Community of Christ history in 1860s-1870s Utah was CRAZY

I am reading about Community of Christ’s history from the book “The Journey of a People: The Era of Reorganization, 1844 to 1946” by Mark A. Scherer. He does a fantastic job of telling the story in an easy to comprehend way, but it is extremely well cited.

Chapter 13 is entitled “Church Identity and the Utah Mission”. While CoC doesn’t have missionaries today, back in the day they did. This chapter focused a lot on the church’s initial experience in Utah. I want to give a bit of an overview of this chapter, because I found it fascinating and hilarious!

The tensions between the Reorganized and Utah churches was palpable in the 1860s and 1870s. Community of Christ’s magazine, The Herald, ran an article in April 1861 called “Brighamites Idolatry” where Brigham Young was described as “Lord Brigham of the Celestial Kingdom of Salt Lake”. In response an LDS newspaper called “The Ogden Junction” described Joseph Smith III as a “foolish young man” and that “no person of any brains will turn from this Church to the wishy washy slop fed out by the ‘Reorganization’. If they lose faith in ‘this gospel of the kingdom’, they can find no satisfaction in the weak and watery opinions of the homeopathic ‘Mormonism’ of little Joseph [Smith III]. It is altogether ‘too thin’”.

Then, in 1863 the first two CoC missionaries set out for Utah. After preaching for only 4 days Brigham Young asked to meet with them. Brigham Young asked what they were doing there and they said they wanted to preach. They asked his permission to do so and Young denied it, which of course he had no legal authority to do. Young ended the meeting right then and there, but as they were leaving told them he couldn’t guarantee his safety. That’s right! Brigham Young’s first interaction with CoC missionaries was him threatening them.

The missionaries were unphased. In fact, they heard that Brigham Young was going to be publicly preaching against the Reorganization and Joseph Smith III. They attended and endured as much as they could. When one of the missionaries, Edmund C. Briggs, couldn’t stand it anymore he lept up and started defending his church and Brigham Young shouted at him to sit down. Briggs wouldn’t stop arguing and eventually the police were summoned and it was only then that Briggs chilled out.

After that the police chief, Patrick Edward Connor, who was an Irish Catholic, felt that they likely needed protection. He wrote a letter to Young and reminded them that they were American citizens and they had religious liberty and were allowed to preach. Connor urged them to be careful, but the missionaries would travel at night and didn’t carry guns on them.

In the year that the 2 CoC missionaries were there in Utah they baptized 300 people, organized the Salt Lake City branch, ordained men to the priesthood, and established a permanent presence.

However, many of these converts didn’t want to stay in Utah and headed back across the rockies to Iowa in wagon trains, often without having a place to live planned. The missionaries gave the CoC leaders a heads up so they could help receive these people. The quote from page 276 says “these courageous travelers were seen as escaping from their bondage”, which gives you a powerful glimpse of this attitude towards this movement out of Utah.

The first missionaries went back home after a year in Utah. In 1866 Alexander Hale Smith, son of Joseph Smith JR and brother to Joseph Smith III, set out for a mission to Utah along with 2 others. CoC knew what weight that the Smith name held and thought Alexander would have more success. Indeed, many people were excited to hear him speak in Utah. However, Brigham Young commanded people to shun him, and soon no one would talk to Alexander.

Then Orson Pratt said that Joseph Smith III wasn’t actually the son of Joseph Smith JR. In other instance he said “There was a man by the name of Alexander Smith in Salt Lake City, but he is not the son of the prophet Joseph”.

In the LDS 1866 General Conference Brigham Young smeared Emma Smith several times. He called her “one of the damnedest liars I know of on this earth” and that “she has made her children inherit lies”, and concluded by saying she was “literally the most wicked woman on this earth”.

By his time Alexander Smith had moved on to California. When word got back to Joseph Smith III about what Brigham Young had said about his mother he wrote this in The Herald: “the only plausible reason we can assign for this assertion made by [Young] is the desire to counteract the influence which may have obtained through the efforts made by my brothers and myself to recall the Saints to the practice of virtue and the paths of righteousness … let others make up their minds that those who make and love lies must hide within their refuge, and one falsehood told needs 10 to bolster it until piled mountains high they shall fall and woe to them that be beneath”. In other words Joseph Smith III accused Brigham Young of feeling threatened in the isolation he created which is why he needed to smear Emma Smith.

Eventually the youngest Smith brother, David Hyrum Smith, came out to Utah as a missionary as well. The two brothers wanted to preach in the Tabernacle, as other religious groups were allowed to do, and sought for permission. They arrived at their appointment and Brigham Young made them wait for a looooooong time to talk to him. It turns out that Brigham Young invited 20 other church leaders to this meeting and launched a fruitless debate and were denied permission to use the tabernacle.

They got called back because Alex’s daughter was incredibly sick and he needed to come home to be with her.

So yeah! Shit was crazy. There were threats, lies, and disturbing the peace. Its interesting to see the cousin churches clash in the early years.