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Position Papers


The Missing Link” between the traditional RLDS Church and the Community of Christ


What on earth are the Position Papers? How can they be relevant to the Community of Christ (RLDS) in the 21st century?

It is not in the least surprising to find members of the Community of Christ asking these questions when the subject is raised; in fact, it would be surprising if members under the age of 50 didn’t ask them. So before briefly addressing these questions, it is worthwhile making a more general observation: even though you are unaware of something, it can still profoundly affect your life. For instance, my father had prostate cancer for a number of years before he was aware of it; the fact he was unaware of it certainly didn’t mean it wasn’t affecting his life. Once he knew about it, naturally he took steps to address the problem. So even if you have never heard about the Position Papers before, it doesn’t mean your life hasn’t been profoundly affected by them. In fact, I’ll go a little further: if you are a member of the Community of Christ, your life has been profoundly affected by them. Let’s find out why…

In my book Reasons for Disbelief, I spent a fair bit of time discussing and quoting from the Position Papers, because when I was researching the RLDS Church (as it then was) during the 1978-1980 period, I quickly came to see their relevance. Briefly, what happened was this: from the beginning of the Restoration until the middle of the 20th century, the RLDS Church taught a fairly consistent story as to its origins and beliefs: Joseph Smith restored God’s true church and was a prophet; all other churches were wrong; the Inspired Version of the Bible, Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants were all scripture; Christ appeared in ancient America and the cities and events documented in the Book of Mormon were historical realities, etc. From the middle of the 20th century, the RLDS leadership became increasingly aware that there were significant challenges to all of these traditional beliefs (and more). They investigated these challenges and realized that they formed an insurmountable barrier to the way the traditional RLDS beliefs had been taught for a century. The question facing the RLDS leadership in the 1960s was how to respond to the overwhelming nature of these challenges. What added pressure to this problem was the need to design a new curriculum for the 1970s.

The Position Papers represented an honest attempt to take these challenges to the traditional teachings seriously and think through a response. Each paper made ground-breaking admissions and concessions on virtually all major areas of RLDS teaching. The heart of the problem, I believe, was that these papers were never designed to be made public. They were produced only for the “inner circle”, even though they were to be the foundation of the curriculum that would be used throughout the RLDS Church. As the 1970s progressed, RLDS members became increasingly aware (and in some cases extremely concerned) that the Church was changing; some members and groups broke away because they believed the Church was “betraying” its original beliefs.

Of course, the Position Papers were eventually “leaked”, and those who read them realized that the leadership was dealing with significant issues, but also that they had no intention of making these deliberations public. The clandestine nature of this enterprise is the major concern. I believe the Position Papers should have been made public in the 1960s, and members of the RLDS Church allowed to respond as they saw fit to their leadership’s attempts at grappling with the issues. Instead, the RLDS leaders chose a position that was ultimately condescending and patronizing – that of keeping members “in the dark” and gradually initiating changes to traditional beliefs. This desire to restrict the average member’s access to important information, while simultaneously using this information as the basis for change through a world-wide curriculum showed a lack of transparency and accountability on the basis of the RLDS senior leadership.

So why is all this important to you today? If you are a Community of Christ member, the church you belong to has been profoundly formed by the Position Papers, whether you realize it or not. If you care about the Community of Christ, it would seem logical that you would want to become aware of the contents of this document, which has been so formative on the thinking of all senior RLDS/Community of Christ leaders for the past 40 years. A careful reading of the Position Papers will help you better understand not only your own Church, but also those who have become disaffected with the RLDS during recent decades and splintered off into other Restorationist groups.

Hopefully, we’ve now answered those two initial questions, and you’ll proceed to your own examination of the Position Papers. The conclusions you draw about the RLDS/Community of Christ as a result will be the next exciting part of your journey. May God bless you as you venture on.

Peter Elliott, PhD

Western Australia




Position Papers

Prepared by the Church School Division Department of Religious Education September, 1967.

Study papers prepared for the curriculum consultation committee.


  • Chapter 1 - The New Curriculum: Projected Procedures and Scheduling

  • Chapter 2 - A Philosophy and Design for Christian Education

  • Chapter 3 - The Nature of Scripture and its Use in the Life of the Church

  • Chapter 4 - Some Preliminary Observations Concerning Leadership Education

  • Chapter 5 - Resume of Planning for the New Church School Curriculum

  • Chapter 6 - The Nature of the Gospel

  • Chapter 7 - The Nature of the Church

  • Chapter 8 - The New Situation

  • Chapter 9 - The Nature of the Church - Supplementary Paper.

  • Chapter 10 - Church History

  • Chapter 11 - The Book of Mormon

  • Chapter 12 - Zion




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