Back in May, I had the pleasure of getting acquainted with William Shepard at the Kirtland Sunstone Conference. Shepard is both an impressive historian in his own right, but also a member of the Strangite Church, also known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. (Yes the name of his church is more than just a slight variation of the LDS Church.) If you haven’t heard of Strangites, here is a very brief history.
James Strang was baptized by Joseph Smith in February 1844, just 4 months prior to the death of the prophet. Strang came from Winsconsin, and Joseph asked him to return and organize the church there. Strang has used the letter to claim that Joseph intended Strang to lead the church, and Strang also claims that on the night of Joseph’s death, an angel came to him and ordained him prophet. He was very convincing. Members of Joseph’s family (such as William Smith) joined Strang’s church, as well as other prominent members such as Martin Harris. The church rivaled Brigham Young’s organization in size. Strang initially was against polygamy, but received revelation a few years later and had four wives. He was killed in Michigan under the hands of the U.S. Navy. He didn’t appoint a successor, believing that only an angel could call a prophet.
I asked Shepard what was the biggest differences between Strangite theology and LDS theology. While I was aware that Strang had translated the Brass Plates (mentioned in the Book of Mormon) into “The Book of the Law of the Lord” as well as the Voree Plates, I was quite shocked to learn the Strangites have a very different belief about Jesus. Shepard pulled out his scriptures and pointed to a set of verses in which Strangites believe that Jesus was completely mortal. They believe that Joseph was the literal father of Jesus, not God. Jesus became the Son of God through his commune with God, but Jesus was 100% mortal. I was pretty shocked to hear this.
Because Ordain Women was pretty hot in the news, I asked Shepard if Strangites ordained women. He said that women are often ordained to the office of Teacher when they have a specific calling as a teacher in church services. I think it makes a lot of sense. In the LDS Church, the calling of Teacher pretty much never involves teaching, though the LDS manuals do make a reference that Teachers can participate in home teaching. I think it would make a lot of sense to ordain a Sunday School teacher to be a Teacher in the Aaronic Priesthood.
What do you think of these two differences in Strangite theology?
53 The teacher’s duty is to watch over the church always, and be with and strengthen them;
54 And see that there is no iniquity in the church, neither hardness with each other, neither lying, backbiting, nor evil speaking;
55 And see that the church meet together often, and also see that all the members do their duty.
56 And he is to take the lead of meetings in the absence of the elder or priest
57 And is to be assisted always, in all his duties in the church, by the deacons, if occasion requires.
58 But neither teachers nor deacons have authority to baptize, administer the sacrament, or lay on hands;
59 They are, however, to warn, expound, exhort, and teach, and invite all to come unto Christ.
60 Every elder, priest, teacher, or deacon is to be ordained according to the gifts and callings of God unto him; and he is to be ordained by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is in the one who ordains him.