Diversity (within the tradition)

The Church was fragmented for 20 years following the death of Joseph Smith in 1844. There was an ambiguous doctrine on succession, and his eldest son, Joseph Smith III, was only 12. Consequently, there were numerous claims to leadership of the Church. The majority followed Brigham Young to the Western United States. However, a small number remained in the Midwest and became the Reorganised Church of the Latter-Day Saints, taking Joseph Smith III as their prophet and divinely ordained leader. They saw themselves as saving the ‘fallen’ Church that practised polygamy and followed Brigham Young. They adopted the epithet ‘Reorganised’ in 1860 to distinguish from the Church in Utah. Once he reached adulthood, Joseph Smith III became the head of the Church. It is headquartered in Independence, Missouri, and was renamed the Community of Christ in 2000. The doctrinal differences that led to this split began in the Nauvoo, Illinois, period in the early 1840s. The Reorganised LDS rejected much of Joseph Smith’s Nauvoo-era doctrine including polygamy, baptism for the dead, plurality of gods (non-Trinitarianism), Temple ordinances, the literal gathering of the Saints, and the establishment of the earthly kingdom of Zion. Zion is interpreted as more of a process than a place. Prophets can suggest an idea through preaching but it does not become doctrine unless it is presented as a revelatory document and confirmed by Church conferences. It is generally more socially and politically liberal than the Mormon Church. Many members do not see the Book of Mormon as a literal history of North America. They are generally more pluralistic in belief. There are around 250,000 members worldwide in 60 countries. (The main Mormon Church counts 16,000,000 in nearly 200 countries.)

Three other churches emerged from this split. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite) was led by James J. Strang, who claimed ordination as a prophet from Joseph Smith personally and an angel Strang saw in a vision. Strang was killed by his own followers in 1856. The Church has had no subsequent prophet as this requires angelic appointment. The Church of Christ (Temple Lot) was founded by Granville Hedricks in 1863 in Independence, Missouri, uniting five separate branches that were unaffiliated with any other LDS group. They have sole ownership of the Temple Lot site, which is acknowledged by most LDS churches as the site designated by Joseph Smith for the New Jerusalem Temple. The Church of Jesus Christ (Cutlerite), originally led by Alpheus Cutler who claimed he was appointed as prophet by Joseph Smith, was founded on 19 Sept 1853 in Manti, Iowa, with further meetinghouses in Minnesota and Independence, Missouri, however many members later joined the Reorganised Latter-Day Saints. It has one remaining branch in Independence, Missouri, with only 12 members. The Church of Jesus Christ, organised by William Bickerton and Sidney Rigdon in Green Oak, Pennsylvania on 5 July 1862, rejects most of Joseph Smith’s revelations, crediting him only as the translator of the Book of Mormon. It currently has around 22,500 members. Each of these splinter groups regards itself as the true church founded by Joseph Smith and the others as apostates.

A number of schismatic groups emerged after polygamy was outlawed in 1890s, such as the Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints. They are spread around the Western and Midwestern US, with the greatest concentration in the twin cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona. They were excommunicated in 1935 from the mainstream LDS Church, which deems them to be apostates. Several hundreds of separate and distinct church organisations or fellowships have roots in the LDS movement. However, most are very small with minimal influence.

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