I’ve learned about the curious case of Joseph Smith III.
LDS Church members may understand him to be a misguided prophet whose family did not follow the “true vine” of the gospel.
But he may have quite a case otherwise.
Smith III succeeded his father Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of Mormonism, in the Community of Christ (formerly Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).
Here’s his case:
Not only church patriarch Joseph Smith, Sr., but the prophet himself (at least twice) prophesied via blessings that Smith III would lead the church upon the prophet’s death. One blessing was given in 1844, before the prophet died.
Anyone involved with Mormonism should read “Joseph Smith III: Pragmatic Prophet.” University of Illinois Press offers a fair recounting.
We read that Smith III:
- Believed that the church lost its way in the 1840s, after the bank failure of Joseph Smith, Jr. (henceforth called ‘prophet’) and doctrines like polygamy were introduced;
- Studied law and saw that as a basis for religion, particularly in terms of a “committee system” (more democratic), “pragmatism” and “legalism”;
- Was described in reference to the phrase “one mighty and strong,” which is used in Mormon circles even today to consider someone who will rise to leadership in inspired fashion;
- Was rejected by leaders of the Utah church despite the prophecies;
- Was in favor of ending slavery, considering himself “a Lincoln man”;
- Proactively taught that polygamy was not of God, declaring plural marriage to oppose the Christian message;
- “Was a master at mitigating conflict,” whereas the succession crisis, which Brigham Young emerged from as the LDS Church president, wasn’t;
- Sent a missionary force to Utah to gather Latter-day Saints to the correct church;
- Got 500 letters from the Salt Lake valley asking for missionaries to be sent there;
- Sought reconciliation with Brigham Young’s church and had a role in the Edmunds-Tucker Act, which ended polygamy;
- Was in Washington, D.C. pursuing an end to polygamy while there were LDS polygamy issues in Mexico;
- Was recommended by Brigham Young to replace the prophet after the prophet died;
- Was highly respected by non-LDS folks and highly regarded the constitutional mandate of separation between church and state and also the importance of religious freedom for all;
- Didn’t want his own son to be the succeeding prophet until his son became intently involved in and serious about the church, and the son was much more involved in leading the church than challenger R.C. Evans had been;
- Didn’t have a funeral of fanfare, asking that money that would have gone to his funeral be instead given to charity;
- Had unique leadership qualities in being “rational,” “traditional” and “charismatic”;
- Helped Mormonism in general, including the LDS Church and all Mormon sects gain more notoriety;
And this is interesting:
- His church was regarded as the authentic successor to the prophet’s when a judge ruled that Community of Christ had rightful ownership of most of the Kirtland Temple property.