Updated: Sep 14, 2020
Recently the idea of “There is more than one way to Mormon” was adopted by the Sunstone symposium. It has become an annual conference were different traditions of Mormonism can be explored and discussed. It’s almost taken for granted, particularly in the Mountain West, that Mormonism equals the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But that’s not ever been true. Since even before Joseph Smith died, there are have been breakoffs and sects who practice and honor one version of Mormonism or another. Most of the time, it happened because of a break over a cult of personality. At other times, there was a hard doctrine to absorb. After 1844, the truth is that there was no church that remained after Joseph Smith died, in exactly the same manner as it was before. The movement fractured then and has remained that way, even though the Latter-day Saint movement in Utah has become by and far the largest. It’s not a given that they are the inheritors of Joseph simply because of their size. Some may quote the prophecies about Mormonism being all over the world. Indeed, LDS Mormonism has accomplished this. However, Catholicism at one time could also boast its largess and indeed saw itself as a sort of Zion after it had conquered Europe. At least until the Crusades and Inquisitions.
When it comes to legal inheritance, as we discussed with the Temple Lot case, the LDS Church lost that battle when Judge Phillips awarded property over to the group that seemed to best inherit the Church of 1844, and that was the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sometimes called the Josephites after Joseph Smith III. In 1844, those that followed Brigham, sometimes called Brighamites, went west to Utah. But the split was about even as to who remained. And if they remained, often it was because they weren’t so fond of Brigham Young, or simply couldn’t move. It wasn’t as if there were two different churches at the time . . . yet. At first many went to Wisconsin or joined up the with charismatic James Strang, who claimed Joseph’s mantle. That movement lasted about two decades until Strang was murdered and his movement mostly died out. It wasn’t until Joseph III had a vision in a field where his father came to him and told him to reorganize the church that he undertook such an endeavor in 1860. Since then, this movement has been the second largest group who are headquartered in Independence, Missouri. They have a strong presence in Missouri and throughout the Midwest, which is why they are sometimes called Prairie Mormons. They even operate a college called Graceland, in Lamoni, Iowa.
However, starting in the 1960’s the church began to shift away from some of its restoration roots and gravitate more towards the culture and teachings in the divinity schools of the Protestants. That continued until 2001 when the Church officially changed its name to the Community of Christ. Its doctrines have shifted from a Restoration foundation to one that emphasizes a more universal call to peace. They have de-emphasized the importance of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith, and have embraced much of liberal social justice theology, and tack towards a universalism, which remains a very Mormon idea.
That has caused more conservative Restoration-oriented members of the Community of Christ to break with their church. Groups such as the Remnant Church of Jesus Christ or the Restoration Branches are refugees from the Community of Christ; they have their own hierarchy and structure. They have kept the feeling and doctrines that were emphasized before 2001, including defending the importance of Joseph Smith as a monogamist and the Book of Mormon.
Other groups include churches that were formed by David Whitmer and Sydney Rigdon. Today, Rigdon’s church has a presence in Pennsylvania as the Church of Jesus Christ. They emphasis doctrines in the Bible and Book of Mormon but mostly discount those in the Doctrine and Covenants. They are the third largest branch.
It may be useful to see these different groups as churches that emphasize different eras of Mormonism, Rigdon’s tacking more to the earliest church in New York, the Community of Christ and its traditions more towards Kirtland, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints embracing all of the secret esotericism that came out of Nauvoo.
The Utah church has had its own breakoffs as well. The larger and more sustaining groups have been the polygamist groups that broke after the Second and Third Manifestos against polygamy. They were initially called the Council of Friends and didn’t see themselves as anything more than a group of Latter-day Saints called to live a higher law of plural marriage. Since then, this group has split into many different groups, the largest being the Apostolic United Brethren, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Centennial Park Group, the Kingston Group, along with various and sundry other groups.
Recently, other groups have begun breaking from the Utah church, dubbed Remnant, who are more in line with the earlier church of Joseph Smith, have embraced some of the RLDS and Whitmerite traditions, but who have also eschewed formal leadership and simply meet in ad hoc fellowships, which is different than almost all other Mormon sects with a strong emphasis on priesthood leadership. Some of them consider Denver Snuffer, an attorney from Sandy, Utah, as a prophet. Snuffer teaches about ad hoc fellowships, fixing scripture, renouncing polygamy as evil and not from Joseph, tithing for the poor, and repenting to the point of being worthy for Zion. Others are attempting to follow Judaic traditions or are discovering the ideas of the Rigdonites and Whitmerites. The emphasis is always on personal revelation and not putting a man before you and God. They see the early history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a disaster in terms of the emphasis on Joseph’s Smith’s prophetic calling.
Each of these groups have different approaches that appeal to different brands of Mormons. For those that find they need to find another approach to Mormonism other than their known brand, it may be useful to look at the different approaches of each of these main groups, the pros and cons of their teachings and culture, in order to determine if there is a personal fit. Note that denominations with cultish control measures, strong secrecy, and have problems with the law, such as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Kingston group, have not been included. Also, only groups with more than a few thousand adherents have been selected.
Major Mormon Denominations www.churchofjesuschrist.org
Leadership – Patriarchal Hierarchical with medium control over local congregations
Location and History – Worldwide since 1844 (1830) largest split after Joseph Smith died in 1844
Restoration Focus – Emphasis on Modern Revelation with strong Restoration foundation of authority that is unbroken
Scriptures – Book of Mormon, Bible, Doctrine and Covenants (LDS), Pearl of Great Price
Culture – Traditional, socially conservative, esoteric temple ritual culture, 10% tithe of “income” for full participation. Monogamous with polygamist tradition and doctrine.
Leadership – Egalitarian Hierarchical with loose control over local congregations
Location and History – Worldwide but strong in the Midwest since 1860 (1830) formally re-organized in 1860 but claims back to 1830
Restoration Focus – Minimal – Emphasis on Personal Revelation, communities of peace
Scriptures – Bible, Doctrine and Covenants (CoC Version), Book of Mormon, but primary focus is the Bible and D&C
Culture – Similar to liberal protestant, social justice focused, allies to LGBTQ. Individual congregations may differ or be more conservative, tithing is 10% of discretionary income. Monogamous but acknowledges polygamy with Joseph Smith since 1980 after crusading for his innocence and monogamy from 1860-1980.
Leadership – Patriarchal Hierarchical with loose control over local congregations
Location – Largely in the Midwest since 2002 after breaking from Community of Christ and Restoration Branches, but claims back to 1830
Restoration Focus – Strong emphasis on creating Zion, Joseph Smith, and Book of Mormon
Scriptures – Bible, Doctrine and Covenants (RLDS Version), Book of Mormon
Culture – Traditional, socially conservative, tithing is 10% of discretionary income, but members encouraged to live consecration. Monogamous and believes Joseph Smith fought against polygamy.
Leadership – Patriarchal apostolic leadership
Location – Largely back east in the Pennsylvania area, but growing
Restoration Focus – Strong emphasis on a new testament church, Joseph Smith had many false revelations
Scriptures – Bible, Book of Mormon
Culture – Traditional Christian, socially neutral, early advocate of racial equality
Leadership – Each congregation is its own entity, loose confederations of congregations
Location – Largely in the Midwest since 2000 after breaking from Community of Christ
Restoration Focus – Strong emphasis on creating Zion, early RLDS focus
Scriptures – Book of Mormon, Bible, Doctrine and Covenants (RLDS Version), Book of Mormon
Culture – Traditional, socially conservative, tithing varies. Monogamous and believes Joseph Smith fought against polygamy.
Leadership – Male Quorum of the Twelve, not official President or Leader
Location – Largely in the Midwest since 1860 after various groups formed under apostle John E Page
Restoration Focus – One True Church, Joseph Smith was often a false prophet, influenced by David Whitmer, waiting for Jesus to come and finish the Restoration
Scriptures – Book of Mormon, Bible, Book of Commandments
Culture – Trinitarian, Traditional, socially conservative. Monogamous and believes Joseph Smith was wrong to introduce polygamy.
Apostolic United Brethren
Leadership – Male Hierarchical, closed and polygamous
Location – Largely in Utah (Wasatch Front), and Montana
Restoration Focus – Maintaining the Higher law of plural marriage. LDS Church rejected after giving priesthood to males of African descent.
Scriptures – Book of Mormon, Bible, Doctrine and Covenants (LDS), Pearl of Great Price, unpublished revelations
Culture – Very socially conservative. Esoteric temple focus. Polygamous, wives have separate households, dress is modern.
Centennial Park Group
Leadership – Priesthood council, closed and polygamous
Location – Northern Arizona, Southern Utah
Restoration Focus – Maintaining the Higher law of plural marriage while the Church (LDS) ministers to the lower law until the “one mighty and strong” will set the Church in order
Scriptures – Book of Mormon, Bible, Doctrine and Covenants (LDS), Pearl of Great Price, unpublished revelations
Culture – Very socially conservative. Esoteric temple focus. Polygamous, wives live in same household, dress is conservative.
Independent Fundamentalist Groups www.ogdenkraut.com
Leadership – Each family forms own leadership
Location – Intermountain West
Restoration Focus – Living the higher patriarchal priesthood
Scriptures – Book of Mormon, Bible, Doctrine and Covenants (LDS), Pearl of Great Price, unpublished revelations, Ogden Kraut books
Culture – Varies. Esoteric temple focus. Polygamy necessary, follow teachings of Ogden Kraut
Leadership – Self-selected fellowships in homes, no formal leadership but many consider Denver Snuffer a prophet, among others.
Location – Inter-mountain West
Restoration Focus – Reclaiming the Restoration, getting rid of false traditions since Brigham Young, focus on Doctrine of Christ as outlined in 3 Nephi 11
Scriptures – Book of Mormon, Bible, Doctrine and Covenants (Traditional LDS), Teachings and Commandments (revised scriptures project)
Culture – Varies. Temples important in the future for some groups. Lack of hierarchy is a key element. Personal revelation and spiritual progression are the fruits. Polygamy an abomination and was not taught by Joseph Smith. Tithes go to the poor not any church. Looser interpretation of the word of wisdom.
There are many different avenues for an Evolver still interested in Mormonism to pursue by checking out some of these denominations and movements. This report does not advocate one over another but given the ideas of the fundamentals of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the desire to build faith in Jesus Christ, considerations for these different paths should be taken prayerfully. Groups that emphasize personal revelation and developing a relationship with God over a relationship with man or men, who will inevitably disappoint, should be considered if one wishes to adopt a community that is spiritually healthy.