I’m in Nauvoo, Illinois this week. This little history-packed town has some pretty interesting spiritual dynamics going on. As a Christian who challenges the claims of Mormonism, the Restorationists in town see me somewhat as an ally. The Restorationists split from the Community of Christ Church (formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). They believe that the LDS Church went very, very wrong when the leadership of the Church was put into the hands of Brigham Young and the Saints followed him out to the Salt Lake Valley.
The Restorationists think that Joseph Smith never practiced polygamy; he never taught men could become Gods; he never taught a plurality of Gods, etc. The Restorationists believe all the controversial aspects of Mormonism attributed to Joseph Smith were actually instituted by Brigham Young after Joseph’s death. Brigham claimed Joseph taught or did these things, then added them to the history of the Church surreptitiously in order to get members to accept Brigham’s own radical ideas.
One Restorationist loaned me a DVD lecture titled “The Carthage Conspiracy.” In this lecture the unnamed teacher explained that it was because of Joseph Smith’s effort to stamp out polygamy (which was secretly being practiced by Church apostles) that Joseph was killed at Carthage.
According to the theory put forth by this gentleman, the apostles wanted to destroy Joseph so that he could not put an end to their plural marriages. Disagreeing with the official story that Joseph was murdered by a mob, this conspiracy theory states that on June 27, 1844 in Carthage Jail, John Taylor murdered Hyrum Smith, whereupon Joseph shot John Taylor three times, after which Willard Richards finally murdered Joseph and threw him out the window. It’s quite a story.
While the Restorationists like my sympathetic ear when it comes to their frustration over the LDS rewriting of history, they want to convince me that the Restorationist rewrite of history is the truth. The Mormons don’t like the Restorationists’ faith. The Restorationists don’t like the Mormons’ faith. And the Community of Christ rattles around Nauvoo as well. It reminds me a bit of this:
The [Mormons] were most decided against the [Restorationists] and [Community of Christ], and used all the powers of both reason and sophistry to prove their errors, or, at least, to make the people think they were in error. On the other hand, the [Restorationists] and [Community of Christ] in their turn were equally zealous in endeavoring to establish their own tenets and disprove all others. In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? (Joseph Smith–History 1:9-10)