In the 1920s Frederick M. Smith was the president of the church, and as a sociologist and psychologist he was fascinated by his grandfather’s vision of a literal, physical Zion. Fred M. wanted to do everything in his power to make that city a reality. To begin, he moved the church’s headquarters to Independence, which is where this city was to be located. There he wanted to take on several ambitious projects, most noteworthy of which was the Auditorium.
However, there was a bit of a problem with his vision. The first was the Apostle who were currently serving in the Council of Twelve. These men weren’t eager or able to help Fred M.’s plans for the church. If the espoused opposition to his plan, Fred M. would simply have them released. This is especially obvious in D&C 133 and 134, where he releases these men from their callings, and push back against criticism by telling the Council of Twelve that their job is to be missionary work and commanded to “let contention cease” (D&C 134:7). The Council of Twelve viewed this as an attack on their authority, and did not endorse this section during Conference. However, after several discussions it passed as canonized scripture in the church.
This showed that the First Presidency was allowed to remove priesthood from callings if they did not do as the First Presidency wanted. This occurred on the macro level with the Council of Twelve, but in between Conferences this was also done on a more micro level which reached down into the Stake, District, and sometimes even congregational level. This showed that the First Presidency had consolidated a lot of power into itself.
The Conference of 1923 was especially worried about this consolidation of power. At this conference, this resolution was proposed by the delegates of the church:
Proposed 1923 Resolution
That we, the officers and delegates in General Conference assembled, hereby reaffirm our belief in, and adherence to, the principle of “Common Consent,” as set forth above; and further
We reaffirm that the right of nomination is inherent in membership in the church, and further,
We express disapproval of any centralization of power in the hands of any administrative officer, or officers, whereby the expression of free choice and the deliberate will of the body may be invaded or abridged.
The Council of Twelve, who had now been replaced with those loyal to the First Presidency, proposed this as a substitute resolution which stated that the delegates are free to nominate in their lower polity levels, but implied that they need to accept anything that the administrators say. The delegates did not like this, and ended up debating this resolution for three days.
In the end they came to a compromise, that the administrators can propose nominees for positions, but ultimately it needs to be voted upon by the polity levels it deals with. This compromised is enshrined as World Conference Resolution #834:
Compromise Resolution (WCR #834)
Inasmuch as question has arisen in the church over the meaning and application of the law of common consent; and
Inasmuch as the Church of Christ is a theocratic democracy, in which the will of God is executed by divinely-appointed ministers, with the consent of the members; therefore, be it
Resolved that we, the officers and delegates of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in General Conference assembled, reaffirm our belief in and our adherence to the principle of common consent as set forth in the Doctrine and Covenants, the Book of Mormon, and the Holy Scriptures; and be it further
Resolved, that this conference affirms the right of the membership to nominate in filling all elective offices in church, stake, district and branch organizations in the various conferences and business meetings, general and local; and be it further
Resolved, that this action shall in no way be interpreted as denying the right of presiding officers to present to the appropriate conferences or business meetings concurrent nominations for the filling of such elective offices.
This then set the stage for the next major controversy: who controls the finances?
The church did not have a Conference in 1924, and instead the Joint Council (First Presidency, Council of Twelve, Order of Bishops) got together to discuss the topic of Church Governance. The result of their meeting was eventually published in the article “Concerning Church Government” in Saints’ Herald Vol. 71, No 28 (9 July 1924): 651-652:
Concerning Church Government
With reference to the matter of church government growing out of a council of the First Presidency, members of the Quorum of Twelve in America, and Order of Bishops, convened at Independence, Missouri, April 15 to 25, 1924, we the undersigned members of that council hereby express our willingness to abide by the conclusions of the council almost unanimously reached as follows:
This church, as defined by the late Joseph Smith, is a theocratic-democracy — not man-made, but of divine appointment and origin. (Matthew 16:18; Doctrine and Covenants 1:5; 17:7: Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 3: 221; Book of Nephi 10: 1.)
The government of the church is by divine authority through priesthood (Doctrine and Covenants 1:2, 5; 68:4; 104; Acts 20:28). The government in its objective is beneficent, and its purpose is betterment of human conditions. The divine authority becomes operative through the consent of the governed – the common consent indicated in the law (Doctrine and Covenants 25:1; 27:4). It is divine government among the people, for the people, and for the glory of God and the achievement of his purposes towards ideal conditions.
God directs the church through clearly indicated channels (Doctrine and Covenants 43:1, 2; 27: 2); and his voice is the directing power of the church; but to this the assent of the people must be secured.
In organic expression and functioning there must be recognized grades of official prerogative and responsibility (Doctrine and Covenants 104; 122:9), with supreme directional control resting in the Presidency as the chief and first quorum of the church (Doctrine and Covenants 122: 2, 9; 104: 42). This control it is presumed is beneficent. Protection against prostitution of this power is amply provided in the law.
To carry into effect the purposes of the church, effective administration is imperative, and organic solidarity is maintained only by effective discipline, which is in consonance with the beneficent purposes of the church, but yet strongly enough administered to prevent the purposes of the organization being frustrated by individual caprice and rebellion. Authority to be effective must be respected.
This view of the organization of the church affirms the interdependence of departments and coordination of action, and holds General Conference as the instrument of the expression of the will of the people.
And we observe:
- That the chief executives of the church, the First Presidency, should not be discredited in seeking to exercise functions in accordance with the above principles in harmony with the law as laid down in the standard books of the church, but should be supported by the faith and confidence of the Saints.
- That since it seems the matters in controversy are to be brought before General Conference, it will be well for the Saints and delegates to study further the law and weigh matters presented for their consideration, reserving final judgment until the conference meets to hear the cause. And most assuredly none will finally reach conclusions from the basis of unanswered reasoning or statements, publicly or privately made.
- We fully believe that God is the founder and builder of the church. Jesus said, “I will build my church.” All should be faithful and steadfast, looking for the final victory. We fully believe the church is destined to go forward. It remains for the Saints to be humble and full of love, having faith, hope, and charity,
For Zion’s weal,
FREDERICK M. SMITH, President of the Church.
ELBERT A. SMITH, of the First Presidency.
F. M. MCDOWELL, of the First Presidency.
J. A. GILLEN, President of the Quorum of Twelve.
F. HENRY EDWARDS, Secretary of the Quorum of Twelve.
J. F. GARVER, Apostle.
E. J. GLEAZER, Apostle.
ROY S. BUDD, Apostle.
DANIEL T. WILLIAMS, Apostle.
E. L. KELLEY, Former Presiding Bishop of the Church.
J. A. BECKER, Bishop in Zion.
ALBERT CARMICHAEL, Bishop of Lamoni Stake.
J. A. KOEHLER, Bishop of Far West Stake.
A. B. PHILLIPS, Bishop of Holden Stake.
F. B. BLAIR, Bishop of Kansas City Stake.
MARK H. SIEGFRIED, Former Bishop of Independence Stake.
C. J. HUNT, Former Bishop of Holden Stake.
CHARLES FRY, Former Bishop of British Isles.
B. J. SCOTT, Former Bishop of Far West Stake.
ELLIS SHORT, Bishop.
R. T. COOPER, Bishop.
C. E. IRWIN, Bishop.
M. C. FISHER, Bishop.
JOHN ZIMMERMANN, Bishop.
A. F. MCLEAN, Bishop.
This very clearly clarifies the intention of the First Presidency to exercise “Supreme Directional Control” over the church. If the church is often thought of as a theo-democracy, then this could be thought of as a theo-coup d’état.
Most noteworthy of those left out of these meetings was the Presiding Bishopric. The Presiding Bishop did not hear about this declaration until after it was written. Smith wrote to the Bishop, B.R. McGuire, asking for his thoughts on the matter. McGuire told Smith:
B.R. McGuire letter to Fred M.
April 25th, 1924
Dear Brother: –
Herewith reply to your request that I declare myself as to a position set forth by you claiming for the Presidency supreme directional control of the church in all departments.
During my eight years in the office of the Presiding Biship my attitude has been to seek counsel and advice of the Presidency and other quorums and councils of the church as the necessity of the case and opportunity for counsel would permit. I intend to pursue this course in the future as I believe it to be in harmony with the letter and spirit of the law upon which the conduct of the affiars of this office should be based.
In cases of controversy, where to my mind the responsibility of my office demnds it, I claim the right to exercise the powers vested in me by the organic law of the church as trust-in-trustee for the church, and to refuse to pursue a course which I cannot justify as a servant of the body which has intrusted me with the responsibility of guarding and promoting the temporal interests of the church.
It is my firm conviction that when General Conference sustained the officers and quorums of the church it did so with the understanding and confidence that, as representatives and servants of the body, they would do all within their power to honor and sustain the laws of the church.
Deep conviction to principle, therefore, will not permit me to comply with your demand which, for the first time in the history of the church, seeks to place “supreme directional control” of the temporal affairs in the hands of the Presidency.
To my mind compliance with this demand would be tatamount to a betrayal of the confidence and trust reposed in me by the people of the church and a violation of the law.
From its inception the Reorganized Church has consistently stood for the coordinate finctioning “of the spiritual and temporal divisions of the work”.
If a change is to be made, why not wait till the next general conference and then place the matter squarely before the people for decision?
I feel it my duty to God and to the church to discharge the functions of my office in accordance with the laws and usages that have obtained in the Reorganization for over half a century.
With this, the Presiding Bishopric signaled that they were taking their marching orders from the Conference delegates and not the First Presidency. A number of church leaders opposed to “Supreme Directional Control” wrote an open letter the the First Presidency in “An Open Letter,”Saints’ Herald Vol. 71, No. 23 (4 June 1924): 531:
An Open Letter
To the President, Ministry, and Membership of the Church; Greeting: The controversy regarding church government, which began several years ago among the leading quorums, has now spread throughout the membership, and a crisis has been reached which demands serious consideration. There are fundamental issues which must be decided before peace can come to the church.
We believe that the organic law, supplemented by the experience of more than half a century on the part of the Reorganization, has established certain definite and abiding principles which are essential to progress. We issue this open letter so that a frank consideration of them may be had throughout the church.
We believe that the coming General Conference, in full possession of the facts, should speak and settle this controversy in a definite, constructive manner. Only in such conference settlement can our people be reunited, confidence be reestablished, and the cause of the Master advanced.
We affirm our belief in the following principles and pledge our adherence thereto:
- General Conference, the enactments of which combine both the inspiration of God and the will of his people, is the highest authority in the church.
- To obtain the common judgment, and to insure the cooperation and support of the people, all general church programs and policies must be submitted to the General Conference for consideration and decision before being initiated.
- The law recognizes two general divisions in the administrative work of the church-spiritual and temporal, and specifies “that the temporalities of the church are to be under the charge and care of the Bishopric.”. In temporal affairs the bishop acts as trustee-in-trust for the church and is directly responsible to the General Conference.
- All quorums, departments, and institutions within the church shall operate on budgets appropriated by General Conference. The bishop shall limit expenditures to such budgets and General Conference appropriations.
- We accept the Bible, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants, which contain the constitutional law of the church, and recognize the rights and powers of the priesthood as therein defined. We declare for government in the church by lawful and orderly processes and hold that General Conference enactments are binding without exception upon members, officials, and quorums.
JOHN W. RUSHTON, Apostle.
T. W. WILLIAMS, Apostle.
BENJAMIN R. MCGUIRE, Presiding Bishop.
JAMES F. KEIR, Member of Presiding Bishopric.
I. A. SMITH, Member of Presiding Bishopric.
FREDERICK A. SMITH, Presiding Patriarch.
R. S. SALYARDS, General Church Secretary.
F. A. RUSSELL, General Church Recorder.
ARTHUR E. MCKIM, General Publicity Agent.
S. A. BURGESS, General Church Historian.
T. C. KELLEY, President of Council of Seven Presidents of Seventy.
E. A. CURTIS, Member of Council of Seven Presidents of Seventy.
G. E. HARRINGTON, High Priest.
W. R. PICKERING, High Priest.
T. J. ELLIOTT, High Priest.
U. W. GREENE, Patriarch and Evangelical Minister.
RICHARD BULLARD, Patriarch and Evangelical Minister.
JOSEPH LUFF, Former member of Quorum of Twelve Apostles and Church Physician.
Independence, Missouri June 2, 1924.
There came to be 2 chief schools of thought:
- The First Presidency has Supreme Directional Control
- The Conference Delegates have Supreme Directional Control
The former came to be championed by the First Presidency, and the latter came to be championed by the Presiding Bishopric.
Luckily, Herald didn’t want to repeat the mistakes that Joseph Smith III had made in not allowing topics which involved him be talked about in the Herald, namely with the Gurley Reformation. Herald was a more neutral arm of the Church in this instance. Because of this, the church was more educated on the Supreme Directional Control controversy than the Gurley Reformation. This also allowed a quantifiable count to be taken based on the articles in the Herald. The results were:
- 78 who supported the Presidency’s Supreme Directional Control
- 112 who supported the Conference Delegates’ Supreme Directional Control
- 45 didn’t take sides
In the months leading up to the 1925 conference tensions heightened even more. A large crowd met on April 25th at the Temple Lot, and led by Apostle Thomas W. Williams they crafted a very strongly worded petition essentially saying that the First Presidency was in apostasy if they went forward with Supreme Directional Control. Seeing this, Israel A. Smith, the younger brother of Fred M. and member of the Presiding Bishopric, sent a letter to his brother and cousin in the First Presidency which said:
Israel A. Letter Excerpts
I write this personal letter to you on my own suggestion, and trust that you will not consider it in the light of a threat in any way. However, facts are always facts, and we are confronted by a condition and not a theory.
I write in an effort to persuade you that the document on church government must not be pressed upon the church.
[T]he lightness with which the majority of the Quorum of the Twelve, contemptuous of the honest effort to solve the difficulty refused consideration, has persuaded me that the supporters of your document have become ruthless and care not for the feelings and opinions of the opposition.
That hope I now see has been ill-founded. It is apparent that you propose to push it to a vote regardless of consequences. You are the leaders in its support and upon you will rest the responsibility if it be a mistake, as I claim.
I warn you that if you press this matter it will result in the greatest disruption and division since the days of Nauvoo.
In the interest of fair play, on my own motion, I warn you not to press too far those to whom the rule of supreme directional control is obnoxious. If you do, as I have stated, it will be at your peril.
Israel A. Smith.
At Conference delegate Daniel Macgregor called for someone other than the First Presidency to preside over conference due to fears of partiality. It was suggested that the Presiding Evangelist, Frederick A. Smith, assist in presiding. However, this motion was struck down.
After this there were challenges to the authority of individual delegates that were present.
Then the Seventies, led by J.F. Curtis and J.W. Rushton, proposed a compromise, which was called “The Basis of Agreement”, which can be read in the 1925 General Conference Minutes here:
The Basis of Agreement
(An Appeal to the Priesthood, Delegates, and Membership)
In order to unify the forces of the church, we the Presidents of the Seventy offer the following as a basis of agreement:
The church is a theocratic-democracy – not man-made but of divine appointment and origin. (Matthew 16:18)
The government of the church is by divine authority and the common consent of the people (John 15:16; Romans 10:13-15; Doctrine and Covenants 1:2, 25:1-2; 27:4; 38:5; 42:5; Mosiah 13:34-40.)
Under the theocratic phase, the authority of God is primary. Under the democratic phase, the people (priesthood and membership) exercise the right to consent to, reject, or originate legislation.
This government is administered through priesthood, which consists of different grades as enumerated in the law. The First Presidency have the burden of care of the church and presidency over the high priesthood. All quorums of priesthood and departments work under their direction according to the provisions of the law in the revelations of God and the General Conference resolutions.
God directs the church through clearly indicated channels (Doctrine and Covenants 43:1; 27:2; 125:14), and his voice is the directing power of the church, but to this the consent of the people must be secured.
In organic expression and functioning there must be recognized grades of official prerogative and responsibility (Doctrine and Covenants 122:9; 104) with general oversight vested in the Presidency as the leading quorum of the church.
To carry out the purposes of God through the church, effective administration is necessary. Adequate means for maintaining discipline are amply provided in the law. (Doctrine and Covenants 42:19-23; Matthew 18:15-17).
To protect the rights of the people and provide the necessary checks in case of conflict, the law provides three quorums having concurrent jurisdiction. (Doctrine and Covenants 104:11; 122:10; 126:10.)
This view of the organization of the church affirms the interdependence of quorums and departments and coordination of action, and holds that General Conference is the instrument of the expression of the will of the people.
Independence, Missouri, April 3, 1925
This compromised emphasized a need for checks and balances, while also affirming what the role of Conference and the First Presidency was.
The respective camps within the priesthood quorums, of course, voted for their own proposals, which meant that this topic went up for debate on the main Conference floor. The debate got rather heated, and included personal assaults against other delegates.
The First Presidency noticed that Apostle Thomas W. Williams had created a document which was being widely circulated among the delegates at the Conference. They thought it would be wise to enter the pamphlet into the minutes of the Conference, and it can be read here:
Whereas, the document on Church Government, now before the General Conference of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, gants to the First Presidency supreme directional control over all the affiars of the church, spiritual and temporal; and
Whereas, because of the irregularities attending the introduction and development of the doctrine of supreme directional control, together with the threat of “elimination” made by the President of the Church against some of the leading church officers who are opposed to the document on Church Government, and because of the illegal selection and instruction of certain delegations to the General Conference; and
Whereas, this document on church government limits the legislative rights of the General Conference to assenting or consenting to the proposals of the autocratically controlled priesthood; and
Whereas, the existing unhappy division in the church growing out of the attempt to force upon the church this document threatens its very existence; and
Whereas, this demand for a completely centralized government with supreme directional control, which would in fact rest in the President, would fundamentally change the established order of the church; and
Whereas, this change from a theocratic-democracy to an autocracy or a hierarchy with final and supreme directional control in the hands of one man strikes at the very heart of the principles of church government contained in out Standard books (The Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Book of Doctrine and Covenants) and General Conference enactments, by which the Reorganized Church in the Temple Lot Suit established its rights and claims to be the true church in succession; and
Wheras, should this document be indorsed it would be tantamount to apostasy – a departure from the accepted principles and practices of this Reorganized Church;
Therefore, we solemnly declare that we will not support nor countenance this attempt to change the fundamental principles of government given of God, and will consider ourselves justified in taking steps as will protect the constitutional rights of the officers and members of the church against this insidious departure from the faith.
Further, as a group holding allegiance to the faith and principles established from the beginning of the Reorganized Church, we pledge ourselves to carry on the work of God in harmony with His law.
Presiding Bishop McGuire made a statement explaining the position of the Presiding Bishopric, and compared what the first presidency was doing to
“An over bearing and domineering husband. If such a situation exists, it inevitably will drive that home into the divorce courts”
Fred M. Smith then spoke to the delegates on April 10th. The highlights of his speech can be read on page 193 of the 1925 General Conference Minutes:
High Points in President Smith’s Address on Church Government
”The church is of divine appointment.” (I have picked out the words of that first paragraph which set out its meaning.) Will any man question that? And let me suggest to you that there evidently is a group in the church who have a disposition to hold that no longer is divine authority the foundation stone on which this church is built. I mean to say by that that this church is very fast becoming unique (with perhaps one other exception) in its belief that it is necessary to have an authoritative religion. And this comes from the effort to democratize the church. And let me suggest to you with all the earnestness of my soul that this is the thing to which the delegates and ex officios of this conference and the church throughout the length and breadth of the land must give careful attention. Are we as a church about to be swept off the foundation of divine authority? So far as I am personally concerned, from my study of religions as fostered by man, I have reached the conclusion that when I yield the question of divine authority and say that religion is democratic I shall cease to be a member of any church.
“The government of the church is by divine authority through priesthood.” I challenge the statement that has been made on the floor of this conference that priesthood is not limited to group. It is if we are to believe the doctrines of the Latter Day Saint Church, for it is clearly set out, not only in Holy Writ so far as the Bible is concerned, but even more specifically so far as Holy Writ to Latter Day Saints is concerned, that men are ordained to the priesthood and that by the function of the Holy Spirit through those laying on hands. And that creates a group so far as priesthood is concerned. And we have affirmed that no man has a right to represent God unless he has this authority. Is that Latter Day Saintism or is it not? This means, if it means anything, that ordination is by the Spirit of God operating through those who are ordained, and authority is not bestowed by the voice of the people, but the voice of the people is used in expressing whether or not that authority will be exercised in their behalf. So no man, even though he might be properly ordained of God, has a right to represent the people without their voice.
“Common consent” has been mentioned. I want to give you an illustration of one aspect at least of common consent which is too little considered by this people. I sat in the conference of the Northern Wisconsin District not long ago, and there was a total of about fifty-nine votes, and yet that conference did work for the whole church, for an elder was selected by them after a call having come through proper authorities, and the man’s ordination was authorized by a vote of fifty-nine; and the ordination was had. And the voice of those fifty-nine and the ordination following imposed authority upon that elder and gave him the right to officiate among one hundred thousand Saints throughout the world, and by common consent the rest of the church accedes to the action of the district named. There should be a distinction made between common consent and formal approval or assent, if you please. And what is taking place in that district is taking place throughout the length and breadth of the land.
The difference between a district conference and this conference is this, that while they represent a locality, this is the church assembled in legislative capacity and hence becomes the voice of the people, the whole church. And so we can here by resolution speak legislatively for the whole body of the church, and the rest of the church by common consent accedes to what is done here.
In the discussion of government I submit that there is a great deal to be said distinguishing between a democracy and a representative government. This church is not in a sense a democracy for the reason that its legislative body (this conference) is representative, is republican in its character; it is not democratic. And every day we prove this by excluding from our assembly those who are not delegates or ex officios.
“God directs his church through clearly indicated channels.” We believe in revelation. We believe in inspiration. Hence we say that God directs his church, but being a God of order (I might even say a God of Supreme Directional Control) he insists, he demands that it shall be done in certain ways and through certain channels. It is true that inspiration may be granted to every man or every woman in the church who is functioning as an individual, but no individual is going to assume it is his right to “direct the church”; at least he ought not to. There have been individuals who have done it but not according to law.
Now coming to the paragraph beginning, “In organic expression and functioning there must be recognized grades of official prerogative and responsibility,” I will say that when that paragraph was indicted there was in my mind’s eye, not the legislative branch of the church, not the judicial branch of the church, though there can be organic expression and functioning in each of these, but we had in mind the idea of expressing in concrete form the method of attempting to carry out the policies and instructions of the General Conference, policies, instructions, and law which had been received by prophetic instruction, approved by representative vote, and those policies that may have originated with the people recognized and functioning in their right to initiate legislation. And so we have recognized in our study of organizations that there must be a systematic and orderly arrangement of those who constitute the administrative machinery. And I do not use the word machinery in an obnoxious sense. I mean the machinery through which this body expects to have its will carried out. This body is a legislative body and cannot carry out its will in the interim of conference, nor even in conference itself without that machinery functioning. So we have said that in order to reach efficiency and the proper presentation and finally complete the expression of the will of this people, there must be an organic form of expression that will be as orderly as God himself intends it should be and that he has said must be.
I was about to overlook something very important in that paragraph, “supreme directional control.” Now what is meant by those words? It is simply this: If this body’s will is to be carried out, there must be an expression and a manifestation of its will through its proper machinery that does not allow of its work being frustrated by a contention between two heads that are supposed to be equal. It cannot be done. It never has been done in organizations, and it will not be. The tendency of every body is to so arrange its organization that there is one person or one place where responsibility can be fixed and an accounting called for. And so far as what was in the minds of those who presented this document to the council, (and I assume it was in the minds of the big majority who adopted it, thus becoming an expression of the Joint Council) is that this applies to the administrative affairs of the church. We were not dealing with the judicial. There is no reason why we should have attempted to do so there. The statement that was made on this floor (and which was absolutely uncalled for to put it in the most mild form), that the President of this church has at any time attempted to excommunicate a person without a proper court trial is false and never should have been uttered on this floor. There should have been a disposition in the name of fairness to find out what was done in the case rather than ti come here with such a statement as that. I challenge any body to show with any remote degree of exactitude that I have, or that any member of the Presidency has, attemptec to manipulate the judicial machinery of the church in any way.
There is a sentence here interjected which has been mentioned a number of times that would not have been in this document if there had been a disposition on the part of “my friends, the enemy,” to do anything else than presume that my desire and the desire of my fellow members in the Presidency was not to execute the work of the church with its beneficent purposes in view. And so we say that this directional control over the administrative affairs of the church in attempting to carry into effect the will of the body “should be presumed to be beneficent.” If the ‘pur poses of the church as you, the General Conference, believe them to be are not carried out, you have recourse, for any General Conference of this church by a majority of one can say to your President, “Get out,” and he has no recourse. Not even reasons have to be assigned.
I might say in an attempt further to relieve the disturbed minds of some of my brethren as has been reflected in their speeches on this floor, that so far as the Presidency is concerned the words “supreme directional control” had only reference to the administrative line of work.
“To carry into effect the purposes of the church, effective administration is imperative, and organic solidarity is maintained only by effective discipline which is in consonance with the beneficent purposes of the church, and yet strongly enough administered to prevent the purposes of the organization being frustrated by individual caprice and rebellion. Authority to be effective must be respected.” My friends, there has been reference made in a number of speeches on this floor to that phrase in regard to effective discipline, and yet in only one single instance has there been an attempt to discuss it in any other way than in its punitive aspects. When discipline has a function so much expanded beyond a mere matter of punishing a man who has gone wrong, why should we spend so much time discussing the punitive aspects and leave untouched the matter of directional discipline? Here is what I have in mind. I believe it was mentioned before, A young man comes into this church, or an old man is assigned to a new work, and he comes to the office saying, What must I do? It seems to me it is something to be greatly desired that there shall be an effective discipline directive in its character that will enable this man to reach the end results of his work in the quickest way possible because constructive discipline is had. The word discipline was used there by the framers of that document in its broadest sense. The Methodist Church issues a book called the Methodist Discipline, and you will be very much surprised, if you have not read it, to find that there is not a word said there about going to jail or laying on the cat of nine tails or something of that kind.
I have kept still and have been accused of doing so from an ulterior motive. Why, bless your souls, I saw some correspondence in which it was intimated that the President of this church was keeping still because he was afraid to talk.
In the closing paragraph of that document there is this language: “This view of the organization of the church affirms the interdependence of departments and coordination of action and holds General Conference as the instrument of the expression of the will of the people.” In my opinion the only weakness in that paragraph is that it does not make it quite strong enough. We were unfortunate in presenting it in the negative sense, hence it was changed. In the original which was presented by the Presidency these are the words used: “This view of the organization of the church does not admit of independence of departments.” That is where our trouble has been, in independence of departments. At the same time it goes on and says this view also holds the General Conference to be the instrument of the expression of the will of the people, speaking in a general sense. We know of course they have a chance to express their will in other ways such as in branches and districts, in business meetings and conferences, and they have expressed their will perhaps in some other ways; but the chief way for the general church to express its will is by General Conference enactment, though its will may be expressed by common consent to general administrative acts, which of course are always subject to legitimate review. And this also, it seems to me, presupposes the idea that the legislative body shall function as a legislative body and not as an administrative body. It is not a sitting of the board of directors. That is the basis on which I answered the question which has been distorted in an attempt to have it work to my disadvantage when I stated that the General Conference should not presume to issue orders to any man. Unless some man has been guilty of an official infraction of his responsibility to this body, the will of the body should be expressed in laws and an expression of policy. It has a right to call in question its officers, and in that way it may issue an order when an officer of the conference has violated the proprieties or his responsibilities to it. The Congress of the United States does not attempt to issue orders, but it does adopt laws, and immediately the law is adopted it is referred to the administrative department of the United States to execute it, which is why it is called the executive department. That is true here.
I am going to pass just briefly over this. “Proposed basis of agreement.” That does not settle the main thing at issue which was considered by the Joint Council and which has been so disruptive of our organic solidarity, the relationship of the quorums, because it recognizes the right of the President over the high priesthood but lets go some other things that are extremely important so far as this difficulty is concerned.
Smith also said that his document, “Church Government”, and the Seventies’ document, “The Basis of Agreement”, were as “as different as oil and water, and will not mix”. There would be no compromising with the First Presidency on the matter of Supreme Directional Control.
The vote on Supreme Directional Control was voted upon on April 11, 1925 between 3:30-6:00 PM. In the end, “The Basis of Agreement” lost 942 to 394, and “Church Government” won by 919 to 405. Supreme Directional Control became the law of the church with World Conference Resolution #849.
The aftermath of this vote was brutal. Bishop McGuire publicly aired his anger toward Smith. Fred M. called McGuire and those who supported the Protest document traitors. McGuire accused Smith of slander and insisted on a retraction, which did not come. The Presiding Bishopric refused to cooperate with the other bishops during the rest of the Conference, and so the Delegates asked if they would step down. The Presiding Bishopric stated that they were called by God, and that a revelation was needed to release them from their calling.
That revelation came in the form of D&C 135, which also gave Divine approval for Smith’s plan. After this, Smith also asked for the resignation of Apostle John W. Rushton and Thomas W. Williams who had opposed Supreme Directional Control. Ruston gave his resignation, while Williams wanted the Conference to decide to sustain him or not – which they ultimately chose not to. Those who had opposed Supreme Directional Control but also said they would honor it if voted for, such as Paul M. Hanson and James F. Curtis, were permitted to remain Apostles. Many others in other priesthood appointments met similar fates based on loyalty to this topic.
The aftermath was also brutal for the church. Hundreds of people left and joined the Temple Lot church. Others tried to schism from the church and take their local congregations’ property with them; in these instances the polity level was disorganized and the leaders silenced.
The next year at Conference the church passed WCR #861 which attempted to mitigate the exodus. This resolution says:
Whereas, Distress and sorrow have troubled some minds and hearts, due to a misunderstanding and misinterpretations of the Document on Church Government adopted by the General Conference of 1925, and
Whereas, Particularly that portion of the document referring to “supreme directional control” as resting with the First Presidency has by some been represented as implying autocracy, papacy, infallibility, monarchy, an invasion of the legislative rights of the people, etc., and
Whereas, Such implications have been foreign to our understanding and in no way representative of the intentions of those who framed and supported the document and in no way representative of the intentions of those who administer it, and
Whereas, We desire as far as possible to promote a clearer and more unified understanding that wounds may be healed, and all be assisted to find true fellowship and final salvation in the church,
And be it further Resolved, That we reaffirm our bepretation set forth by President Frederick M. Smith and his associates, which interpretation recognizes:
Firstly, the supremacy of God, who so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, and the divine right of that Son as builder of the church militant and the church triumphant to overrule and guide all the affairs of his church through the ministration of his Holy Spirit in testimony to all faithful Saints and through revelation to the one called and ordained to receive revelation for the church;
And which recognizes secondly, the undisputed right of General Conference as the chief legislative body of the church in the legislative arm of the church through which the people may speak and either approve or disapprove or initiate legislation;
And which thirdly sets forth, in the administrative work of the church only, the right of the Presidency as the chief or first executive body of the church to administer the laws and policies of the church as approved by General Conference;
And which fourthly disclaims any and all offensive application of the words “supreme directional control” as hereinbefore mentioned, and claims for the Presidency only the authority and the rights set forth under the law of the church as contained in the Three Standard Books of the church, the Bible, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants;
And Be It Further Resolved, That we reaffirm our unshaken belief in the doctrines, the organization, the authority, and the divine mission of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints as the church in succession to that body organized by divine commandment April 6, 1830; And be it further
Resolved, That we invite all the honest in heart who before time have made covenant with us in the waters of baptism to cherish the ardor of their first love, to remain true and loyal to the church and her Lord, to have their part in her devotional services in the congregations of the Saints, and to gladly continue or renew their portion of service whether spiritual or temporal, under the admonition that all are called according to the gifts and callings of God unto them, and that minister and laborer and man of business shall all work together for the accomplishment of the work intrusted to all; And be it further
Resolved, That we reaffirm our belief in the gathering of God’s people to Zion and the second personal coming of our Lord and Master, and hold ourselves ready with all diligence to build up his kingdom and establish his righteousness, that Zion may be redeemed and a pure people be made ready for his coming.
Ultimately, however, Frederick Madison Smith was ultimately in charge of all affairs of the church. Quickly after Conference, there were discussions of building a single place where the delegates could meet together for Conference, which would eventually become the Auditorium. Smith thought this was a fantastic idea, and worked towards building it while also taking on renovating the church’s hospital. Smith’s vision of a Zionic city was to be actualized.
However, during these ambitious projects, the Great Depression struck and the funds to complete these projects dried up. In 1932 Smith admitted that the church was in a financial crisis that had been a growing problem over the last decade. However, he gave decision makers false senses of security and assured them that the deficits would be made up with future donations. Smith was financially gambling with the church as a result of his need for power.
The Presiding Bishopric made a financial report in 1932 which recommended the following:
Financial Report of Presiding Bishopric
- Arrest Expansion: Build only when our present obligations have been met and necessary means are in hand to cover cost and maintenance of further work.
- Liquidate Assets: Turn into cash as rapidly as possible all assets not needed for major work of the church, and apply the proceeds against our debts.
- A Balanced Budget: Expenditures must be less than income, permitting a margin of safety in our regular operations;
- Operate Economically: By Stopping the leaks arising from expensive operations, or from activities having a cumulatively increasing costs …
- Pay Indebtedness: … A substantial amount should be set aside each year for this purpose, until the entire debt is paid.
- Create Reserves: That we may assure ourselves of economic security in the future.
In the end, World Conference Resolution #915 was passed by the delegates on April 12, 1932 which essentially reversed Supreme Directional Control and told of why it failed.
World Conference Resolution #915
Whereas, The financial procedure and methods pursued under administrative activities of the past have resulted in great and perilous loss to the church, and
Whereas, The disregard or violation of laws or enactments of the church are subversive of its unity and demoralizing to the confidence and support of its members, and
Whereas, The revelations in Doctrine amd Covenants 126: 10; 129:8; and 128:1-2, together with other revelations and enactments of the church, make provision concerning the application of the temporal law as stated by the Bishopric and for the lawful custody and care of the properties of the church, therefore be it hereby
Resolved, That the Presiding Bishopric shall assume and are hereby directed to assume full responsibility to see that the finances of the church are used strictly in accordance with the laws and enactments of the church, and for the faithful performance of such responsibility they shall be held answerable to the church in General Conference assembled.
The president of the church wanted to consolidate power. He replaced those who were opposed to this with those who were in favor of it. Compromises were attempted, but Fred M. refused to compromise. Ultimately he got his wish and hundreds left the church as a result.
Smith used his new consolidated power to start many large and ambitious projects which made the church take on a great amount of debt. During these projects the Great Depression struck and the church was thrust into a financial crisis.
In the end, power was decentralized because Smith had financially gambled with the church and put it in danger.