John Hamer and Newell Bringhurst compiled many essays highlighting major Mormon schismatic groups that trace their founding to Joseph Smith in their book titled Scattering of the Saints. The book is a great read. It goes into quite a bit of detail of the major groups, but if you want a more comprehensive listing of Mormon Groups, Stephen Shields has a book listing approximately 400 schismatic group in his book Divergent Paths of the Restoration.
Each chapter in Scattering of the Saints is written by a different Mormon historian. Just to give you a flavor of the book, I thought I would highlight the introduction today. I’ll be highlighting a few of the essays from the book over the coming weeks. In the introduction, Hamer and Bringhurst highlight a few of the lesser known schisms and unorthodox members as early as 1830, such as, (all of these quote come from the introduction–the formatting is changed significantly, and quotes aren’t in the same order as the book.)
- Black Pete— an African American convert— was active among Smith’s Kirtland followers as ‘a self-styled revelator’ or ‘chief man’ and ‘sometimes seized with strange vagaries and odd conceits.’
- Laura Hubble, ‘professed to be a prophetess of the Lord’
- Wycam Clark who formed his own Pure Church of Christ
- the self-proclaimed prophet John Noah
- Four years later, James Colin Brewster, a precocious ten-year-old child claimed direct communication with the Angel Moroni and proceeded to write his own works of scripture— all of which led to his disfellowship and ultimate excommunication.5
- A more serious threat came in 1837 with the formation of the Church of Christ by Warren Parrishâ€¦Parrish brought into his organization a number of important dissidents, including three original members of Smith’s Council of the Twelve— specifically, brothers Luke S. and Lyman Johnson, along with John F. Boynton.
- [George H. Hinkle], rejected Smith’s leadership, forming his own group “The Church of Jesus Christ, the Bride, the Lamb’s Wife”— an organization that continued in existence over the next several years.8
- A second group fromed as a direct result of the Missouri Mormon War was the Alston Church, formed by Isaac Russell, and English convert. Russell sought support from dissident Mormons who desired to remain in Missouri contrary to Joseph Smith’s directive to leave the state and settle in Illinois.9
- In March 1842, Olive H. Olney was disfellowshipped on charge of setting myself up “as a prophet. “
- Also in 1842, Francis Gladden Bishop asserted his own claims as a prophet
- Two years laterâ€¦.William Law was joined by his brother, Wilson, along with [a group of others] set uo a rival church organization, the True Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and began publication of their own newspaper, The Nauvoo Expositor.
- The pace of schism and fragmentation accelerated in the wake of Joseph Smith’s deathâ€¦Other important Mormons asserting alternate claims to Latter Day Saint leadership
- Sidney Rigdon— last living member of the church’s First Presidency;
- Lyman Wight— a member of the Council of the Twelve;
- Alpheus Cutler— a close confidant to Smith and member of the secret Council of Fifty;
- William McLellin— a former member of the Twelve;
- Charles Blancher Thompson— an articulate early church pamphleteer;
- and James Strang— a gifted charismatic leader who claimed prophetic powers not unlike those asserted by Joseph Smith himself.14
- The period of exceptional fragmentation drew to a close in 1860 with the formation of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS) under the leadership of Joseph Smith III.
- The Church of Jesus Christ, was organized in 1862 by William Bickerton— a former leader in the defunct Church of Christ that Sidney Rigdon had organized in 1844. At present, the Church of Jesus Christ, with headquarters in Monongahela, Pennsylvania is generally recognized as the third largest Mormon group.
- A second denomination, now known as the church of Christ (Temple Lot), was organized in 1863 under the leadership of Granville Hedrick.
- The Church of Jesus Christ of latter Day Saints or Church of the Firstborn was organized by Joseph Morris in 1861.
- The Church of Zion, was formed in 1868, by a group of dissident Mormon intellectuals under the leadership of William S. Godbe, Elias L.T. Harrison and former LDS apostle Amason Mason Lyman. These “Godbeites” (as they become known) proclaimed “spiritual manifestations and revelations” in opposition to certain policies in the LDS church, which they felt resulted from a lack of checks on Brigham Young’s power and authority.21
- Fundamentalist Mormonism developed in direct opposition to official LDS efforts to phase out plural marriage commencing with the Manifesto of 1890.22
Michael Quinn has calculated eight options or “legitimate methods of Mormon presidential succession” that emerged during this fragmentation period.15 As a result, “no fewer than fifteen important groups emerged” following Joseph Smith’s death.16
I quoted considerably from the introduction, and subsequent chapters deal with schisms within these groups already mentioned. I found chapters on the Bickertonites, Strangites, and Fundamentalists especially interesting, and plan to highlight some more about them in future weeks. I’ve discovered a number of break offs from the RLDS church as well, and there needs to be a term about “fundamentalist RLDS” groups that is distinct from Fundamentalist Mormons. Did you have any idea there were so many groups?