Thursday, June 07, 2007

Happy Nauvoo Expositor Day!

Our Church's Real Birthday!

In an act requiring the 19th-century equivalent of steel cahones, dissident Mormons published an expose of the secret and dramatically non-Christian rituals and teachings of Joseph Smith in Nauvoo - in Joseph's hometown.

On June 7th, 1844, William Law and William Marks printed a newspaper documenting and publicizing the eccentricities of theology and practice that Joseph Smith was publicly denying (while privately teaching), first among them: "spiritual wifery," aka, polygamy. They were loyal, believing Mormons who felt convicted that what was being taught in Nauvoo did not reflect the gospel of Jesus Christ, and said so.

Joseph responded, as prophet and mayor and commander of the local Mormon militia (the largest armed force in the country at the time), and ordered the printing press destroyed and the office ransacked. It was this violation of the First Amendment that eventually led to Smith's arrest and incarceration, which would facilitate his death at the hands of a mob of Missouri citizens. Marks and Law, and their families, were "escorted" out of town.

Although the publication of the Nauvoo Expositor led the way to a series of tragic events, the motivation behind the act is important to lift up. Since this auspicious beginning, those scattered and diverse believers in a restored gospel and church have felt a reverence for the revelation of God at work in the lives of the early church leaders, but their fundamental loyalty was to the gospel of Jesus. No matter how highly they held their leaders - even the Prophet Joseph Smith - they did not surrender their principle conviction: Jesus is the fullest revelation of God, and what nurtures discipleship to Jesus is good, what draws us away from the Lordship of Christ is bad. And there is a duty of dissenters within community to faithfully object, and state their reasons. And, there is no room for secret rituals or teachings in a community of Christ followers.

These are the underlying principles that were present at the publication of the Nauvoo Expositor. These are the seeds of our denomination, planted in the rich (and weird) history of Mormonism and the Second Great Awakening.

So, Happy Birthday, church. Happy Nauvoo Expositor Day!

(Note: "Nauvoo Expositor Day" is not a "holiday" officially recognized, endorsed or promoted by the Community of Christ. It is the creation of weird Mormon-history buffs, and eccentric Seminary students. This tongue-in-cheek post is not intended to offend or slight our Utah (LDS) cousins, who by and large view the publication of the Expositor and the ensuing events quite differently, and would not approve of making light of it this way.)

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  • Albeit tongue-and-cheek, there is so much truth buried in this writing. You truly hit the nail on the head when you said, "what nurtures discipleship to Jesus is good, what draws us away from the Lordship of Christ is bad."

    Thanks again Christian for sharing with us your journey.

    By Blogger Mike, at 5:22 PM  

  • I am such a huge fan of the Nauvoo Expositor, I wrote a whole paper on how it can set an example for how we ought to approach our theology and history in constructive ways. The Expositor can serve as a model for ambivalence: we don't have to have wholesale acceptance of a theological system, especially one that has parts of it that are simply unjust. The Expositor was not just a theological critique but also attempted to shed light on the abuse of young women that was going on in that community. They didn't throw the whole thing out, they just brought forward the aspects of the theology and life in Nauvoo that were neither Christian nor life-giving for all persons.

    This is an examination that I believe should always be going on with our theologies. We should always be asking ourselves what pieces of our theology and practice are life-giving and Christ-affirming, and which pieces just don't line-up.

    By Blogger Shannon, at 1:01 PM  

  • BTW, Shannon, I've seen at least one of your papers floating around the Seminary this past session as examples of what our best work should aspire to be. :-)

    By Blogger Christian, at 1:18 PM  

  • I've always felt that dissension was a very good thing. After all, most of my heroes are dissenters from the powers that be.

    Very interesting post and quite educational. Thanks!

    By Blogger Sansego, at 4:20 PM  

  • Christian, you must be mixing me up with some other Shannon... ;)

    By Blogger Shannon, at 5:16 PM  

  • Shannon - it was really you! I know you didn't attend the CofC Seminary, which makes it all the more impressive. :-) (I think Tony and Charmaine were the ones with the paper, if that helps connect the dots. I think the paper was titled: "Learning to Dance with the Skeletons in Your Closet.")

    By Blogger Christian, at 8:45 AM  

  • Oooooo...I love the title of that paper!!! Can I use it?!?

    By Blogger Sansego, at 3:05 PM  

  • I actually did take that class - I was trying to be modest. The "How to Dance with the Skeletons in Your Closet: Constructive approaches to deconstructed Community of Christ history" paper was written for the "Postmodern, Postcolonial Theologies" course I took at VST. I thought my fabulous paper that analyzed Roy Cheville's doctrine of God would have been the one circulating at the CofC seminary, but I'm glad it was the Skeletons one, I was quite pleased with it, especially since a non-CofC prof really liked it, I emailed it to T&C just after conference after telling them about it.

    By Blogger Shannon, at 4:35 PM  

  • Excellent post. That was indeed a defining newspaper and time in Mormon history.

    How might someone go about seeing a copy of that paper on dancing with the skeletons? :-)

    By Blogger Adam Gonnerman, at 9:22 AM  

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