An Open Letter To the Clergy .... Elbert A. Smith

Office of
FIRST PRESIDENCY

LAMONI, IOWA.

Dear Sir:

Understanding that you are interested in the nation-wide campaign against Mormonism, I desire to approach you with a request that I believe you will concede to be only fair and just.

The request is this: that in your lectures, and articles written for publication, you will make a clear distinction between the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and the Latter Day Saint Church of Utah, commonly called the Mormon Church.

We have suffered much from misunderstanding and misrepresentation, owing to the popular tendency to confuse us with the dominant church in Utah, and we ask your help to clear up this misunderstanding, to the extent demanded by common justice.

As a representative of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and in behalf of the highest presiding council of that body, I crave your indulgence for a moment while I set forth some facts that you should clearly understand before you reach a conclusion or express yourself upon Mormonism.

No study of Mormonism is complete that ignores that body of believers in the Book of Mormon and the prophetic mission of Joseph Smith that is sometimes called "The nonpolygamous branch of the Mormon Church," a title that is not wholly correct, but is perfectly true so far as the nonpolygamous clause is concerned. (The term "Mormonism" is used in this letter as a matter of convenience and is not accepted by us as a proper church title.)

First of all let me state that we do not teach, practice, or believe the doctrine of polygamy, nor have we ever done so. We regard it as unscriptural, unscientific, and contrary to the nobler sentiments of manhood. We look upon it with unmixed abhorrence, as a menace to that great corner stone of civilization, the home. We believe that a man should have but one wife, and her he should love and cherish with all his heart, keeping himself sexually for her and from all others.

We reject the doctrine advanced by Brigham Young, that "Adam is our God,, and the only God with whom we have to do." We believe in God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and in the brotherhood of man, just " those great facts are set forth in the Bible.

We reject the idea of "blood atonement" taught by Brigham Young, and recognize excommunication from the church as the extreme penalty within the power of the church to inflict here on earth. The State alone may deprive a man of life, liberty, or property.

We do not believe in political interference. Our members are free to support any political party, without dictation or interference from the priesthood.

We do not believe in commercialism within the church as exhibited in Utah. While we hold to the law of tithing as a scriptural doctrine, the paying of tithes is optional with the membership, and the spiritual authorities are not permitted to enrich themselves from the tithes gathered. A strict account of all money received and expended is published annually, and the account is audited by auditors elected and sustained by the membership of the church.

We are democratic in principle, to this extent -- that in the general conference, legislation may originate with any delegate, whether of the priesthood or the laity, male or female; and that all proposed legislation is freely debated on the floor of the assembly, and is decided by majority vote.

We believe that the laws of the land should be strictly obeyed, and hold to the principle laid down by Joseph Smith during his life: "He that keepeth the laws of God hath no need to break the laws of the land."

Here permit me to state briefly a few items -of history: Joseph Smith organized the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints April 6, 1830. He was assassinated in June, 1844. During the period, of his life and presidency both he and the church taught strict monogamy and denounced polygamy and similar evils as evidence abundantly shows; despite the statements of certain encyclopedias and sensational exposes of Mormonism.

After the death of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young led a part of the membership of the church to Utah, where he later introduced the doctrines that we have mentioned; and these doctrines have become so notorious that many now suppose that they were a part of so-called "Mormonism" from the first.

Those who could not conscientiously follow Brigham Young and could not accept his doctrines, came together and reorganized under the leadership of Joseph Smith, the oldest son of Joseph Smith, the founder of the church. The Reorganized Church has headquarters at Lamoni, Iowa, and Independence, Missouri.

To avoid confusion, I will here state that Joseph F. Smith, for many years president of the Utah Mormon Church, notorious for his polygamous views and practices, was the son of Hyrum Smith; while the first president of the Reorganized Church, Joseph Smith, was the son of Joseph Smith, the founder of the church, and in turn was succeeded by his son, Frederick M. Smith. The descendants of the Joseph Smith who founded the church have a regularly-organized association, with constitution and by-laws, and a membership of over one hundred, including direct descendants and those who have married into the family. Not one of these descendants holds membership in the Utah Mormon Church or gives allegiance in any way to the erroneous doctrines of that body of people.

The civil courts have twice sustained our contention that we are the true successors-and that after long and exhaustive investigation. You will see the deep significance of that fact at a glance. It means that all that we stand for now in the way of morality and religion, the church stood for under the administration of Joseph Smith, prior to 1844; and the conditions in Utah to-day are not a true criterion by which to judge the church in its beginning.

Behind the evil mask of Utah Mormonism is seen the face of Brigham Young, not that of Joseph Smith. The so-called revelation sanctioning polygamy -- found in Utah editions of the Book of Doctrine and Covenants -- while it bears the name of Joseph Smith, was never published until eight years after his death, and was then produced by Brigham Young. It is a fraudulent document.

At this juncture you may well ask for some proofs to support my statements. Space will not permit me to produce one tenth of all that might be furnished; yet I will cite you to a few evidences.

The following is an extract from a decision rendered by Judge L. S. Sherman ' in the Court of Common Pleas, Lake County, Ohio. (See Journal entry, February term, 1880) :

That the said Plaintiff, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is a Religious Society, founded and organized upon the same doctrines and tenets, and having the same church organization, as the original Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, organized in 1830, by Joseph Smith, and was organized pursuant to the constitution, laws and usages of said original Church, and has branches located in Illinois, Ohio and other States.

That the church in Utah, the Defendant of which John Taylor is president, has materially and largely departed from the faith, doctrines, laws, ordinances and usages of said original Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and has incorporated into its system of faith the doctrines of celestial marriage and a plurality of wives, and the doctrine of Adam-god worship, contrary to the laws and constitution of said original Church.

And the Court do further find that the Plaintiff, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is the True and Lawful continuation of, and successor to the said original Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, organized in 1830, and is entitled in law to all its rights and property.

March 16, 1894, Judge John F. Philips, in the Circuit Court of the United States, for the Western District of Missouri, Western Division, rendered a decision in the famous "Temple Lot Case," from which I quote:

The Book of Mormon itself inveighed against the sin of polygamy. ... Conformably to the Book of Mormon, the Book of Doctrine and Covenants expressly declared "that we believe that one man should have but one wife, and one woman but one husband." And this declaration of the church on this subject reappeared in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, editions of 1846 and 1856. Its first appearance as a dogma of the church [the dogma of polygamy] was in the Utah Church in 1852.

Claim is made by the Utah Church that this doctrine is predicated on a revelation made to Joseph Smith in July, 1843. No such revelation was ever made public during the life of Joseph Smith, and under the law of the church it could not become an article of faith and belief until submitted to and adopted by the church. This was never done....

The Utah Church further departed from the principles and doctrines of the Original Church by changing in their teaching the first statement in the Article of Faith which was, "We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in his Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost," and in lieu thereof taught the doctrine of "Adam-god worship." ...

In 1852 the scattered fragments of the church, the remnants of those who held to the fortunes of the present Joseph Smith, son of the so-called

"Martyr," gathered together sufficiently for a nucleus of organization. They took the name of "The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints," and avowed their allegiance to the teachings of the ancient church; and their epitome of faith adopted, while containing differences in phraseology, in its essentials is but a reproduction of that of the church as it existed from 1830 to 1844. -- Decision of Judge John F. Philips in Temple Lot Case.

These court decisions must stand until reversed by some higher tribunal, and they should outweigh sensational statements of careless and uninformed writers.

United States Senator Julius C. Burrows was chairman of the Committee on Privileges and Elections during the long drawn out Reed Smoot Case. Great masses of evidence were examined, and scores of witnesses summoned. No man ever had a better opportunity to study the subject from the standpoint of an unprejudiced student. And at the close of this well-remembered case, Mr. Burrows made a speech in the United States Senate, from which I present two extracts for your consideration:

In order to induce his followers more readily to accept this infamous doctrine, Brigham Young himself invoked the name of Joseph Smith, the Martyr, whom many sincerely believed to be a true prophet, and ascribed to him the reception of a revelation from the Almighty in 1843, commanding the Saints to take unto themselves a multiplicity of wives, limited in number only by the measures of their desires. ... Such the mythical story palmed off on a deluded people. -- Congressional Record, December 13, 1906.

The death of Joseph Smith in 1844, however, carried dismay and demoralization throughout the entire membership of the Mormon Church, scattering its adherents in divers directions and for the time being seemed to presage the complete overthrow and dissolution of the organization. Recovering, however, from the shock, the scattered bands soon reappeared in various parts ,of the country and promulgated their doctrines with increased zeal, and set to work to reassemble and reorganize their scattered forces, resulting finally in the formation of what is now known and recognized as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, with headquarters at Lamoni, Iowa, and presided over by Joseph Smith, a son of the Prophet [at his death succeeded by his son, Frederick Madison Smith]. The courts have repeatedly declared this organization to be the legitimate successor of the original Mormon Church, and its adherents -- numbering some 50,000 [now over 60,000], peaceable, patriotic, and law-abiding citizens scattered throughout the United States in small church societies, conforming to the laws of their country wherever they may be, and adhering to the faith of the founder of their creed, repudiating and denouncing the doctrine of polygamy and its attendant crimes, without temple, endowment house, or secret order -- worship in the open like other church organizations, unquestioned and unmolested. -- Congressional Record, December 13,1906.

At the same time, Senator Fred T. Dubois, another member of the committee, made the following statement:

It is only fair, I think, for me to say -- and I am glad the distinguished Senator from Michigan (Mr. Burrows) treated upon it the other day -- that there is a branch of the Mormons, called the "Josephites," who ought to be separated clearly in the minds of all Senators from the Brighamite Mormons. The Josephites claim that they are custodians of the church as it was founded. They claim that Brigham Young has interjected doctrines into the church which the Mormons did not accept in the beginning. At any rate, however that may be, the Josephite Mormons, with their headquarters at Lamoni, in the State of Iowa, and wherever they are, no matter in what part of the country, are among the best of our citizens in all respects -- Congressional Record, December 17, 1906.

At the death of our first president, Joseph Smith, in Independence, Missouri, December 10, 1914, the Kansas City Journal had the following editorial:

But in the death of the late venerable head of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints the country loses an interesting and useful citizen. ...

Those who ignorantly confounded the Reorganized Church with Mormonism, in the objectionable acceptation of that term, will not appreciate the theological distinctions between the two nor understand that nothing was more hateful to Joseph Smith than the doctrines of Brigham Young, with their polygamous teachings and all the other features which make Utah Mormonism obnoxious in the eyes of the average American. ...

He was the prophet, but first of all he was the Christian gentleman and tl~e good citizen. As such he lived, as such he died, as such he will be remembered by all outside the household of his faith. ...

Kindly, cheerful, loyal to his own creed, tolerant of those of others, standing for modesty, simplicity, good citizenship, embodying in his private and public life all the virtues which adorn a character worthy of emulation -- such is the revelation which Joseph Smith leaves to the world, as the real interpretation of an ecclesiastical message translated into terms of human character. -- Kansas City Journal, December 12, 1914.

The Kansas City Star-Times for November 10, 1915, had the following in reply to an inquiry:

The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the original church in succession, and is in no way connected with the Utah Mormons. The Reorganized Church has always been an active and vigorous opponent of polygamy, and its members have the reputation of being law-abiding, peaceful citizens. The above facts are clearly set out in the decision of Federal Judge John F. Philips in the famous "Temple Lot" case.

Both the Journal and the Star-Times are published in close proximity to Independence, Missouri, the seat of our largest following.

So, in conclusion, I will repeat the statement, that no investigation of "Mormonism," as it is termed, is complete that ignores the Reorganized Church. Here is a great body of people who command respect because of their morality; and yet they believe in the Book of Mormon and in the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith. They are good citizens.

You must approach them from a different angle than that from which you approach the Mormons of Utah.

You can not wean them from their faith by attacking polygamy, for it has never been part of their creed.

You can not convert them by relating the old stories that prejudiced people told about Joseph Smith, -- to the effect that he was ignorant, dishonest, drunken, etc.

They believe that these stories are not true; and know that just as evil stories were told about Wesley and Luther in their time, and about the prophets of old, not even excepting the pure and holy man of Galilee, Jesus, the Son of God.

Of course I do not expect you to accede to all of our views without further investigation. Yet, I believe that you will concede the justice of the plea presented in the opening paragraphs of this letter.

And as a man of honor and fairness -- as I assume you are -- and as one who holds to the old idea of the "square deal," I trust that in your public and private utterances on this question you will make a clear distinction between our people and the dominant church of Utah, on those, fundamental questions of religion and morality outlined in the opening paragraphs of this communication.

Sincerely yours,

ELBERT A. SMITH.

For the First Presidency of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.