The House of the Lord in Kirtland

The House of the Lord in Kirtland, Ohio has been a major topic in the news as of late, thanks to the recent transfer of ownership between Community of Christ and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. On the very same day that the transfer was announced, the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk shared a post discussing the history of the Kirtland Temple. What follows here is a co-post to that discussion.

One thing that has been on my mind that some of the content on the From the Desk page responds to is how members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints view members of Community of Christ and their relationship with our shared history. I’ve heard from several people here in Utah that they think that Community of Christ doesn’t believe in Joseph Smith anymore. While their relationship with the Prophet has become more complicated in the last 60 years as they have adjusted to scholarship and the needs of a global mission, I would not say that they were fine with letting go of these historic sites or that they are completely unmoored from their Mormon roots. As is noted at From the Desk, Lachlan MacKay (an apostle and historic sites director for Community of Christ) “says that his church no longer has the human or financial resources to properly care for the building, and calls the decision to sell it ‘devastating emotionally.'” MacKay added that “There was a time when I thought it might break me,” while the decision was being made. It’s for this very reason that some of the press releases related to the sale of the Kirtland Temple (and other sites and artifacts) have noted that it is a time of mourning for Community of Christ. As David W. Smith put it,

This announcement was met with joy by many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or Latter-day Saints) and with sorrow by many members of Community of Christ. As Latter-day Saints celebrate receiving ownership of these important historical assets, we can also “mourn with those that mourn” (Mosiah 18:9) in Community of Christ who are devastated at having to part with these cherished pieces of history.

Rejoicing and Mourning: Context for Selling the Kirtland Temple.

Likewise, Stephen Veazey, president of Community of Christ said, “I agonized over the impact that selling these historic sites would have on members and friends who deeply valued the church’s ownership. On occasion I wept tears of concern for the disappointment and grief some would experience.” It was not a decision that was taken lightly.

One interesting discussion from From the Desk is how Community of Christ came to have ownership of Kirtland Temple in the first place:

The Community of Christ owned the pioneer sanctuary for a long period of time until 2024.

In 1880, an Ohio court’s post-dismissal finding of fact indicated that a group of Joseph Smith’s descendants owned the title to the building. This ownership was later transferred to the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS) led by Joseph Smith III, the church now known as the Community of Christ.

joint statement released by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Community of Christ provides a historical summary:

After the Saints left Kirtland in the 1830s, different parties controlled access to the temple over the years. In 1901, Community of Christ, then known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (“RLDS Church”) secured title to the Kirtland Temple through legal proceedings.

They obtained ownership through legal disputes around the turn of the twentieth century.

Another interesting story had to do with Kirtland Temple being a shared sacred space for Community of Christ and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

M. Russell Ballard asked for—and received—permission to use the Kirtland Temple for a 1993 missionary training and sacrament meeting. It was a spiritual experience for everyone involved, including Al Walters, a Community of Christ representative who was initially opposed to the idea.

Walters recalls being upset that leaders from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wanted to use his temple when they had ones of their own. He grew angry as the meeting progressed, becoming sick enough that he thought he was having a heart attack.

As Elder Yoshihiko Kikuchi stood to speak, Walters had a sacred experience (he would later call it a “spiritual spanking”) that demonstrated the cooperative spirit that has long existed between the two churches:

Al felt the spirit come over him. An audible voice that only he heard made three statements: ‘Alan, this is not your temple; this is mine. These are also my Saints. This is an acceptable use of this sacred space!”Karl Ricks Anderson recounting the experience of Al Walters

Both groups of Saints view the House of the Lord as a sacred site. The Church so far has indicated that “The Church will use the Kirtland Temple as a historic building rather than convert it into an operating temple,” and will Community of Christ access to the building, much as they have allowed access to us over the years. And, as noted in the From the Desk post, “The Kirtland Temple is an official national historic landmark on the US National Register of Historic Places. It was also identified by Patheos in 2023 as one of the ‘100 most holy places on earth.'”

For more on the history of Kirtland Temple, head on over to the Latter-day Saint history blog, From the Desk to read the full post. While you’re there, check out the Thomas S. Monson quotes page and the Bruce R. McConkie 101 page.

2 comments for “The House of the Lord in Kirtland

  1. Transfer?! Give me break! The LDS Church purchased the properties for a $192 Million dollars; one can “buy anything in this World for money”. And, Mormons have become very adept at doing that.

  2. It is very interesting that the temple we built that has the most heavenly manifestations in our history happens to not be used like all the other temples built sense then. Probably because it was the first.

    Grizz – I would rather the church buy these historical properties than invest in another stock. Maybe we paid a bit more than we should have to settle past rifts between the two orgs. It was not a smooth breakup back in the day. I am guessing the 2 sides are feeling good about the deal. Win/win.

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