The RLDS did not Approve of FDR

I remember this quite clearly – although at the time, back in Ft. Madison, Iowa – I was too young to understand it. Now, seventy years later – when I an 79, and living in Costa Rica, I can finally put it into context.

A huge amount has changed. The world of my childhood has gone completely. And the church of my childhood (the RLDS church – the Missouri Mormons) have gone also.

But Americans still have ambivalent feelings about Progressive values – such as those FDR espoused.

LBJ, with his Great Society programs, tried his best to continue them – but failed. How the RLDS regarded these, I do not know – since I had left the church when I graduated from college in 1960. But from what little I know – I think it was not interested in them.


Mormon History

First of all, it should be noted that Mormonism should really be called Joseph Smith – ism. It was the belief that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. This was the religion of my family, and I have tried for a long time to understand it. I left the church when I attended the U of Illinois in 1954-1959 – and realized that the Church was unimportant. A realization that no one else in my extended family has ever had.

I asked myself “Why Mormonism was so successful?” It was not successful to the rest of America in the 19th Century. Abraham Lincoln and Joseph Smith were contemporaries – but neither one was aware of the other. Lincoln not doubt considered the Mormons a minor sect – which they were. And the Mormons, on the other hand, were not interested in the political situation of their time. They were on different tracks.

The Mormons did not become successful much later – in the 20th Century, when they became the fastest-growing church in America.

But meanwhile, beginning in the 1860s – the RLDS church – my family’s church became another Mormon church with headquarters in Missouri. We were Missouri Mormons – much smaller than the LDS church – in Utah. But to my family that made no difference – we were the One True Church – and we were going to inherit the earth.

Sometime in the Sixties, when I had already left the Church – it became obvious that this was not going to happen. And it became the Community of Christ. What was involved here I have no idea – and no one has wanted to explain it to me.

So now I have three mysteries:

  1. The early Mormon movement – which ended with the death of Joseph Smith at the hands of a mob in 1844.This movement was probably caused by the effects of Industrialization – and its reaction, during the Presidency of Andrew Jackson.
  2. Its reorganization under his son – Joseph Smith III in 1860. Which was successful at first – but failed in the first part of the 20th Century. This was initially an organization of farmers – but farming later became economically unimportant.
  3. And the Community of Christ that resulted in the Sixties – in another mysterious process.

I am not interested in the LDS church – which has missionaries almost everywhere – including the next little town in Costa Rica- Paraiso.

Why the Church Did Not Last

This posting is about the church my family belonged to – which for my parents, was their whole life. It is no longer – although the rest of my family still believe it it – and deny (strenuously) that it has departed. Like most religious people – they are incapable of thinking about their religion.

The Church was originally the RLDS church – named that way to distinguish it from the LDS church. The LDS church, commonly called the Mormons, were followers of Joseph Smith. But when he was killed by a mob in 1844, in Illinois – his control of the church was abruptly ended. Eventually many of his followers – but far from most of them – followed Brigham Young to Utah.

Many stayed in the Midwest, but still wanted to keep Joseph’s church. They reorganized as the RLDS church – and looked for a leader. The obvious choice was his oldest son, Joseph Smith III – who was only a small boy when his father was killed – and barely knew him. At first, he was not interested – but after failing at a number of pursuits, he decided that having a church of his own was not such a bad idea. And he agreed to become the President of the RLDS church.

The Church grew rapidly at first, as it sent out many missionaries. Especially in Nova Scotia (where my Mother’s family was converted) and in Australia. But eventually, after Joseph Smith III died – church membership leveled off. How much it leveled off, the Church will not now reveal – but I can remember as a child in the Forties – that this was indeed the case. Belief in the Church was a strong as ever – but it was losing its strength. People were leaving it all the time – and it could not understand why.

The Church had to do something, so it went through a change. I knew nothing about this change – since I had left the Church long before. The net exterior result was a name change – it now called itself the Community of Christ. What other changes were made, I have no idea – and no one is eager to explain them to me. My siblings seem content with the result – but their children are not interested in it at all.

My family are not interest in my explanation of why the Church failed. So I am recording them here – in my blog instead.

As I see it, fundamental changes occurred in America after WWII – and during the strong economy that followed it. America became a nation of Corporations. Before, the Church prided itself in not being part of the World – the Puritan ethic. This attitude was no longer tolerated – and conformity was strongly enforced.

The Utah Mormons had long since become part of the Corporate Ethic – a successful part, in fact. And the poor little Community of Christ was left in the dust.

Pennies from Heaven: How Mormon Economics Shape the G.O.P.

Harper’s magazine

I grew up a Mormon, but the wrong kind of Mormon: we were Missouri Mormons, or RLDS – as contrasted with the more successful Utah Mormons or LDS. This contrast was so blatant the church renamed itself the Community of Christ – for reasons it has never made clear. It didn’t really matter, it was doomed and it could not save itself – or do much of anything else – as its long decline has testified. We were losers, but to this day my family members refuse to recognize this.

My marker pen got a good workout on this article. But the basic point is an old one: Mormons are as American as apple-pie – something Americans themselves have refused to acknowledge. But as Americans are becoming more conservative, their ideology is merging with the Mormon one. This quote is typical:

As Kim Clark, the former dean of the Harvard Business School, told journalist Jeff Benedict in the Mormon Way of Doing Business: “I grew up in a home where we were not only expected to make our bed, do the dishes, and go to Church and say our prayers, but we were expected to be a leader and do it well. This has had a significant influence on how I think about the world and what I do and how I do it. Clark goes on to recall how his mother sent him off to school each day by grabbing his lapels and issuing a rather blunt exhortation: “Remember who you are.”

RLDS kids, by contrast, only aspired to be school teachers or nurses – definitely not businessmen. By contrast, we were nobodies doing nothing and going nowhere.

The Church Was a Product of the Fifties

The church I am referring to here is the church of my childhood, called the RLDS Church at the time, and later renamed The Community of Christ. None of my other readers will be interested in this.

Any social movement is a product of its times, and is part of them; it cannot be otherwise. Religious people, of course refuse to believe this, and insist their religion exists outside of time – but this is only the nature of religion. In reality, every physical thing exists in time – and nothing is excepted.

In the case of my family’s religion, it got a good start under its first leader, Joseph Smith III in the late 19th Century, but then slowly faded, in the early 20th Century, under the leadership of his sons. America had become obsessed with Growth, and a church that did not grow was considered a failure. The church had failed, especially compared with its main competition, the LDS church, and it knew it.

It knew it unconsciously, that is, but refused to know it consciously – to this day, my family refuses to acknowledge this fact – to my continuing amazement.

It had to do something to keep the members it had (quite a few had already left) so it decided to become another church – with its own internal standards of success – which included the ability to overlook its continuing decline.

In this way, it is typical of 21st Century America – a country with no future.

Kierkegaard and the Church

What church am I referring to here? The church I grew up in, the church of my family. It used to be called the RLDS – we were the Missouri Mormons, and we carefully distinguished ourselves from the Utah sort (the LDS). It is now called the Community of Christ.

About the time the name changed, I left it. I was attending the University of Illinois, 1956-1959 at the time. All of a sudden, when I was going up the steps to the Engineering Library, I had a realization: the church was not important. I am the only one in my extended family to have this realization. For years, I did not leave the church officially, because it would hurt my mother too much. But eventually she died – one of the nicest things she ever did.

Although I had parted with the church intellectually, as did the woman I married, it still lurks in my subconscious and effects me there. When I heard about the philosophy of Kierkegaard, I thought “This something the church could adopt,” since Kierkegaard was a staunch Christian.

There is only one problem, and the same problem: the church is nothing, and always will be. The chances of it becoming a leader in theology are less than zero.

Mormonism is Now Cool

iTunes – Fresh Air podcast

Our ancestors must be turning in their graves. There is a hit musical now about the Book of Mormon. One hundred years ago the Mormons were the laughing-stock of America, now they are so acceptable Broadway can poke fun at them – much to their delight, I am sure. They have arrived.

I was raised a Mormon – but a Missouri Mormon (RLDS). Somewhere back in the Fifties the Utah Mormons became successful in a big way – and therefore became respectable in a big way.

Our church had to change its name to Community of Christ – and, it seems to me, is doomed, since its children are not interested in it, and it is getting no new converts. Success feeds on itself – as does failure.