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The Strangites: Another Mormon Group

As I mentioned previously, I really enjoyed the Strangite session of the Mormon History Association meetings a few weeks ago.  Vickie Speek, John Hamer, and Mike Karpowicz gave some fascinating presentations on this little known group.  Following the session, they answered additional questions, and I thought it would be interesting to provide a transcript of the Q&A session.  But before I get into the transcript, I should tell you a brief history of the Strangite Church.

James Strang, prophet of the Strangite Church

James Strang was baptized into the church just a few months before Joseph Smith was killed in 1844.  He said he had a letter from Joseph proclaiming that Strang was to lead the church.  The letter is currently owned by Yale University; in the past few decades, they have declared Joseph Smith’s signature on the letter a forgery.

Evidently Strang was a dynamic leader.  Apparently, his church (officially known with slightly different punctuation as the Utah church: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints [no hyphen, different capitalization]) rivaled the Brigham Young movement in size.  They had some well known converts too:  Martin Harris, William Smith (Joseph’s brother), William Cowdery (Oliver’s father), William Marks (stake president in Nauvoo), William McLellin (former apostle), Hiram Page, and some of the Whitmer brothers.

Strang claimed an angel visited him, appointing him as prophet.  As part of his calling, he translated the Brass Plates into a book of scripture called “The Book of the Law of the Lord” written by Moses, and in Laban’s possession.  Originally against polygamy, Strang translated the book (first published in 1851), which said polygamy was a godly commandment.

Strang originally moved his followers to Voree, Wisconsin, and then received another revelation to move to Beaver Island, Michigan.  He crowned himself king, and was assassinated there by disgruntled followers.  The Strangites still exist today.  The have a few hundred members in Kansas, New Mexico, Colorado, and Wisconsin.  Here is their official website.  Independent historian Vickie Speek, John Hamer & Mike Karpowicz of John Whitmer Books, and Bill Russell of Graceland University (the CoC version of BYU) answered a few questions following their presentation on the past 160 years of Strangite history.

Newell Bringhurst, “I found it very enlightening too, but the one area I wanted to hear a little bit more about was the core teachings, the liturgy.  Did you get a sense, particularly John and Mike?  [Vicky] You went into the Law of the Lord in your paper and those tenets and teachings, but what core teachings were perpetuated to the make things that give them an identity as far as their Mormonism or moving beyond or in a different direction in terms of their Mormon teachings that we would identify with as Mormons, from a Latter-Day Saint tradition?”

John Hamer, “I identified in my paper that there is a remarkable continuity.  When we first looked into this, we weren’t sure how this church that had been on Beaver Island and in Wisconsin, how did it end up being in New Mexico?  So we wondered, ‘is this a Neo-Strangite Church?  Is this a bunch of people who got converted and started calling themselves Strangites that don’t have any actual continuity?’  But we found in the course of looking through the records–we had incredible access to all the church’s records, we interviewed a dozen of the oldest members of the church, the branch records going all the way back to the 19th century are all kept in the vaults and all maintained— there is a remarkable continuity of practice and teaching that occurs because these Beaver Island members taught this new generation.  The practices remain and all sorts of things remain.

Some of the things we mentioned were sealing— sealing continues to be done, so that is unusual for Midwestern Mormons for example.  Most of the other branches other than the Cutlerites don’t do that.  You don’t have that in the Community of Christ.  It’s not in the Hedrickites.  They’re sealed for time and all eternity.  This idea of adopting into a noble and a princely household, these kingdom powers— that was being done all the way up through the [19]60’s, especially members of the Flanders clan were sealed, adopting into this Ketchum household that they were intermarried with in the 19th century, but essentially had forgotten that they were inter-married with.  This was more or less forgotten.  Some of this history has been recovered from the records, this connection between Joseph Ketchum and Granny Flanders.  Remember that Granny Flanders was this matriarch who had done this.

I would just say there are an incredible number of practices, there are all kinds of Strangite practices.  The Book of the Law of the Lord is integral as scripture.  It is read.  The Voree Branch are 7th day Sabbath-tarians— that’s Strangite practice.  The Laws of Sacrifice so they would sacrifice first fruits so again a lot of Strangite practice, because they had a second prophet, there’s all sorts of things that they have that other branches don’t have.  So I think the continuity is actually remarkable and the amount of practice and preservation is remarkable.  There are just a few things that fall out, because they don’t have the top priesthood offices.  So some things they don’t feel are valid to do.  One of those is plural marriages for example, they’re not done.

Vickie Speek, “There’s something we didn’t mention is the fact that according to Strangite belief, the lesser cannot ordain the higher. So they’ve lost their prophet, they’ve lost their priesthood, because only God can make a prophet.  Man can’t.  Man can’t make another prophet, so when James Strang died, the prophet died.

John Hamer, “It’s simply invalid for a teacher to ordain a priest.  Likewise, you cannot have an apostle ordain a prophet.  So that’s why Joseph [Smith] III’s ordination is invalid.  William Marks, as great of priesthood or whatever as he had is not a prophet, he cannot ordain a prophet.  Likewise Brigham Young, the other apostles that ordain him— that’s simply invalid in Strangite view, because the lesser cannot ordain the greater.

Newell Bringhurst, “So then the highest priesthood office then is a high priest, is that correct?”

Hamer, “Yes, High Priest.”

Bill Russell, “Since prophets die, and  Joseph was killed, then how are you going to have a successor to Joseph?”

Hamer, “Angelic ordination.”

??? “Just the way Strang was ordained.”

Vickie, “James Strang could have, under the direction of God, laid his hands and ordained somebody before he passed, but he did not.”

Larry Foster, “I also commend the excellent papers.  I had a couple questions more to Vickie, and maybe I missed part of it, or maybe it was answered elsewhere.  On the Book of the Law of the Lord, that’s an extremely impressive book I think.  I looked at it, but the 1856 edition is much bigger than the original book which is only about 50 pages?  A lot of the best stuff in the 1856 edition is these extended explanatory notes, I don’t know if polygamy is in the original text of the edition, or is it part of that explanatory notes stuff that extends the length of the book so much?

The other question I had was an inevitable question about Strang— what does one make of him?  He didn’t ordain a successor even though he was alive for several weeks after he was shot fatally.  Going back, how does polygamy get in there?  How about John C. Bennett?  It seems like john C. Bennett is right there at the heart of Nauvoo polygamy and Strangite polygamy and it seems like he was equally destructive in both contexts.  [audience chuckles]

I also wondered, I read one of Strang’s articles.  Golly, he could sure write.  He almost convinced me that polygamy was a great thing to liberate women.  [audience chuckles]  It gives them all kinds of choices they don’t have and they’re not stuck with a bunch of dodos.  It would appear, and I’ve been criticized by one of the Strangites for saying this, that certainly his letter of appointment was a forgery, that it seems to reflect his own diary.  It is block printed, the name has no relationship to Joseph Smith.”

Bill Russell, “We talked about his appointment at the beginning.”

Foster, “Oh you did.  There’s a pretty clear cut case of forgery, or maybe did you find some other approach?”

Vickie, “The way that I have looked at it.  When I wrote my book about the Strangites, I approached it basically as a newspaper reporter.  I was not going to take a position either way, I was just going to tell the story.  Because to me, it doesn’t matter to me what my opinion of James Strang was, but I was doing the story of the people who believed him, so that’s the way I wrote my book, and that’s the way I still basically look at it.  I have a tremendous amount of respect for the people who followed James Strang, and the Strangites of today, because their [road] is not the main road.  Theirs has been a very hard, hard road with a lot of heartache.

Now I would like to make one comment.  As far as I know, there is only a few copies of the 1851 Book of the Law, and there is somebody here who is familiar with the 1851 Book of the Law, and I’d like to ask him if there is polygamy in it?”

John Hajicek, “Yeah, there is.”

Vickie, “It’s basically the same thing?”

Hamer, “It’s in the main text, right?  In other words, it just lacks the commentary, so it has the text, it just doesn’t explain it, right?”

John Hajicek, “Are you guys asking me?”  [audience chuckles]  “Yeah, I have an 1851 Book of the Law and it’s an 80 page preliminary version.  It was published as a pamphlet with colored, printed wrappers on it.  It doesn’t have the explanatory notes.  It has 95% of the sections.  He continued to translate some additional sections.  There are some interesting differences.  For example, the first edition doesn’t have a chapter on baptism for the dead, and Strang includes his earlier 1849 revelation on baptism for the dead instead, and then has a footnote that says baptism for the dead evidently didn’t exist in the Old Testament.  Later he translates a chapter after on baptism from this Mosaic period, allegedly Mosaic period record.  So his own views changed.  But on polygamy he didn’t change.  The laws on the number of wives a king could have and things like that are all in that first edition.”

Bill Russell, “That 1851 edition does have that you say?”

John Hajicek, “Right.

Mike, “Bill, is my assumption correct that with the assassination of Strang, that the tensions between the Strangites and the state and federal government kind of dissipated at that point.  It is interesting to me that whereas the army had a relationship with the Utah church for quite a while, Strang was shot virtually under the guns of the USS Michigan, a naval vessel on the Great Lakes.  I don’t know what the reports that were filed by the state of Michagan were, and how they were considered when they got back to Washington to the Navy Department in the Pierce administration, but were the tensions with the state governments of in Michigan and Wisconsin and federal government dissipated after the assassination?”

Hamer, “Yeah, because they also got expelled.  They picked up all the members.  They spoiled them of all their property.  They put them on rented boats and they dropped them off all along the coast line destitute in little tiny groups.  So it was the worst kind of persecution results than any other Mormons faced.”

Mike, “Did the navy play a part in that or was it all surveyance from Mackinaw City?”

Vicky, “There is no positive evidence.  However, you take all the circumstantial evidence together, and I say yes.”

Hamer, “Not in the dropping off of the people.”

Vickie, “Not in the dropping off of people, no.”

Hamer, “But like Mike said, the warship is there in the murder.”

Mike, “Does the USS Michigan ferry people from Mackinaw City to St. James as part of the mob?”

Hamer, “Yes.”

Vickie, “As part of the Mob?”

Mike, “Yes”

Vickie, “I don’t believe it was the Michigan.  There were 2 ships in Michigan.  There was a steamer and there was a warship.”

Mike, “I’m asking about the USS Michigan, the warship.”

Vickie, “I don’t know.”

Hamer, “Right, The warship left the dock though.”

Vickie, “Right, it left the dock when Strang was murdered and the murderers jumped on the ship and then left.”

Mike, “2 guys jumped on the ship.”

Vickie and Hamer, “Right.”

Mike, “They left on the USS Michigan?”

Vickie and Hamer, “Yes”.

Mike, “It’s an interesting parallel with the 2 churches: one with the army involved, and the other with the navy.” [audience chuckles]

Vickie, “I think the conflict was gone, because the Strangites were gone, they were scattered.”

Mike, “and the polygamy issue kind of faded away, then?”

Vickie, “Right.”

William Russell, “Here’s a question right here, and then our time is expired so maybe this should be our last one.”

Woman, “Why did they kill James Strang?”

Vickie, “That’s a good question.  Basically, people had become disillusioned with Strang.  Strang was caught trying to follow the Book of the Law and one of the tenets of the church is no alcohol, and basically the Strangites didn’t allow alcohol and they did not support the sale of alcohol to the Native Americans and there was a lot of conflict with the gentiles, and so forth who wanted to sell alcohol.  Strangites became thirsty and they left the fold for other reasons, and those are the ones that basically were in the conspiracy to kill Strang.”

Hamer, “That’s one of them.  That’s on ongoing conflict.  Whenever Mormons gather together in big numbers and took political control and things like that, they would have conflict with their neighbors.  There are all kinds of problems that result from that including the 2 groups don’t trust each other, they don’t feel they can get justice from each other.  The other Americans see Mormons gathering under one prophet as being un-American.  There’s a lot of tendency to go and kill that prophet.”

Bill Russell, “One other thing though, he did serve 1 term in the Michigan legislature.”

Hamer, “Two terms.”

Russell, “Well 2 years I think is all.  But anyway, he was considered very effective according to the Detroit Free Press.  It’s interesting that a prophet and king could be elected to the Michigan legislature and get along well.” [audience chuckles]  He was also a member of the farms.  Well thank you very much, this was an excellent session.”

Like I said, it was a fascinating question.  I’ve invited John Hamer and a few others to entertain questions if you have any.  Do you have any questions for them?

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108 comments on “The Strangites: Another Mormon Group

  1. Rick–thanks for the link! I love these sorts of links. I don’t know if you’re aware of my latest Strangite post, Strang’s Letter of Appointment.

  2. I’ll start off with the first questions. Does anyone know if the Book of the Law of the Lord is available online? If not, does anyone know where to purchase a copy?

    Does anyone have more details on when Yale University declared the Strang letter a forgery? Is the entire letter written in block letters, or is it just Joseph Smith’s signature that is a problem?

    Does anyone know how the current Strangites deal with this forgery issue? (Is it unknown to them?)

    I noticed that John Hajicek said “allegedly Mosaic period” in referring to the Book of the Law of the Lord. Was he just saying that to be “nice” to academics? Does he believe that the Brass Plates really date to the time of Moses (or at least the time of Laban?)

  3. I have a source I might be able to scan. I won’t know until tomorrow, though.

  4. An online version of the Book of the Law of the Lord can be found here:

    http://www.strangite.org/Law.htm

  5. Are my eyes, deceiving me or was there a Boston Celtics reunion going on there?

  6. Thanks Kalola! I may have to print that out and read it. It looks very interesting!

    Boston Celtics reunion? I’m not following you, but I am glad they won tonight. (Are you referring to John Havlicek? Hajicek/Havlicek–perhaps I get it now….)

    Alma, thanks for the offer. I know Oberlin College scanned in “Manuscript Found”. It is the document written by Solomon Spaulding that some people believe was the inspiration for the Book of Mormon. If you have something similar, I would be curious to see it. However, if it’s a lot of work, I am happy with Kalola’s link. I guess I should have checked out the Strangite website in more detail.

  7. John Havlicek and Bill Russell

  8. How could I forget about Bill Russell??? The funny thing is I remembered that when he was introduced at the MHA!

  9. I was surprised too. I thought for sure you would be one of the few that would catch that. Of course, I miss that kind of stuff all the time, but I’m old enough to have actually seen both play.

  10. I vaguely remember Havlicek playing. My memories of Bill Russell are more of a commentator on CBS. I did get to see Yaz play in Fenway Park–that was a treat.

  11. The Bill Russell at the history conference was a baseball player. I got to see him when I was a little kid hanging along the sidelines of the annual single man – married man softball games at the Blue Water reunion grounds in Michigan 50 years ago dreaming of the day I’d be old enough to play and chasing every foul ball. Didn’t know it was the same guy until I read one of his papers a couple of years ago in which he described my old pastor and a youth leader stealing the baseball until the teens signed up to unload all of the chairs for the reunion dining hall.

    The same pastor and youth leader pulled the same stunt on me about five years later.

  12. MH: We should remember that disinterested (i.e., non-Mormon) scholarship unanimously understands that the Book of Mormon is a 19th century “forgery.” Most believing Mormons continue to think of it as if it had ancient origins or related in some way to actual ancient events. How do they deal with the “forgery” issue? Believing Strangite Mormons deal with the opinion of scholars on the Letter of Appointment in precisely the same way: by ignoring that opinion. Ultimately, the authenticity of the Letter of Appointment is a faith claim and it’s not really the job of religious studies scholars to attack faith claims. Jan Shipps doesn’t preface her articles by saying emphasizing the fact that the Book of Mormon has conclusively been shown to be what it is and I likewise think it wasn’t appropriate for Bill Russell to begin our session by emphasizing scholarly opinion on the Letter of Appointment.

    As a note: http://www.Strangite.org is not the official website of the Strangite Church. It’s the personal website of an independent Strangite (John Hajicek). The church’s official website is actually: http://www.churchofjesuschristoflatterdaysaintsstrangite.com/

  13. By the way, thanks for transcribing all of this. It’s fun to revisit — whereas we always have the papers themselves, you normally don’t get to keep the Q&A discussion, which is sometimes the best part.

  14. John, thanks for the official link–I wasn’t aware of that. I’m glad you liked the Q&A transcript.

    I agree that it wasn’t appropriate to begin the session talking about the forgery issue–I was just curious about it. I had heard of the Letter of Appointment a year or 2 ago, but I didn’t learn that Yale had ruled it a forgery until about 6 months ago. I was just curious about the details, and I hadn’t found any easy sources for the Yale document.

    Is it really unanimous that non-Mormon scholarship considers the BoM a forgery? I know that George Potter at http://www.NephiProject.com talked about a non-Mormon he was working with that was describing the Valley of Laman in Saudi Arabia. Additionally, Terryl Givens seems to show that in the 1950’s some biblical scholars such as WF Albright and Thor Hyerdahl were willing to consider they hypothesis that Central America may have been Book of Mormon lands. Now that probably isn’t recognized as a valid hypothesis now, but I thought that was pretty amazing that they were open to the idea. (I also did a post on Dueling Wordprint Studies both pro and con on the Book of Mormon where skeptics and believers do battle.)

    Even in the face of science, I don’t think that Mormons are “ignoring” the opinion of scholars. FAIR and FARMS have mounted (perhaps losing) battles in the face of skeptics. I am curious if Strangites have done the same with the Letter of Appointment. I understand their church is so small that they don’t have resources to mount a defense akin to FAIR and FARMS, so perhaps they are ignoring the issue.

  15. I guess I mean that it is ignored in a scholarly sense. But you’re right, as with any embattled faith claim there are non-scholarly apologetic defenses like those that FAIR and FARMS mount. So, for example, part of the analysis of the Letter of Appointment has always rested on the Nauvoo postmark. The Strangites have long, elaborate arguments about why they believe the postmark is genuine. Likewise, there’s the discussion of the writing in block letters that is not Joseph Smith’s hand. But, of course, Joseph Smith made regular use of scribes, so this could be the hand of some otherwise unknown scribe. Bill Russell even made the point that he had always thought that the content seemed more like a genuine letter, since you might expect a forged letter to be more forthright and less modest in the powers it bestows upon Strang. So, yes, the apologetic arguments are very elaborate — just as are the apologetic arguments that Restorationists (conservative former RLDS members) make in defense of their belief that Joseph Smith Jr. did not practice polygamy. So, rest assured, the Strangites are equally well buttressed.

    As far as scholarly consensus on the Book of Mormon, the answer is: yes, it is unanimous. It’s simply not discussed because: (1) the antiquity claims are a faith claim for many people and it is not the role of religious studies scholars to attack faith claims, and (2) the antiquity claims are totally outside the realm of historical possibility, and there is no need to waste any more time on them than one might spend “proving” that that the Egyptian pyramids were not built by extra-terrestrials.

    Thor Hyerdahl is some pretty weak broth, given that there is also a consensus that his work is non-scholarly. His wikipedia article repeatedly notes that his work was “rejected by historians, archaeologists, and linguists.” W.F. Albright’s article mentions one scholar’s summary of how his work is viewed today: “[Albright’s] central theses have all been overturned.”

    The scholarly consensus on the alleged antiquity of the Book of Mormon was expressed way back in 1973 in Dialogue by Michael D. Coe, among the foremost Mayanist scholars, who wrote: “As far as I know there is not one professionally trained archaeologist, who is not a Mormon, who sees any scientific justification for believing the historicity of The Book of Mormon, and I would like to state that there are quite a few Mormon archaeologists who join this group” [i.e., a number of Mormon scholars also understand it is not ancient].

    That hasn’t changed. Certainly the Nephi Project changes nothing. Contrary to the assertions of George Potter, the “Valley of Laman” continues to be a proof that the Book of Mormon’s author did not know and was totally wrong about Middle Eastern geography. Just because Potter has gone to a wadi (an occasional or seasonal river that is dry much of the year, a “wash” in Utah parlance) and labeled it “Laman,” doesn’t transform the wadi into the “continually running river” described in 1 Nephi 2:9. In the end, the Nephi Project does nothing other than highlight Joseph Smith’s authorship.

  16. John:

    Fair enough to say that Potter’s labeling a wadi a river provides no proof that Potter has found a specific BofM landmark, but your last statement goes a bit too far the other direction.

    If you camp by a wadi, there’s water in it AT THE MOMENT or you wouldn’t camp there. Similarly, if there was water, you wouldn’t waste the opportunity for recovery and rest. You’d move on, never knowing whether or when the wadi was next going to be dry.

    Lehi was concerned with the teaching potential — with whether his rebellious son would flow to righteousness continuously — not whether the river would. Maybe Mormon edited out what would have been 1 Nephi 2:10. You know, the verse that would have said, “And the river did dry up by morning, and Lehi looked upon the dryness thereof and said ‘OK. Bad example!'” 😀

  17. Well, there’s a few issues I’d like to address. First of all, John, are you aware of any good links that discuss the Yale University claims about the Strang letter? I’m really curious. The Strangite arguments affirming the letter sound interesting as well.

    As for Potter, I find his candidate for Nephi’s Harbor (Khor Rhori) much more convincing than the wadi. I’m not expert on the wadi, but as I recall, Potter claims that it runs year round, so I’m not sure I agree with your characterization of Potter’s claim there. But once again, Khor Rhori is an ancient shipbuilding harbor that dates to the time of Nephi, has iron ore to make tools to make a ship that Nephi mentions, and seems to match the story quite well. The Astons also have a candidate of Khor Kharfot that seems to match quite well. Now I know that scholars haven’t jumped on board en masse, but the scientists did follow the religious heretic Galileo that the sun was the center of the universe, so I think it could still happen…. 🙂

    It seems like we’re using “forgery” with a broad definition. In this context, the Bible would also be considered a forgery, right? After all, we can’t identify a single author of a single book of the Bible, except perhaps Baruch being the author of Deuteronomy. With all the parallels between Gilgamesh and Adam, the scholarly consensus would also be that the Bible is a forgery under this definition, right?

  18. On the letter of appointment — I personally haven’t studied the issue in any depth. The main article is Charles Eberstadt, “A Letter that Founded a Kingdom.” Autograph Collectors’ Journal (October 1950). All other publications appear to follow Eberstadt.

    The Bible is a collection of multiple texts. Some of these texts are written by the authors who the texts claim wrote them. Some of the texts didn’t claim any author, but authorship has traditionally been attributed to people who did not write them; technically this is false attribution after the fact, not forgery. However, some of the texts were written by authors who falsely attributed them to other persons; technically these are forgeries, yes. Examples: authorship Genesis has traditionally been falsely attributed to Moses, but Genesis makes no claim to Mosaic authorship; the Epistle to Titus, by contrast, claims to have been written by Paul, but it was not written by him and is thus a forgery.

    On Potter: “Wadis” are are not “continually running” by definition. Indeed, when I go to Google Maps satellite view and observe Wadi Tayyib al-Ism (72 miles south of Aqaba in Saudi Arabia) it is clearly a dry wash. Maybe it’s 100% continually running except when satellites take pictures of it or when Arabs named it a “wadi.” As far as “Nephi’s Harbor” — how is that anything? You’re talking about a correspondence. That’s not evidence of anything at all.

  19. I’m with JH on this one to some degree. There are definitely cases of false attribution, but as MH points out, there are clearly cases where forgery could be the case…but not because of mis-stated authorship. MH’s Gilgamesh is an excellent example. IMO, the Flood story is a forgery. Many would also categorize the post-Jesus gospels of forgery as well, since they parallel many stories that predate Christianity.

    But you have to understand that I believe Paul invented Christianity, not Jesus. There are only a couple of last minute, thrown-in scriptures that Christians use to claim Jesus intended to start a new church, but the overwhelming evidence points to Jesus merely trying to reform Judaism.

    Think about it.

    It doesn’t make sense that Jesus would come in and completely replace the only true religion that has ever existed since Adam, only to have it disappear within one generation and need to be restored.

    It makes much more sense that Jesus would come in and reform the only true religion that ever existed since Adam…and the scriptures back that premise up more than the former.

  20. The flood story isn’t a forgery, the flood story is a myth. People told stories about floods which became elaborated in oral tradition. In Genesis there are actually two clearly separate flood texts (generally called “E” and “J”) that were mashed together by an editor (or redactor). There was no universal flood, of course, and the Noah story is entirely non-historic, but the text is not a “forgery” in the technical sense that we’ve been talking about.

    The Gospels are mostly false attribution rather than forgery. Matthew, Mark, and John are anonymous gospels that have been attributed to apostles of those names in a way that is very likely false attribution. The text of Luke does claim to have been written by a guy named Luke, but since Luke isn’t an apostle and does not claim to have known Jesus, there’s little reason to doubt his authorship. Again, this doesn’t mean that the events narrated in the Gospels are historical; by and large they mostly narrate things that did not happen (e.g., Jesus did not cast demons out of a person and into pigs, since there is no such thing as a demon).

    I agree that Jesus didn’t intend to found a church, but that doesn’t mean that Paul founded it. I think Christianity was founded shortly after Jesus’s unexpected death by people who had known Jesus. Paul was among the highest profile converts in the first generation after Jesus’s death, but there was a Christian movement by the time Paul became Christian.

  21. Arrgh, I just lost my long comment. All I saved is this quote, but I am curious what you make of it.

    Dr. Carole Fontaine of the Andover Newton Theological School said, “Archeologists often find themselves hooted and hollered out of town, when they first suggest things like, ‘I’ve found Troy, or look, we’ve found Sodom and Gomorrah.’ But history has shown that in fact, the more you dig, the more you find. It’s amazing how accurate the Bible sometimes turns out to be.”

    Couldn’t it be a matter of time before Nahom, Nephi’s Harbor, and the Frankincense trail are considered accurate? I’ll address some other points later, but I have to go to bed.

  22. JH, I think it is accurate to state that the flood story in the bible is both myth and a forgery. It is obviously a myth for reasons too numerous to mention here, but it is also copied from other cultures/religions, thus making it a forgery.

    Paul is definitely the one that changed Christianity into what it is even today. It was Paul that actually brought the Gentiles into the fold without the need for circumcision. It was Paul that stated Jesus fulfilled Mosaic Law including the law of tithing, on and on. The movement that Paul inherited was not a unique religion but was a Jewish sect. Paul made it a unique religion. In fact, if there actually was a falling away, Paul is the one that initiated it.

    MH, it is very possible that Nahom, Nephi’s Harbor or the Frankincense trail could be proven historical. I just don’t think its probable that all 3 of those places will be.

  23. I do not have the time to respond in blogs to every incorrect thing on the Internet about James Strang, so I just copy misinformation to answer in a book many years in the future. But I do want to say that it is a bit of a contradiction to say: “it’s not really the job of religious studies scholars to attack faith claims” and then in the same post say that http://www.Vatican.va is the “official website” of Christianity.

  24. Ok, we have 2 JH’s here now–welcome John Hajicek! I’m sure you don’t remember me, but I sat on the row behind you at the MHA conference that I transcribed above. I’d definitely like to see your book about misinformation. I found the session quite intriguiging and would like to learn more. If you have a moment, I was wondering if you might be able to answer the questions in my first comment. Specifically, “I noticed that John Hajicek said “allegedly Mosaic period” in referring to the Book of the Law of the Lord. Was he just saying that to be “nice” to academics? Does he believe that the Brass Plates really date to the time of Moses (or at least the time of Laban?)”

    I must say that it is a bit funny that we’ve strayed from talking about Strangites to Noah and Paul. Perhaps I’ll add a new topic so we can discuss that more in depth, and I’ll leave this to a discussion of Strang.

  25. […] posts in one day before, but I want to address this other issue that we have been discussing in the Strangite post.  I’d like to discuss both Biblical and Book of Mormon archaeology.  Most people believe […]

  26. John:

    Catastrophic floods in human history are real even in entirely naturalistic views of man’s origins. They are an inevitable consequence of the ends of ice ages, and their locations, extent, and timing are well dated by the professionals in the fields. So the oral tradition comes first, however human religion attaches meaning to it at the time or later.

  27. Well I am a true believer. And I connect in a very real way to the Beaver Islanders. As a teenager, I was brought into an inner circle of descendants of Wingfield Watson and L.D. Hickey, and I was baptized and ordained. These were people who did not agree with what is presented above as “the official” “Strangite Church” which is actually an organization formed in 1961 more than one hundred hears after the death of James Strang. That organization says it had no ties, connection with, or affiliation with the original church, but was a new organization founded in 1961 with new laws, invented offices, and modern councils; and is now headed by a group of men who formed a wife-swapping Mormon group in the 1970s and then returned to overtake the 1961 church. I suppose that they represent one expression of the religion, but they are not what the faith was in 1856, and are not the only expression.

  28. I feel like I should start using last names to distinguish between the Johns. So John Hajicek, from your comment above, it sounds to me like the http://www.Strangite.org and http://www.churchofjesuschristoflatterdaysaintsstrangite.com/ are competing “official” websites for the church. From what I gather from your comment, it seems to me that the 1961 group (is this the Voree Branch?) is more of a “neo-Strangite” church, (contrary to John Hamer’s paper) and your group has more ties back to the 1850’s. Is this accurate?

  29. Yes to your last point, but the correct domain name for the church is officially http://www.ChurchofJesusChristofLatterDaySaints.org and I would suggest that on the name Strangite that you consult for style http://www.ChurchofJesusChristofLatterDaySaints.org/Name.htm

    But I do not see their website as “official” except an official site of the 1961 church. They explicitly deny by charter that they are the previously existing church. Yes, they share the history in that they came into being from their own religious traditions that evolved from some a shared culture. But they were formed in 1961 from a the remnant of a church they formed in 1924, from a remnant of group of converts, etc.

  30. Thanks for the links. The name.htm link was very interesting. It seems to me we have dueling official church websites.

    The http://www.churchofjesuschristoflatterdaysaintsstrangite.com/ link lists Bill Shepard, David August, and Gary Weber as leaders. It appears they have only 2 branches in Artesia, New Mexico and the other in Burlington (Voree), Wisconsin.

    Your website seemed to indicate that your organization is not officially incorporated. It appears that you may be “the” leader of this group, but I am not certain. Are your other congregations in Colorado and Kansas? I think you have a headquarters in Burlington, Wisconsin too. Can you describe your organization a bit?

  31. I think John is conflating institutional history with divine legitimacy. Is the Catholic Church the mainline institutional heir of the early Christian Church? Yes. Does that mean that non-Catholic Christians lack continuity with early Christianity and are consequently non-Christian? Absolutely not. Does that mean that God considers the Catholic Church to be “the one and only true Church”? That question cannot be answered by historians.

    John certainly has a line of continuity with the early church and he can make the faith claim that all other Restoration believers have church organizations that are invalid — I presume he considers the [mainline] Mormon Church to be equally as invalid as he states here the [mainline] Strangite Church is invalid. However, in this regard it is precisely as accurate to say that John’s website is the “official website of the Mormon Church” as it is to say that John’s website is the “official website of the Strangite Church.”

    Meanwhile, concerning the [mainline] Strangite Church, in their frame of reference, it’s entirely inaccurate to say that they “deny by charter that they are the previously existing church”. In fact, they fervently state exactly the opposite: they believe that they continue to function as the previously existing church, for which a corporation was created to hold property, mirroring the incorporation of the early church by Joseph Smith Jr. in Illinois in 1841: http://bycommonconsent.com/2008/04/17/newly-located-hancock-county-records-shed-light-on-1844-succession-claims/

    However, it is true that in the frame of reference of various independent Strangites faithful believers, the 1961 incorporation had the effect John describes.

  32. John Hamer is incorrect. The 1961 in not a “mainline” church. It specifically disavows any connection the previously existing church. It is accurate to say that they “deny by charter that they are the previously existing church” because that is what their charter says.

  33. I am not “the” leader of anything, never have been, and never will be.

  34. John Hamer is incorrect. He is just throwing these phrases like “the mainline institutional heir” and “mainline Mormon church” into the vocabulary and expecting me to answer within his framework with the implication that it is my own. But within his model, the 1961 is not “the mainline institutional heir”. It specifically disavows any connection with the previously existing church. That is what their charter says. Perhaps John Hamer would like to introduce a constitutional amendment to the Strangites at the next Strangite conference, but for now that is what their charter and constitution say. The “institutional history” of the 1961 church started in 1961 when it formed an institution that it said never previously existed. It is not that complicated.

  35. John, I am going to investigate your claim that the 1961 church “specifically disavows any connection the previously existing church.” That sounds like an astounding claim to me.

  36. Maybe John Hamer will share with you the 1961 Articles of Incorporation, Charter, and Constitution and also the 1984 amended version which I think is the same on that point. My copy is filed deep in a warehouse with other unimportant things.

  37. I have a copy of the charter in my hands. Of course, it absolutely does not “disavow any connection with the previously existing church.” For example, in Article II it states “The Church was organized by the Prophet Joseph Smith at Fayette, New York, April 6, 1830…” and that “the Prophet James J. Strang continued to lead the church…” that “after the martyrdom of the Prophet James, the Apostles continued to rule the church,” and that Strang’s last apostle, “L.D. Hickey ordained Wingfield Watson to preside over the church,” and that Martin was succeeded by Max Flanders, Max by Lloyd Flanders, and Lloyd by Vernon Swift. (And of course, David Flanders has now succeeded since the writing of the charter.) In other words, the charter boldly proclaims an unbroken continuity from 1830 to today.

    John’s representation of the charter faithfully represents his faith tradition. It absolutely does not represent the faith tradition of the Strangite Church and, if one were to decide to judge, the conclusion that John’s argument is empirically false would be hard to avoid.

    As far as I know there is only one Strangite Church organization. So John’s right that I shouldn’t say “mainline church,” because as far as I know there isn’t any other one. Beyond the church, there are independent believers, like John, who do not believe that there is a validly organized church. That’s his faith claim and I’m not saying that his faith claim is false. But his characterization of the charter is not in keeping with beliefs of members of the Strangite Church.

  38. For reference, specifically I’m citing the 1984 constitution which is the current version.

    My position is not to judge whether or not John’s faith as a Strangite is what is valid in the divine sense. Rather, I am interested in describing each individual or group in their own right. Obviously, John and the Strangite Church are not in communion on several points. As a historian, my goal is to describe the church’s perspective and also to describe the perspectives of believers who do agree with the church. In the course of that effort, I do look at institutional history and I have to describe that history in light of the evidence. Are the members of the Strangite Church today doing all the things that members of the Strangite Church on Beaver Island in the 1850s? Of course not. Are they doing new things that have evolved in the intervening years? Of course. Does that mean God rejects them? That’s not for me to say. What is for me to say is that there is a considerable historical continuity in the main line of the Strangite Church from 1856 to 2010.

  39. I don’t know why I always miss the “not” — so I wrote: “do agree with the church,” but I meant to write “don’t agree.” But I might as well have written “do and do not.”

  40. When I return from vacation I will quote the part that John omitted.

  41. It is John who is writing false history, not me.

    Who does John think that I am, after compiling Stang church documents for thirty years against his one or two years looking at a few documents about Strang. He seriously wants to cast me aside as someone whose knowledge goes no farther than what he labels my “faith tradition” which he is going to publicly scold as false?

    I am more than a little annoyed. I will tell you that John has omitted the part that says in substance (I think this is nearly an exact quote as I read it thirty years ago):

    “We have on this date formed a corporation . . . which has absolutely no connection to, ties, nor affiliation with with any previously existing church . . .”

    John either does not know this, and therefore is not in the slightest prepared to be writing their history; or he is being deceptive by omitting it above. I will prove it later. I will go to my warehouse and settle this matter.

    It is unscholarly for John to refer to “the Strangite Church” as one might incorrectly refer to “the Mormon Church.” John also knows that that the organization of 1961 was not an organization from 1856 to 1961, so that it is irrelevant that they incorporated in 1961 as that does not suddenly make them “the mainline institutional heir” after not being an organization from 1856-1961.

    Finally, the 1961 is a church that has been overwhelmed with leadership adultery, leadership wife-swapping, leadership homosexuality, leadership publishing pornography, reorganizing and reorganizing again, following fanatical prophets and then rejecting them, inventing new names for their church, new offices, and new councils, etc., and this is what John calls “considerable historical continuity.” Did that “considerable historical continuity” continue while L.D. Hickey was in the Reorganized Church and then returned to restake his claim as the last of the twelve when two others outlived him, or while Wingfield Watson was forging his priesthood licenses under duress from the Flanders brothers during his senility years? I think it is unfair for John to pretend to be writing objectively but be taking sides against the preponderance of evidence. And when he finishes his one-sided history of his socially liberal branch of the Strangites, I will be reviewing his book and then writing an objective history to follow.

    His historical method is like interviewing Gordon B. Hinckley, reading the Truth Restored by Hinckley, reading some letters between President Hinckley and some of the Twelve, and then trying to write a history of Joseph Smith Sr. and the Vermont back hills experience from 1791 to 1816. He has no idea the kind of resources that I am using in my writing as he says my knowledge of Mormon history is based on some kind of “faith tradition” as if I cannot read the 50,000 rare original documents that I have in my collection from Vermont in the 1700s to Voree in the 2000s.

    And he does not even use the term “mainline” the way it appears in dictionaries. It is all amateur rhetoric to be exclusionary, and thereby give preference to his friends among the Strangite liberal.

  42. Duel of the Titans? I expect to learn a lot.

  43. I am still upset. As I think further about it, I see that John Hamer gets it backwards when he says that “the Strangite church” created in 1961 is the “mainline institutional heir” to the 1840s church under Joseph Smith and that anyone outside of that corporation who disagrees is left with a mere “faith tradition” that is false. Here is the fact: The legal part of the Strangite charter and constitution says they are a new institution. Their faith tradition (using John Hamer’s term) expressed in the same document (THE PORTION THAT HAS NO LEGAL VALIDITY) says they are the original church. That is the same part that says the Book of Abraham is true, etc., etc., which is their faith tradition regardless of the facts. But the legal part says it is not the same church. It is explicitly not the same institution.

  44. And by the way, speaking of integrity, I do not consent to the way my copyrighted image of the Strang daguerreotype was stolen from my work and used on Wikipedia and then used above on this page, as it is a three-dimensional object artifact that I own, and which I photographed from a three-dimensional vantage point in order to get the light to splash off of the silver, and then digitally edited and enhanced as my own creation.

  45. John Hajicek,

    I am sorry you are getting so upset. While I enjoy your perspective, I am not here to start a fight. Nobody is trying to scold anybody. Perhaps you should take a break if this is upsetting you too much. I encourage you to have a bit thicker skin–I think it will help.

    We would all like to learn more about your church. Continuing to assert that you are upset or annoyed is not helpful to your cause. You have some serious allegations; I would appreciate evidence supporting them. I emailed Bill Shepard, David August, and Gary Weber, but I have not heard from them yet. (Bill’s email bounced back to me.) I noticed your quote above contained many ellipses (…). Sometimes these ellipses can change the meaning significantly, and some people may not interpret things the same way as you when they read the sentences in context.

    As for the Strang daguerreotype, I’m sure you’re well aware that Strang died in 1856. That means this daguerreotype is at least 154 years old, and therefore in the public domain. If you believe Wikipedia has infringed on your copyright, then I urge you to take steps to get the image removed from there. They explicitly reference the image from your website. If you are successful, I will be happy to remove the image.

    Here is what Wikipedia says when you click on the Strang image:

    This is a file from the Wikimedia Commons. The description on its description page there is shown below.

    Commons is a freely licensed media file repository. You can help.

    1856 daguerreotype of James J. Strang. This file was taken from the web page of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Strangites).

    This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired in the United States and those countries with a copyright term of no more than the life of the author plus 100 years.

    1856 daguerreotype of James J. Strang. This file was taken from the [page] of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite).

    This image (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.

    This applies to the United States, Australia, the European Union and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 70 years.
    Note that a few countries have copyright terms longer than 70 years: Mexico has 100 years, Colombia has 80 years, and Guatemala and Samoa have 75 years. This image may not be in the public domain in these countries, which moreover do not implement the rule of the shorter term. Côte d’Ivoire has a general copyright term of 99 years and Honduras has 75 years, but they do implement the rule of the shorter term.

    You probably don’t value my opinion, but I do think the image and this discussion are helpful to correct perceptions about your church, and promote good public relations for your organization. If you choose to have the image removed from Wikipedia, you are hurting your own public relations, but perhaps good public relations is not a priority for you. You hinted that you were writing a history of your church, or Strang (I’m not sure exactly.) Anyway, I would love to promote such a book here on my website, if you are interested. I blog here as well as at Mormon Matters, and could help you sell some books. I did a book review on Left to Tell, and one person already commented that they were purchasing the book based on my review of it. See this comment. I review many books here. Click on my Movie/Book Review link to see some of my past reviews.

  46. I want to point out one other issue here. My use of the Strang daguerreotype should fall under “Fair Use.” See this Wikipedia article on Fair Use.

    Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 17 U.S.C. § 106 and 17 U.S.C. § 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:

    1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

    2. the nature of the copyrighted work;

    3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

    4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

    The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.[1]

    [1] “US CODE: Title 17,107. Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use”. .law.cornell.edu. 2009-05-20. Retrieved 2009-06-16.

    Since my purpose (1)is to teach and learn (I have yet to earn a penny from my blog), (2) the daguerreotype is over 150 years old, (3) the Strang daguerreotype is a small portion of this post, and (4)I am not trying to sell this image, I think the use of the image falls well inside the bounds of “fair use.”

  47. Hajicek wrote: “…Finally, the 1961 is a church that has been overwhelmed with leadership adultery, leadership wife-swapping, leadership homosexuality, leadership publishing pornography, reorganizing and reorganizing again, following fanatical prophets and then rejecting them, inventing new names for their church, new offices, and new councils, etc…”

    This sort of blackguard rhetoric and slander says nothing about the Strangite church, but it does speak volumes about the person who wrote it.

    John, I think it would be wonderful if you could transcend this kind of behavior, which started with comment #27 and set the tone from there. I think if you chose a different path, you’d achieve better results. I don’t think this path you’re on leads anywhere positive for you in the end — but ultimately it’s your own life, your own reputation, and your own business.

  48. John Hamer, you are professing to write the history of the Strangite church, but instead you are concealing it for your friends in that church. If you want to write credible history, write the facts. I am not going to collaborate with your suppression of information to win a popularity contest. You do not intimidate me with your insinuations on my life, reputation, and business. I will stand with the facts, and you can write about the miracle of the seagulls.

    I lived in Burlington, Wisconsin, graduated from high school there, and have spent 30 years collecting original documents of that 1961 organization. The only subjective word in the sentence you quoted above is the word “fanatical.” I withdraw that word and instead refer to reader to the writings of Alexandre Caffiaux, the French claimant to prophecy whose writings were published by the founders of the 1961 church.

    As to the fair use in the copyright act, experienced attorneys have offered to take this case for me, and as a non-lawyer I am not going to argue the law with other non-lawyers. But I am informed it does not apply to a three dimensional object like my photograph of a sculpture, my photograph of a daguerreotype, etc.; and the image anyhow was not previously published or copyrighted in the format that I published and copyrighted it. But nevertheless, your interpretation and willingness of other historians and ebay resellers to just take whatever they want from my websites has deprived them of seeing many thousands of rare photographs and many thousands of documents in my collection, which I otherwise would have uploaded.

  49. “Certificate of Incorporation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite). We, the undersigned, all being citizens of the United States, do hereby certify that we have on this date formed a corporation . . . and it has absolutely no connection, ties, agency or affiliation with any other religious society. . . . The period of duration of corporate existence of this corporation shall be one hundred (100) years from the date of incorporation. . . . In Witness Thereof, we have hereunto set our hands this 5th day of September, 1961.” This is John Hamer’s “mainline institutional heir” to an 1844 church. The Constitution was voted on by 34 members mostly from one extended family of Flanders/West/Swift/Shepard names, and is now used by John Hamer to exclude the baptized descendants of the original Voree and Beaver Island members as members of what Hamer has styled “the mainline institutional heir” church, simply because they were baptized in the 1910s or 1950s and did not join the new church in 1961.

    John Hamer wrote: “This sort of blackguard rhetoric and slander says nothing about the Strangite church . . .” I refer anyone interested to the 1978 conference minutes of the Flanders/West/Swift/Shepard group.

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