The Community of Christ is Not a Peace Church

At face value, Community of Christ’s claim to be dedicated to the pursuit of peace must be deemed a failure.

As far as I can tell, the sum total of our contribution to peace on earth is an annual Peace Colloquy, a Peace Prize, a Peace and Justice website, the Children’s Peace Pavilion, a Peace Committee and a few million dollars contributed to Outreach International, World Accord, the World Hunger Fund and the Save Darfur Coalition.

This might seem like a lot to some, but it is actually no more than any other mainline denomination. It certainly does not match up to the work of the historic peace churches like the Mennonites, Brethren and Quakers. The word ‘peace’ in our logo does not make us a peace church.

How many major international peace negotiations have we supported or facilitated as an institution? Some may say this is setting the bar too high, but the Quakers (a similar sized denomination) were instrumental in providing a back channel in Northern Ireland. The Community of Sant Egido (a Catholic group) was one of the main players in ending the conflict in Mozambique.

How many church employees are working on the ground to end the world’s most deadly armed conflicts? Sure, there are a few members working with NGOs, the diplomatic services or the military, but none of these are working on behalf of the church.

Where is our fearless advocacy on behalf of the poor and oppressed of the world? We’ve given a little money to Bread for the World and have a couple interns working for the Friends Committee on National Legislation. But we have no established or effective way of mobilizing people for advocacy, unlike the Quakers, Mennonites, Presbyterians or Catholics.

Policy Is What Policy Does

We must pause here and dig a little deeper. In my first year of graduate school, a professor of mine, named David Keen, warned the class to be careful about prematurely judging a policy as a failure. He instructed us to ask what functions and unstated objectives might be disguised by a policy’s rhetoric. A policy might say it is intended to reduce poverty but instead just lines the pockets of corrupt bureaucrats. According to its stated objectives, the policy would seem a failure, but for the bureaucrats who got rich, it was a resounding success. In less academic language, policy isn’t just what is said, but what is done – ‘by their fruits you shall know them.’

Let us look, for example, at the Temple in Independence. It was “dedicated to the pursuit of peace.” However, it is not used to host peace negotiations. It is not a busy command center for managing peace activists, citizen diplomats or human rights observers. There are no ‘peace scholars-in-residence.’ There is no think-tank based there producing reports providing a faith-based perspective on conflict. Rather, much of the space, most of the time, is used for offices and conference rooms. To draw on Professor Keen’s instruction, I would have to say the Temple is “dedicated to the pursuit of church management and administration.”

Therefore, if I am to succumb to the temptation of cynicism, the current policy of the church is not to become a peace church, but rather:

1. To appease peace activists by trumpeting the discourse of peace and doing the bare minimum to keep them in the church,
2. To avoid doing anything that could appear too political,
3. To avoid taking any major risks, in terms of people, money or reputation, and thus
4. To have very little engagement with any major conflicts in the world.

If we take this as descriptive of the policy of the church as an institution, it appears to have largely succeeded in its mission.

What Would We See If the Community of Christ Was Serious about Peace?

If the church was really serious about peace, I would expect to see at least some of the following ‘fruits’:

1. A commitment to non-violence and non-participation in the military or armed factions.
2. Widespread participation in peace groups at the local congregational level.
3. Peace and Justice Offices at the United Nations and in Washington DC to keep informed about national and international peace issues, educate members and influence policy.
4. A substantial engagement with national peacebuilding efforts in conflicted countries where the church has a significant presence, such as Haiti, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
5. Posting of WorldService Corps volunteers to conflict and post-conflict zones, where they would engage in peacebuilding activities, accompany vulnerable people, be human rights observers and support local peace activists. This could be done in partnership with other organizations like Mennonite Central Committee, the American Friends Service Committee, Christian Peacemaker Teams and Peace Brigades International.
6. A public offer to the UN and US State Department to use the Temple and Auditorium complex for hosting peace negotiations between warring factions.
7. The creation of a peace studies major at Graceland University (currently they only have a minor) and the provision of peace studies scholarships.
8. A program sponsoring prominent ‘Peace Scholars-in-Residence’ at the Temple who hold public seminars, write articles and speak to church leaders about ways to build peace in their jurisdictions.
9. Dedicated efforts to get involved with the ecumenical and inter-faith movement, at the local, national and international levels.
10. Particular attention to peacebuilding in the ‘Holy Land’ of the Middle East — an important calling for all members of the three Abrahamic religions.

What Prevents the Community of Christ from Becoming a Peace Church?

What prevents us from going down the path that our peace rhetoric suggests? I think there are three key underlying reasons:

Firstly, I am not convinced that the majority of the Community of Christ membership is particularly interested in becoming a peace church. There seems to be a great deal of inertia and resistance to moving in this direction. I am actually inclined to agree with the conservative voices in the church that the peace agenda of the Community of Christ is rooted more in the political and ideological convictions of the major leaders, rather than the tradition and beliefs of most members. Naturally, I would like to be proven wrong about this, but am not very hopeful.

Secondly, the institution seems to have a debilitating fear of getting involved in anything that appears too political. An example of this is how much focus is placed on children’s peacemaking (such as the Peace Pavilion and the Children’s Peacemakers Clubs). This is obviously not a bad thing in itself. But I fear we focus on this because we perceive children’s peacemaking as an apolitical thing that no one can really disagree with. Too much emphasis on children’s peacemaking infantilizes and depoliticizes peace, distracting attention from the fact that it is adults that are causing most major conflicts. If we are serious about peacemaking, we cannot shy away from the fact that peace is inherently political, because conflict is political (for more on this, click here to read another recent article of mine).

Finally, there is an entrenched institutional fear of taking major risks, whether financial or human. The church seems especially myopic about money. We are utterly paralyzed by our fear of losing tithing-payers. We are tied down by commitments to maintain two enormous buildings in Independence and are losing sight of our calling to be voices crying out in the wilderness. If the top church leaders are really concerned about peace why aren’t they travelling to Iraq, Afghanistan, Colombia, Sudan and Israel/Palestine and seeing what we can do to help? In the early 1960s when the church was expanding rapidly outside the US, President W. Wallace Smith embarked on a world tour, to learn more about overseas missions and highlight their importance. Why can’t our current leaders do something similar, but with visiting countries of conflict?

Final Thoughts

At present, the Community of Christ is not a peace church. It is a church that likes to talk about peace, dedicate things to peace, even ‘proclaim peace’, but do very little to bring it about. I believe the Community of Christ is at a crossroads and faces two options. The first, probably most comfortable one, is just to continue as we are, in a slow process of ‘managed decline’, never really committing to anything controversial and subsequently remaining rather dull and boring. We won’t attract many new people, but conversely there will be no risk of a mass exodus either. (To read more about my thoughts on the church’s ‘managed decline’, click here) If we decide to go down this path, it might be worth dropping the claim to be dedicated to the pursuit of peace — it would be the honest thing to do.

The alternative is to take a leap of faith and truly commit to following the call the ‘share Christ’s peace’, engaging in efforts to bring about non-violent resolutions to the world’s conflicts. Yes, there is a chance that we would look bad if a peace agreement negotiated in the Temple collapsed or was considered unjust. Yes, there is a chance that a WorldService Corps volunteer assigned to Israel/Palestine could get injured or killed. Yes, there is a chance that by funding peacebulding in Pakistan, money could end up in the hands of militants. Yes, these possibilities are scary. But they are the risks that must be taken if we want to be serious about making a significant difference in the world. 

One cannot have it both ways — a serious commitment to peace comes with great risk. Jesus did not consult risk assessment specialists or his synagogue’s balance sheet before riding into Jerusalem, driving out the money-changers and facing the cross. The church must risk the possibility of ‘losing its life’ — both figuratively, institutionally and literally — if it wants to claim it can save the world.

The church must realize that one cannot create world peace from a small, sleepy town in the Midwest. To have any real impact, the church must have a noticeable and active presence in the very places where major conflict occurs — Africa, the Middle East, the Caucasus, the Balkans.

Matthew Bolton

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23 comments on “The Community of Christ is Not a Peace Church

  1. John Hamer says:

    I was struck by your point that emphasizing children’s peacemaking (Children’s Peacemakers Clubs and the Children’s Peace Pavilion) has the danger of infantilizing and trivializing the idea of peace. I wonder about that concern. I feel like for the past couple decades it’s been taboo to treat most political topics in the medium of children’s television programming. Two big exceptions to that taboo have been celebrating diversity and promoting environmentalism.

    Does WALL-E infantilize environmentalism? It does if children who are reared on these environmentalist messages grow up and say, “I believed in that conservation junk when I was a kid because that’s kid stuff.”

    Coming back to the topic of peace, will Community of Christ kids who grew up with the rhetorical emphasis on peace continue to value peacemaking as adults and be inspired to back up the words with some or all of the deeds you propose? Or will they grow up and look back on peacemaking as kid stuff?

    Besides institutional caution (which is inevitable and necessary for institutions), the other factor you identify as holding the church back from being a true peace church is lack of interest in peacemaking among the general membership. If that’s so, we can only overcome that problem in two ways: (1) inspire those members so that they change their minds and values, or (2) get new members. I think the second way may be more doable than the first. Children maturing into adults are the one source of new members — which brings me back to the question of how effective the children’s peacemaking focus has been. The other way to get new members is conversion. How do we get people committed to effective peacemaking to join the church or, turned around, how do we couple effective peacemaking with effective outreach, so that the Community of Christ becomes a real peace church?

  2. David Howlett says:

    Just a few quick comments. First, I think many of your points are solidly argued–and probably true–mixed in with some truly crack-pot ideas. Eh? Editorials often do such things!

    First, if advocates for peace like yourself promote that the Community of Christ is not a peace church, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. That said, I am glad that you have offered some steps beyond simply a critique. A critique without any conviction (or commitment to a community) is a rather hollow critique, even if it may be true.

    Now, for a more serious critique of your comments. I think you are making seriously unfair (or seriously naive) demands on Community of Christ peacemaking. This surprised me since you study politics, power, and the allocation of force. Remember,Quakers have been in the peace-making business for several centuries. The Community of Christ has been committed to it only in the last generation. Furthermore, “peacemaking” and “peace churches” constantly evolve in their emphasis and make-up. The Quakers of today are almost unrecognizable when compared with their rather evangelical-like extremist ancestors. Seventeenth-century Quakers might have been pacificists, but they let everyone else know that the rest of the world, particularly the Puritans, were literally going to hell.

    More relevant to our discussion is the question of who exactly gets to define what a peace church is. We could construct a typology, but wouldn’t that typology necessarily reflect the power interests of the one constructing it? Why exclude the mainline Protestants from such a definition (as you seem to do in your post)? Is asserting the Community of Christ is not a peace church also a power move on your own part asserting a peacier-than-thou stance toward your movement? Obviously, any person who makes a critique of the seemingly altruistic motives of a group automatically opens himself up to the same kind of scrutiny.

    Honestly, I think you need to find better enemies. My jaw dropped when I read your post on Outreach and then again when I read this one. I said to myself, “Seriously!?!? Do you actually know what it’s like to be in a church where you can’t even talk about peace and justice issues?” (That was a rhetorical question.) You’ve been given an amazing gift in the Community of Christ. Liberal Mormons envy you. Some Restorationists envy you.

    I do want to offer you a constructive model for peace-building in the Community of Christ. Within the Catholic church, there are committed members to peace issues–both conservative and liberal. What holds them together is loyalty to the tradition and the authority of the institution. Perhaps you simply need a group within the Community of Christ, or an “order,” committed to peace building as you see it. Since we have seriously Protestant tendencies, such a group might be the makings of a totally different schismatic sect. (Protestants schism, they don’t stay together.) However, if people were truly committed to the institution and serving the church, then you would have the peace and justice movement you seek. They could offer the kinds of statements that a World Church can not due to its real diversity. (I know. Living with others who are different is really, really difficult. But isn’t that part of peacemaking itself?) What made the Catholic Worker movement a successful movement in the Catholic church was its commitment to the Church and its sacramental liturgy. Get together a group of YA with more than simply fuzzy commitments to the church and you will have an enduring impact on the movement and the world.

  3. Barb Walden says:

    Like John, I don’t know if I totally agree that the children’s programs on peace are a simple/neutral path for the church. The mission of peace, and especially the church’s youth curriculum that is centered on peace making skills, has acted as a bridge for the Community of Christ in a number of ecumenical opportunities.

    I found that working with the children in the local community has allowed doors to open with the adults that (as a church) we would have never had access to otherwise. On a local level, the Kirtland congregation led a “peacemaker’s club” that drew a higher attendance than a number of our Sunday services. Furthermore, the peacemaker’s club created a bridge with community members and civic leaders who would have otherwise never stepped foot in the congregation.

    As Matthew has argued, the mission of peace may be mild and easy to digest for some, but it has also broken down barriers within the community. Community members no longer fear that our church will somehow push the Book of Mormon and/or restoration theology at them, rather we are the “peace” church vs. the peculiar mormon church.

  4. Ross says:

    You are right we are not a Peace church. I cringe a bit every time I hear people say that. It dishonors the traditional Peace Churches, and it dishonors who we are and perhaps even who we are called to be. We are called to be a healing and restoring people, a people of peace and justice. We are called to be a people who will stand up to injustice, who will stand up for the oppressed, who will seek to end conflict. But true peace is more than the ending of conflict. It is the changing of systems. Our children programs have a way of aiming toward that change by helping to ensure the youth of today and tomorrow are given the opportunities and tools to not follow the path of the adults of yesterday and today. To allow their voices to be heard, and perhaps help us see they are not tomorrow’s leaders they are today’s. We are also a church united in diversity of gifts, talents, and understandings of how to respond to injustice in this world. For some it is clear to them that no violence should be used, to others it is clear that at times though regrettable violence must be used. Both have the story of Jesus the Christ to uplift their views and understandings. We need both voices working together, respectfully disagreeing to truly change the world for there is much to be heard in all stories and perspectives. I know the difficulty and possible wonders of both together. Both in that diversity expressed within my family and heritage, and also the changing of understanding within myself. We need the many voices, working together to more clearly hear the voice of the Holy. We also need to do more than talk; we need to engage the words of inspired council we have accepted as scripture. We need to do more than hear the words of inspiration and say “yes” but follow through and transform this world in need. But I hope we only become a peace church once all injustice in the world has ceased, until that day I hope we seek to be a peace and justice church, united in the call of Christ to fight injustice, embracing a diversity of views and understandings, honoring and respecting those who have held or do hold different understandings on how best to live, share, and be Christ’s peace as we seek to restore people to healthy relationship with “God, others, themselves, and the earth.” We do need to step up our action, we do need to get past our fears, we do need to boldly go into the world both near and far and say NO to injustice, violence and war, but we must be sure as we do we do not do so as well to those who are called with us. Nor neglect or marginalize the small atrocities and horrors of this world in favor of tackling just the larger ones.

  5. Matt,

    I’ve been thinking about your post for a couple of days. This is one of the best articulated critiques of the church’s missional aspirations for peace. But, frankly I need help on how I should interpret it.

    Are you trying to help the church on its road to this goal? On the one hand, the answer seems obvious: “Yes” Your constructive suggestions are sharp, penetrating, and helpful. Your critiques are direct, articulate, even if devastating. I must say, I’m not sure the church has come off the bench ready to play peace church with the veterans you list. But, I think the church is trying to take seriously the meaning of its seal, the call to “the pursuit of peace, reconciliation, and healing of the Spirit.” But, this language and the Temple itself are barely two decades old. We still struggle with vestiges of sectarianism. “Managed decline” is not simply the defacto management policy of an institution in resign. It is also part of the passage of historical transition. To measure the semblances of an emerging church – aspiring to peace, international in identity, and Christ-centered – against historical peace churches and mainline denominations seems a little anachronistic to me. A helpful and constructive method, but ultimately caught in the traps of idealism. I’d be an absolute hypocrite, however, to suggest I’m innocent of this approach. Certainly, being prophetic means measuring ourselves against our expressed commitments. Amen! Hear, Hear!

    There probably is not a better definition of a church’s basic doctrine and covenants than its expressed commitments. Words matter. So do the symbols of these expressed commitments. The Temple is dedicated to the pursuit of peace. If we claim that Temple, built upon a high point of a sleepy mid-western town, it is because it the symbolic center of our emerging Community of Christ faith. It means the beginning and end of something, something still forming itself in its wake.

    I, for one, would think it helpful to elucidate historical conditions that give rise to the peace churches, our failures as a peace church, and look for where the prophetic movement is amidst our own history. I think they are there. I think the church could be a peace church, even if it is not. I guess the question I pose to you is whether the failure you see is a simple lack of political will, or is there something to be said for the particulars of history, history’s grip and politics, and its formidable contradictions.

    I think many of the contradictions that define the Restoration as a movement have come to the surface in the last 40 years. The emerging pursuit of peace – if this truly is God’s Will and ongoing revelation to us – measures both the trajectory of the Restoration’s prophetic future as well as the measure of its failure. In Christianity, however, failure is not the end.

    Failure is inevitable because it is a category of sin. Sin is not an excuse because it is not the end, but the beginning of something – the Good News deep in the soul of the Restoration.

    Therefore, in theological perspective, the future of the Community of Christ as a peace church is not a matter of success or failure. As a movement, it is a matter of repentance…and a matter of belief.

    This brings me to the second question of how to interpret your post. Do you believe?

  6. Kathy Ross says:

    I appreciate your thoughts!!
    When my congregation, Mon Valley Community of Christ, went through a year of prayer to prepare for our congregational blessing and a period of discernment for vision, several very interesting things (testimonies) happened that were all related to children. We were blessed and I felt that the Holy Spirit was nudging us forward to pursue children’s ministry. We now have a Young Peacemaker’s Club that is small, but the children, and especially the community know where we are and what we do. (I would like more materials and ideas) YPC and our Solid Rock Cafe became the bridge to the community that got us talking with other denominations and community people. We do need to do a better job.
    My minister friends from the Methodist, Catholic, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Presbyterian and First Christian Church struggle with a similar problem and that is lack of attendance to church and commitment to Christ’s message and no willingness to do much of anything. We had an hour and a half discussion about the Indonesians coming into the community to work at a local factory. I see them on the street, have invited them to church. I talk to them, but they respond with a grunt or just a smile. I learned that the “Greener pastures” church has started an ESL class for them. I would call that peace and justice ministry. My pastor friend from Christ Lutheran church said, “I can’t invite people to my church because all we have is worship! The folks are afraid or won’t do anything else!” He wants to work with me to do something this summer with kids. I see hundreds of children in the community where my congregation is all over the street. Some barely have enough to eat. The drug and alcohol problem is worsening. Last Wednesday a young girl could barely spell words to write a Mother’s Day card. I asked her what grade she was in and she said, I am in 3rd but should be in 5th.” And she looked at me with deep embarrassment. She is destined for bad things. (Peace is being able to read and write a letter to your mother.) I know we should do a homework club, but I can’t get enough people to help!

    I agree with you that as a World Church, we could do more. I disagree with your comment about a sleepy little town in midwest, USA. Does having headquarters in Missouri, Malawi or London make a difference? Maybe. we are there for historical reasons. Congregations that live in the shadow of the Temple need to do more! Steve Veazey and others have traveled into some seriously dangerous places and are making headway, slowly. They know what is going on. Listening to the testimony about the peace of Jesus by our friend Godrick from Malawi, as he was recovering from malaria was incredible. It was heart wrenching to me to listen and yet see what he just went through.
    Congregations are helping to buy mosquito nets through oblation. Not enough of course. I can’t experience peace when I am sick, or my family is sick. Most of Jesus’s ministry was healing and many responded. We need medicine and a cure for malaria.
    A child from my congregation struggles with diabetes. It is a bad case. Her entire extended family is helping her. We need more medicine and a cure for diabetes. We are praying for this. It has really brought an awareness to me.
    Our church doesn’t have enough resources.
    I could go on and on.
    Peace making is difficult, and most people don’t understand it nor do they care. A lot of people, not just Americans, are self-centered, materialistic and believe anything that comes across their e-mail as the gospel. They don’t respond to anything unless they are jarred from their comforts.(I keep saying that to myself and haven’t done anything to be pro-active about it)
    Keep up the good work. Write more! You are making us think. And respond!
    God’s blessings.

  7. Jim Craft says:


    Your editorial is spot on, but I wonder if it is entirely fair to pass judgment on a movement that has only been active for about 15 years.

    On political activism, I think many in our movement are still mindful of the repercussions of our activities within the early church. Our leaders and members were tortured, killed, and eventually even ordered to be exterminated because of their anti-slavery and theocratic ideals. I work down the street from one notorious site, the old Liberty jail, and the stories and revelations that came from our leaders’ incarceration there are telling of the hazards of being so outspoken to a world not ready to change.

    Regarding the use of WorldService Corps volunteers in “hot spots” around the world, I think that the membership has a long way to go before they would be willing to commit the blood of their own children for the benefit of others so far away. Nor do we necessarily have the resources to properly train volunteers to be inserted in such situations. We all know that being sent to Kabul is very different from being sent to Brisbane, and it will take time and resources to equip volunteers to survive in that environment.

    In that same vein, the question presents itself, what do you say to the mother of a WorldService Corps volunteer who was beheaded on video because of her religion and nationality? I don’t think there are many within our movement that are prepared to deal with that eventuality at this time.

    Your other observation is that we refuse to take a stance of encouraging conscientious objection to military service. I believe that being a CO isn’t the only path to peace. There are governments, regimes, and despots around the world that will respond only to force against their abuse of humanity. Out of thousands of active duty and reserve members of the Community of Christ, we only have ONE military chaplain in our church. We no longer recognize, much less honor our veterans on Memorial Day or Veteran’s Day on our official worship scripts–er, resources. Maybe if we try to reach out to those who have taken an active role in the pursuit of peace by offering their own blood in exchange, we can influence the decisions of those who order them into conflict.

    We are a church. Plain and simple. We like to pass “feel-good” legislation at World Conference, such as a statement against the use of capital punishment, but how many attorneys within the church do you see volunteering time or filing briefs on behalf of those facing such punishment? If we truly cared about capital punishment, we’d have a law library and a staff of attorneys in the Temple working with the Innocence Project to get the wrongly convicted or sentenced off death row. We pass legislative statements on environmental issues and firearms control, yet I see lush grass and beautiful landscaping being watered daily on church properties, and armed guards and security personnel employed at major church conferences. We promote the worth of all persons, yet we will not take a stand for the rights of the unborn. We are a peculiar people of many contradictions.

    I wonder, though, is it not worth the effort? Change takes time and humanity is even slower to change. Our efforts do make a difference in many ways. I don’t know if we’ll ever become like the Quakers or Mennonites, and quite honestly, I don’t care anymore to compare my beliefs or efforts with others. Over time, we will make a difference and substantial contribution to humanity. The key is to keep the rough stone rolling down the hill.

  8. Scott Tippetts says:

    Wow, this is an fascinating ‘thread’ (original article, plus comments). Stumbled across it while looking at John Hamer’s article on naming/branding.

    I was born & raised in the ‘other’ (Brigham Young) LDS church, then migrated to the Friends (‘Quakers’) for a few years as I was transitioning out of Mormonism. Went there partly because of meeting so many Quakers during my activism on peace & social justice issues (which activities were seemingly frowned upon while I was within the LDS church).

    I applaud you for your interest and motivations in seeking this direction, your self-critique, and your self-suggestions.

    Peace. ;-)

  9. Richard Gillilan says:

    Matt, I liked your comments. Besides the fact that Community of Christ is still new at Peace, I think there is one big factor that still prevents them from becoming the kind of organization you envision. There are a significant number of members who don’t want to be associated with “peace movements.” They consider some military action as a viable and just way of dealing with the worlds problems and associate peace movements with misguided liberalism.

    I think you can see it in the language of 163 and other recent documents. Whenever the word “peace” is used, it is often qualified as “the Peace of Christ” or “Christ’s Peace.” In other words, the politically conservative members of the church who might have trouble with the label “Peace” find the qualified label easier to take. For them, the only hope for world peace is by converting the world to Christianity.

    The Community of Christ is very theologically divided right now in a very unusual way. A large number of traditionalists are stuck, unable to fully split from the denomination because they still see it as “the one true church.” I doubt that few other churches have as wide a range of belief as we do: from traditional restoration, to mainline, to evangelical, to new age, to non-theist.

    That can be a handicap or that can be an opportunity.


  10. politicalminefields says:

    You all might be interested to read a response to this posting by my Dad, the Apostle responsible for peace and justice ministries:

  11. Sam Young says:

    I am uncomfortable with the idea of the church’s goal becoming one of a secular nature. The wording in Section 163 of the peace of Christ or Christ’s peace is not a case of failing to confront a portion of the membership but rather a more accurate statement of the source of peace the church should be working towards. I would like to address your recommendations.

    1. One of the things I love about the church is how boldly we teach the principle of free will. For the church to exclude those who wish to serve in the military, then they are intruding on that person’s free will to chose. Obviously, this argument only holds up if you assume that force can justified by the scriptures. Which is a bigger question than I want to address here.

    2. I assume the argument here is that more people need to be working in world-wide peace organizations because there are already many people working in their communities towards peace and justice.

    3. In this day and age we do not have to be present in D.C. and NY to keep abreast of what is going on in the world. Influencing policy sounds like lobbying.

    4. National peacebuilding efforts? This sounds like all

    • Doug Gregory says:

      Amen, Sam. The question is – what is peace? If it only has to do with resolving international conflict and refusing to bear arms, then that seems somewhat shallow to me. The call to bring Christ’s peace into first our own life and then sharing it in the life of our fellow, seems to be more in keeping with the way Christ worked.

      You may not know Karon Cochran Budhathoki, a church member who worked at the Carter Institute, helped found another peace institute in San Diego, and was awared the Peacemaker award of the year for Africa, but she is a church member currently living in Nepal, and with her Nepalese husband played a major role in the transitions taking place there.

      We do not know all the places where Christ is working, and whom He works through, only that He is in the world working His purposes out, and asks us to respond by bringing His peace to a family member, a neighbor, a stranger, or a people in need.

      To me, that is the call to share Christ’s peace.

      The question is – am I (are each of us)- doing all we can to be the change we are trying to create?

  12. Sam Young says:

    I am uncomfortable with the idea of the church’s goal becoming one of a secular nature. The wording in Section 163 of the peace of Christ or Christ’s peace is not a case of failing to confront a portion of the membership but rather a more accurate statement of the source of peace the church should be working towards. I would like to address your recommendations.

    1. One of the things I love about the church is how boldly we teach the principle of free will. For the church to exclude those who wish to serve in the military, then they are intruding on that person’s free will to chose. Obviously, this argument only holds up if you assume that force can justified by the scriptures. Which is a bigger question than I want to address here.

    2. I assume the argument here is that more people need to be working in world-wide peace organizations because there are already many members of the church working in their communities towards peace and justice.

    3. In this day and age we do not have to be present in D.C. and NY to keep abreast of what is going on in the world. Influencing policy sounds like lobbying and the cost to results ratio does not make this proposal seem feasible.

    4. National peacebuilding efforts? I would argue that where we have signficant presence we are participating in peacebuilding efforts but at the community level. This is just an argument about scale, which I would support increasing. A dedicated person could make this happen.

    5. Sending personnel to the world’s hotspots is a complex issue but I think the church should support those who chose to endeavour in such a cause.

    Looking back over the list, I would support 6, 7, and 9 also. As for having a Peace scholar in residence, as with many of the other recommendations on which I would have a hard time supporting, what is the focus of this? I believe that our focus should be towards achieving peace through Jesus Christ. So would the scholar be a Christian? I would not support funding a scholar who was strictly secular.

    All of these recommendations are secular based. I do not believe that peace can be reached in this world through politics. Only by God’s will can this be done.

  13. I believe God works with those God has at hand…trying to influence them to do the right thing and in this case to establish peace and justice. I am one that does not believe God manipulates the world but uses us as God’s hands and expects us to do the work. With this viewpoint, I see God as trying to use us and to influence us not through coercion but through persuasion.

  14. TH says:


    Your analysis is very sound and I appreciate what you’re saying.

    However, I have concerns about the things that you have stated the church would/should be doing if it is a peace church. Your points come from one particular worldview and show only one approach/philosophy/praxis towards achieving peace. That appears to be a religious version of secular leftest (in American terms) politics. It also would make the church only a “me too” organization that is doing very similar things to many other peace groups (Quakers, Initiatives of Change, etc). It doesn’t make sense to me to use the church as a vehicle to peace in ways that can already or might better be accomplished through other organizations. Rather than asking what the CofChrist should do to be a peace church, I think we have to focus on what the CofChrist can offer to the peace mission that is either unique or that can better be achieved through our denomination than any other. To me, that would be helping people (individuals) discover how they are each (and diversely) called to promote peace in their everyday lives by Christ. That would be focusing on spiritual formation, diverse education, and empowering people to minister as and where and how they are called.

  15. Rick Collins says:

    Hi Matthew (and all),
    My major piece of study for my degree was a paper on the pacfist and violent tendencies of the latter day saint movement.
    I have developed a passion for the pacifist position, though I admit that at times, I can tend to slip over to the realist corner.
    So when I did my research I really wanted to come to a clear understanding of where the church is on this position.

    The conclusion I came to was that one of the biggest obstacles to the Community of Christ becoming a “peace church” is that our church, through its anti-authoritarian beginnings, has created a culture in which we celebrate the diversity of belief.
    This is not a bad thing.

    However, this acceptance of diversity also means that the church is not likely to adopt a exclusively pacifist position.

    I think David Howlett (and Andrew in his reply) has an excellent point: The Quakers and Mennonites have been in the peace business for centuries. The Community of Christ, I believe has only in the past generation come to see its natural focus – Peace and Justice ministry.
    As a result, if the Community of Christ is to become a “peace church” in the same vein as the Mennonites and Quakers, then it will not be something that happens in the near future, but will take time.

    I also believe there is some strength to our not being a “true peace church”.
    There is a lot to be said about the discussion on war and peace, and I believe the varying views in the Community of Christ means that we have a strong ability to deeply discuss the issues and to go deeper into what it means to “pursue peace”.
    After all, what can we learn from a discussion of the path of pacifism only attended by pacifists?
    Similarly, I believe the Book of Mormon is a valuable resource to us because it also represents the discussion on violence and peace. It is an excellent tool for discussing the different positions on violence, and for people to faithfully explore the question: What would God have me do?

    While I have dreamed of similar kinds of actions as those Matthew listed, I believe the first step towards the Community of Christ becoming a peace church is a very simple one:
    Take (and advocate strongly) the position that war and violence is sinful.

    I believe that the varying positions on violent force in the church will be open to this. I believe this would create an opportunity to discuss what this means for our actions.

    It may not convert everyone to pacifism. In fact, it way only win over a few who hadn’t made up their minds yet. But it would be a discussion, which I believe would bring us closer over time to a more peaceable position on violence and war.

    If we are to act justly to all our members, and to honour our tradition of diversity, then the path to becoming a peace church will take longer. With that said, I believe it will be all the more worthwhile.

  16. Barb says:

    Hey, you members of the CoC, please don’t beat yourselves up. You are a relatively small denomination who recently changed course culturally. So, comparisons with groups of longer peace church history, or larger groups, is unfair. I was a liberal Mormon, and I would have envied your ability to think out loud and discuss things had I known about y’all back then. Lots of talk, prayer, and cultural development went into the older peace church movements too before their reputation was well known. I think you have made a good beginning and will find your unique voice and contribution along the way. It may end up looking and sounding different from the peace churches who went before, who knows?

  17. James Bishop says:

    I generally agree with your comments with the following exception;

    “A commitment to non-violence and non-participation in the military or armed factions.”

    Were it not for me and thousands of others who have served honorably in the military (25 years in U. S. Navy) you would not be able to write anything like this. Or worse yet, it would be in German, Japanese or Russian.

    I agree too, the church has become too concerned with administration and finances to the detriment of “pursuit of Peace.”

    As our commitment, hopefully with some peace overtures, our church continues to support a local underperforming school with backpacks, sending children to camp, providing weekend meals, replenishing the school nurse’s supplies including clothes for when a child has an accident, upgrading the teachers’ lounge, mentors and reading coaches, and maybe least of all, improving the outdoor space for teachers and students to interact.

    We also have an annual Christmas bazaar from which last year we donated $25,000 (with all expenses covered by the congregation) to local organizations. We host various organizations meeting in the parish hall.

    Not only do we recognize those serving in the Armed Forces on Memorial and Veteran’s Day, but each Sunday, during the prayers of the people, each member of the congregation serving in the Armed Forces is prayed for by name.

    Saint Christopher’s Episcopal Church, Pensacola, Fla., continues in various other ways to “promote peace” in our community.

    James Bishop, former CofC

  18. Diane Kyser says:

    It may be lost to history that more than 20 years ago Randal Pratt and I, as the then chair of the World Church Peace and Justice Committee, created a Missouri nonprofit meant to serve as an aggressive expression of peace for CoC members. It went by the way because of lack of interest and probably lack of leadership time and energy to promote it. I still think this is a viable model. Note that the Quaker and Mennonite peace organizations are not the churches themselves but are rather “affiliates”. Anybody want to revive this effort?

    • jbwinship says:

      Hi Diane, yes you did a good job trying to help on reconciliation ministry. I was a participant in several meetings which you mediated and included some from the presidency, Parkview and Grain Valley congregations and some from the Restoration Independent Branches.
      Nothing really got resolved but it did open some dialogue that was fruitful is some aspects. Thanks for your efforts.

  19. Jeff Winship says:

    The year is now 2021 and we have not moved too much closer to become a Church that does much more than proclaim peace. I think we are much like a beauty pageant where each contestant “Hopes for World Peace” because it is a good cause and apolitical. We have gone through a year of churches being shut down and the church “seems” to be more interested in E-tithe payers contributions than getting the churches back open to bring real ministry to the flock. Unfortunately many of the flock have scattered and now attend else where to places where they feel that they are being fed.

    Peace is good, but not the end all. We are called to bring the Revelation of the Hope of Jesus Christ to the world. We as a church seem to be more willing to compromise the truth rather than to bring true healing to those enmeshed in sin so that they can find true peace in their lives.

  20. floyd gardner says:

    Thank you, Matthew Bolton, for your article and for your work. Had I been raised in a “true Peace Church,” such as the American Friends {Quakers,} rather than the RLDS, I would have had a more acceptable means of avoiding being sent to be killed in Vietnam – as a sacrifice to the gods of Wall Street – than the means I took.

  21. Albert says:

    Thhis was great to read

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