Wednesday, March 6, 2024

A Historic Shift: Community of Christ Sells Kirtland Temple and Early Documents

via Flickr
In a move that truly shocked me when I heard of it, the denomination known as Community of Christ, formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has sold its historic temple in Kirtland, Ohio. Additionally, it has sold historic documents dating back to the earliest days of the Latter-day Saint movement as well as its properties in Nauvoo, Illinois. All is going to the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The proceeds from this sale will go into the denomination's endowments, which I take are managed like investment funds. Community of Christ is thus still on a course it began in the 20th century. Over the past 100 years the church has gone from being a sect seeing itself as the one true church, to a critical reevaluation of those truth claims. It has gone from denying the history of Joseph Smith as a polygamist to clearly confirming that was fact. Along the way it shed its original name, and now it is letting go of it's most prominent, tangible pieces of history.

Community of Christ has been in dramatic decline at least since it began opening up about its history and reevaluating its doctrine. Up until the 1970s, for instance, there were several congregations of the RLDS Church in operation in New Jersey. Now there remains only one, in Woodbury. In the mid-2000s I attended a congregation in Middlesex, New Jersey off and on for a time, and it is now long gone. The membership of the larger church departed for the traditionalist Restoration branches, for other types of churches, or off into being religious "nones." One family I knew from the Middlesex congregation had started to make a habit of attending an evangelical church as well, for the youth programming in particular. 

I'm not sure what this sale will accomplish. I understand it from a business perspective. Offloading physical assets that require maintenance and upkeep is a good plan. What will the money actually go to do for the mission of the denomination, though? That's what remains to be seen. It could sit in the endowment, growing over time, but will any part of it go toward actually advancing the denomination's mission of peace and community? Will membership grow as a result of these additional funds? Will lives be changed through programs addressing poverty, addiction, LGBTQ issues, equality, and justice generally?

I hope they make the most of this opportunity. I really do. 

My prediction is that within a generation the Book of Mormon will be dropped from its official canon of Scripture, and the Doctrine & Covenants the denomination uses will be heavily revised to remove portions that are not in line with present belief and practice. The Inspired Version, already in disuse, will also be a relic of the past. At that the transformation of the church from a "one true church" sect to a mainline-style denomination will be complete. Whether there will be any members left at that point, particularly in North America, is just one more question to add to the pile.