Community of Christ, Remnant Church histories recounted at Mormon History Association conference
R. Scott Lloyd
CALGARY, ALBERTA — Members of the Mormon History Association on Saturday heard perspectives from representatives of two faith groups who, like The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, trace their origin to Joseph Smith the Prophet.
Steven L. Shields, director of international field ministries of the Community of Christ, and Frederick N. Larsen, president of the Remnant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, spoke at a luncheon session of the association's annual conference held June 28-July 1 on the University of Calgary campus.
Community of Christ, formerly called the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, emerged in the 1850s as one of several factions stemming from a crisis in the succession of church leadership following the murder of Joseph Smith.
The Remnant Church was formed in 2000, made up of former Community of Christ members who were not in accord with doctrinal and administrative changes that had taken place in that religious body.
"Most of you are familiar with the story and the succession crisis," Shields said, referring to Community of Christ beginnings. "The basic message was this: We have the right doctrines, we're formed according to the right patterns. All the other churches are wrong and we're right, and if you want salvation you've got to join us. It didn't matter who the leader was or what the label was on the church, the story was pretty much the same."
He added, "When the new organization began forming in 1850, and then leading up to the 1860 reorganizing of the church's leading councils, there was a little bit of added message that came into that, shaped by the events of those intervening years and the leadership struggles."
For the next century, the church spent most of its time distinguishing itself "from its Utah-based competitor," Shields said, "by proclaiming itself to be the sole legitimate, authoritative and true continuation of the original church."
Literature produced by the Reorganized Church into the 1970s proclaimed that distinction while denouncing the church in Utah, he said.
"By the mid-1950s, though, the world had changed," he said, "and church leaders were beginning to sense that as a church we needed to respond to the economic prosperity that came after the second world war and the baby boom and all those things that changed so much about the world that we knew in the United States and Western Europe."
A new awareness emerged, he said, that some previous messages of gathering to a center location in Jackson County, Mo., were not resonating with some areas of the church.
"Part of it was that somehow the Book of Mormon's message that God's chosen land of the American continent, never specifying North or South, became replaced with the United States being God's chosen place in government," Shields said.
On a visit to Tahiti in 1950, church President Israel A. Smith prayed about the matter, then realized that the traditional understanding of Zion "was for a world that had largely disappeared."
"So in response to that, he received a revelation and reported that to the saints in Tahiti; July 29, 1950, is the date of that revelation. It reaffirmed the worth of all lands, peoples and cultures, and directed people to gather and build Zionic communities and centers in their places and not exclusively at Jackson County, Mo."
An even more significant shift occurred in the years following the Korean War, Shields said, with large numbers of church members seeing the world through different eyes than before.
"The church's mission became focused on the welfare of society, educational development of people, and making the kingdom of God a reality in this life rather than something to be hoped for in the next life," he said.