What is the Community of Christ?

The Pitch, Kansas City/November 13, 2009

The sickening allegations against Burrell Mohler Sr. and four of his sons have brought unwelcome attention to the Community of Christ, a church that's headquartered in Independence. Mohler and two of his sons, David Mohler and Jared Mohler, are lay ministers in the church. (Saying the allegations were being taken seriously, the church suspended the individuals' "priesthood licenses.")

At times like these, it's perhaps helpful to remind ourselves what the Community of Christ is and is not. When the story broke, NBC Action News referred to the church as "a cross between Christian Orthodox" -- huh? -- "and Mormonism."

The Community of Christ and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the Mormon Church, share the teachings of Joseph Smith. But they are not the same. The fork developed after Smith, the movement's original prophet, was killed by a mob in Illinois in 1844. Brigham Young led a group of followers to Utah. Smith's widow, Emma Smith, meanwhile, remained with her family in Illinois. Eventually, her eldest son, Joseph Smith III, reported receiving a calling from God to head a new church, which in 1872 became known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The church moved to Independence in 1920.

The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints changed its name to Community of Christ in 2001. The church has 250,000 members in 50 countries.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the Mormon Church, claims 13.5 million members. While based in Salt Lake, the church has a visitors center in Independence, which Smith held to be a promise land. Five hundred feet away stands the striking Community of Christ headquarters and temple. To anyone with low familiarity with the angel Moroni, the placement of the two landmarks can seem a bit confusing.

In some ways, Community of Christ is the more "modern" church. Joseph Smith III rejected such Mormon practices as baptism for the dead and polygamy (Mormons officially ceased plural marriage in 1890). In the Community of Christ, women play roles at the church's highest levels, which is not the case in Salt Lake.

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