W. Wallace Smith (1958-1978)
W. Wallace Smith
(Community of Christ archives)
W. Wallace Smith was the third of Joseph Smith III’s sons to follow him into the leadership of the church. Under his leadership, the church experienced phenomenal growth into non-Western cultures. He also worked to help the church develop a more decentralized form of government.
Africa was a continent where the church began to expand quickly. The first contact from Nigeria took place in 1962, and, despite delays caused by their civil war, the church was officially established there in 1966. Other African countries where the church began to have a presence included Kenya and Liberia.
The church also began to move into the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Korea, Taiwan, and Japan were other significant expansion areas. Medical missions provided much-needed ministry there, and the church also opened schools for children. In the early 1960s, contact was made with individuals from India with the church being formally established there in 1964.
(Community of Christ archives)
A significant missionary emphasis was established in South America, seen as the focal point for the stories found in the Book of Mormon. Ed Guy provided a personal ministry unique in the modern history of the church as he walked through war-torn countries of El Salvador and Guatemala, living with the people and challenging governmental abuses.
But as the church began to move into these cultures, there were "growing pains." Leadership had to look closely at history and theology, working to determine what beliefs and practices were only culturally based and which were basic foundations. Those were not easy questions to answer. In trying to better understand and state the basic beliefs of the church, W. Wallace appointed a Committee on Basic Beliefs whose task was to develop some useful theological statements on God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the gospel, revelation, the church, scripture, and other topics that they found necessary.
Although the idea of building a temple in Independence had long been a part of the church’s tradition, nothing specific about it had been said or done for several decades. In 1972, W. Wallace brought the concept to the forefront in a document that called for "defining the purpose and selecting the place for erecting a temple."
Especially in the United States but also in the broader church, women began to be more vocal regarding ways in which they could be involved in the ministries of the church. Although women had been active in various ways through most of the organization, they had been involved as women meeting other women’s needs, limited in their scope. This had been satisfactory to this point, but women began asking more pointed questions regarding hiring practices and ordination questions.
Unlike earlier prophet-presidents who had served until their deaths, W. Wallace designated his son, Wallace B. Smith, to succeed him as prophet-president after a two-year period of preparation, beginning in 1976. This took place, and W. Wallace retired, being given the title Prophet Emeritus in 1978.