Leaders and members of what was once known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints are reacting with “sadness and grief” after the resignation of President W. Grant McMurray earlier this week.
Now known as the Community of Christ, the 250,000-member faith, headquartered in Independence, Mo., is dealing with the news, which became public Wednesday during a videoconference with top leaders after McMurray tendered a letter of resignation Monday.
The letter said McMurray had “made some inappropriate choices, and the circumstances of my life are now such that I cannot continue to effectively lead the church.”
“It is not appropriate for me to function in a priesthood capacity as I work through these personal issues,” he wrote, “and so I request to be released from my priesthood office at this time.”
McMurray also said he has recently been diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s disease, so resigning his duties will allow him to devote more attention to his health. Now 57, he served as president of the Community of Christ for eight years.
He said he “deeply regret(s) the difficulties that this causes for the church I love.”
As the top leader in the church’s three-member First Presidency, McMurray addressed his resignation letter to his counselors, Peter A. Judd and Kenneth N. Robinson. The two men will now function as co-presidents of the church until a successor is named.
When contacted by the Deseret Morning News, McMurray said his letter of resignation “was written in a way to express what I felt I needed to express to the church. Beyond that, it’s an entirely personal and family matter and the letter says what I felt I needed to say.”
He said he has been “deluged by e-mails and phone calls from supporters,” and will try to thank them “once we get a few days away from this and have the opportunity to regroup. I need time for personal and spiritual renewal, and I’m looking forward to focusing on personal and family things that are very important to me.”
Though he will not actively function in ministry for the foreseeable future, McMurray said he is still “a full member of the church. I’ve simply asked that during this period when I need to focus on personal things, the obligations of priesthood ministry are something I prefer not to deal with. At any point in the future I can ask to be reinstated. It’s really an administrative matter.”
McMurray said while he has “deep regrets and a sense of sorrow in many respects, I’m also very much at peace with this decision.”
Members and observers credit McMurray with leading the faith steadily through change and controversy, as women were ordained members of its Council of Twelve and the church’s name was changed, allowing a break from its historic identity as an offshoot of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The LDS Church declined comment on McMurray’s resignation.
Though the two faiths share a common heritage through Joseph Smith and embrace much of the same scriptural canon, the Community of Christ has sought to focus its ministry on the pursuit of peace and reconciliation among all people.
As one of the two now taking McMurray’s place until a successor is chosen, Robinson affirmed that McMurray’s request to be released from his priesthood office “happens without prejudice” just as it would with another church member. “At a later point when they feel they have the energy and have life in balance, it’s not uncommon to request reinstatement, which means to have their priesthood office back in an active way.”
He said McMurray’s “call to priesthood isn’t gone and hasn’t been nullified. It’s a request to not be functioning in any ministerial capacity” with no judgment or punishment from the church attached.
Though the church does have procedures for excommunication of members who have violated church law in a significant way — including capital crimes or moral offenses — “we’re not anticipating anything like that in this circumstance,” Robinson said. In fact, excommunication is relatively rare in the faith.
“The heavy focus of our church is on compassionate ministry, reconciliation and the restoration of persons to wholeness . . . encouraging people to take the space to get their life back into a whole place, more than a judgmental focus,” he said.
Under current church law, McMurray has the right to choose his own successor, but he wrote that “in my present situation, I do not feel it is appropriate to do so.” As a result, Robinson said, the faith’s Council of Twelve has the responsibility of determining the name to be brought forward as a successor. The group also will determine whether to call a special meeting of the church to name a successor, or to wait until the next scheduled World Conference in 2006.
Robinson said considering McMurray’s age and health concerns —”Parkinson’s is progressive” — it is unlikely he will return to top church leadership, but “technically it would be true there could be a possibility that could happen. People continue to be called according to their capacity.”
“He has almost unparalleled knowledge not only of our church but of the history and working of the LDS Church and our relationships and shared history. I think he has some significant things he can contribute there.”