The New Godbeites

During the course of its history the Church has spawned more than its share of schismatic organizations. During the Nauvoo period William Law and others disaffected with Joseph over polygamy, temple ordinances, the political Kingdom of God, and radical teachings about the nature of God formed the New Church, which was meant to institutionalize Mormonism in its pure form before it was infected by the Nauvoo era innovations. After the abandonment of polygamy Musser and others broke off to found the various fundamentalist sects. Indeed, since the Manifesto, virtually all of the Mormon schismatic groups have been on what one might call the Mormon Right. They have objected to what they see as excessive Mormon compromise with the broader society. Interestingly, however, Mormonism has also spawned liberal schismatic groups. I am not taking here about the Mormon Alliance or other liberal Mormon groups. Rather, I am talking about Mormons who view the current Church as too hierarchical, authoritarian, and out of step with enlightened thinking who have gone off and formed their own churches.

The paradigmatic historical example of this sort of liberal schismatic sect is the Godbeites. The Godbeites were a group of modern, forward-thinking Mormons during the last years of Brigham Young’s administration. They objected to a number of things about the Church. They disliked polygamy. They thought that the Church should not interfere in economic matters (this was at the height of the ZCMI and the Mormon boycott of Gentile businesses). They insisted that Church leaders should not meddle in politics. They also were very into spiritualism. In short, they wanted the Church to move toward the Victorian mainstream. At seances the spirit of Joseph Smith made an appearance to urge them on, and they eventually founded their own church. Nothing much came of the Godbeite church. It soon disintegrated, and its only lasting legacy was the Salt Lake Tribune, which started its life as the official organ of Godbeism.

What I find fascinating is that some on the contemporary Mormon Left have set out to found their own churches. They are not working for transformation of the Church. Nor are they just creating clubs or forums for like minded friends. Rather, they are creating actual ecclesiastical structures (although structure may be a bit of an ambitious word) complete with new scriptures and in some cases ordinances.

Consider Reform Mormonism, a liberal, non-hierarchical branch of Restorationism. According to their new scripture, The Book of Michael:

It has been taught that people must obey God; that in order to interact with God in a future state, people must achieve requirements that God has set. You have immediate access to God within yourself at any moment in this existence. While in the next existence we may understand the nature of eternity more fully, access to God is not different than it is in this existence. When you are in an eternal state, do you expect to visit with God as you imagine in time in space? For what reason would God prefer to exist as a particular objectification when God could choose to exist in an eternal state wherein you have access to God immediately rather than by physical proximity? We presently have full access to God. In the next existence, interaction with God will not be significantly different. What we learn in this life relative to interaction with God will serve us in the next. In order to believe that God’s intent is for people to obey commandments, one must understand why God would seek to establish commandments. It is easy to understand why people would want other people to obey commandments, and therefore it is easy to understand why people might ascribe to God the idea of commandments. Commandments always come to us from other people. Be wary of their intention, as many problems in Earth’s history have been caused by those who claim God’s sanction, convince others of it, and then lead others to destructive acts that impede their progression. (Michael 3:1-6)

Needless to say Reform Mormonism seems to be very accomodating to virtually any set of beliefs, is very non-judgmental, and doesn’t get hung up on issues of authority. Reform Mormonism (as yet) lacks ordinances. However, for those seeking a liberal Mormon sect with a more avuncular ritual, look no further than the Restoration Church of Jesus Christ. (Not be confused with the Restoration Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, an RLDS off shoot). They teach:

Through the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord restored the sacred sealing authority to the earth. As with the Apostle Peter of old, the Lord gave Joseph Smith authority, that “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” This same authority to bind loving relationships for time and all eternity exists today in the Restoration Church of Jesus Christ. We practice all of the ordinances of the house of the Lord, and authoritatively seal them upon all loving couples, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation.

I have no idea about the size and health of these neo-Godbeites. It seems to me that most Mormons looking for a more liberal ecclesiastical home end up as Episcopalians or Unitarians. (My theory is that the choice hinges on one’s taste in choir music and liturgy.) Hence, these off shoots have to compete with some well established liberal alternatives. Still, the Unitarians don’t claim to have the sealing power or perform the ordinances of the Lord’s House, so there is no doubt some market niche for these groups.

And who knows. One of them might start a newspaper.

8 comments for “The New Godbeites

  1. ronin
    September 24, 2004 at 8:59 pm

    Like the Unitarian Universalists looks like the Restoration Church of Jesus Christ accepts SSM as acceptable.
    Plus the link to “Reform Mormonism” brings up a 404 page

  2. September 25, 2004 at 2:50 am

    For those interested, the book Wayward Saints is a pretty good history of the Godbeite movement. It is interesting as the parallels with more modern movements are quite pronounced.

  3. ronin
    September 25, 2004 at 8:46 am

    Checked out the sites, seems to me, they seem to think we are some how oppressed in our Church, and they have figured out how to set us free!!! You can realise all the blessings, without having to work for them, how convenient is that?
    Thanks, but, no thanks. I am going to stick with our Church, come what may!!!

  4. Steven
    September 25, 2004 at 11:40 am

    Re: Reform Mormonism, I found the page approaching reform mormonism from an LDS perspective. Quite interesting reading. Basically says you can do anything you want, even though those old pesky inconvenient LDS rules say otherwise.

    My favorite was a quote about Sunday worship: “You can even take a Sunday off and just relax, if that seems the most appropriate thing to do.”

  5. ronin
    September 25, 2004 at 11:45 am

    I have had to take many a sunday off from going to Chruch, (due to health reasons), but never to just hang out, throw a steak of the barbie, and take the day off from religion!!! Plus, Section 89, hey, just choose to follow it, if you feel like it, eh? Also realised, i am a oppressive rightwing Mormon, who is oppressed by the GA and the Bishopric, only that I dont know it yet!!! :) :)

  6. Hans
    September 26, 2004 at 9:15 am

    Actually the choir music at the Episcopal Church is pretty good, but it’s really fantastic at the United Methodists…if only their beliefs weren’t so liberal!

    As for the Unitarians (also known as the Church of Anything Goes, even atheism), I am reminded of the old story of a Unitarian family that relocated to the Deep South. Seems that the the local Ku Klux Klan was a bit puzzled by them moving into their neighborhood, so instead of burning a cross on their front lawn, they burned a large question mark.

  7. Austin Frost
    September 29, 2004 at 2:26 am

    Our problem isn’t the music, it’s the poor acoustic quality of our chapels: the “carpeted walls” and absorbant drywall suck the beauty right out of the tunes!

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