Quite a few years ago — probably fifteen or more — I published an article in which, among many other things, I briefly told the story of how a local Utah Valley leader of what was then known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now renamed the Community of Christ) had been disciplined by the heads of his church for defying orders and putting on a “Book of Mormon Day” in his chapel.
Some weeks or even months later, I received a letter on the stationery of the First Presidency of the RLDS Church (as it was also known) demanding that I retract what I had said about the man’s “silencing” — as I recall, that’s the term that had been used for his treatment by his leaders — claiming that it was false. Now, I don’t knowingly try to publish falsehoods, so I revisited the printed source on which I had based my few sentences about the subject, called and spoke with the journalist who had written it, and discussed the matter with a couple of others who were in a position to know the facts. (The local RLDS leader in question had moved away by this time, and I couldn’t reach him.) I concluded that what I had published was defensible, and I left it at that. I never responded to the letter I had received, and I never heard from its author (a secretary, or the secretary, of the RLDS First Presidency) again.
Other than joking about it three or four times, I haven’t really thought about the matter since. (The joke was that perhaps I would gain more credibility with some in the Latter-day Saint intellectual community if I were to confide to them that I had been personally denounced by the First Presidency. I simply wouldn’t share with them the minor detail that it wasn’t actually the First Presidency of the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but, rather, that of its much, much smaller, Missouri-based, schismatic cousin.)
I’ve had no other contact than that, really, with the RLDS or the Community of Christ, other than visiting some of the historical sites that they control in Missouri and Illinois; delivering an invited paper to the annual meeting of the largely RLDS/CoC John Whitmer Historical Association some years ago that seemed to be well received; and, once, at an annual meeting of the Mormon History Association in Kirtland, Ohio, having a friendly conversation with W. Grant McMurray, the then-president of the RLDS Church or Community of Christ, as we parked our cars next to one another in a large but rather distant parking lot and walked to the building where the MHA was holding its sessions.
So I’ve been interested to see myself, over the past few days, denounced by a couple of anonymous message board critics as being responsible, along with my evil cronies, for putting an end to the cooperation that had existed for several decades between my church and the RLDS Church or Community of Christ. The old regime at the Maxwell Institute or FARMS, so their story goes, hated such friendly relations — presumably because we hate all things “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy.” But now, happily, that old, angry, and hateful cabal have been thrown out, though they remain on life support, despite the disapproval of decent people everywhere, through their pathetic online venture, Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture.
This is all news to me. First of all, I didn’t know that such cooperation had ended. I thought it was on-going. (I can’t imagine that the historians involved with the Joseph Smith Papers project aren’t working closely, where and when it’s appropriate, with the relevant people in Independence, Missouri.) Secondly, my friend and colleague Royal Skousen, who has contributed articles to Interpreter and has worked extensively with people at RLDS/CoC headquarters in connection with his Book of Mormon Critical Text Project — see my appreciation of him and his work from last week — continues to have excellent relations with his contacts in the Community of Christ to this day, so far as I’m aware. Thirdly, my friend Craig Foster, who serves on the Board of Editors for Interpreter and has already contributed a book review to it, also serves as a member of the editorial board for the John Whitmer Historical Association Journal.
In other words, not to put too fine a point on it: If relations between the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Community of Christ are no longer what they were — which I have no reason to believe is the case — it’s not at all clear that I and my circle bear even the slightest trace of responsibility for it.
As it turns out, I’m probably not the focus of evil in the modern world. Who knew?