Due to the sudden interest in the conflicts in Central Africa, particularly Uganda, caused by the highly problematic film from Invisible Children, I am sure that many congregations are showing interest in supporting peacebuilding in the region.
“I am still baffled that the Episcopal Church of which I have been a member all my life could not–through Trinity–find some way to embrace these thousands of young people in our very diminishing ranks,” said Bishop Packard, the former bishop for the armed services, on his blog, Occupied Bishop.
“Injustice, unfairness, and the strangle hold of greed which has beset humanity in our times must be answered with a resounding, ‘No!’ You are that answer. I write this to you not many miles away from the houses of the poor in my country. It pains me despite all the progress we have made. You see, the heartbeat of what you are asking for–that those who have too much must wake up to the cries of their brothers and sisters who have so little–beats in me and all South Africans who believe in justice.”
During the last few months, we have been bombarded with images of fellow citizens camped out in public parks around the nation. Most of the attention has focused on a group in Manhattan which is called “Occupy Wall Street”. This group has taken their grievances to the people they feel are responsible for whatever ills society is suffering from today, Wall Street.
What I have noticed is that the message isn’t entirely clear. When the protests first started, I was listening to a broadcast from Dave Ramsey while driving back to my office from a rural courthouse. Mr. Ramsey was having audience members who identified with the Occupy movement call in and explain what and why they were protesting or considering themselves members of this group. There was absolutely no clear consensus among ANY of the callers why they were protesting, other than they were just “mad” about the way things were going for them. Almost none of them could explain the economic injustices they were protesting, or even what they were experiencing.
And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a robbers den.” Matthew 21:12-16.
Two Sundays ago I was invited to preach a sermon on the theme “Welcome All” at a congregation in Independence. It was just a few days after the passage of the marriage equality bill in New York State and so I felt compelled to preach on the importance of the Community of Christ becoming a welcoming church for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. I also wanted to use the opportunity to publicly apologize for my own homophobia, which as a young adult I had accepted uncritically from those who had given me religious instruction. I show that the church has often struggled to be prophetic on human equality, using examples of race and the American Civil Rights movement. I call on Community of Christ congregations to become inclusive churches.
I wrote up a summary of my sermon for my column in The Examiner (Independence, MO). Click here to read it.
In a variety of previous posts I have reflected on the implications of the Community of Christ’s decline in its traditional geographic ‘core’ of the American Midwest, and growth in the ‘periphery’ of Latin America, Africa and Asia. I have also reflect on the ways people express discontent in the church, using the economic model of “Exit, Voice and Loyalty.” However, I haven’t really had any meaty data to work with.
This week I had a rushed visit to the Community of Christ archives for a couple hours and tried to get a little more hard data. It is necessarily inadequate because I didn’t have a lot of time. Nonetheless I think it tells an interesting story of the way “Voice” is changing in the denomination. There is a slow, but definite trend, of World Conference becoming a venue of increasingly diverse voices, while the USA and Canada remain dominant.
I went through all the Bulletins for every World Conference since 1958, when the church expressed its desire to become a “world church”, and counted how many World Conference Resolutions proposed by field jurisdictions were from each area of the world. I did not count the resolutions that came from the headquarters leadership. A less rushed scholar would have looked at how many of these resolutions had ‘policy success’ by actually being passed by the chamber and avoiding amendments — maybe one of you Saints Herald readers can take up that challenge! (See the asterix at the bottom for some methodological notes).
Proportion of Proposed Resolutions from Field Jurisdictions, by Region
In all this, the Community of Christ has been conspicuously absent from the discussion in the media. I am interested in what you all think. Is it better for the Community of Christ not to be associated with “The Mormon Moment” given their long attempt to distance themselves from their Utah cousins both doctrinally and in public perceptions? Is there a way for the Community of Christ to take advantage of the public interest in Mormonism to articulate the Community of Christ as a ‘liberal Mormon’ or ‘Protestant Latter Day Saints” alternative? Given that the American public’s perceptions are slowly becoming more tolerant of Mormons, does it make sense for the Community of Christ to continue to be sensitive about being mistaken for Mormons?
Terry Tempest Williams, a Utah-based environmental activist with a Mormon heritage, will receive the Community of Christ Peace Award on 21 October 2011 at the church’s Peace Colloquy on “Creating Hope, Healing Earth” in Independence, Missouri. See the official announcement here. A list of previous awardees is here.
Her website says Williams believes “environmental issues are social issues that ultimately become matters of justice” and asks the question, “what might a different kind of power look like, feel like, and can power be redistributed equitably even beyond our own species?”
Recently, Matt Frizzell posted an article on this blog reflecting on the differing possible identities for the Community of Christ. I have been reflecting on his article for some time now and considering what the dimensions of the Community of Christ identity are. Too often we have simplified the conflicts in the church down to a “Liberal-Conservative Split” which I think misses a lot of nuance. I have come up with a basic typology (ever the political scientist!) based on two dimensions:
1) a “Latter Day Saint/Protestant Axis”, based on a person’s attachment to the RLDS tradition, scripture, doctrine and story as opposed to a more conventional Protestant theology.
2) a “Fideist/Rationalist Axis” based on a person’s trust in reason, science and scholarship versus a sense that faith must come before and above reason (a kind of scholasticism).