Some Walls Just Came Tumbling Down

The boundaries separating Community of Christ from other Christian denominations have just gotten considerably more porous.

Item No. 1:
Last week CofC leaders released details on new procedures for church membership for Christians previously baptized in other denominations. An interim policy takes effect January 1, 2011, and will be valid through the following August 31.

On September 1, 2011, an official policy becomes effective. It is anticipated that a new church-members introductory course will be available by that time, and all new prospective members will be required to complete it. Until then existing resources (Walking with Jesus: Disciples in Community of Christ and Sharing in Community or We Share: Identity, Mission, Message, and Beliefs) may be used by local authorities.

A key element in both the interim and official policies is that this procedure is only for those people who were baptized (1) at the age of eight or older and (2) their baptism involved water [full or partial immersion, pouring, or sprinkling]; in other words: infant baptism does not qualify. All people seeking membership in Community of Christ in this way must agree to a Shared Understanding of Baptism statement.

Included with the official announcement of this significant policy change was a letter from church president Stephen M. Veazey. In it he explains how the policy came into being, its direct connection to Doctrine and Covenants Section 164 (approved in April 2010 at World Conference), and a brief personal reflection.

Item No. 2:
On November 10, delegates to the General Assembly of the National Council of Churches U.S.A. unanimously approved Community of Christ for membership. A report by a NCC committee recommending approval is here (the report also includes the church’s “We Share” document). The NCC report makes for interesting reading, particularly the section that notes that the Community of Christ’s “founder” was not Joseph Smith Jr. but Joseph Smith III (admittedly, this information is provided by a representative of Roman Catholic bishops and excerpted from a letter by him to the committee).

The announcement on the church’s Web site is here. While this announcement is not totally unexpected (recall that the NCC’s general secretary, the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, addressed the CofC World Conference this year and expressed his strong support for this step), it does represent a significant (some would probably substitute “radical”) development in RLDS/Community of Christ history.

These separate announcements are not simply administrative actions, of course. There are major theological and historical issues involved. Clearly there are those who view this moment in the church’s long history as a leap into religious maturity while others see it as damning proof of apostasy.

Perhaps in both cases this becomes a core question: Now that the Community of Christ allows church membership for Christians without requiring rebaptism and the denomination is a part of the National Council of Churches USA, what difference is that going to make as the church (understood as a worldwide communion, national churches, mission centers, congregations, and faith movement) moves ahead?

In its shortened form, it’s simply this: So what?

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16 comments on “Some Walls Just Came Tumbling Down

  1. Margie Miller says:

    We are getting further and Further away from the message of Jesus and instead buying even further into the saving “Christ” beliefs. I don’t think that’s a good thing. Our original mission was to build communities of joy, love and hope. Salvation theology is hardly the way to go.

    • Rich Brown says:

      Margie:
      It appears the NCC delegates were influenced by the idea that the Community of Christ as a faith movement has been marginalized throughout its history by other faith groups and society at large. That makes the transformation within our church all the more remarkable, and it places us in a position to possibly bring a gift to the more “establishment denominations” within the NCC in reaching out within community to contemporary marginalized groups and individuals. (Sort of a “takes one to know one” kind of thing.) In particular, this means the LGBT community but includes others, as well (Muslims and immigrants, for starters).

      Of course, it remains to be seen whether that will end up being the case. We still have strong traits of timidity and defensiveness within our body. We talk about becoming communities of joy, hope, love, and peace. And there are many examples of that taking place within our congregations, although we don’t communicate and share that as well as we could. But we do speak about and act out our mission primarily within the context of community. That, too, may be a gift we can bring to the larger Christian community.

      Having said all that, I don’t think we’ll ever be one of those “establishment denominations.” And if we ever do, then we will have failed in our mission and not lived up to our calling.

  2. Margie Miller says:

    I understand, Rich. But having said that, I wonder why we need to spend our tithe money on dues to an organization. We are constantly admonished about the church’s need for money; they are laying people off, and shutting down programs. Those dues are not cheap. I struggle to tithe and I’m sure I’m not alone but I would like to see the church use those tithes in ways that meet the needs of people…not for dues.

  3. Rich Brown says:

    Bill Tammeus, former faith & religion writer for the Kansas City Star, discusses this topic today on his blog “Faith Matters”:

    http://billtammeus.typepad.com/my_weblog/2010/11/11-16-10.html

  4. FireTag says:

    Rich:

    Your use of the term “interesting” to describe the NCC report on our entry was – well – “interesting”. I would call it “awkward”, in the same sense that arriving at the wedding without your intended spouse knowing that you actually have children from your previous marriage and they’ll be lining with you six months of every year would be “awkward”.

    The trial balloon that we were not founded by Joseph Smith Junior, but by Joseph Smith III, went up as we began talking about the 150th Anniversary of the Reorganization. But it’s historically awkward because none of the early leaders of the Reorganization, including “young Joseph” himself ever believed anything other than that they were taking up his father’s work – a father whom he revered. I’ve seldom seen such retroactive continuity outside of a comic book.

    One can attribute this to the Committee’s lack of time to study the issue, perhaps – it would have been REALLY awkward to explain the apparent immaculate conception of those 100+ Sections of the D&C that form the basis for the authority of the present leadership of the church – but it’s hard to mistake the de-emphasis of the Book of Mormon as anything less than a willingness to allow the Committee to believe whatever would make for an acceptance recommendation. Does that amount to deception by omission?

    Or does that reflect what our leadership now believes about our journey, as the DNA quote has come from President Veazey himself in the past. It sounds like belief in the BofM as critical scripture is some kind of recessive gene we need not express in the current generation (or at least something we are able to cover up with sufficient cosmetics).

    So the BofM embarrasses us; the D&C is still necessary to maintain ecclesiastical order – though the claims of both are equally fantastic or equally inspired.

    Apparently our message to the NCC about marginalization is to show them the SOLUTION to the problem of marginalized: the marginalized merely need to give up the things for which they have been marginalized and the problem is solved.

    If that’s what God has in mind for us, it would be a lot more efficient for all of us to all pick churches within the Council to join as individuals.

  5. Shelley says:

    I don’t understand this reference, “Or does that reflect what our leadership now believes about our journey, as the DNA quote has come from President Veazey himself in the past.” Can you please elaborate?

    I found the “re-celebration” of the Sesquicentennial quite puzzling since we had previously celebrated it quite thoroughly – complete with peace seal jewelry available through Herald House – back in the day. But, now that I see the rest of your post, I’m finding it quite “interesting” with this new light I think you are trying to use as illumination.

    • Rich Brown says:

      I recall being very disappointed that this year’s sesquicentennial celebrations at World Conference made no reference to the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Herald (The True Latter Day Saints Herald) in January 1860. Who knows, but perhaps that had something to do with the fact the Herald came into being for the express purpose of uniting the scattered Saints from the original organization. So if April 6, 1860, actually represented the “beginning” of the church, I suppose then there must not have been a real, albeit scattered, church before that needed reorganizing? Well, I guess you can call it interesting or awkward or just plain old revisionism. It’s certainly curious.

    • FireTag says:

      Shelley:

      I’m having cataract trouble, and am unable to search the original DNA statement from Steve today. He used it specifically in an address to the church, and I believe it was in the “annual” address given in April of 2009. It should still be available by reviewing the First Presidency’s portion of the church’s website. The Committee specifically mentioned it in the same paragraph of their report (which Rich linked in his OP) on their conversations with the leadership of the church which led them to conclude that oue belief in the Book of Mormon was insufficiently central to pose a problem for the NCC.

  6. I’ll say this about the Church joining the NCC: One of the biggest problems (there are several, obviously) about the Community of Christ’s exclusionary tradition (“one true church”) is our failure to develop partnerships and, in turn, synergies.

    Because we were the only Church that matters, we start our own missionary groups (World Accord, OI) rather than partnering with sound groups already doing that work; we create our own course material and our own training logistics. These in and of themselves aren’t necessarily bad, but now that we’re rightfully recognizing we are one path to God rather than THE path to God, we find ourselves at a disadvantage in fostering these synergies.

    The NCC may not be a partnership we want to make, but I think it’s a good thing that we are starting to develop these partnerships instead of always going it alone.

    • Leigh Anne says:

      I personally prefer that we partner with those organizations like Interfaith where we do not have to re-write our history, faith or beliefs in order to join.

  7. Doug Gregory says:

    Becoming a part of the Institution is – to my mind – more problem than promise. Can we envision the early Christians waiting for 30 years to rejoin the Jewish faith, as long as they presented Christ in a way that was palatable to the Institution? We crave acceptance and belonging in a way that seems completely at odds to what I perceive our call to be the salt of the earth. I love cooperating with other local congregations and believers, but Institutional Christianity troubles me, because Institutions are all about consolidation of power to maintain their existence and control. We want to be a part of that?

  8. […] Rich Brown put it in a Saints Herald blog post: “Clearly there are those who view this moment in the church’s long history as a leap into […]

  9. John Hamer says:

    I don’t agree that there has been any re-write of the church’s history. In an institutional historical sense, there is no question that JSIII is the founder of Community of Christ (conceding that his foundation built on a tiny organizational precursor of the Gurley/Briggs church). My personal view is that Brigham Young was a usurper. I also don’t think he was a good person. But my personal beliefs aside, when I look at the history in an institutional sense, it must be conceded that one of the things Brigham “usurped” was the bulk of the existing corporate structure of the church that JSJr founded in 1830. That institutional historical analysis has zero bearing on the question of divine mandate, since traditional Restoration theology includes the idea that institutions can fall into Apostasy, i.e., the primary institutional heir of the early Christian church is the Catholic Church, but this hasn’t made Mormons accept the Catholic Church as “the true church.”

    The view that the Reorganization was the only true continuation of the original church is a theological claim, which had already been abandoned by the understanding the very act of making the claim to be “the one and only true church,” is a sign that you aren’t it (i.e., because there isn’t just one). Theologically early Mormons believed that they were the Restoration of the New Testament church in every sense, including recovering all the actual historical practices and institutional authority. This was a faith position that was zealously believed, but which cannot be shown to be possible in an actual historical sense. This is no shame on them; people regularly have these notions — the people of the Renaissance actually believed they had given birth anew to the Classical era. Of course they hadn’t. They created something new, because you can never go home again. Likewise the 1830 organization was something new. And the 1860 reorganization, although possessed of vast continuity of membership, belief, and practice with the 1830 organization, was (in fact) a new foundation in an institutional historical sense.

  10. George says:

    The Community of Christ’s entry into the NCC is just another show of its continuing deception.

    Offering documentation showing that the Community of Christ is not the original church founded by Joseph Smith, Jr. in 1830 is just such an example. That is in direct contradiction to the history published by the Church itself. If the letter was excusably wrong for having been written by a Roman Catholic, the excuse disappeared when knowledgeable officials of the church submitted it as fact to the membership committee of the NCC.

    Also, the claim that the Restoration scriptures are “auxilliary” scripture, and that no member need accept or believe in them to belong to the church — the excommunication and silencing of hundreds of priests and the expulsion of whole congregations for refusing to accept D&C 156 gives the lie to the claim that the “auxilliary” scriptures are not the main focus of CofC doctrine.

    The only solace this news gives is the knowledge that the Community of Christ leadership is manipulatively lying to everybody to get what it wants. If it has lied to better men than me and fooled them, that makes me feel a little bit better about having been duped.

    It reminds me of the country western song about the cowboy who met a girl in a bar, and said, “And it seemed that everybody in the place knew all about her, but me.”

  11. George says:

    I forgot to add in my above post that for twenty years, the officials of the CofC have vehemently insisted that they had NO INTENTION of joining the NCC. Former stake president O.C. Henson was caught on tape by David Price saying exactly that, during the “counseling session” preceding Richard Price’s silencing.

    Sort of resembles Uncle Dolph’s absolute claim regarding the Sudetenland, that “I have no further territorial claims in Europe.” Then a couple of years later, he invaded Austria, Poland, France, and the rest of Czechoslovakia.

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