Historical Amnesia: “Identity changes when history is deemphasized”

My last post hit a nerve with several readers. One of them who is much more familiar with the historical trajectory of the RLDS/Community of Christ Church than myself made some fascinating observations which I would like to share.



His Ist Email Response

Dear Watcher,

Before delving into the final drafting of a brief due today, I spotted your most recent blog post. I started reading and was instantly engaged. After all, I lived through the RLDS/CoC transformation and the splitting off of the so called restoration groups. I am the pastor of a small restoration group in La Mesa California.

I also know that the supposed change in the direction of the RLDS church was accompanied by tryannical silencings, forcing long time members out of church buildings (often built and paid for by the forced out members). Thus, I have questioned repeatedly their “integrity.”

Now, you have explained precisely why I gravitated to your research and explanation of what happened at the Morley farm and the subsequent rejection of the church. Thumbs up!!! And, Yes, yes, I believe that those who are trying to understand MUST deal with those facts.

I do not have time to study your latest post, but will do so as soon as I have completed my legal writing responsibility.

I don’t expect you to respond because I am trying to respect your desire for a sabbatical from the enormous work and effort you have done. A rest well deserved.

Perhaps more later.

Ed Faunce

My Reply

Ed it is always great to hear from you
Sorry about the delay in responding
I have been in the mountains riding four wheelers… that is my latest therapy. 🙂
Love to hear any other thoughts you have been having about the article or life in general…. boy this campaign cycle has bee very entertaining….


His Follow-up Response

Dear Watcher,
Wow, therapy by four wheel riding in the mountains! I can’t  imagine doing that at my age.
Anyway, last Sunday morning I put a copy of your blog post “integrity” up on the screen for my Sunday school class and we began reading it together. We didn’t get very far because of the discussion which ensued.
What we noticed was that you were very kind and merciful to the RLDS leadership in ascribing some type of moral strength to take actions which were obviously very stressful, even debilitating, to the existing church membership. You said:
“I believe that the leaders of the RLDS Church that made the difficult decision to change course once they became convinced that some of the long established claims of their institution were incorrect, were motivated by good intentions and good moral character. I believe they acted with integrity when they made the radical changes they made.”
This caused a class reaction which can best be characterized as: 
No, the leaders had lost their faith and they knew exactly what they were doing. They were acting out of their desire to participate in the World Council of Churches which was believed to provide a larger base of funding for the appointees’ retirement. They (leaders) had been informed that they must lose some of their weirdness, e.g., belief in the Book of Mormon and other claims.”
We remembered the harshness of the leadership which dictatorially silenced all priesthood, many with decades of ministering to their people, if they would not go along with the leaders’ edicts. This change did not come suddenly. Instead, they used the newly gained training from St. Paul’s seminary and the recent graduates of Graceland College four-year religion curriculum to rewrite the church school material beginning with the children.
There was Richard and Pamela Price writing and writing to alert the saints to what was happening. But once the liberals gained control of the bureaucratic church administrative-structure, it was a lost cause. There is little difference in strategy and technique between what the church officials did to the membership and priesthood and what the political parties have done to our Constitutional Republic. (You did mention the current campaign cycle as being very “entertaining.”) 
An older RLDS elder who lives in the La Mesa area, and who recently found our little group, told us how as a young man he had been introduced to Reed Holmes, who later became an apostle for the RLDS, was baptized by him and enjoyed a warm personal relationship with him. But, years later after the Apostle had taken has advanced scholarly work (I forget whether it was a seminary), he was as “cold as an ice cube.”
I pointed out that you (Watcher) had actually dammed the RLDS leadership with faint praise and that you really minced no words when you said:
Nevertheless I do not think they understood the full truth behind Joseph Smith’s involvement in polygamy and it was incredibly sad to see the second largest faction of the LDS restoration begin to morph into just another version of Protestantism by attempting to purge Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and the restoration narrative from their official doctrinal and historical narratives.
In 2011, Kenneth R. Mulliken, submitted his dissertation regarding his PhD program to the University of Missouri-Kansas City, entitled: Historical Amnesia: Corporate Idenity and Collective Memory in the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 1951-2001.
Here is the abstract which Mulliken prepared:
This dissertation examines history as an element of collective memory in the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS) from 1915 to 2001. It analyzes how and why certain collective memories were created and transferred within that religious community, and explores how collective identity within the RLDS community was influenced by a shared version of historical events. It investigates the way in which identity changes when history is deemphasized as an element of corporate identification. This dissertation demonstrates the pervasive effect of modern culture and globalization on a religious institution‘s perception of its history in the twentieth century, and the changing value of history itself as an aspect of collective identity for that religious community.
This dissertation argues that no historical theory or sociological model, including Maurice Halbwachs‘ Collective-Memory Model, adequately explains the denominational ―historical amnesia. induced by the leadership of the RLDS in the years following 1967. Historical Amnesia in the Post-1960s Era, must be directly linked to events dating from 1915, and the presidential church administration of Frederick Madison Smith, particularly the concept of a literal Zion in Independence, Missouri. The argument asserted in this dissertation is that any version of history, as a facet of collective identity, can become a liability to a religious organization and consequently, over time, should be deemphasized and ignored. This was clearly the case in the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Statistical data, in the form of RLDS membership records, financial contributions, budgets and visitor attendance records for church historic sites, hymnal lyric analysis, and historical monograph publication support this assertion. Interviews and various historical documents verify these findings. From 1915 to 2001, the RLDS abandoned their Mormon historical roots, and with guidance from professors at the Saint Paul School of Theology, created a mainstream Christian church. The significance of this finding in the RLDS church is that it may have application to other social organizations in general and religious institutions in particular.
This dissertation concludes that when history is deemphasized as a tool for community cohesion, it must be replaced by some other element or elements of collective association. In the RLDS Church, this was accomplished through emphasis on social interaction, such as conferences, colloquies, seminars, summer camps, and retreats. It was also accomplished through a focus on future collective goals and a shared mission. In 2001, RLDS Historical Amnesia culminated in an institutional name change. The RLDS became Community of Christ. In so doing, the RLDS abandoned their past and created a new organization that was focused on social-interaction (Community) and shared mission (Christ). [End of abstract]
The RLDS, under F.M. Smith’s Presidency suffered a splitting off of about 25% of the Church when he insisted on running the church under what he called “Supreme Directional Control.” This took place in the 1920’s. A great many of the old “stalwarts” left and by the 1950’s, and thereafter, when the seminarians took over, the church was already weakened by their absence.
Mulliken traces the doctrinal disputes between F.M. Smith and his supporters and then discusses the enormous change brought about by the shift to training appointees and church leaders at St. Paul’s seminary. He said:
From its earliest inception in 1959, RLDS members were part of Saint Paul‘s student body. Between 1960 and 1965 at least fifteen RLDS students enrolled there. Almost all of these early RLDS-Saint Paul students were staff members in the church‘s Department of Religious Education, and their expenses were paid by the church. In the next two decades, at least eighty more RLDS members enrolled at Saint Paul. Initially, the RLDS Church enrolled relatively young men seeking training for ordination as appointee ministers at entry-level church positions. Soon, however, many of Saint Paul enrollees were top leaders of the RLDS Church. The church paid for both tuition and books. Included among these were individuals who would hold top Joint Council leadership positions in the years to follow, such as:
Grant McMurray, M.Div., President of the RLDS Church 1996-2004
Kenneth Robinson, First Counselor to the President
Peter Judd, D.Min., Second Cunselor to the President
Paul Booth, M.Div., President of the Council of Twelve Apostles
Geoffrey Spencer M.Div., President of the Council of Twelve Apostles
Lloyd B. Hurshman, M.Div., Member of the Council of Twelve Apostles
Roy Schaefer, Member of the Council of Twelve Apostles
Jac Kirkpatrick, Member of the Council of Twelve Apostles
Leonard Young, Member of the Council of Twelve Apostles
Danny Belrose, Member of the Council of Twelve Apostles, and Presiding
Evangelist for the church
Larry Norris, Presiding Bishop
Ray McClaran, Member of the Presiding Bishopric
Orval Fisher, Member of the Presiding Bishopric
Harry Black, President of Seventy
William Dodds, President of Seventy
Robert Kyser, President of Seventy
John Wight, President of Seventy
Rich Hawks, President of Seventy
Jim Doty, President of Seventy
Bruce Lindgren, M.Div., World Church Secretary
Clifford Buck, Director of Religious Education
Lyle Woodstock, Director of Religious Education
Richard Lancaster, Director of the Church School Division
Lee Hart, Director of the Youth Division
Robert Seeley, Camping Division Director
Athol Packer, Children‘ Division Director
James Lancaster, religious education materials author
Roy Muir, news editor for the church‘ periodical, the Saints’Herald
William Russell, editor of the church youth magazine, Stride, and later
professor of religion at Graceland University
Pat Spillman, Director of Adult Education
James Hannah, Editor of the Herald
Wayne Ham, M.Div., President of Temple School
Gary Logan, M.Div., Director of Congregational Services
Sue McLaughlin, D.Min., Temple School Staff Member and Community
of Christ Seminary Professor
This was just the beginning of a flood of church people attending the Methodist denomination – St. Paul’s. They were and became the government of the church and the “little people” no longer had a voice. Supreme directional control, especially when declared by those with “divinity” degrees, simply supplants common consent. (Sounds like Trump’s populism appeal today doesn’t it!)
Mulliken identified eight events which comprised the separation of the RLDS from its past:
1. The Position Papers, resulting in de-emphasis of the traditional RLDS scriptures, including the Book of Mormon and the Inspired Version of the Bible, and a reinterpretation of Zion.
2. A reduction in the publication of any official church history that would build collective memory, as measured by:
a. The number of history-related books printed by Herald House Publishing.
b. The representation of the Historian‘s Office and Church Archives as a
percentage of overall church budget.
c. Financial support of the church‘s historic sites, and the establishment of
The Restoration Trail Foundation as an historically-focused organization
separate and distinct from the church.
d. The number of church-member visitors attending historic sites.
e. Lyrics of hymns published in the church‘s three new hymnals, which
distinctly avoided historical references.
3. The establishment of the John Whitmer Historical Association.
4. Admission of women into the priesthood (Doctrine and Covenants Section 156).
5. Construction of a temple in Independence, Missouri that does not allow for any of the church‘s eight sacraments/ordinances.
6. The acceptance of open communion.
7. Non-lineal Presidential succession (Wallace B. Smith to Grant McMurray in 1996).
8. The church‘s name change to Community of Christ
Mulliken conducted a number of interviews with high church officials and summarized his conclusions:
The ultimate conclusion of this dissertation is not that Collective Memory Theory fails to apply to the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. In fact, it is applicable during some points of the organization‘s existence, however, Collective Memory Theory fails to account for certain periods, evident in RLDS history, in which community leaders determined that any institutional history, regardless of focus or points of emphasis, was potentially counterproductive to their goals for the church. Instead of a competing version of history being the opponent, history in any form became the adversary. In this situation, history as a vehicle for collective identity was downplayed deemphasized, and ignored. It is impossible to accurately predict whether RLDS leaders will decide to reemphasize history at some future time. The guidelines provided by Community of Christ President Stephen Veazey in October of 2008 indicate that the church will not take any official stand on historical matters. This officially and permanently severs the pre-sixties notion that history validated the church‘s origin, mission, and theology. Based on interviews with current and former church leaders, it seems likely that Community of Christ church officials will for the foreseeable future emphasize shared social interaction as the ―glue. holding the organization together. Evidence has suggested that RLDS members gradually but increasingly embraced a new form of collective cohesion that accentuated social interaction rather than theology or history. It was as if institutional leaders wanted the church to begin anew with a blank slate, free from the ―baggage. of its past. With the implementation of historical amnesia and denominational name change, a new era had begun in 2001 that transformed the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints into the Community of Christ. [NOTE: I guess these leaders missed the memo, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.]
The dissertation is simply too long (264 pages) to further extract. (If you are interested, I could send you a pdf copy.) I wanted to give you a flavor of the absurd position that the leadership took that they were smart enough to destroy the church history (which they clearly do not understand) and create a new protestant church from “new cloth.” (Give’s new meaning to Jesus’s statement that “He will Build His Church!”)
Returning to your “Integrity” post, you next recited that Lach MacKay conceded that “they are now beginning to cautiously reintroduce Joseph Smith and other aspects of the original restoration history and narrative back into their public narrative.”
Hmmmm, I guess they finally noticed that the real tithe paying members have abandoned the CoC. Now we care cause the money is running out. Also, if its a protestant church you want, there’s a lot of options to choose besides CoC. 
[I tried to find my copy of a letter from Professor Jones, the St. Paul’s faculty member who took the RLDS students under his wing. When he found out the extreme rejection of the church history, he wrote a letter to the President in which he said “we don’t need another small protestant church. What’s wrong with you people, you used to be interesting. Now you’re boring.” But these guys and gals are so smart they wouldn’t even listen to their sponsoring faculty member.]
You then quote MacKay as saying:
I personally believe that the pendulum has begun swinging back because it has become painfully apparent to the leadership that the restoration narrative is really the foundational glue that has held the religion together. If all they can offer is a protestant product to their membership, there are countless other options for people to consider.”
Ah yes, there’s that word – glue. They lost the glue and we in the restoration groups still possess the glue. Where is the CoC going to get the instructors on the Book of Mormon, the recent development of the heartland theory, the hapola groups which establish a DNA connection to the middle east (the failure of DNA proof was cited by the brilliant DNA scholars from St. Paul’s seminary and the John Whitmore Society as one of the reasons why that Book had to be jettisoned. Fools, all of them.)
But now I want to share a personal experience which I had this evening and which has answered a question that has long bothered me. Since my days at the University of Kansas, I have pondered the Promise in Moroni:
10:4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true;
10:5 And if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost; and by the power of the Holy Ghost, ye may know the truth of all things.
The questions I asked, but never got an answer which satisfied me, is this:
Is it fair for Moroni to instruct that one inquiring as to the truth of the BoM must do so asking with faith in Christ and then you will get the testimony?
Isn’t the content of one’s faith logically prior to whether one has the faith?
These questions have plagued me till this evening. I have asked myself for some years, How did the RLDS church get to the CoC? It was not through integrity in following their true and strongly held beliefs. It was because they had no belief in the history of the restoration which could withstand the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” to quote Hamlet. No, they lost their faith and could not stand in the presence of seminary students and professors and maintain their beliefs. They panicked, then they realized that they could not even “milk” the current membership for their retirement benefits.
The local congregations had lay priesthood who did not depend on the church to fund them. They had day jobs. That independent priesthood had to be dominated. Just like a big government seeks to make its citizens dependent on the government, the CoC systematically set out to destroy any strong dissenting priesthood. (Mulliken’s dissertation documents such actions.)
Now you see why I embraced your history lessons and especially your description of the Morley farm experience and the rejection of the original church 3.5 years later. There is no teaching of our history. We have been struck blind as to what happened. Your explanation of the Moses like interssessory action by Joseph Jr. made sense.
But how did you do it? How did you figure these tough questions out? 
You said, in your book, that you made a conscious decision to believe the DC statement that every promise made would come to pass. So, if I understood you correctly, you studied out every promise you could find and doggedly refuse to turn loose of it until you had the “aha” moment to explain what was going on.
I realized that I had likewise made a similar conscious decision. I decided, when I typed and then reconfigured the BOM words, that I was going to assume that these words were given to the Prophet Joseph by God. The Lord then showed me, a person who knows no Hebrew and is not trained in Hebrew poetry, etc., that the BOM is best read as a poetic rendition. I then was also prompted to explore the DC in the same way.
Even during my darkest prodigal son days, I could say that I don’t understand what happened, but I KNOW THAT THE BOM IS THE WORD OF GOD.
This evening while thinking about this matter, I realized that one need not read Moroni as requiring that one have FAITH before one asks for the testimony. The common thread between Watcher’s decision to treat all promises as absolute and Faunce’s decision to treat the BOM words as directly given from God (Holy Spirit) both began with a desire to see what would follow therefrom.  Then I remembered what Alma said:
Alma 16:151 But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith; yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.
Yes, that’s it!! Both our experiences have flowed from a desire which simply grew until a place in us was prepared for the Holy Spirit to lead, illuminate and teach us.
The thing that tripped up the RLDS leadership is that they forgot that they are not sent forth to be taught, but they are to be taught from on high. They left out of the “seek ye learning” formulation which requires seeking learning by study of good books, but to also seek learning by faith. That’s where they went off the rails. They forgot to desire to understand the incredible restoration history. They desired instead, the degrees, certificates and admiration of the world. They were embarrassed by the story of Joseph and the BOM. I would not want to be in their shoes when Adam calls on the priesthood to give an accounting of their responsibilities. (I’ve got my own failures to report and also some incredible experiences.)
Sorry this was so long, I actually edited it down. It was quite a good experience
for me to discover the meaning of Alma’s desire for faith.
Ed Faunce


My Response to Ed

Your response is fascinating and your conclusions, IMO, are absolutely brilliant and dead on…
I would love to post the last two emails I got from you but want to be sensitive to the fact that you may not want to be mentioned…
How do you feel about it?
BTW.. I have a friend that left the church but now has re-married a believing wife and therefore wants to give JS and the restoration a second chance again but his biggest hang up is the Book of Abraham… the thought that has occurred to me as I have observed thousands of people like him that have left are are in the process of fleeing from Mormonism right now is that the thing that seems to separate those that leave the faith vs. those that stick with it, is that those that loose faith and leave, use science (the arm of flesh) to discern truth but those that have staying power seem to have some level of belief in the literal word of God in the scriptures to discern truth.
At a deeper level, it is those that innately DESIRE TO BELIEVE that seem to be able to exercise childlike faith in God’s word as their source of faith nourishment while those that rely on human logic and understanding seem to be tossed to and fro with doubt and confusion.
I thought it was interesting that you quoted and emphasized the “desire to believe’ passage as I was sharing it with my friend… 🙂



His Reply



Yes, absolutely you may post my emails. I am already known in the RLDS Restoration groups and also among some of the older CoC leaders. I have nothing to hide. As I re-read my last email, I noticed something further about the Alma quote.

Alma referred to “a particle of faith”. This suggests that Alma treated Faith as divisible. And the beginning particle was “desire to believe.” Alma didn’t even require that the desire had to be to believe the Book of Mormon was true. This is because there is a desire to know “what to believe” about the BOM.

The scriptures confirm this concept. Jesus and the parable of the mustard seed which can grow to a large physical structure. Apostle Paul, who taught in Hebrews Chapter 11, what was possible “by faith” and it was a long list of accomplishments of varying degrees of the “wow” factor.

Faith is clearly not something which is like a binary condition, i.e., you either have it or not. Rather it is organic and changing, both enlarging and dimishing.

In the DC, it is said:


DC 85:36a Therefore, verily I say unto you, my friends, Call your solemn assembly, as I have commanded you; and as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning even by study, and also by faith. 


This is why the CoC erupted. The leaders did not have faith, but many people followed them. The blind leading the blind until they have both fallen into the ditch.

Whereas in all factions of the LDS restoration there are those who desire to know the truth and when such people acted on those desires they are led to abandon the faithless leadership and to engage with others of like faith.

The CoC leadership are, in the words of the current words of the Donald, not qualified to be president nor our commander-in-chief. As I write these words, which are a sermonette to myself, the Holy Spirit burns within me and confirms to me that this is the truth. 


O that I could have the voice of an angel and speak to all the lost RLDS souls who are searching for the answer to their misery of what happened. Rise up all and just have a particle of faith and believe that the Lord will send leadership who desire to know the truth about who we really are and what our history means and what we should be doing. We need leadership to make the restoration church “Great again.”


I can also see why I have been so drawn to the LDS bloggers and LDS writers. It is because whatever errors have crept into their organizations, there is still a desire to understand the LDS history and to follow it. We share a common history up to June of 1844. So once again, Watcher, thanks for sharing your desire to know that history and to search it out.





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