Vol. 7, No. 2, 1990

Articles on Mormonism

Former Member Burns "Temple Lot" Church After Joining Mormons

James Walker

A former member of the Church of Christ (Temple Lot), a small Mormon splinter group, has been charged with burglary and arson in the January 1, 1990 fire that destroyed the 88-year-old historic church building in Independence, Missouri (Kansas City Times, Jan. 2, 1990; p. 1). Arrested was 25-year-old Jordan Smith, who had been excommunicated from the Temple Lot Church for joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons).

Smith, who had warned church leaders for months that, "God had ordered him to cleanse the church site," had barricaded himself inside the building and phoned police claiming to have weapons and hand grenades. After about an hour, Smith agreed to surrender provided he first be allowed to perform a dance (Ibid). Police captured Smith while he was performing what officers called "a native American Indian dance" on the front stoop of the burning church. Smith, whose cheek bones were painted with bright-colored stripes like war paint, was reported to have smiled from the back of the patrol car as fire trucks rushed to the already burning building.

Smith had told church leaders that Communists using chemical warfare were about to invade Missouri and that he would burn the church after the invasion. Smith's wife reported that his revelations were the result of "'tremendous amounts of research' in an effort to correlate world events with Scripture and develop prophecies of future events," (Ibid, p. A-7).

Independence, Missouri, a suburb of Kansas City, is important in Mormon prophetic speculation because of Joseph Smith's claims that it was the site of the Garden of Eden and that Christ would one day return to set up his kingdom, the "New Jerusalem" here, (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 18, pp. 67-68).

C. LeRoy Wheaton Jr., a church elder, reported that Smith had given the church problems in the past and was bodily removed from the building once for "wearing a sword" to church and threatening other members.

Smith, who had told others he was part American Indian, was attending the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS), the Mormon Church (LDS), as well as the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) according to William Sheldon, Secretary of the Council of Apostles (Temple Lot). Jordan Smith was finally excommunicated from the Temple Lot Church after it was found that he recently had been baptized in the Mormon Church (LDS).

All three rival churches believe in the Book of Mormon. But each believes their own church represents the only true followers of Joseph Smith, Jr. who brought forth the Book of Mormon. Each group has their own twelve apostles and vary greatly on doctrine. (see Divergent Paths of the Restoration, by Steven Shields p. 31, 65, and 76). The site of the burned church is controversial to followers of Joseph Smith because of a prophecy given by the Church founder in 1835 that a Temple would be built on the plot of land adjacent to the destroyed church. According to the prophecy, the temple was to have been built during the lifetime of those who were alive in 1835 when the revelation was given. The Temple Lot group owns the actual spot dedicated by Joseph Smith, but no temple has been built yet. The RLDS have begun construction on a temple across the street from the Temple Lot site and the now destroyed church. (Sources for this story include live coverage from KMBC Channel 9 News, Kansas City's ABC affiliate).

UPDATE: On May 20, 2005, Jordan Smith contacted Watchman Fellowship wanting to clarify some aspects of this story from his perspective. He does admit to setting fire to the church January 1, 1990. The fire caused heavy damage to the second story. The first floor, containing the church offices and vital records, was essentially undamaged. Originally built in 1905, the building had no distinguishing architectural features: Church leadership admitted that before the fire, they were considering having it razed, and built anew. It was demolished February 1, 1990. In a jury trial which concluded  January 16, 1991, Smith was convicted of a class C felony - third degree arson - and also breaking & entering. He maintains that this was not a violent crime, but a political protest, along the lines of anti-war protests in the 1960s, or the protests in Eastern Europe in November & December 1989. Martial aspects of his attire & behavior during the protests were intended to symbolize ("act out") his belief that a World War III-type situation was coming.

Six months before the church protest, Smith hit upon the idea of wearing a short sword-like bayonet in a sheath at his side, telling people it was meant to publicly symbolize his belief that war ("a sword") was coming, in keeping with the implications of Ezekiel 33:2-9 ("If when he seeth the sword come upon the land, he blow the trumpet, and warn the people...."). He wore it to a meeting at the church, and was surprised that no one there asked him about it. After then leaving the church, he encountered a couple of police officers who explained that it was against the law to carry a blade longer than 3 inches, and also against the law to "brandish" a weapon, as in carrying a gun, or a sword. It was a cordial explanation, and Smith immediately complied. At no time before the protest of  January 1, 1990, was Smith confrontational or disruptive towards any church member, or at any church meeting.

Correcting another mischaracterization, Smith says he was echoing what was a relatively common theme among students of prophecy during the Cold War, that the Soviet Union would surprise-attack the United States, and this would be fulfillment of various prophecies, ancient and modern.

Smith characterizes the Church of Christ Temple Lot as a particularly backwards & xenophobic break-off of Mormonism, and summarizes his complaint thus: "I was tired of them insulting everyone, including our savior Jesus Christ, and told the church representative a month before the fire that I was thinking of performing exactly that type of protest."

 


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