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John Hamer Part 2

This is a followup to part 1 of the interview with John Hamer on RLDS church history. JD stands for the interviewer John Dehlin, while JH is John Hamer.

JD, “So what else defines the RLDS Church sort of post late-1800s, you know between that time and the early 1960s when I started getting really turned into the history?  What else defines their journey?  Sort of bridge that gap for us before we get into the early 1960s.”

John Hamer

JH, “Well one thing that they had, was that they were not separated from  the U.S. when the Civil War happened, so I was mentioning that they reorganized in 1860.  Well that’s on the very eve of the Civil War, so they are there during this horrible internecine time of violence and I think that informed their belief in peace.  In fact in the very first church seal, when they make the very first church seal, the word just says ‘Peace’, and when they make the colony in Iowa, they name it after the pacifist king Lamoni.  So I think that they have that happen, and because it’s different by living through that experience by being with the rest of the country.

And then they are also around—they aren’t isolated, and so they are open to some of the changes that happened in mainstream Christianity, so they have to deal with those, so they also are aware of those and are dealing with those and are adapting to those more.  One of the things that they are excited about that doesn’t happen in Utah is re-gathering to the center place.  As we know, Jackson County Missouri has kind of a primal importance in Mormonism, and going there to build Zion—we’re not just waiting for the Second Coming to happen, we actually have to build the city there, we have to ultimately build a temple there, so there was a strong program, so Joseph III’s sons would emphasize the importance of building Zion, and they would try to modernize the idea.

It was modern when Joseph Smith was doing it, they were trying to make agricultural communes and these other things that they were doing in the early 19th century.  In the early 20th century, they tried to adapt other kinds of communitarian systems that are now available, farmers’ cooperatives and other kinds of things as they are trying to build Zion up.  They’re very interested in Zion.”

JD, “Fascinating, Fascinating stuff.  So it’s a very different sort of spirit or flavor than what comes out of Utah.  I mean just the feel, the vibe, it’s pacifist, it’s let’s try and bring back Zion, a very different feel, right?”

JH, “Yeah.  I think that there has been a different feel.  I don’t want to emphasize the separateness too much, because in the end, what I find is so surprising when I go to all the different Mormon Churches, the smaller churches, how when you have ancestors that go all the way back, there’s actually family connections everywhere.  They’re related, there are so many things that you find are the same.  You’ll go into a sacrament service, they have the same prayer, there’s all these things that are all going back to the same—you have all the same priesthood offices and everything like that.  But on the other hand, like you say, there are all of these differences, because everybody has been out of communion for over 150 years.”

JD, “Right.  So if it’s not a huge disservice to history, why don’t we jump to the late 1950s early 1960s and talk about—well, yeah, if that’s the first point where the polygamy issue starts to unravel, talk to us about what led to the big changes in the late 60s and early 70s.”

JH, “Sure. America transformed after World War 2.  We went from being a farming society and a working class society into suddenly being a college educated society, and a lot of churches had to undergo to a lot of transformation when they encountered college thinking and graduate thinking.  People had been vernacularly trained before, but now suddenly they have encountered all of this scholastic thought.  So the LDS Church as you know kind of underwent a whole bunch of turmoil with that, with the founding of Dialogue, the founding of New Mormon History, the way that went, the reaction the leaders had to assert control over that, did not let that get out of control.

In the Community of Christ, it went almost exactly—same process, completely different results.  SO what ends up happening is that the young Turks, the leaders, the intellectuals—take Leonard Arrington’s group of guys or women that are all around him, and are all go-getters or whatever, you can imagine—what happens if they actually win?  They take over the church, they become the church.”

JD, “Right.”

JH, “In the Community of Christ, that’s what happens.  Essentially all of the people, all of these young thinkers, they become the leaders of the church.”

JD, “As I remember, is it Bill or Richard Russell?  Which is it?”

JH, “Bill Russell.”

JD, “As I remember Bill Russell telling the story, he talks about some magazines that were created in the early [19]60s, and some discoveries about Book of Mormon historicity and polygamy, do you know anything about sort of the scholarship and the players involved at the RLDS university that sort of started leading to the leaking and the opening up of these central issues that started staring the church in the face?”

JH, “Sure.  Yeah, so the RLDS Church was in exactly the same part of the New order—I’m sorry, I keep saying new order”

JD, “New Mormon History.”

JH, “the New Mormons History, they are actually playing a central role, out of proportion for their membership.  They’ve always had more people that are writing and doing scholarship on these things, but they are also participating in the broader dialogue, in the general conversation.  RLDS members are at the formation of the formation of the Mormon History Association.  They are contributing to and also subscribing to Dialogue. They are all part of that and they’re also doing their own research.

They found in the early [19]70’s their own version of Dialogue which is called Courage, and it was probably way more out there than Sunstone has ever been, but they were already in the early 70s, and people were analyzing this stuff.  They were looking at the evidence and there was all kinds of unsettling things as you know. There were unsettling things about the Book of Abraham.  It wasn’t canonized for the Community of Christ, so they were able to look at it a little bit more, and then deciding, well wait a second , is this a real translation from Egyptian or—and with from the different issues with the historicity of the Book of Mormon, that’s taking place all through the 70s and people are starting to reject the historicity.”

JD, “Is it 70s or 60s?”

JH, “Well 60s and 70s.  People are becoming aware of it, the thinkers are becoming aware of it in the 60s, and they’re publishing stuff in the 70s and then finally they found the John Whitmer Historical Association in the late 70s, I’m sorry in the early 70s, and then the journal in 1981.  You know one of the very early issues of the journal, the third volume that the church historian, the equivalent would be Leonard Arrington for the LDS Church, who has the position of Church Historian who is Richard Howard publishes a very crucial article which essentially makes the case that polygamy originated with Joseph Smith.

That was obviously startling for people who had come to take it as an article of faith that this was something that Brigham Young had made up.  That was obviously a major change.  So there was just a general embrace of the New Mormon History as the Church’s history.  As opposed to the church shutting it down and being opposed to it, and trying to figure out a way to explain it or whatever it is, the church ultimately embraces the New Mormon History and it become the church’s history.”

JD, “Yeah, and what a shocking and incredible sort of thing for this group of people to face.  I mean they base their beliefs and their foundation on Joseph and on the Book of Mormon and on [the belief] that polygamy didn’t happen.  Fast forward and all of the sudden, some of these major pillars that they have founded their beliefs on sort of begin unraveling.  It must have been a terribly destabilizing time for these people.”

JH, “Well it absolutely was, yeah.  So a lot of people went through all kinds of struggles of faith about this kind of thing.  The problem in terms of polygamy, they were very opposed to polygamy right from the start, and Joseph III, I think he was relatively aware, and he would say things that were relatively ambiguous, so he would say, if my father had been involved in such a thing, he would be wrong, that kind of thing, but by the time it got to his sons, especially Israel A. Smith, who is one of the prophets from the middle of the 20th century, he hadn’t heard that nuance in what his father had told him, and so he was much more ardent and would just say that this would never happen, and he was the prophet.  Why would the prophet have said this had never happened if it had?  So that was something that people had remembered and so that—“

JD interrupts, “What was the nuance?  Say the nuance one more time.”

JH, “Well, Joseph III would say, ‘if my father had been involved in polygamy, it would be wrong, it would have been wrong.’”

JD, “Ok, Ok.”

JH, “So in other words, it’s wrong.  There’s no doubt it’s wrong, and I’d say my father wasn’t involved, but if he had been involved, it would have been wrong to have done so.”

JD, “and that morphed into my father…”

JH, “he never did it.”

JD, “Right, was never involved, yeah.”

JH, “So his son didn’t hear that.  His son would just say I can tell you from the pulpit as the prophet of the church, as a Smith as a grandson.  You know he was not involved in those rotten, you know people—Brigham Young, he made it up, and all that kind of stuff.

So those, that was remembered, those sort of very strong decrials from the midcentury obviously was remembered by people and of course the prophet doesn’t have any more historical knowledge there than historians do.  It was something he had been taught, something he believed, but ultimately when history, when there started to be professional history for the first time, that came at odds with this folklore that had become doctrine unfortunately.”

JD, “Right.  Now I’m just going to pause, and I’m going to reference the listeners to episode 110 of Mormon Stories.  I love this episode so much, it was stolen from an old Sunstone presentation by Bill Russell but it’s called—I called it “Lesson on the Costs and Benefits of Big Church Changes, From the RLDS Church to the LDS Church. with Love.”  But Bill Russell gives this wonderful accounting in depth of these discoveries, these historical discoveries, how unsettling they were, how they were slowly let out so that the members could learn them, and what the leadership did as a result, and what I remember, even in the late 60s, the leadership realized that they were going to have to move in the direction of sort of mainstream—I don’t want to say evangelical, but sort of mainstream Protestant Christianity, and there was even a point where they started taking, going to training by non-RLDS sort of mainstream protestant clergy so that they could start preparing to move the church in a fundamentally new direction. Do you remember and of that or am I just –”

JH, “Well, I wouldn’t use that characterization of what needed to happen, what they decided to do.  In other words, I wouldn’t say that they were moving in a mainstream protestant direction, but they were—they did go to seminaries because, you know Mormonism is part of a broader tradition of Christianity, so if you wanted to do New Testament research, you don’t have to invent all these wheels yourself.  You can actually read you know centuries and centuries of Christian thought on the subject.  There are some very highly educated thinkers in these languages and in these traditions who are working on these things, and you can learn all kinds of wonderful things from them, and there can only be so much done in the Community of Christ, which has only got 250,000 people, and so they themselves can only do so much original research on the New Testament, and so they definitely went to seminaries, regular Christian seminaries, but I don’t think it was with the agenda of moving the church to becoming protestant.”

JD, “Ok, Ok.  So in some ways, you could almost say they took a turn even closer to Christ and to Christ’s original teachings.  Is that right?”

JH, “Well I would say that, yes. So in other words, and I think that would be something that Bill Russell likes to emphasize, which I think is important to him, and I think it was important for a lot of members in the Community of Christ, which is moving from being a Joseph Smith-centered church to trying to be more of a Jesus-centered church, more of a Christ-centered church.  In part I think one of the ideas  in terms of the name change when they decided to go back to a name more similar to the original name of the church that was organized in 1830, the Church of Christ, obviously that name has been taken by lots of different churches of Christ, but they wanted to emphasize one, what do Mormons, Latter-day Saints, what do people of the Community of Christ, our tradition do well?  Well we form community together very well, that’s something that we all have in our DNA somehow, so community is important to us.  We want to be a Christ-centered church, so Community of Christ.  I think that’s why they went in that direction.“

JD, “Gotcha.  So that’s sort of how the name got formed?”

JH, “Yes.”

JD, “Ok, so what an amazing time; a Church is staring itself in the face, realizing that many of the foundations upon which it was built were, are turning up to be non-historical, or non-credible, and this may sound somewhat familiar to members of the LDS Church today, as we start coming to grips with our own history.  What does a church do?  Do they just fold up the tent?  Do they just say goodbye?  Do they try and apologize or excuse?  Do they take a full new direction, and it sounds like what they decided to do was what?  I’ll let you fill in the blank”

JH, “Well, out of those options, take a full new direction probably is what happened.  In terms of what you mentioned, well do we fold up the tent?  That has actually happened in a different restoration church.  There was the very first church which has the same Mormon origin as everybody else.  It was led by a woman named Pauline Hancock, and the first time that a woman was ever the leader of a Latter-day Saint church. Ultimately, she died, and the successors ultimately had decided that none of the foundational claims were credible, and they ultimately voted to disband.  So people have ultimately decided to do that sometimes in these traditions.

But the Community of Christ, I think the decision has been with the members that have stayed with the church and with the leaders, has always been to say [that] we have something that is wonderful here.  We have this tradition that has been going on for generations. We’ve created a wonderful community, we are doing great things.  What is it that we have? Why is it so good, and how can we emphasize that?”

jD, “Right. Right.  So that’s where they take the name community, because they’re good at building communities, and Christ because that’s where they’re going to focus, and that becomes their new emphasis.  What do they do about the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants?”

JH, “So the Book of Mormon obviously, the Book of Mormon is scripture. The Community of Christ people, the church itself considers it scripture. People in the church—one thing that’s very different in the two churches at this point is the point is that with the LDS church, there’s a common set of beliefs, not that everybody believes the same thing, but that at least there’s a page that you maybe ought to be on, that you might be able to list off things that you would expect a Mormon to believe, or at least a good Mormon or a true believing Mormon, or at least a kind of Mormon that would find that out. With the Community of Christ, they take very seriously the idea of not having a creed at all, and they—individual members can believe anything, and they can believe all kinds of different things and they often do.  There are Community of Christ members I know who are literal Book of Mormon believers.  They believe that’s it’s a history, they believe that all the characters are historical figures that did stuff that was important.  There are members who believe that it absolutely is a 19th century document that’s written by Joseph Smith and their conclusion is that should be gotten rid of. There are people who definitely won’t say that. Then there are Community of Christ believers who would say ‘and it is therefore very important for us to look at as scripture and to see those revelations and to see that inspiration with that additional knowledge how that’s important in our lives.  So there’s that too.

With the Doctrine and Covenants, I think there’s probably actually a greater evidence on Doctrine and Covenants than in the LDS Church because they continually add to the Doctrine and Covenants in the Community of Christ.  There’s 163 sections, and there’s going to be another one in a couple of months here probably.  [Section 164 was added in April 2011.]

So the new prophets are always adding new revelations and people actually spend a lot of time on what the new scriptures have to say, but you have to understand, when you start to have a more nuanced view of scripture in general, there are problems with the New Testament.  There are problems with the Old Testament.  I think that more scholars believe that the book of Deuteronomy doesn’t date to the same age at all as the rest of the books of Moses, and couldn’t have been written at the same time and in fact a lot of people believe that the Book of Deuteronomy is a pious fraud, which is what Dan Vogel’s argument is about the Book of Mormon.  Well there are all these problems with the New Testament and the Old Testament, so I think what the Community of Christ people in general but not all of them obviously, different people believe different things, is that they have a more nuanced view of scripture.”

JD, “Right.  Talk a little bit about their decision to allow women to have the priesthood, generally when that might have happened about if you can remember, and the myths about how that affected or didn’t affect the church.”

JH, “Well they just had the, we just had the 25th anniversary of the priesthood revelation that extended priesthood to women.  What I would say about that in terms of affecting the membership.  So we have been talking about all of these changes that have been occurring in the 1960s and the 1970s and there were all kinds of changes.  We were talking about some of these ideas, this awareness, starting to have the capacity to view the Book of Mormon as a non-literal history.  That was new for people, the idea that Joseph might have instituted polygamy. So all of those things had started to be a big deal for the more conservative members.  So when the revelation came to extend the priesthood to women, that revelation was given in conjunction with the revelation to finally build the temple in Independence, and in a way I think that was designed or inspired to be an olive branch where we can have something traditional, and we can have something new.  We’ll walk forward together, but we’ll also embrace our heritage, what’s so important to us, our past.

But whatever reason, it wasn’t for a lot of people, it wasn’t enough of an olive branch and for them it was the last straw, and so for a percentage, it’s variously figured, it depends on what you say.  But essentially it’s a minority, but let’s say maybe 20% or a quarter of the population depending on how you want to count it.  It’s more of the tithe payers, it’s more of the people in North America especially in the Independence area, so they were more vocal in that way.  That minority ended up going into schism from the church.  They decided that the church was in a state of disorganization and apostasy.  They formed independent branches, which we call restoration branches or restorationists, and they held kind of aloof, kind of waiting form the church to stop being so liberal and terrible in their view.”

JD, “So they did lose a decent chunk of their membership as a result of that decision?”

JH, “I would say it’s in a last straw kind of sense.”

JD, “Right.”

JH, “So in a sense that it’s the straw that broke the camel’s back.  The camel was already, those people were already almost out of communion, you know, and it was just that moment that they decided—when they had drawn this line in the sand, and they said ok, I won’t go any further, you know so that was a defining moment there.”

JD, “How many members do they have about?”

JH, “200,000.”

JD, “About 200,000.  Ok, and do you have a sense that they’re growing/shrinking, or kind of going flat?”

JH, “They’re growing internationally and so in the same way the LDS Church is experiencing so much growth all around the world, likewise the Community of Christ has big growth, there’s lots of members in poor Haiti now [Haiti had recently experiences a catastrophic earthquake that devastated the nation], that’s one of the places where they have a lot of members.

But anyway, in Africa, in India, in Latin America and everything.  But at the same time, the core membership in North America has been in a state of contraction, so they don’t have as many members in North America as they once had.”

JD, “Right, right.”

JH, “So the overall population is probably either the same or gaining, but anyway there’s a problem as with the LDS Church too. I mean what’s the percentage of tithing that comes from the United States?”

JD, “Gotcha.  So you wrote a really good post on Mormon Matters, I don’t know what, a year ago, or whenever it was, and you gave a few myths about the Reorganized Church that you kind of wanted to dispel, some of them we’ve talked about.  The first one was the RLDS Church gave only women the priesthood because they ran out of male Smiths to lead the church, and that’s a silly remark.  I’ve actually never heard it.  Is that a pretty common one that you hear about?”

JH, “I just had heard people say that a lot, just LDS people.  I think maybe it was from the old days.  Maybe it was more present a long time ago.  Anyway, it’s not true.  They’ve got lots of Smiths, so anyway, they could have picked a Smith the last several times.”

JD, “And that’s a pretty remarkable thing, that at some point they decided themselves to end the blood succession.  They did that without being forced, because as you just said, there are other cousins or relatives/descendants of Joseph that they could have picked, and they didn’t.”

JH, “There’s dozens and dozens.  Yeah Wallace B. Smith, who was the final Smith prophet, he’s still alive.  He’s the emeritus prophet of the church.  He essentially, I think in his counsel to the church on this question was, I think that there was any reason why a modern church, a church nowadays, we should have a monarchy where you just have a family that’s having a dynasty.  In some way, I think that the church benefitted from having these kind of enlightened Smith prophets, who were always in a way like Joseph Smith, just a little bit too far ahead of what anybody wanted to do, so it kind of made them do more than they otherwise would.  But no, definitely at the end of that tradition, it was ended by a Smith prophet himself.”

JD, “That’s pretty remarkable because one of the lessons of the civil rights movement that Martin Luther King advanced was that power never abdicates itself voluntarily, and in this case, it actually did.”

JH, “It actually did.  Like I said, he’s still alive, he still emeritus prophet of the church is very, he does a good job of not second guessing his successors.  So in other words, he doesn’t say, oh, I would have done it this way, I would have done this or that.  He’s just very, very supportive.”

JD, “Yeah, that’s great.  Ok the second myth was the Community of Christ scrapped the Book of Mormon in order to join the World Council of Churches, and as you said they have not scrapped the Book of Mormon, right?”

JH, “Absolutely not. “

JD, “Yeah, the see it as scripture.  Maybe there’s some who see it as a literal history, and others who don’t.  That’s what you said before, right?”

JH, “I would say there’s none of the leaders probably see it as a literal history, but there’s a bunch of the members who maybe do.  But definitely the leaders consider it to be a very important, so, if I were to list several apostles preached about the Book of Mormon, and covering it as an emphasis, emphasizing different parts of it for our lives today, so there’s an apostle named Andrew Bolton who has been a chief proponent of developing a further peace and justice theology for the church, and he routinely preaches on the Zionic part of the Book of Mormon when there’s the reign of peace and justice on the earth.”

JD, “Right, ok.  The third one that you mention is that the RLDS Church changed its name because it wants to become a protestant church, and you touched on this a bit.  It definitely wanted to keep its Mormon identity and its heritage and its roots.  It was more about—how would you characterize, just trying to make it more in line with its new mission, right, its new focus and mission?”

JH, “I did touch on it.  Frankly, the name ’The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ is actually a terrible name for a church all by itself.”

JD chuckles, “Right.”

JH, “And so add on to that Reorganized.

JD still chuckling, “Reorganized“

JH, “The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  You know there’s a biography John Whitmer Books published of an apostle, a very important Community of Christ reforming apostle named Charles Nef, who was actually a convert to the RLDS Church.  He wasn’t raised RLDS.  When he first heard the name of the church, his reaction was ‘that is a terrible name for a church, [Hamer chuckles] which it was.  So I think it was a terrible name for a church.  For a whole long time in the 70s, they experimented with branding, using the word Saints, so that’s  in there, so you can see their logos.  It will say ‘the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day SAINTS’ Church, just like putting Jesus Christ really big in the LDS logo now.  So they were trying to do that.  Nobody liked that.  The fact of the matter the name saints, because nobody feels comfortable calling themselves a saint.“

JD, “Right, yeah, yeah.”

JH, “Nobody, I mean you probably call yourself a saint to people.”

JD, “No, No.”

JH, “You would feel comfortable calling the people who suffered in Nauvoo or Missouri or whatever.  You would feel comfortable calling them the early saints.  The saints did this and that, but not so much today are you willing to do that, so it was too, people didn’t like that.  Anyway, they ultimately came up with a name like I say that comes back to close to the original name, but then they pick up on this community as an important value too.”

JD, “Ok, the last myth that you list, you actually call pernicious, and it’s the myth that the LDS Church should not end the priesthood discrimination based on gender because it will hurt the church just like it did the RLDS church.  Tell us why you feel that’s pernicious.”

JH, “Well I think it’s pernicious because I think that it’s justifying bad behavior.  So not ending the ban, not ending this current priesthood discrimination I think is wrong.   That’s a personal belief on my part.  I think that discrimination is wrong, so I think it’s the same now as with the race ban.  But why I think it’s pernicious, to use that example is that the RLDS Church has always had a completely different basis essentially than the LDS Church because it’s always been the smaller church, it’s always been the more fractious church, so it’s not—when you’re dealing with a brand dynamic where generally with something that is so much bigger and something that is so much smaller, it’s completely, they’re completely different organizations.  And also, the one is based on people who are very leader-focused, and obedient to authority. There’s a lot of emphasis on obedience to authority in the LDS Church.

There was never that kind of—people were definitely leaving all the time when they would disagree with the leaders.  They are very casual with the leaders. In the Community of Christ, people are very quick to point out that they don’t give deference to their leaders.  If I call President Veazey, who is the current prophet, if I call him President Veazey, people get mad at me.  They want me to say Steve.  {Hamer and Dehlin chuckle, Hamer continues]  Steve wants me to say Steve, so anyways…

JD, “That would be like calling President Monson, Thomas or Tom.”

JH, “Exactly.  It would be very.  I talk to people and say I play racquetball with him.  What are you calling him President this and that for?  So in other words, they have that difference already, and so I don’t think—whereas there was a big change, there was a fracture.  There has been fractures throughout RLDS history, when they do anything, people leave.  That happens all the time, and so that did happen with—it was kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back with the—between the conservatives and the mainline church in the Community of Christ over women’s ordination, but it did not happen in the LDS Church over ordination of blacks.  There were not a whole bunch of people who immediately got up from their stake center and walked out and said I’m not going to be in a church that gives priesthood to the blacks.  It just simply wasn’t there.  And I don’t think that there would be any—if it was definite, if it was prepared, I’m not saying they should announce it in April or just out of the blue or anything like that, although I think people probably wouldn’t leave over it in the LDS Church.  But anyway, I think that you could do it in such a way that wouldn’t cause apostasy or schism.”

JD, “So don’t use the RLDS Church as an excuse to continue…”

JH, “to do wrong.”

JD, “Yeah. Right, ok.”

JH, “In my opinion, do right anyway.  So even though it did cause people to leave the Community of Christ, ultimately you know, do what is right.  Let the consequence follow.  I think that they did what’s right, and I think they are a remarkable beacon for having done it.  They do what they believe, and it may, and it’s cost them in a lot of cases.”

JD, “So I’m going to ask you in just a second to close by telling me what you love about the Community of Christ, but before I ask you that question, I’m going to tell you what I love most about this story.  And that will buy you some time to write down some bullets [points] because I didn’t tell you ahead of time.

You know, if you think about Christ’s central message, maybe even the central message of the atonement, at least for me, you know it has to do with the fact that we make mistakes, but there’s a way to work through it.  You make a mistake, you feel bad about it, you confess it, and then you pick yourself up, you dust yourself off, and then you try to reorient yourself to be a better person and to march in a new direction and to sort of, when you take the sacrament, or when you’re baptized or whatever, there’ a rebirth where you get a chance to start again with sort of a new life, and a new birth of freedom, and for me, if I think about the LDS Church, which I love, and I’m a member of, I almost think of it like IBM in the 70s, and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way.

You know, if you wanted to get computers set up or if you wanted to get your business going, you call IBM. They’re professional, they are well-staffed, they’re well resourced.  They’ll come in, they’re methodical, they’re experienced, they’re seasoned.  They’ll come in, they’ll implement a system, they’ll make it right, they’ll do a good job.  It may be kind of expensive, but at the end of the day, you know what you’re getting and you get what you wanted, and they set you up nicely to be efficient and effective in what you want to do.  It’s probably not a fair characterization, but for the sake of this comparison, I’m going to invoke it.”

JH, “Ok.”

JD, “As I think about how I would personify the Community of Christ, it’s like the church itself has taken seriously the admonitions of Jesus, and they’ve said, you know what, yeah, we’re going to admit that we had it wrong.  We’ll just fess up.  We’ll confess that, and like you said, we’re going to do what is right, and we’ll let the consequences follow, and instead of trying to create the impression that things aren’t what they seem, or try and hide, they’re going to say, we’re going to admit it, we’re going to confess it, we’re going to forsake it.  We’re going to pay the penalty of those mistakes, but then we’re not going to just quit.  We’re going to stand up, we’re going look ahead, we’re going to define ourselves not by the mistakes of our past, we’re going to figure out what we want to be in the future, and then we’re going to try and live true to that future vision, again returning to Christ and being as Christ like as an institution as we can possibly be.

That’s what I love about this narrative, and I don’t mean it to call the LDS Church to do what the RLDS Church did.  I don’t mean it to disparage the LDS Church because I love the LDS Church.  But there’s something tender and special to me about that arc and that narrative and that personification of what that church has done.  Now that I’ve droned on, maybe let’s end…”

JH, “No, I think that’s wonderful.  I think on what you’re saying, you’re mentioning, ok, admitting your errors.  You could start tomorrow John, a perfectly innocent church that would have never done anything wrong, you could go back in the past and it didn’t have a no Spanish Inquisition or any other error, but it would also be totally innocent.  It would be able to fall into error the next day.  So one of the things that is wonderful about humans and earth life and the entire experience I think is what is supposed to be learning from error and experience.  So admitting your error, learning would be part of the beginning of learning from it and moving forward in such a way that you do better to begin with in the future.

I mean in the Community of Christ example, one of the ways that you can be an effective peace and justice church perhaps is because you’d have this example of the militancy of the church taking up arms and losing, and also suffering as a result of that error in the 1830s and 1840s.  That’s definitely I think something that can be said about it.  For me, if we’re going to what’s the most important thing here that I see out of this, so what caused me as a long time seventh generation person who was a cultural Mormon who was very—defined my life as Mormon as a kid, a teenager, what caused me to leave was sexism.  I just couldn’t square that.  I was able to not be as worried I think about the different truth claims ultimately—those weren’t the things.  It wasn’t my reading of the Book of Abraham and deciding, well there is no way that this is what the Egyptian here said, which I also did at the time, but what was the most important thing to me was the fact that my mom, who I thought was the smartest person in my ward had this incredibly subordinate position within it, and that was more than I was willing to put up with.  So that was the thing that caused the rupture for me personally, and what I find in the Community of Christ has been something that I can say, wow.  This is an expression of my heritage that I think so much of, that I can really be proud of what these guys have all done.  So, anyway, that’s my finding with them and when I did encounter them I have just been impressed.”

JD, “What’s it like to see a female apostle sort of minister to the congregation, or a female bishop or whatever the equivalent would be?  I know for me it was powerful at Sunstone to see a female apostle walking around, but what’s it been like for you?”

JH, “I attended a congregation, a Community of Christ congregation in Independence where it just happened that one of the female apostles, they were doing ordinations that week, and to have her in the regular Mormon, ur-vision, it’s like an archetypal vision, putting their hands on the head with the other priesthood holders and giving a priesthood ordination blessing, it just, the hair on the back of your neck stands up.  It’s just, it’s very powerful.  In that way, there are things that are exactly the same.  You know, we have, when you go all the way back, we have the same DNA.  When you see that, it’s very powerful.”

JD, “Yeah.  Well John Hamer, this has been a wonderful ride through a brief or maybe not so brief history of the RLDS Church and the Community of Christ.  I just want to thank you so much for coming on and sharing this story with us and maybe I’ll just ask you one favor, and that’s maybe you can consider coming back on at a later date and coming and telling us more of your own personal story. Would that be something that you’re willing to do?”

JH, “Absolutely.  Thanks so much John. I really, really enjoyed this.”

JD, “Alright, Thanks John, and you guys take care.”

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6 comments on “John Hamer Part 2

  1. Thanks again for doing all this work. I’m really pleased to be able to review the text of this conversation.

    Right near the end of this one, you have the “JH” and “JD” reversed in one place. It should be JH: “Ok” and JD: “As I think about how I would personify the Community of Christ… I don’t mean it to disparage the LDS Church because I love the LDS Church…” You can immediately tell that’s a John Dehlin (rather than John Hamer) kind of thing to say… 🙂

    Thanks again!

  2. Also (this is no big deal) I probably mispronounce “internecine” as “Inter-Nicene,” but it should be the former.

  3. John, I didn’t have anyone proofread this, so it’s nice to have another set of eyes. I will fix those errors as soon as I can. I am on my phone right now and it’s hard to fix ona phone

  4. John, I fixed the post. Now I have to show my ignorance. I put “Inter-Nicene because I had never heard the word “internecine”. I had to look it up. For people like me, the definition of “internecine” is “of or pertaining to conflict or struggle within a group: an internecine feud among proxy holders.” So in this context, John is referring to the succession crisis, rather than some theological point. 8:)

  5. Thanks, much! Like I say, those little fixes were no big deal. It’s really nice to be able to have this in text format, because of how much easier it is to access snippets.

  6. Had some trouble reading this with the formating problems, have removed them for easier reading

    JD, So what else defines the RLDS Church sort of post late-1800s, you know between that time and the early 1960s when I started getting really turned into the history? What else defines their journey? Sort of bridge that gap for us before we get into the early 1960s. 
    JH, Well one thing that they had, was that they were not separated from the U.S. when the Civil War happened, so I was mentioning that they reorganized in 1860. Well that s on the very eve of the Civil War, so they are there during this horrible internecinetime of violence and I think that informed their belief in peace. In fact in the very first church seal, when they make the very first church seal, the word just says ˜Peace , and when they make the colony in Iowa, they name it after the pacifist king Lamoni. So I think that they have that happen, and because it s different by living through that experience by being with the rest of the country.
    And then they are also around ”they arent isolated, and so they are open to some of the changes that happened in mainstream Christianity, so they have to deal with those, so they also are aware of those and are dealing with those and are adapting to those more. One of the things that they are excited about that doesnt happen in Utah is re-gathering to the center place. As we know, Jackson County Missouri has kind of a primal importance in Mormonism, and going there to build Zion ”we re not just waiting for the Second Coming to happen, we actually have to build the city there, we have to ultimately build a temple there, so there was a strong program, so Joseph III s sons would emphasize the importance of building Zion, and they would try to modernize the idea.
    It was modern when Joseph Smith was doing it, they were trying to make agricultural communes and these other things that they were doing in the early 19th century. In the early 20th century, they tried to adapt other kinds of communitarian systems that are now available, farmers cooperatives and other kinds of things as they are trying to build Zion up. they re very interested in Zion. 
    JD, Fascinating, Fascinating stuff. So it s a very different sort of spirit or flavor than what comes out of Utah. I mean just the feel, the vibe, it s pacifist, it s let s try and bring back Zion, a very different feel, right? 
    JH, Yeah. I think that there has been a different feel. I dont want to emphasize the separateness too much, because in the end, what I find is so surprising when I go to all the different Mormon Churches, the smaller churches, how when you have ancestors that go all the way back, there s actually family connections everywhere. they re related, there are so many things that you find are the same. You ll go into a sacrament service, they have the same prayer, there s all these things that are all going back to the same ”you have all the same priesthood offices and everything like that. But on the other hand, like you say, there are all of these differences, because everybody has been out of communion for over 150 years. 
    JD, Right. So if it s not a huge disservice to history, why dont we jump to the late 1950s early 1960s and talk about ”well, yeah, if that s the first point where the polygamy issue starts to unravel, talk to us about what led to the big changes in the late 60s and early 70s. 
    JH, Sure. America transformed after World War 2. We went from being a farming society and a working class society into suddenly being a college educated society, and a lot of churches had to undergo to a lot of transformation when they encountered college thinking and graduate thinking. People had been vernacularly trained before, but now suddenly they have encountered all of this scholastic thought. So the LDS Church as you know kind of underwent a whole bunch of turmoil with that, with the founding of Dialogue, the founding of New Mormon History, the way that went, the reaction the leaders had to assert control over that, did not let that get out of control.
    In the Community of Christ, it went almost exactly ”same process, completely different results. SO what ends up happening is that the young Turks, the leaders, the intellectuals ”take Leonard Arrington s group of guys or women that are all around him, and are all go-getters or whatever, you can imagine ”what happens if they actually win? they take over the church, they become the church. 
    JD, Right. 
    JH, In the Community of Christ, that s what happens. Essentially all of the people, all of these young thinkers, they become the leaders of the church. 
    JD, As I remember, is it Bill or Richard Russell? Which is it? 
    JH, Bill Russell. 
    JD, As I remember Bill Russell telling the story, he talks about some magazines that were created in the early [19]60s, and some discoveries about Book of Mormon historicity and polygamy, do you know anything about sort of the scholarship and the players involved at the RLDS university that sort of started leading to the leaking and the opening up of these central issues that started staring the church in the face? 
    JH, Sure. Yeah, so the RLDS Church was in exactly the same part of the New order ”I m sorry, I keep saying new order 
    JD, New Mormon History. 
    JH, the New Mormons History, they are actually playing a central role, out of proportion for their membership. they ve always had more people that are writing and doing scholarship on these things, but they are also participating in the broader dialogue, in the general conversation. RLDS members are at the formation of the formation of the Mormon History Association. they are contributing to and also subscribing to Dialogue. They are all part of that and they re also doing their own research.
    They found in the early [19]70 s their own version of Dialogue which is calledCourage, and it was probably way more out there than Sunstone has ever been, but they were already in the early 70s, and people were analyzing this stuff. they were looking at the evidence and there was all kinds of unsettling things as you know. There were unsettling things about the Book of Abraham. It wasnt canonized for the Community of Christ, so they were able to look at it a little bit more, and then deciding, well wait a second , is this a real translation from Egyptian or ”and with from the different issues with the historicity of the Book of Mormon, that s taking place all through the 70s and people are starting to reject the historicity. 
    JD, Is it 70s or 60s? 
    JH, Well 60s and 70s. People are becoming aware of it, the thinkers are becoming aware of it in the 60s, and they re publishing stuff in the 70s and then finally they found the John Whitmer Historical Association in the late 70s, I m sorry in the early 70s, and then the journal in 1981. You know one of the very early issues of the journal, the third volume that the church historian, the equivalent would be Leonard Arrington for the LDS Church, who has the position of Church Historian who is Richard Howard publishes a very crucial article which essentially makes the case that polygamy originated with Joseph Smith.
    That was obviously startling for people who had come to take it as an article of faith that this was something that Brigham Young had made up. that was obviously a major change. So there was just a general embrace of the New Mormon History as the Church s history. As opposed to the church shutting it down and being opposed to it, and trying to figure out a way to explain it or whatever it is, the church ultimately embraces the New Mormon History and it become the church s history. 
    JD, Yeah, and what a shocking and incredible sort of thing for this group of people to face. I mean they base their beliefs and their foundation on Joseph and on the Book of Mormon and on [the belief] that polygamy didnt happen. Fast forward and all of the sudden, some of these major pillars that they have founded their beliefs on sort of begin unraveling. It must have been a terribly destabilizing time for these people. 
    JH, Well it absolutely was, yeah. So a lot of people went through all kinds of struggles of faith about this kind of thing. the problem in terms of polygamy, they were very opposed to polygamy right from the start, and Joseph III, I think he was relatively aware, and he would say things that were relatively ambiguous, so he would say, if my father had been involved in such a thing, he would be wrong, that kind of thing, but by the time it got to his sons, especially Israel A. Smith, who is one of the prophets from the middle of the 20th century, he hadnt heard that nuance in what his father had told him, and so he was much more ardent and would just say that this would never happen, and he was the prophet. Why would the prophet have said this had never happened if it had? So that was something that people had remembered and so that ”
    JD interrupts, What was the nuance? Say the nuance one more time. 
    JH, Well, Joseph III would say, ˜if my father had been involved in polygamy, it would be wrong, it would have been wrong. 
    JD, Ok, Ok. 
    JH, So in other words, it s wrong. there s no doubt it s wrong, and I d say my father wasnt involved, but if he had been involved, it would have been wrong to have done so. 
    JD, and that morphed into my father ¦ 
    JH, he never did it. 
    JD, Right, was never involved, yeah. 
    JH, So his son didnt hear that. His son would just say I can tell you from the pulpit as the prophet of the church, as a Smith as a grandson. You know he was not involved in those rotten, you know people ”Brigham Young, he made it up, and all that kind of stuff.
    So those, that was remembered, those sort of very strong decrials from the midcentury obviously was remembered by people and of course the prophet doesnt have any more historical knowledge there than historians do. It was something he had been taught, something he believed, but ultimately when history, when there started to be professional history for the first time, that came at odds with this folklore that had become doctrine unfortunately. 
    JD, Right. Now I m just going to pause, and I m going to reference the listeners to episode 110 of Mormon Stories. I love this episode so much, it was stolen from an old Sunstone presentation by Bill Russell but it s called ”I called it Lesson on the Costs and Benefits of Big Church Changes, From the RLDS Church to the LDS Church. with Love.  But Bill Russell gives this wonderful accounting in depth of these discoveries, these historical discoveries, how unsettling they were, how they were slowly let out so that the members could learn them, and what the leadership did as a result, and what I remember, even in the late 60s, the leadership realized that they were going to have to move in the direction of sort of mainstream ”I dont want to say evangelical, but sort of mainstream Protestant Christianity, and there was even a point where they started taking, going to training by non-RLDS sort of mainstream protestant clergy so that they could start preparing to move the church in a fundamentally new direction. Do you remember and of that or am I just “ 
    JH, Well, I wouldnt use that characterization of what needed to happen, what they decided to do. In other words, I wouldnt say that they were moving in a mainstream protestant direction, but they were ”they did go to seminaries because, you know Mormonism is part of a broader tradition of Christianity, so if you wanted to do New Testament research, you dont have to invent all these wheels yourself. You can actually read you know centuries and centuries of Christian thought on the subject. there are some very highly educated thinkers in these languages and in these traditions who are working on these things, and you can learn all kinds of wonderful things from them, and there can only be so much done in the Community of Christ, which has only got 250,000 people, and so they themselves can only do so much original research on the New Testament, and so they definitely went to seminaries, regular Christian seminaries, but I dont think it was with the agenda of moving the church to becoming protestant. 
    JD, Ok, Ok. So in some ways, you could almost say they took a turn even closer to Christ and to Christ s original teachings. Is that right? 
    JH, Well I would say that, yes. So in other words, and I think that would be something that Bill Russell likes to emphasize, which I think is important to him, and I think it was important for a lot of members in the Community of Christ, which is moving from being a Joseph Smith-centered church to trying to be more of a Jesus-centered church, more of a Christ-centered church. In part I think one of the ideas in terms of the name change when they decided to go back to a name more similar to the original name of the church that was organized in 1830, the Church of Christ, obviously that name has been taken by lots of different churches of Christ, but they wanted to emphasize one, what do Mormons, Latter-day Saints, what do people of the Community of Christ, our tradition do well? Well we form community together very well, that s something that we all have in our DNA somehow, so community is important to us. We want to be a Christ-centered church, so Community of Christ. I think that s why they went in that direction.
    JD, Gotcha. So that s sort of how the name got formed? 
    JH, Yes. 
    JD, Ok, so what an amazing time; a Church is staring itself in the face, realizing that many of the foundations upon which it was built were, are turning up to be non-historical, or non-credible, and this may sound somewhat familiar to members of the LDS Church today, as we start coming to grips with our own history. What does a church do? Do they just fold up the tent? Do they just say goodbye? Do they try and apologize or excuse? Do they take a full new direction, and it sounds like what they decided to do was what? I ll let you fill in the blank 
    JH, Well, out of those options, take a full new direction probably is what happened. In terms of what you mentioned, well do we fold up the tent? that has actually happened in a different restoration church. there was the very first church which has the same Mormon origin as everybody else. It was led by a woman named Pauline Hancock, and the first time that a woman was ever the leader of a Latter-day Saint church. Ultimately, she died, and the successors ultimately had decided that none of the foundational claims were credible, and they ultimately voted to disband. So people have ultimately decided to do that sometimes in these traditions.
    But the Community of Christ, I think the decision has been with the members that have stayed with the church and with the leaders, has always been to say [that] we have something that is wonderful here. We have this tradition that has been going on for generations. We ve created a wonderful community, we are doing great things. What is it that we have? Why is it so good, and how can we emphasize that? 
    jD, Right. Right. So that s where they take the name community, because they re good at building communities, and Christ because that s where they re going to focus, and that becomes their new emphasis. What do they do about the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants? 
    JH, So the Book of Mormon obviously, the Book of Mormon is scripture. The Community of Christ people, the church itself considers it scripture. People in the church ”one thing that s very different in the two churches at this point is the point is that with the LDS church, there s a common set of beliefs, not that everybody believes the same thing, but that at least there s a page that you maybe ought to be on, that you might be able to list off things that you would expect a Mormon to believe, or at least a good Mormon or a true believing Mormon, or at least a kind of Mormon that would find that out. With the Community of Christ, they take very seriously the idea of not having a creed at all, and they ”individual members can believe anything, and they can believe all kinds of different things and they often do. there are Community of Christ members I know who are literal Book of Mormon believers. they believe that s it s a history, they believe that all the characters are historical figures that did stuff that was important. there are members who believe that it absolutely is a 19th century document that s written by Joseph Smith and their conclusion is that should be gotten rid of. There are people who definitely wont say that. Then there are Community of Christ believers who would say ˜and it is therefore very important for us to look at as scripture and to see those revelations and to see that inspiration with that additional knowledge how that s important in our lives. So there s that too.
    With the Doctrine and Covenants, I think there s probably actually a greater evidence on Doctrine and Covenants than in the LDS Church because they continually add to the Doctrine and Covenants in the Community of Christ. there s 163 sections, and there s going to be another one in a couple of months here probably. [Section 164 was added in April 2011.]
    So the new prophets are always adding new revelations and people actually spend a lot of time on what the new scriptures have to say, but you have to understand, when you start to have a more nuanced view of scripture in general, there are problems with the New Testament. there are problems with the Old Testament. I think that more scholars believe that the book of Deuteronomy doesnt date to the same age at all as the rest of the books of Moses, and couldnt have been written at the same time and in fact a lot of people believe that the Book of Deuteronomy is a pious fraud, which is what Dan Vogel s argument is about the Book of Mormon. Well there are all these problems with the New Testament and the Old Testament, so I think what the Community of Christ people in general but not all of them obviously, different people believe different things, is that they have a more nuanced view of scripture. 
    JD, Right. talk a little bit about their decision to allow women to have the priesthood, generally when that might have happened about if you can remember, and the myths about how that affected or didnt affect the church. 
    JH, Well they just had the, we just had the 25th anniversary of the priesthood revelation that extended priesthood to women. What I would say about that in terms of affecting the membership. So we have been talking about all of these changes that have been occurring in the 1960s and the 1970s and there were all kinds of changes. We were talking about some of these ideas, this awareness, starting to have the capacity to view the Book of Mormon as a non-literal history. that was new for people, the idea that Joseph might have instituted polygamy. So all of those things had started to be a big deal for the more conservative members. So when the revelation came to extend the priesthood to women, that revelation was given in conjunction with the revelation to finally build the temple in Independence, and in a way I think that was designed or inspired to be an olive branch where we can have something traditional, and we can have something new. We ll walk forward together, but we ll also embrace our heritage, what s so important to us, our past.
    But whatever reason, it wasnt for a lot of people, it wasnt enough of an olive branch and for them it was the last straw, and so for a percentage, it s variously figured, it depends on what you say. But essentially it s a minority, but let s say maybe 20% or a quarter of the population depending on how you want to count it. It s more of the tithe payers, it s more of the people in North America especially in the Independence area, so they were more vocal in that way. that minority ended up going into schism from the church. they decided that the church was in a state of disorganization and apostasy. they formed independent branches, which we call restoration branches or restorationists, and they held kind of aloof, kind of waiting form the church to stop being so liberal and terrible in their view. 
    JD, So they did lose a decent chunk of their membership as a result of that decision? 
    JH, I would say it s in a last straw kind of sense. 
    JD, Right. 
    JH, So in a sense that it s the straw that broke the camel s back. the camel was already, those people were already almost out of communion, you know, and it was just that moment that they decided ”when they had drawn this line in the sand, and they said ok, I wont go any further, you know so that was a defining moment there. 
    JD, How many members do they have about? 
    JH, 200,000. 
    JD, About 200,000. Ok, and do you have a sense that they re growing/shrinking, or kind of going flat? 
    JH, they re growing internationally and so in the same way the LDS Church is experiencing so much growth all around the world, likewise the Community of Christ has big growth, there s lots of members in poor Haiti now [Haiti had recently experiences a catastrophic earthquake that devastated the nation], that s one of the places where they have a lot of members.
    But anyway, in Africa, in India, in Latin America and everything. But at the same time, the core membership in North America has been in a state of contraction, so they dont have as many members in North America as they once had. 
    JD, Right, right. 
    JH, So the overall population is probably either the same or gaining, but anyway there s a problem as with the LDS Church too. I mean what s the percentage of tithing that comes from the United States? 
    JD, Gotcha. So you wrote a really good post on Mormon Matters, I dont know what, a year ago, or whenever it was, and you gave a few myths about the Reorganized Church that you kind of wanted to dispel, some of them we ve talked about. the first one was the RLDS Church gave only women the priesthood because they ran out of male Smiths to lead the church, and that s a silly remark. I ve actually never heard it. Is that a pretty common one that you hear about? 
    JH, I just had heard people say that a lot, just LDS people. I think maybe it was from the old days. Maybe it was more present a long time ago. Anyway, it s not true. they ve got lots of Smiths, so anyway, they could have picked a Smith the last several times. 
    JD, And that s a pretty remarkable thing, that at some point they decided themselves to end the blood succession. they did that without being forced, because as you just said, there are other cousins or relatives/descendants of Joseph that they could have picked, and they didnt. 
    JH, there s dozens and dozens. Yeah Wallace B. Smith, who was the final Smith prophet, he s still alive. He s the emeritus prophet of the church. He essentially, I think in his counsel to the church on this question was, I think that there was any reason why a modern church, a church nowadays, we should have a monarchy where you just have a family that s having a dynasty. In some way, I think that the church benefitted from having these kind of enlightened Smith prophets, who were always in a way like Joseph Smith, just a little bit too far ahead of what anybody wanted to do, so it kind of made them do more than they otherwise would. But no, definitely at the end of that tradition, it was ended by a Smith prophet himself. 
    JD, that s pretty remarkable because one of the lessons of the civil rights movement that Martin Luther King advanced was that power never abdicates itself voluntarily, and in this case, it actually did. 
    JH, It actually did. Like I said, he s still alive, he still emeritus prophet of the church is very, he does a good job of not second guessing his successors. So in other words, he doesnt say, oh, I would have done it this way, I would have done this or that. He s just very, very supportive. 
    JD, Yeah, that s great. Ok the second myth was the Community of Christ scrapped the Book of Mormon in order to join the World Council of Churches, and as you said they have not scrapped the Book of Mormon, right? 
    JH, Absolutely not.
    JD, Yeah, the see it as scripture. Maybe there s some who see it as a literal history, and others who dont. that s what you said before, right? 
    JH, I would say there s none of the leaders probably see it as a literal history, but there s a bunch of the members who maybe do. But definitely the leaders consider it to be a very important, so, if I were to list several apostles preached about the Book of Mormon, and covering it as an emphasis, emphasizing different parts of it for our lives today, so there s an apostle named Andrew Bolton who has been a chief proponent of developing a further peace and justice theology for the church, and he routinely preaches on the Zionic part of the Book of Mormon when there s the reign of peace and justice on the earth. 
    JD, Right, ok. the third one that you mention is that the RLDS Church changed its name because it wants to become a protestant church, and you touched on this a bit. It definitely wanted to keep its Mormon identity and its heritage and its roots. It was more about ”how would you characterize, just trying to make it more in line with its new mission, right, its new focus and mission? 
    JH, I did touch on it. Frankly, the name the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is actually a terrible name for a church all by itself. 
    JD chuckles, Right. 
    JH, And so add on to that Reorganized.
    JD still chuckling, Reorganized
    JH, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You know there s a biography John Whitmer Books published of an apostle, a very important Community of Christ reforming apostle named Charles Nef, who was actually a convert to the RLDS Church. He wasnt raised RLDS. When he first heard the name of the church, his reaction was ˜that is a terrible name for a church, [Hamer chuckles] which it was. So I think it was a terrible name for a church. For a whole long time in the 70s, they experimented with branding, using the word Saints, so that s in there, so you can see their logos. It will say ˜the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day SAINTS Church, just like putting Jesus Christ really big in the LDS logo now. So they were trying to do that. Nobody liked that. the fact of the matter the name saints, because nobody feels comfortable calling themselves a saint.
    JD, Right, yeah, yeah. 
    JH, Nobody, I mean you probably call yourself a saint to people. 
    JD, No, No. 
    JH, You would feel comfortable calling the people who suffered in Nauvoo or Missouri or whatever. You would feel comfortable calling them the early saints. the saints did this and that, but not so much today are you willing to do that, so it was too, people didnt like that. Anyway, they ultimately came up with a name like I say that comes back to close to the original name, but then they pick up on this community as an important value too. 
    JD, Ok, the last myth that you list, you actually call pernicious, and it s the myth that the LDS Church should not end the priesthood discrimination based on gender because it will hurt the church just like it did the RLDS church. tell us why you feel that s pernicious. 
    JH, Well I think it s pernicious because I think that it s justifying bad behavior. So not ending the ban, not ending this current priesthood discrimination I think is wrong. that s a personal belief on my part. I think that discrimination is wrong, so I think it s the same now as with the race ban. But why I think it s pernicious, to use that example is that the RLDS Church has always had a completely different basis essentially than the LDS Church because it s always been the smaller church, it s always been the more fractious church, so it s not ”when you re dealing with a brand dynamic where generally with something that is so much bigger and something that is so much smaller, it s completely, they re completely different organizations. And also, the one is based on people who are very leader-focused, and obedient to authority. There s a lot of emphasis on obedience to authority in the LDS Church.
    There was never that kind of ”people were definitely leaving all the time when they would disagree with the leaders. they are very casual with the leaders. In the Community of Christ, people are very quick to point out that they dont give deference to their leaders. If I call President Veazey, who is the current prophet, if I call him President Veazey, people get mad at me. they want me to say Steve. {Hamer and Dehlin chuckle, Hamer continues] Steve wants me to say Steve, so anyways ¦
    JD, that would be like calling President Monson, Thomas or Tom. 
    JH, Exactly. It would be very. I talk to people and say I play racquetball with him. What are you calling him President this and that for? So in other words, they have that difference already, and so I dont think ”whereas there was a big change, there was a fracture. there has been fractures throughout RLDS history, when they do anything, people leave. that happens all the time, and so that did happen with ”it was kind of the straw that broke the camel s back with the ”between the conservatives and the mainline church in the Community of Christ over women s ordination, but it did not happen in the LDS Church over ordination of blacks. there were not a whole bunch of people who immediately got up from their stake center and walked out and said I m not going to be in a church that gives priesthood to the blacks. It just simply wasnt there. And I dont think that there would be any ”if it was definite, if it was prepared, I m not saying they should announce it in April or just out of the blue or anything like that, although I think people probably wouldnt leave over it in the LDS Church. But anyway, I think that you could do it in such a way that wouldnt cause apostasy or schism. 
    JD, So dont use the RLDS Church as an excuse to continue ¦ 
    JH, to do wrong. 
    JD, Yeah. Right, ok. 
    JH, In my opinion, do right anyway. So even though it did cause people to leave the Community of Christ, ultimately you know, do what is right. Let the consequence follow. I think that they did what s right, and I think they are a remarkable beacon for having done it. they do what they believe, and it may, and it s cost them in a lot of cases. 
    JD, So I m going to ask you in just a second to close by telling me what you love about the Community of Christ, but before I ask you that question, I m going to tell you what I love most about this story. And that will buy you some time to write down some bullets [points] because I didnt tell you ahead of time.
    You know, if you think about Christ s central message, maybe even the central message of the atonement, at least for me, you know it has to do with the fact that we make mistakes, but there s a way to work through it. You make a mistake, you feel bad about it, you confess it, and then you pick yourself up, you dust yourself off, and then you try to reorient yourself to be a better person and to march in a new direction and to sort of, when you take the sacrament, or when you re baptized or whatever, there a rebirth where you get a chance to start again with sort of a new life, and a new birth of freedom, and for me, if I think about the LDS Church, which I love, and I m a member of, I almost think of it like IBM in the 70s, and I dont mean that in a derogatory way.
    You know, if you wanted to get computers set up or if you wanted to get your business going, you call IBM. They re professional, they are well-staffed, they re well resourced. they ll come in, they re methodical, they re experienced, they re seasoned. they ll come in, they ll implement a system, they ll make it right, they ll do a good job. It may be kind of expensive, but at the end of the day, you know what you re getting and you get what you wanted, and they set you up nicely to be efficient and effective in what you want to do. It s probably not a fair characterization, but for the sake of this comparison, I m going to invoke it. 
    JH, Ok. 
    JD, As I think about how I would personify the Community of Christ, it s like the church itself has taken seriously the admonitions of Jesus, and they ve said, you know what, yeah, we re going to admit that we had it wrong. We ll just fess up. We ll confess that, and like you said, we re going to do what is right, and we ll let the consequences follow, and instead of trying to create the impression that things arent what they seem, or try and hide, they re going to say, we re going to admit it, we re going to confess it, we re going to forsake it. We re going to pay the penalty of those mistakes, but then we re not going to just quit. We re going to stand up, we re going look ahead, we re going to define ourselves not by the mistakes of our past, we re going to figure out what we want to be in the future, and then we re going to try and live true to that future vision, again returning to Christ and being as Christ like as an institution as we can possibly be.
    That s what I love about this narrative, and I dont mean it to call the LDS Church to do what the RLDS Church did. I dont mean it to disparage the LDS Church because I love the LDS Church. But there s something tender and special to me about that arc and that narrative and that personification of what that church has done. Now that I ve droned on, maybe let s end ¦ 
    JH, No, I think that s wonderful. I think on what you re saying, you re mentioning, ok, admitting your errors. You could start tomorrow John, a perfectly innocent church that would have never done anything wrong, you could go back in the past and it didnt have a no Spanish Inquisition or any other error, but it would also be totally innocent. It would be able to fall into error the next day. So one of the things that is wonderful about humans and earth life and the entire experience I think is what is supposed to be learning from error and experience. So admitting your error, learning would be part of the beginning of learning from it and moving forward in such a way that you do better to begin with in the future.
    I mean in the Community of Christ example, one of the ways that you can be an effective peace and justice church perhaps is because you d have this example of the militancy of the church taking up arms and losing, and also suffering as a result of that error in the 1830s and 1840s. that s definitely I think something that can be said about it. For me, if we re going to what s the most important thing here that I see out of this, so what caused me as a long time seventh generation person who was a cultural Mormon who was very ”defined my life as Mormon as a kid, a teenager, what caused me to leave was sexism. I just couldnt square that. I was able to not be as worried I think about the different truth claims ultimately ”those werent the things. It wasnt my reading of the Book of Abraham and deciding, well there is no way that this is what the Egyptian here said, which I also did at the time, but what was the most important thing to me was the fact that my mom, who I thought was the smartest person in my ward had this incredibly subordinate position within it, and that was more than I was willing to put up with. So that was the thing that caused the rupture for me personally, and what I find in the Community of Christ has been something that I can say, wow. this is an expression of my heritage that I think so much of, that I can really be proud of what these guys have all done. So, anyway, that s my finding with them and when I did encounter them I have just been impressed. 
    JD, What s it like to see a female apostle sort of minister to the congregation, or a female bishop or whatever the equivalent would be? I know for me it was powerful at Sunstone to see a female apostle walking around, but what s it been like for you? 
    JH, I attended a congregation, a Community of Christ congregation in Independence where it just happened that one of the female apostles, they were doing ordinations that week, and to have her in the regular Mormon, ur-vision, it s like an archetypal vision, putting their hands on the head with the other priesthood holders and giving a priesthood ordination blessing, it just, the hair on the back of your neck stands up. It s just, it s very powerful. In that way, there are things that are exactly the same. You know, we have, when you go all the way back, we have the same DNA. When you see that, it s very powerful. 
    JD, Yeah. Well John Hamer, this has been a wonderful ride through a brief or maybe not so brief history of the RLDS Church and the Community of Christ. I just want to thank you so much for coming on and sharing this story with us and maybe I ll just ask you one favor, and that s maybe you can consider coming back on at a later date and coming and telling us more of your own personal story. Would that be something that you re willing to do? 
    JH, Absolutely. thanks so much John. I really, really enjoyed this. 
    JD, Alright, Thanks John, and you guys take care. 

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