The complex histories of the groups that broke away from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after the death of church founder Joseph Smith were the focus Saturday of the 10th annual Utah Pioneer Symposium sponsored by the Sons of Utah Pioneers.
The discussions by Brigham Young University professors centered on the history of the Community of Christ church, also known as the Reorganized LDS Church, along with William McClellan and James Strang, leaders of splinter groups among dozens that broke off from the LDS Church after the death of Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum.
Some parts of the presentations turned into an open forum with feedback and input from the audience. There were many questions and concerns, and in a presentation, Eric Rogers, supervisor of strategic planning at BYU, addressed the historical development of the Reorganized Church and the frequently asked questions by the members of the LDS Church today.
He talked about the issues that had the biggest hand in causing groups to break away from the LDS Church or the "Brighamites" — the rejection of polygamy and the idea of a linear succession involving who should be the next prophet. Joseph Smith III, the prophet's son, headed the RLDS Church, while Brigham Young was the second president of the LDS Church.
Many of the groups that broke off later joined together under central leadership to form the Reorganized Church. However, in 1984, more groups broke away after a gradual liberalization in doctrine, according to the presentations.
Rogers also discussed the doctrinal differences between the LDS Church and RLDS Church in tithing, the Word of Wisdom and temple ordinances.
"There is some value in investigating these splinter groups because we have 20/20 hindsight," said Larry Porter, a presenter and professor of church history and doctrine at BYU. "We can look back and we can see where they have been and what they did and what happened to them — it is extremely important to our understanding."
Louis Pickett, national president of the Sons of Utah Pioneers, said the symposium has a historical theme each year and that this year's presentations and turnout were among the best.
"I think this particular subject struck an interest among many members of our group," Pickett said. "It is an interesting subject that many people don't know a lot about."