, and I’m sure it is, well, all that other stuff is far worse IMO.
Rick B: I know you don’t like me to draw conclusions from your accounts of Church history. You’ve commented on it before and you just did it again above. But Rick, some of us research Church history not because we are history buffs like you but because we are looking for validating information. You might not like that but the Church trained us to pursue it that way until they could not control the information.
Josh, I can understand where you’re coming from. I don’t deny anything you said.
Have you ever been around a co-worker who complains about everything his/her ex does? Do you enjoy the endless complaints? Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
I know there is a grieving process, and it can be healthy to go through with a therapist. But I’m not a therapist, and have never claimed to be one. Complaining about your ex can be healthy in some places, but this is not the place. I don’t think continuing to express angst is emotionally healthy in the long run, especially with random strangers on the internet who aren’t trained to deal with angst. I hope you can find a better outlet.
I love Hamer’s “Centre Place” videos. May his hair grow ever longer!
Can I start a sect of Zla’odites? No continuity with any of these guys, so it’ll be a Restoration of a Restoration.
Mark A Gibson: I found this online at some point, but can’t find it again: Kenneth Robert Mulliken, Historical Amnesia, Corporate Identity and Collective Memory in the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1915-2001 (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Missouri—Kansas City, 2011)
“This is not the place”.Wheat and Tares .org is not the place to complain about the Church? That’s news to me.
I’m not your therapist. Maybe other permas are better at therapy than me.