A project that will produce 30 scholarly volumes of papers written by, for and about Joseph Smith includes critical involvement from the Community of Christ, the church based in Independence, Mo., that shares origins with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The collaboration is among many instances where the two churches have worked closely to preserve the history they share, said LDS Church historian Elder Marlin K. Jensen. As a result of the current project, "What were good relations have become even better," Elder Jensen said.
"We have the vast majority of historical documents, by numbers, but they have some very valuable documents," said Robin Jensen, a volume editor on the Joseph Smith Papers Project.
Some of those "crown jewels" include the manuscript of the Joseph Smith translation of the Bible, the printer's manuscript of the Book of Mormon, several early revelation manuscripts and a collection of letters from Joseph Smith to his wife, Emma.
"Incredibly important" is the way Robin Jensen describes contributions to the project from Community of Christ archives.
"This collaborative project is a natural outgrowth of and an extension of a long and mutually beneficial, as well as gratifying, relationship between the Latter-day Saints' and the Community of Christ archives," Community of Christ Archivist Ron Romig said in a statement to Mormon Times. "We are pleased to participate, believing this effort will significantly advance serious scholarship."
Romig said the Community of Christ Archives is providing about 100 Joseph Smith-related documents, "All known documents in our collection directly relating to Joseph Smith."
Early on, the Community of Christ brought the printer's manuscript to the Book of Mormon to Salt Lake City. "They allowed us to make high-resolution digital copies so we would have those to work with in our own research and eventually in the papers project," Elder Jensen said. "They hand-carried it here and we hand-carried it back. It's been that kind of exchange."
A much earlier collaboration, the conservation of the handwritten manuscript of Joseph Smith's translation of the Bible conducted in the late 1990s, showed significant progress in the relationship between the LDS Church and the Community of Christ, formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Romig told the Deseret News in 1997, as the Bible manuscript project was nearing completion, that scholarly relations between the two churches had seen significant improvement over the previous 10 to 15 years. "Probably there were times when the RLDS Church would have done everything it could to keep it from being accessible," Romig said of the Bible manuscript.
Today, the benefits of scholarly collaboration likely outweigh occasional cultural abrasions.
"The big irritant always for them is half the Mormons they talk to want to know when they're going to sell the Kirtland Temple, and they're not," Elder Jensen said. "And people who have the presence of mind to know what's going on don't ask that question."On higher levels, "When we're in Independence, we usually drop in and talk and visit; and when they're out here they almost invariably come by and visit us," Elder Jensen said. "On areas of common concern, we are in touch."