Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite)

From Academic Kids

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, also known as the Strangite church, is a denomination of the Latter Day Saint movement and a part of the Mormon faith. The Strangite church is distinct from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is larger and better-known, although both organizations claim to be the original church established by Joseph Smith, Jr., on April 6, 1830. The Strangite church is headquartered in an area of Burlington, Wisconsin known as Voree.

Contents

History

Early History

The Strangites share the same early history with other Latter Day Saint denominations, up until the assassination of Joseph Smith Jr., the founding prophet of the movement. (See History of the Latter Day Saint movement.) During the resulting succession crisis, several early Mormon leaders asserted their claims to succeed Smith, including Sidney Rigdon, Brigham Young and James J. Strang.

Rigdon's claim rested on the fact that he was the sole surviving member of the First Presidency, the church's highest leadership quorum. Young initially argued that Smith could have no immediate successor, but that the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (of which he was president) should be sustained as a new First Presidency. Rigdon and his followers relocated to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but after some early successes the organization faltered. The Rigdonite church lives on today in the form of the "Bickertonite" Church of Jesus Christ. Young's followers migrated west to the Great Basin where they grew and became what is now The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints based in Utah.

The Prophet James J. Strang

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OldVoree.jpg
A map of old Voree, engraved on a monument at the townsite.
Although he was a relatively recent convert at the time of Smith's death, James J. Strang posed a strong and initially quite successful challenge to the claims of Young and Rigdon. Strang was a Mormon elder charged with establishing a stake or a place of refuge in Wisconsin, should the Mormons be forced to abandon their headquarters in Nauvoo, Illinois. He possessed a letter, known as the Letter of Appointment. This letter, purported to have been written by Smith prior to his death, appointed Strang to be Smith's successor as church president. Strang also claimed that at the moment of Smith's death, he was visited by angels who ordained him to be Smith's successor.

Strang's claim appealed to many Latter Day Saints who had been attracted to early Mormonism's doctrines of continuing revelation through the mouth of a living prophet. At the time, Young and the Twelve were announcing, "You no longer have a prophet, but you have apostles...," Strang announced that there was, indeed, a Mormon prophet who communed with angels. Strang's claims were further bolstered by his discovery of metal plates, purporting to contain an ancient record. The plates were found in the Hill of Promise, which later became the temple site in the Strangite town of Voree. Strang's translation of the plates, indicated that they were the history of "Rajah Manchou of Vorito." The translation of new plates must have reminded many Latter Day Saints of Smith's translation of the Golden Plates and the Kinderhook Plates.

Early Success of the Church

Many prominent Latter Day Saints believed in the Letter of Appointment and accepted Strang as Mormonism's second "Prophet, Seer, Revelator and Translator." These included the early church's Presiding Patriarch (and Apostle) William Smith (Joseph's only surviving brother), Book of Mormon witness Martin Harris, Presiding Stake President William Marks, Presiding Bishop and Trustee-in-Trust George Miller, Apostle John E. Page, former Apostle William E. McLellin and many others, including Joseph Smith's mother, Lucy Mack Smith. Another adherent was John C. Bennett, former mayor of Nauvoo and a former member of the First Presidency. Bennett had been in Smith's innermost circle but broke with the founding prophet and written an Anti-Mormon exposé. Bennett may have introduced Strang to some of the doctrines secretly in Nauvoo, including plural marriage. Bennett also founded a Strangite fraternal society known as the Order of Illuminati, but his presence disrupted the Strangite church and was the cause of a schism. Strang initially defended Bennett, but eventually excommunicated him.

Strang found his greatest support among the scattered branches of Mormonism, which he frequently toured. His followers may have numbered as many as 12,000 at a time when Young had perhaps 20,000 followers and Rigdon another few hundred. After Strang won a debate at a conference in Norway, Illinois, he converted the entire branch and even the elder Young sent to debate him. The Strangite church published a periodical known as the Voree Herald. The church also fielded a mission to England — one of the primary sources of converts to Mormonism. This mission was led by Martin Harris, the original financier of the Book of Mormon and one of its Three Witnesses. Harris proved a poorer spokesman than Strang, however, and the English missions sided with Young's church.

Migration to Beaver Island

Because the high price of land in the Voree area made it difficult for Latter Day Saints to gather there, Strang moved the headquarters of the church to Beaver Island in Lake Michigan. Here the Strangites founded a town known as St. James and established a printing press there for a new periodical, the Northern Islander. St. James became an entrepôt for Great Lakes shipping and the Strangites found new rivals in the more established center on Mackinac Island. After a long, uneasy relationship, the Mackinac Islanders, in conjunction with dissenters from the church attacked Beaver Island and shot Strang June 20, 1856. The Strangites were then rounded up, put onto steamships and forced off the island. Most were dropped off in Chicago, destitute and deprived of all their property.

Death of Strang, Scattering of the Church

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VoreeChurch.jpg
The old church house in Voree where the archives of the church had been kept.
Although Strang lived on a few months at his home in Voree, he refused to name a successor, insisting that the call must come through God. The death of the prophet and the loss of the settlements on Beaver Island were twin catastrophes for the church. The membership was left scattered and leaderless. Eventually, most of the former Strangites were gathered together into the New Organization of the Latter Day Saints, led by Joseph Smith Jr.'s son, Joseph Smith III. (This organization is now known as the Community of Christ.)

A few congregations of Strangites, however, remained loyal to their prophet's memory. Wingfield W. Watson was a prominent leader who kept the church alive into the 20th century. Today the Strangite church has a small but steady following. It is based at its old Voree headquarters in what is now Burlington, Wisconsin.

Doctrines

The church believes in seventh-day worship, sacrificial ordinances, ordains women to some offices of the priesthood, practices baptism for the dead, an endowment ceremony similar to that practiced by pre-Nauvoo Mormons, and believes in Eternal Marriage. Historically, some members of the church practiced plural marriage.

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