Archivist who oversees Joseph Smith documents and seer stones to lose job

Associated Press/July 6, 2009

Salt Lake City - Some scholars of early Mormon history have begun a letter-writing campaign in hopes of preserving the job of an archivist who works for the Community of Christ, an Independence, Mo.-based church.

Ron Romig, 60, has worked as the lead archivist for the church since 1988. He said he was told June 15 that his position -- and those of other church employees -- were being cut for budgetary reasons.

Scholars say Romig is an invaluable resource who has helped dozens of historians complete research and books related to the early Mormon church and the distinct religious movements that sprang from Mormonism after the death of church founder Joseph Smith.

"It's amazing how many times I pick up a new book on Mormon history, and when you look at the list of people who have helped (the author), there's Ron Romig's name," said Bill Russell, an emeritus professor of American history and government at Graceland University in Lamoni, Iowa.

Russell, a member of the Community of Christ, said he recognizes the economic reality of the times, but fears church leaders don't "understand the value of an archivist."

Bill Shephard, president of the John Whitmer Historical Association, started the letter-writing campaign through an e-mail sent to dozens of historians.

"Many scholars in the Mormon history field are concerned not just that they are letting a good person go, but wondering what will happen to the historical collection," said Shephard, a retired teacher and historian from Burlington, Wis., who is a member of a small Mormon offshoot known as the Strangites. "They have such a treasure trove."

Formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Community of Christ was founded by Mormons who considered Smith's son -- not Brigham Young -- the rightful successor to the church presidency. Joseph Smith III became the RLDS' first prophet in 1860. The faith changed its name to Community of Christ in 2001 and today claims about 250,000 members in 50 countries. Its archives include many original Smith family documents and other unique items, such as the seer stones believed to be used by Joseph Smith to translate the Book of Mormon.

The intersection between the Community of Christ and the Mormon church is a complicated and sometimes prickly religious relationship. Romig has successfully bridged those gaps through his decades of work with historians, Shephard and others say.

"Romig is, over the last 20 years, the person most responsible for creating a cross culture of history, moving beyond just LDS or Community of Christ history into a larger concept of Mormon history," said Melvin C. Johnson, a professor of history and English at Angelina College in Lufkin, Texas. "He has been really important in cutting down a lot of the angst, anger and religious one-upsmanship."

So far, Community of Christ president Steve Veazey has received 18 letters written on Romig's behalf, church spokeswoman Kendra Friend said.

She said the recession had affected the church's ability to maintain current staffing, despite cost-cutting efforts.

"It was necessary to reduce our staffing in countries throughout the world and international headquarters in Independence," Friend wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "This is a difficult time for us and so many others."

It's not clear if the letters of support will have any effect on the church's decision, although a similar effort a few years did save Romig's job. On Thursday, Romig said he was aware of the letter campaign but had not asked for anyone to lobby church leaders on his behalf.

Romig is scheduled to leave his job at the end of August. He said the church has been gracious in allowing him some time to try and secure a new position.

"It's been a great privilege working in this position," Romig said. "I've developed great respect for the different ecclesiastical expressions of Mormonism. I find that each perspective brings something important."

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