Please Note: This post is a response from Community of Christ Apostle, Andrew Bolton, to two blog postings by his son, Matthew Bolton: “The Community of Christ is Not a Peace Church” and “Managed Decline or Rejuvenation?” Matthew Bolton’s articles critiqued the church’s implementation of its peace mission. —Ed.
I want to respond to Matthew’s article.
Perhaps we should own up to being father and son straightaway. In recent years our relationship has become more like equal friends and that has been a real joy for me. I even look up to him — he is 6ft 5in and I am only 6ft 2 1/2 in. He writes better than I do and intellectually he is ahead of me. I like to think though that the thousands of conversations we have had over the years have helped shape not only his intellectual skills of analysis but his interest and deep convictions about peace and justice… and his outspokenness. Emily, his beloved wife, is also having a good influence on him. We both look up to her (5ft 5in) and she may, in her Mennonite convictions and personal courage, be even more committed to peace than either of us.
Matthew was a double major at Graceland, his mother’s alma mater, and has completed his MSc in Development Studies and his PhD in Government at the London School of Economics, part of the University of London — my alma mater. He is not just a thorough researcher but a courageous one. He has researched his PhD case studies on the ground in Bosnia, Afghanistan and the Sudan and has worked in Iraq and in several countries in Africa and Central America and the Philippines. So we should welcome his voice along with other young adults in the church who are also on similar committed and courageous journeys.
I really like Matthew’s passion, commitment and clarity. When I finished reading what he had written I was moved and felt connected again with my passion, at my best, to make the world a better place.
However, I am what Matthew would consider to be currently “one of the top leaders” of the church as a member of the Council of Twelve Apostles. Furthermore as coordinator for peace and justice ministries for 9 years from 1998 to 2007 at the international headquarters of the church, in ‘sleepy mid-western town of Independence’, I am co-responsible with others for where we now are as a church. I am thus one of those Matthew is being critical about. I want to thus give my perspective too.
So to Matthew’s article.
1. This is where I agree with Matthew:
a) I really like the suggestions in the section headed: “What Would We See If the Community of Christ Was Serious about Peace?” We should aim to do these kinds of things.
b) I agree that we should choose “The alternative … [option], 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.”
c) I agree that we should follow the radical Jesus. In Matthew’s words: “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.”
d) Agreed. It is difficult to become a peace church. We are frail humans, sinful, and hesitant to apply all of Jesus to all of our lives. We still are involved in empire, especially in the USA and other affluent nations, that crucifies the poor and the non-white.
2. This is where we differ at this point:
a) Matthew asserts that Community of Christ is not a peace church. I want to say that Community of Christ is on a very difficult journey to become a peace church. Commitment to the cause of Zion has been from the beginning of our movement but the pursuit of peace has only been embraced seriously and intentionally in the last 10-25 years. The turning point was the commitment in 1984 to the ordination of women and to build the Temple dedicated to the pursuit of peace, reconciliation and healing of the spirit. To say at this point that we do not measure up to the Quakers and Mennonites, who began 357 and 484 years ago respectively, is like saying a young seedling apple tree does not measure up against the mature fruit tree. Give the delicate plant of peace mission time to grow! This will take at least one generation. Whether we make the transition to an authentic peace church will depend on Matthew’s generation. My generation, born after World War II and shaped by Vietnam and the Cold War, will get through much of the wilderness but we are unlikely to see the promised land. Matthew’s generation can do it.
b) I disagree with the thesis that Community of Christ leaders can only manage the inevitable decline of the church. He compares the plight of church leaders to like that of British leaders who can only manage but not reverse the nation’s inevitable decline since World War II from superpower to an ordinary middle power European nation. The church is not like a nation. The church at its best is proclaiming and living the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. The church, frail, sinful, is nevertheless an instrument in the hands of God to do good in the world because God so loves the world. The Holy Spirit will always inspire all those who hear the call of Jesus to love their neighbour and their enemy and who proclaim in word and deed good news to the poor. The disciples failed utterly at the crucifixion of Jesus but found grace, new conviction and new power on the mornings of Easter and Pentecost. We are no different than the first disciples in our weakness. It is Jesus who makes the difference now and then.
The new emphasis by church leaders on discipleship, spirituality, and identity as followers of Jesus, is a road that will bring renewal and a resurgence of hope and new purpose. D&C 163 is the most significant and radical call to change the world since the call to embrace the cause of Zion at beginning of our movement. The “We share …” document, on the church web page is very helpful to read as another part of clarifying our identity, mission and message.
The church is not managing decline, it is managing a difficult transformation and renewal, that is part of laying the solid foundations for being an authentic peace church. We go through all this change in faith. The church is the bride of Christ. Jesus loves her and will yet see her flourish for the redemptive purposes of God. In the last 10 years 11,000 people have been baptized in Haiti and Africa. The centre of gravity of our movement, like Christianity as a whole, is moving from the minority world of Europe and the USA, Canada and Australia to the majority world of Africa, Latin America and Asia. The church may be struggling in some parts of the world but it is flourishing in other parts.
c) Matthew asserts that most Community of Christ members don’t want to be a peace church. It is true, some don’t want to go on this journey, just as some grumbled all the way through the wilderness from Egypt and died before they got to the Promised land. However, I meet lots of people, young and old, both in rich and poor countries, who are enthusiastic about this journey to become a peace church. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, calls us on this journey. We have agency to choose the path we take.
However, if we really do become a peace church then what a witness that will be given our violent history, our struggles and lack of faith and conviction. If we can take this journey of repentance, individually and as a people with the help of God’s grace, then other faiths with violent histories will be able to see new options too.
d) Matthew is impatient with the very tentative, hesitant steps that he sees the church taking to tackle the immense issues of our time: AIDS, new wars, massive poverty, terrorism etc. Sometimes I am frustrated also. He cannot see any employees in the thick of courageous and skilled peace making. I would rather say that the work that is going on is largely hidden. We are a lay movement working at the grassroots. We are often ministers in our work more than we are in the congregation. What we do is mostly hidden from people, even in the same congregation, as church members seek faithfully to do good in the businesses they run and in the professions and jobs they do. We work at the grass roots as volunteers, as leaven, yeast, salt — hidden but catalyzing change. Most peace work is not spectacular but the honest commitment of years of faithful service.
Also we are usually not privileged to see what church employees are doing in very difficult circumstances in Africa, Latin America and in Asia. These are not easy places to work. Then there is the work of Outreach International and World Accord. Outreach’s PHDP methodology is about changing villages and neighborhoods through community organizing to change nonviolently the culture of silence and the systems that keep the poor trapped in unjust systems. Consider also all the church members who have received the Community of Christ Human Rights Award from Ed Guy to Rupa Kumar and John Menzies. It is an inspiring list and all have been volunteers or in other occupations. We have heroes.
To bring people right up-to-date. In September 21-22, 2009 a peace summit is being held at the Temple complex. President Veazey is inviting significant peacemakers in our movement, together with church leaders and those who lead Outreach, World Accord, Graceland University, the Seminary, etc. The agenda is how we can improve our working together to engage more seriously in the call of Jesus to pursue peace and justice making. We will have consultants from both the Quaker and Mennonite traditions to help us.
There is hope in the resurrected Christ. As Martin Luther King said, the universe bends towards justice. God’s grace is sufficient for us to take the difficult road to pursue peace. It is a journey God calls each of us to with great passion and urgency. The church’s best days are not in the past but still to come.
I am grateful for the journey you have chosen and committed yourself to, Matthew. We are on the same journey and much is expected of both of us.
—Andrew Bolton, Council of Twelve, Asia Field
I sympathize with Matthew and appreciate his point of view but Andrew is right. We have been working at being a peace church for very few years. It is my opinion that the church should jump into the movement with both feet, take courageous stands and let the cards fall where they will. And
I think the leaders need to stop holding back information that they believe would serve the cause of peace and justice and just tell the church what they must accept. Waiting for the membership to catch up is futile. There is no peace possible without justice. The time has come for the church leadership to begin ordaining gays who are spiritual leaders anyhow. They need to accept membership by transfer of letter from other churches. After all, we have been giving all Christians the sacrament of the lord’s supper for years now and that witnesses that we accept their commitment.
There are other peace and justice issues that are every bit as important but our leadership appears to be afraid of losing members if they do the right thing. Loss of membership should be the last thing they consider. I realize that leads to loss of income too but perhaps it is time for the world church to pare down it’s employees even more…if that’s what it takes to make a stand for peace and justice. Mission should be the first consideration.
Yes, it’s true, Matthew. Most of us are lay leaders. We are in the field where the real action is found. We do lead and address peace and justice issues in our worlds though. You simply are not looking in the right places. You do not and cannot see our efforts in our individual communities. You are looking for world changing peace and justice without knowing that that effort must begin in the grass roots. That’s where Jesus began.
Andrew, thanks so much for offering your thoughts and position on these important issues. I didn’t read very much difference between what you were saying and what Matthew was saying.
At risk of offending – it seemed instead that your post supported the main thesis of Matthews argument: that leadership of the church is more about offering excuses as to why we cannot become a peace church (new focus, lay workers, hard journey, reluctant members, etc.) than looking to see how we can get past these hardships.
As you say – the turning point to a new mission was the ordination of women. This was a hard choice, a risky choice, and a costly choice. But it was the right choice. And it has borne much good fruit. Maggie rightly points out that, without the full acceptance of all, including those in our LGBT community, the actions of the Church will be as dead as those taken prior to accepting women fully.
And the notion that you and several others have pointed to: that we are new at this and haven’t been pursuing peace as long as others (patience!) is apologetic at best and disingenuous at worst. It took the Quakers and the Mennonites centuries to get where they are because no one showed them the way. We now have a clear road prepared for us. Matthew was easily able to rattle off how to proceed and he is surely newer to the peace-business than most. He didn’t figure those things out himself, he asked questions, researched, and looked to those who were leading the way.
It is a continuing struggle to be a member of a denomination that seems to be always following. But the one benefit of following is that we can avoid mistakes and move more quickly and assuredly. We don’t need to wait 400 years to do what the Mennonites are doing now. Let’s go!
Let’s not use our sluggishness to be so late to the table on the issue of peace as we were on the issue of women’s equality and as we seem to be on LGBT, rebaptism and a host of other issues.
As you say: the start of our journey was a brave step in 1984 which risked much and cost much. If we truly want to be a peace church, we must take more risks, as Matthew rightly points out.
I absolutely agree with you that mission should be the first consideration, and compared to denominational preservation, perhaps the only issue. Of course, I’m one who thinks that that last statement requires us to select the best institutions for the mission we now individually and/or corporately understand,instead of hanging on to the institutions we once built for the mission we then thought we had. The “grass-roots stuff” is an example of crossing existing instituional parameters to respond to calls to mission.
I also agree with your main point about the apologetic nature of the church leadership. They feel an understandably intense duty to their institutional responsibilities, but the irony is sometimes painful.
When we appeal to “CofChrist, The Next Generation”, we cast our message too often as “help us in our mission”, and almost never credibly as “we can help you in yours”. The portion of Steve’s message to the church as Prophet in April that was directed to young adults — the church needs you — was almost word for word the same message I’d seen on one of the bloggernacle threads in March. There, a Mormon dedicated to racial justice in her denomination appealed to a member who had left that church because of offensive practices in the past: the church needs you.
We also have to recognize that most people we come across, in both the younger and older generations, aren’t going to be attracted to being Quakers or Mennonites. So, again, let us be guided by what we think is right, even when it leads us to oppose each other on particular issues, and not on what we think gives us the biggest market share.
And I also think we need to address once and for all the issue of the Book of Mormon. There have been DNA studies and word print studies on this issue and still the church hangs on to this nineteenth century document as though it were an ancient document.
We need to be up front about it. It is costing us membership. If there is anything that keeps us from making members of our friends, it is the Book of Mormon. We no longer live in a primitive world where most people are illiterate. And we no longer live in a world with a magic world view.
I belong to two Ministerial Alliances in my area and the one big question they ask me is “Do you still use the Book of Mormon?”. “Is it still a part of your canon?”
It is embarrassing to me to have to tell them “yes”. I do not use it and I do not believe it is an ancient document and twice in the past two months, visitors have left before giving our fellowship a fair trial because someone in the pulpit used it as though it were scripture.
When are we going to de-canonize it and leave it in the history department?
I understand your perspective about the Book of Mormon, although I don’t think about it the way that you do, nor do I move to the same conclusion. I don’t have an argument to offer, but do have a question that your post prompts me to ask.
If you had no history with the Community of Christ, but still had knowledge of the organization, what would you point to as the primary way that promoting peace through the Community of Christ accomplishes/better fulfills the mission of promoting peace and your particular call to ministry, as opposed to any other avenue for your ministerial and financial resources?
Andrew, for example, is a church leader, and as a result has more power to promote peace the way that he believes is best in our institution than in the Catholic church for example. So, using our church to promote peace makes sense for him from a leverage standpoint. Matt Naylor, as an alternative example, might have more leverage to pursue peace through Outreach International for similar reasons. There are many ways to pursue peace. The challenge is really a matter of stewardship…how do we (a) ensure that the way that we’re attempting to reach our goals are effective, (b) continuing to check that our goal and methods are what Christ calls us to and how Christ calls us, (c) use our resources to optimize the ministry that we are called to.
I just read this posting and had to respond. In all of my years in the RLDS I never met anyone who expressed a complete repudiation for THE BOOK OF MORMON. The Church’s attitude in modern times seemed to be no matter what your perspective on it might be (authentic, inspired fiction, non-inspired fiction, or whatever, the book still had worth. In other words, how we got it wasn’t as important as what it said.
I did hear members say from time to time That THE BOOK OF MORMON should not be emphasized. I have to mention Section 83 paragraph 8 but you probably consider that outmoded also.
Your being embarrassed by the Church’s acceptance of THE BOOK OF MORMON is puzzling, but I’m sure you didn’t mean to infer that believers are illiterate. That’s almost an elitist attitude.
Illiterate, no – but poor grammar? Perhaps.
Infer is how you take something, imply is how you mean something.
Sorry – couldn’t help it.
INFER: Hint, Suggest
IMPLY: To involve or indicate by inference.
Okay, that’s out of the way. Do you have a question?
Since I am only a local church leader, I try to promote peace and justice issues in the community in which I live. The Community of Christ gives me authority as a pastor to do that. In another organization, I would have to have a seminary degree to have that same authority.
Now I realize authority of any kind is not necessary for an individual to pursue peace and justice issues but in the secular world it seems to help if one has some kind of authority with an organization in order for others to recognize that authority. Otherwise, one is just an “ordinary citizen” expressing an opinion.
I write two columns for two newspapers. One is an editorial and the other is a Minister’s Message. Without my position as a minister in the church and a pastor, that opportunity would not be available to me. In doing that, I have the opportunity to express my feelings about these issues that are important to issues of peace and justice.
On a different subject, I also have learned that to reach our legislators in order to address important issues statewide and even nationally, a citizen must write “letters to the editors” of their local newspapers where the clipping service the legislator employs will bring their opinions to the attention of the legislator… otherwise letters sent directly to the legislator will be answered by interns using position books. Reaching their constituency gets their attention.
I don’t know if this answers your question or not.
Thanks for answering so quickly. Those are all good examples of how you are pursuing peace. What I am asking is (a) how the church facilitates your ability to be a peacemaker, and (b) how the church organization can accomplish peace “goals,” for lack of a better word, better than another organization (what makes us special/different/worth contributing to?).
If I understood you correctly, you answered part a by saying that the emphasis on lay priesthood allows you to have a leadership role that you wouldn’t otherwise have in a denomination, so I would assume that that also gives you more influence over other church members, your congregation, or standing with ministers from other denominations. I’m not sure about your answer to part b, however.
I’m in a kind of unusual position since I don’t believe Jesus was a messiah in the traditional way of looking at a messiah. I believe his message showed us how to accomplish salvation for this life but I am not sure I believe in an afterlife since I have never been there and come back to testify of it.
Also, I’m not convinced of a resurrection….not even that of Jesus. I also believe Jesus was a human being with a special mission but not a part of God except in the same way we are all a part of God. I only believe in one God so I am not a trinitarian.
I believe God calls each of us to work for peace and justice for all of his creation.
This church allows me the freedom to act for God in this way even though I do not adhere to all their doctrines. Other churches would not give me that freedom. I have a Presbyterian friend who cannot be an Elder in their organization because she cannot buy into the creeds. I would have the same problem.
Does that speak to part b?
My theology has been only partly jokingly described as being “pantheistic binitarianism merged with a sort of predestination on steroids”. I can’t even describe my beliefs to others without being reduced to physicist’s disease — the compulsive need to start scribbling equations or drawing graphs.
You represent a perspective and a resource I appreciate, when you are using it inside this senomination or in your other roles.
I think that was complimentary. If so..thank you. :) I seldom speak too clearly in my congregation about my belief system although most of them know I am a “heretic”.
Actually, I believe I am a process theologian if one can say I am a theologian at all.
Ah! A theology invented by a mathematician and physicist and probably the only theology in the world I’m qualified to systematically criticize. I’m sure we’ll have some wonderful discussions about that, but I won’t threadjack here.
Thank you, Andrew and Matt. The Bolton’s help bring a helpful discussion out in the open.
Perhaps some will feel that its impossible, but I agree with both of them. Both of their responses introduce a more adequate picture. On the one hand, I think the church in the U.S., Western Europe, and Australia does fall pitifully short. We are in worlds literally created on the history of violence, politics, and economics that affords us complacency.
On the other hand, institutionally, (meaning at denominational levels) I believe “the church” continues to take institutional steps to participate in peace activities, discussions, and initiatives. I don’t pretend that these are adequate, or that they do not create false appearances. But, against the critics (of which I count myself), there is substance in symbols and the symbolism of these activities even if they do not ultimate broker peace.
I also agree that there is so much we do not account nor do not see. So much of the peace work in the church is unseen. I understand, for people like Matt who understand peace is primarily poliitcal, I am stretching a bit. (And, again, I agree with him.) Neverthless, while it isn’t clearing mines, my wife, Margo works as a public school teacher inside Chicago. I believe public education, in America, is a broken institution. Public education inside the nation’s 3rd largest school district is so very different than in suburban America. The public education system, like America’s churches, persist as examples of American institutions that remain so significantly shaped by a concrete history of racism, classism, and political commitment to inequality. America does NOT meet everyday in our capital the same way it does everyday in its public schools. Some teachers broker peace, distribute justice, mediate conflicts, and navigate lesser forms of violence everyday.
There is one point of view that is lacking in both Andrew’s and Matt’s posts. I must admit, I humor at the fact that I feel like Reinhold Niebuhr in this discussion, but I think he makes a valuable contribution
The vision cast to follow the “Jesus of peace” is necessary and right on. We need to pour gas on that spiritual fire. To proclaim that Jesus came proclaiming God’s Kingdom is true. However, the passage Jesus proclaimed to that Kingdom was NOT PEACE. It was repentance. Andrew approaches this point when he says this:
“We are frail humans, sinful, and hesitant to apply all of Jesus to all of our lives. We still are involved in empire, especially in the USA and other affluent nations, that crucifies the poor and the non-white.” Also this, “The disciples failed utterly at the crucifixion of Jesus but found grace, new conviction and new power on the mornings of Easter and Pentecost. We are no different than the first disciples in our weakness. It is Jesus who makes the difference now and then.”
But, this is not enough. If Jesus makes the difference, this church needs to proclaim and demonstrate how. In our move to peace over the last 20 or so years, we have also inherited the barriers and baggage of liberalism – American-style liberalism. And, these barriers and baggage have not been adequately explored.
We cannot continue into the future of peace until we take back from conservative Christianity what both they and liberals have distorted. That is Jesus – and our scriptures – central message of repentance.
The fact that most of us don’t readily know or immediately feel how the road to repentance is the passage of Christ to becoming his Community and a peace church is evident of our failure.
And, in this way, I think Matt B.’s critiques are in spirit, helpful.
Spot on, Matt!
You know, Matt, we do not know how much influence the church has in the world. For example, the past three or four years, I have had four friends who are not members of our church come with me to the Peace Coloquys. They are very impressed. One is a judge, one is a geologist, one is a sociologist and one is a retired Methodist minister.
Recently, the sociologist, a Presbyterian, called to get the dates of this year’s colloquy. They plan to go again and bring another couple.
So, we do not always know how much influence the church has in the world around it’s members. Where peace and justice are are concerned, everything matters.
Good point about the cultural assumptions of the faith community and political distortions (liberalism/conservatism/etc).
I noticed that Jacquie’s Blog is on the Blog Roll of this site. If we want to be a peace church we need to look at our legal system as well as other aspects of our society. Jacquie’s Blog shows us that our legal system is in need of reform. We have a punative system of justice rather that a restorative system of justice. To understand what I am trying to say please go the Jacquie’s Blog on the Blog Roll of this site. Thank you
That’s exactly right! A few years ago..perhaps three, the Peace Colloquy was on Restorative Justice and I understand that Missouri is experimenting with that concept. My judge friend and his wife and sister-in-law came to that Peace Colloquy with me because he was interested in the concept.
He was very impressed. He is a senior judge.
Sometimes this conversation feels like the three blind men describing the elephant. One part of being a peaceful people just may be seeking first to understand, and then to be understood. Few know what it is like to be a world church leader, responsible for the mission of Christ into the world. Not all of us who are older remember vividly the passions of youth, nor do those of you who are more youthful perhaps fully appreciate the wisdom that comes from often painful experiences that age brings.
Let’s just jump out of the theology for a moment and be reminded that peace begins with how you and I get along, our respect for each other, and our willingness to share openly with each other. Jesus said that he came not to bring peace, but a sword. His message will divide because people will have to make choices. But, then he closed his ministry with prayer that his disciples will be one with each other and him, and that is my prayer.
And Andrew, I thought your response was very peaceful in nature, and hope your son (whom I do not know) respects you as much for it as I hope my son (Dan, whom you have mentored), would me for sharing in a similar way.
More than all else we do or talk about, your peaceful response is perhaps the meassuring stick we should look at most carefully. As Brother Veazey and Matt reminded us, all of us have much to repent of, even though it is that introspection and realization that is often our most difficult and avoided task.
God, forgive the times I have looked the other way, or looked only through my eyes. May your peace reign in my heart, and in the hearts of my brothers and sisters trying to become your sons and daughters.
Margie, perhaps your senior judge friend and his wife would be interested in reading Jacquie’s blog(?) It may give him some insights into what our present punitive justice system does to families and those who love and support those families.
I will forward the link on to him.
Thank you Margie.
I have posted this as a comment on Matthew’s article and I thought it may also be relevant here:
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.
The quality of the discussion suffers because we largely talk past each other from different worldviews rather than being able to talk to each other and frame arguments that make sense within the worldview of another.
This is not unique to the church; New Scientist had a feature article early last year showing that progressives and conservatives differ strongly on 3 of 5 major axes used to identify basic personality types. (Sorry that I can’t provide a link, but New Scientist makes its archives available only to current subscibers.) One point of the article was that it was more difficult than imagined for progressives and conservatives to even agree on what was “virtuous”, to put it in religious terms.
Thus, our arguments tend to be formed from unstated assumptions we do not widely share within the Community of Christ (or any other denomination). Some, like Rick, study the issue according to the evidence most effective in reaching them, and conclude that pacifism is usually, if not exclusively what Jesus would do. Others, like me, look at the evidence most effective in reaching me, and conclude that pacifism can often have the effect of perpetuating injustice until situations explode into even larger wars.
Both points of view are ARGUABLE, and as long as they are ARGUABLE, commited Christians have been unable to come to lasting agreement about them over two millenia.
For example, the quality of argument for pacifism would be improved if references to Jesus’ life actually addressed situations in which the positions we now call “Christian realism” or “just war” would clearly predict Jesus would have behaved differently than he did.
This is harder than it might first appear. The position of the historical Jesus as a member of a conquered nation strongly constrains just war or realist positions toward pacifism in such situations.
The argument would also improve if it does not become circular. When presented with examples from other scriptures that the church has historically accepted that appear to support realist or just war positions, the pacifist reply made often seems to be to immediately delegitamatize the Scripture. At best, this entangles the debate on non-violence in a host of other issues, blocking mutual understanding. More usually it makes it seem that the Scripture is being rejected BECAUSE it is inconsistent with the pacifist worldview.
I haven’t even been convinced yet (if ever) that a loving God is inherently non-violent; for testimony on that subject, I call upon the dinosaurs.
And the quality of the argument in favor of your position would also improve if it actually made an argument, rather than merely knock down the straw-man arguments made by those of the opposing view.
I actually stated arguments that could be made for the pacifist position that would help to convince me of that position. I did that to make the point of how we talk past each other because we come from worldviews that are totally different, and I illustrated that with arguments made to me that do NOT convince me because they assume a worldview which I, and many other Christians, do not share.
I have raised no arguments that even attempted to convince you to adopt a Christian realist position, because I do not share your worldview and do not understand what arguments you MIGHT find convincing.
In order to advance beyond talking past each other we have to be willing to explain and examine our own worldviews so that those who take different positions can at least speak to us in our own frames of reference.
War and violence ARE sinful. Look how it disrupts lives. The leadership stands aside and lets the enlisted/draftees fight and die. Furthermore most times there are lots of collateral damage (civilians killed). How can war be anything else?
“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.”
Again, I don’t understand this notion. I mean, it took the inventors of the internet decades to develop the ability to post thoughts on a web board that could be read around the world instantaneously – and they are scientists and super geniouses. I’ve only been on here a couple of years and I’m already doing more than they ever imagined. Why isn’t it taking me decades to accomplish the same thing?
The point is – it’s not harder to do something when you come late to the party (as the CofC does far too often) – it is easier, as the path has been cleared by those who are far more visionary and proactive.
I understand your point, but it ignores my other point: the church’s biggest obstacle to adopting a pacifist stance is its celebration of diversity.
If the Community of Christ is to become a “peace church” like the Quakers, etc, we are going to need time to work through the issues together.
In fact, whatever the outcome, these are issues we need to work through.
That is a good point. I always forget to compliment the good points when I address those with which I disagree.
Does anyone else think it is strange that after Andrew’s post there have been no blog posts in a while? Before there was a new post put up ever few days. Is this just a coincidence?
TH – it’s just a coincidence. The list of posters write when they can. I’m totally pleased with the number of comments and replies the current posts have generated. I know of a couple posters working on posts right now, but don’t know when they’ll be posted.
Thanks for your interest and comments. Rock on.
Andrew may remember me as a brief convert of the Reorganized Church in Oxford, England. I knew his family well when Matthew was a small boy. We were walking down the Banbury Road together one day, his father holding one of Matthew’s hands and myself the other, when I accidentally let go and Matthew had a rather rough bump on the ground – he bawled ‘something terrible’. However his intellect seems none the worse for my clumsiness :)
It’s been many years since I read RLDS/CC articles. You might say that Andrew and I have diverged theologically to opposite ends of the theological spectrum (and myself completely out of the Restoration Movement). I certainly think it is time your church dropped the Book of Mormon, and I agree with one of your commentators, since it seems to me have no theological connection to what the CC stands for today. And it certainly isn’t an historical record. I’m actually surprised it continues to hold on to it but in a way it has to because of various authority issues that also link it to the D&C and its claimed historical mission. Its refined Presbyterianism just doesn’t gel with CC liberal theology. But then I think the CC has evolved away from D&C teachings too for the most part – it should probably drop most of it from about the time of W. Wallace Smith and back and hand it back to the Mormons who are the real heirs of Joseph Smithism. Back when I was RLDS we were still trying to recruit from the LDS but that is no longer the case. I think you need to make a clean break with Restorationism and be what you really are.
Since everyone seems to be fairly blunt here I will not hold my punches. Know that I am saying nothing in anger. I wask in the shalom of my Redeemer :) In all honesty I am finding it very difficult to reconcile the Jesus which you preach with the Jesus of the New Testament. The peace or shalom which Yah’shua preaches was within the context of a concept of salvation that by its very nature provokes hostility and persecution too.
34 “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. 35 For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; 36 and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ 37 He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39 He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.
Christ did NOT come to bring peace on the earth but into men’s souls. He came to bring truth to the world which it has consistently rejected and hated Him. It seems to me that your church has extracted a facit of the Gospel and rebaptised in in secular terms and then minimised the real message of salvation which is based squarely on the physical resurrection and life everlasting. Some of your ministers don’t even seem to have a basic testimony of this central Christian truth.
I was in your church in the 1980s – and specifically 1984 – when it was going through a major transition into what I can only described as a kind of secular new age Christianity. If it is to be true to itself – and I don’t honestly think it has fully dealt with the implications of the big shifts conducted by Wallace B. Smith and his successors – it needs to be honest and repudiate the Book of Mormon, discard all but the more recent sections of the Doctrine & Covenants, discard the Old Testament and extract those parts of the New Testament which it is able to square with its current theology. I don’t think the RLDS/CC church really still knows WHAT it is still. It certainly isn’t a biblical church and it’s time it admits that. I think it was right to change its name but now it needs to change its scriptures too so that it can truly be what is promotes itself as. That’s the only honest thing to do.
I mean no ill-will to any individual here, incidentally. I have great affection for Andrew and his family who showed me great kindness when I was transitioning out of Mormonism. We certainly had some interesting discussions. And I certainly will not fault those who desire to pursue peace. My only question really is: will you follow the peace process of secular humanism or the real Shalom of the Gospel of Jesus Christ which by definition means that the world will hate and persecute you…and not just the violent despots but the ‘ordinary’ folks too.
I pray biblical Shalom on all and sundry here :)
I believe Jesus came expecting God’s angels and the son of man to come and usher in the end times. I believe he intended to join in the fray and therefore asked his disciples to bring swords. I think we are incorrect when we assume Jesus came to build any kind of an organization outside of his own disciples, whom he commissioned to take the message about the coming kingdom of God to the Jewish communities or do help them realize it was already on it’s way to becoming.
Churches, as such, were the construct of men. They even got the message wrong and began to teach salvation theology (for an afterlife) when I believe both John and Jesus intended salvation for this life.
Therefore any mission we invent is a mission we believe to be God’s will for his creation…peace and justice. I don’t have a problem with that but I don’t believe Jesus ever intended to reach any past his own generation with his message of the kingdom of God.
Am I understanding you correctly??? You are saying you believe Jesus expected his disciples to engage in physical combat to bring about an earthly salvation???
Yes, I cannot figure any other reason for him to instruct his disciples to bring a sword. He said “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:34-39 NASB)
I believe Jesus to have been an apocalyptic prophet…as was John before him, IMO.
Then, do you believe that apocalyptic beliefs can be reconciled with a “Community of Christ”, or are you suggesting that the radical non-violence being advocated by some in the church today is in fact an IMPROVEMENT on the teachings of the historical Jesus?
I’m not trying to put words in your mouth here, but I’m having a tough time getting my hands around what you’re thinking.
I can’t figure any other reason for what he said in Matthew 10:
“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:34-39 NASB)
I believe Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet, as was John the Baptist.
I believe that Community of Christ has found some scriptures that seem to indicate that Jesus was bringing peace to the earth. But the scriptures that point out that he was an apocalyptic prophet make that a stretch.
I believe Jesus called people to repentance but that repentance was for this life..anticipating the end times and God’s kingdom to be established on the earth. In his mind, only then at that point could there be peace and justice.
Christopher, thank you for sharing. I do not see the church you see, but rather find a people in struggle, which is always the state of natural affairs. I am more frightened of people who are certain of everything than I am of those willing to question anything. I wish you peace, brother, but most of your shared observations are completely foreign to mine.
I’m intrigued with this, “will you follow the peace process of secular humanism or the real Shalom of the Gospel of Jesus Christ which by definition means that the world will hate and persecute you…and not just the violent despots but the ‘ordinary’ folks too.”
In the early 1980’s (when I was RLDS) the CC/RLDS Church was in the middle of a liberal/conservative controversy (this was before the big split when the RLDS church lost a substantial portion of its membership to independent groups). For the most part, this split was over whether the standard works were to be taken literally or not (including the BoM and D&C) but also whether the Bible should be allowed to interpret itself or be viewed through what I will call a Liberal Mindset (which by and large is a form of secular humanism). The best way I can expand upon what I meant by the quotation you made from my first post is by reviewing (apart from the BoM and D&C) what is understood to be a ‘liberal’ in the broadest possible sense in Christianity generally. The following is an article I wrote in response to a question a few years ago:
Q. In your many articles you have explained theologically what a liberal Christian is. But what is a liberal Christian practically?
This is a good question and one that I have asked myself many times. The best answer I can give is through an example. I have a friend who is a Unitarian. He lives an upright moral life and is constantly serving his fellow man. He is kind, generous and has a good sense of humour. In many ways he puts me to shame and inspires me to be better in my treatment of others. But the moment you mention miracles, the resurrection, the Virgin Birth, or anything supernatural, you always get a weak smile in return as though he is saying, “You poor fellow (for believing such superstition)”.
Now this man is typical of a vast section of Christianity today. They believe in the social Gospel but not the supernatural Gospel. When I asked my friend to summarise the Gospel for me, I was not surprised when he said, “Love your neighbour.” And, of course, he is abosoltely right — except that he has missed out 50% of the Gospel message.
Jesus also said — and He said it before He commanded His disciples to love their neighbour as their self — that we should love the Lord our God with our whole mind, might, and strength. True, loving your neighbour is an essential part of this but it is not all. For God’s great desire is that He be known and loved as He truly is. He said, through His Son, that knowing Christ was “life eternal”. He also said that “no man comes to the Father save through Christ.” And what sort of Christ? Christ the moral teacher? No, we come to the Father through the resurrected Christ, the atoning Christ, the sinless Christ, the miracle-working Christ…the One who died for us.
I cannot stress this enough. The social, moral Christ as mere human teacher is not the Christ who saves. Liberals aren’t trusting in the person of Christ for their salvation but in His moral teachings! And that’s not enough because Christ Himself testified that salvation comes through accepting His very person as God in the flesh.
The crux of the matter is whether or not you accept the deity of Christ and then testify of it to others.
It is a wonderful thing to live an upright, moral life. I know many people from other religions who do so. They are usually respected. Go to your neighbour and offer to help him and 90% of the time your help will be accepted. But go to his door and testify that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and 99.99% of the time your testimony will be rejected. Even if you add the moral and social dimension of the Gospel to your witness, by getting to know and befriending your neighbour, 99% of the time your message will be rejected.
Befriending people and letting our lives witness of Christ in us is, of course, important, but we can’t do that with everybody. When the apostle Paul travelled on his missions he didn’t settle in a city and spend all his time making friends with people. He didn’t have the time. He preached boldly to multitudes and they, without really knowing anything about the man Paul, were converted in their hundreds by the Holy Spirit operating in him. The same with Jesus. He preached to multitudes. He, like Paul, probably only ever got to know a handful of people really well. In our life it is most unlikely that we will ever really get to know more than about 20 or 30 people very well. “Friendshipping evangelism” is severely limited by the fact that for the most part it operates from the human level.
I used to belong to a liberal Church and this was their method of evangelism. Their growth was pitifully small. I also belonged to a conseravtive Church and their growth was explosive. The lesson to be learned is that the supernatural is that which convicts. People deep down want to know about a God brought down to a human level. Neither, for that matter, do they want to know of an all-powerful God who is so remote that He cannot be experienced. They want to know an all-powerful God who is directly involved in human affairs, and that is who the real Jesus is, not a mere mortal teacher of righteousness as the liberals believe.
Finally, there are the “conservatives” who proclaim the doctrines of God in Christ but who in practice are quasi-liberals because they do not deep down believe what they teach, or are too afraid to witness of it “in case it is not true”. For them the Word is a doctrine or a “spiritual key of knowledge” but not power and life. If we are honest with ourselves, I would say that overall the New Covenant Church of God has sometimes been a bit like that, and after seven or so years of ministry, the challenge has now gone out to make the quantum leap from quasi-liberalism to the true Gospel.
I wonder if it is actually possible to “love” someone in the fullest sense of the word without bringing the Word of Life, the resurrected Jesus, to them first. In distinguishing “liberals” from “fundamentalists” (in the broadest sense of these words) I believe we must come down to the fact of the incarnate, sinless, resurrected Jesus, because this is the Jesus who possesses eternal life. It is tempting to believe that good, kind people are saved just because they are good and kind. I believe that is false. Equally, I believe it is false to believe that a person who believes in these things is saved if he does not love as a good liberal.
I live in one of the most secular humanistic countries in the world (Sweden) where religion is all but dead. Most Christianity here is viewed in a liberal sense and happily coexists with the secular mainstream. People who believe in what was actually taught in the New Testament (miracles, resurrection, heaven, everlasting life) are occasionally put in psychiatric institutions (like the former Soviet Union) – a know a Pentecostal who was. ‘Peace’ and ‘justice’ are buzzwords here and Sweden prides itself as being one of the most peaceful, just, democratic and free countries in the world. But it is a complete sham ( http://sites.google.com/site/homeschoolinginsweden/sweden—the-next-germany-/state-controlled-children-of-sweden ). If you do not literally believe in the Bible you will moreorless find ‘peace’ and ‘justice’ here but if you do, you can expect persecution from otherwise very ‘nice’ and ‘ordinary’ people. Peace is a relative thing when viewed in political terms and the ‘worth’ of persons takes on a very different dimension, because it is viewed as a function of submission to the state and its ideology.
I do not expect peace or justice in this world both because of what I see around me and also because Jesus said it would not be found until He returned. It is good and right to behave and act peaceably and with justice in our social behaviour but the peace that the world really needs – the type that has any hope of transforming it – comes only through a personal, energised relationship with the resurrected Christ, accepting all that He taught as real and not as merely ‘symbolic’. The social gospel does not save – that’s one of the major reasons I left the RLDS Church.
See also Kotzer ruach at http://www.nccg.org/mlt/sermons/3_196.html
One of the reasons why we talk around one another is that we have a completely different worldview. I, for example, do not believe in miracles, resurrection or salvation for an afterlife. I believe early Christianity, and especially Paul, hijacked the real message of Jesus and converted it to salvation theology because that was what was popular in their world. After all, the Caesars either “saved” or they didn’t. Most of them were thought to be gods so it was relatively easy for the early church to make Jesus into their god too. I believe the salvation Jesus talked about was salvation for this life. Any other reading to the contrary is the redaction work of the authors of the gospels.
Over and over again, Jesus taught the gospel of the kingdom of God and even told his followers that is already existed on the earth.
I believe it does. It’s just that it’s so small it’s hard to see at this point. That’s why it’s so important to me that we have a part in building it up. Since we are such a small church, we have to do our part by working with other Christians who share our vison.
That’s my worldview.