Kansas City, Mo.
Welcoming several hundred Mormon history enthusiasts to the Independence, Mo., area, international headquarters of the Community of Christ, the president of that church reflected on his association with Gordon B. Hinckley, the LDS Church president who died in 2008. President Stephen M. Veazey spoke Thursday evening at the opening session of the 45th annual Mormon History Association Conference.
Formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Community of Christ is the second-largest religious body to trace its origin to the revelations of Joseph Smith from 1820 on.
"From the first time the Prophet Joseph set foot in Jackson County, until now, almost 180 years later, we continue to marvel at the growth and impact of our religious movement in all of its varied expressions," President Veazey said.
A day before his ordination, he said, he was contacted by President Hinckley. "In his note he indicated that he had a desire to meet me as he had most of my predecessors, he said."
During a follow-up visit in Salt Lake City, the LDS Church president commented on "how good it is that our institutional relationships are so much more cordial and cooperative than in the past," President Veazey recalled.
"I think it is very pleasing to God that many of the various denominations that claim Joseph Smith as prophetic founder have entered into this era of improved relationships," President Veazey remarked.
Cooperative historical inquiry and sharing of valued archival materials have contributed to that direction, he added.
"Over the past several years since becoming church president, I have challenged our members to continue exploring our history as one of the ways in which we will continue to clarify our identity, mission, message and beliefs," he said. "At the same time I've reminded the church that history should be informative, but it should not dictate our faith and beliefs."
He added, "Good historical inquiry always understands that conclusions are open for correction as new understanding and information comes from ongoing study."
As he has expressed that view, he said, he has experienced "some of the flack that comes when we asked for corrections in the story. But we believe we must avoid adopting one of the official versions of history as the only version, which is a tendency we have shown in the past in the RLDS/Community of Christ tradition."
Seeing both the faithfulness and human flaws in the history of the church makes it more believable and realistic, not less, he said.
"There are stories in church history of great faith and courage that continue to inspire us, but church history also includes human leaders who said and did things that can even be shocking to us from our current perspective and culture."
He said scriptures show that God uses imperfect people for divine purposes. "We are not called to judgment as much as we are called to understanding and empathy."
Convening just a few miles from downtown Independence, the conference continues through Saturday with presentations from more than a hundred scholars.