For Churches Interested in Supporting Peace in Northern Uganda

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 have compiled a list of better ways to donate money and stand in solidarity with the people of Uganda.

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Welcome All

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.

Appalling…

The Quran

On September 11, 2010, the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida is hosting International Burn a Quran Day.

From 6-9pm “Christians” can burn the Quran at the local church.  The city of Gainesville has refused a burn permit for safety reasons, however the church has vowed, “BUT WE WILL STILL BURN KORANS.”

Dove World Outreach Center’s pastor Terry Jones is quoted by CNN as saying, “We believe that Islam is of the devil, that it’s causing billions of people to go to hell, it is a deceptive religion, it is a violent religion and that is proven many, many times.”

Dove World Outreach Center's Pastor Terry Jones

Some other local religious leaders have organized a Gathering for Peace, Understanding and Hope to occur near the same time to counter this book burning.  At least there is some attempt being made to counter the Quran burning.  This story is attracting some media attention, and likely moreso as the planned date approaches–assuming the Outreach Center sticks with the plan.

To me, this is appalling.  The very concept of this idea is contrary to everything I see the Community of Christ standing for, or atleast what it should stand for.  I see this as an attack to an entire religion of people, and just one day after the conclusion of the holy month of Ramadan at that.  And worse yet, this is being done in the name of Jesus.  Shameful.

I’ve been blessed in my life to get to know many people intimately of very diverse religious backgrounds.  I have worshipped in Islamic mosques openly before, with no hesitation or concern.  I have celebrated Ramadan with Islamic friends three seperate years and endured the month-long fast, multiple times.  I know personally of three other Community of Christ members who engaged in Ramadan at least once as well.  It is a complete test of mind, body, and will.

I cannot believe that if Jesus Christ was with us at this moment that he would join in or approve of the burning.  Same as I do not believe, as others argue, he would join them holding up GOD HATES FAGS signs.  This is not the Christ that I’ve come to know.  And this is not the Jesus that the Community of Christ knows.  I pray this is not the Jesus known by most of Christianity.

We proclaim Jesus Christ and promote communities of joy, hope, love, and peace.

We have a special calling, and the world needs to hear the “liberating truths of the gospel.”  Jesus is hope, not hate.

Reflections on Whiteness

A couple weeks ago I dropped by the John Whitmer Historical Association’s annual meeting on “Race, Gender, Ethnicity, and the Restoration”; I was impressed to see Community of Christ scholars beginning to really think seriously about issues of race within the church. Then today I received an email newsletter from the Community of Christ’s young adult network with the theme of race and nationality, linking to this blog posting Mariana Coradeli Medeiros-Shelton, a translator for the church. These two things have inspired me to write a few reflections on race in the Community of Christ.

The Community of Christ membership is overwhelmingly white, and as William Russell argued in 1979, has tended to follow mainstream North American thinking on race rather than be on the cutting prophetic edge.  This ambivalence is displayed in Joseph Smith III’s instruction to the church in 1878 that the church should “ordain priests…of every race”, but nonetheless “Be not hasty in ordaining men of the Negro race….”

Similarly, during the Civil Rights Movement, the editor of the Saint’s Herald, (the church’s magazine, not this blog), urged members not to participate in civil disobedience and instructed blacks in the segregated South to “obey the local laws” even if the “feel they are the victims of discriminative laws.” When William Russell wrote a pro-Civil Rights editorial in the Herald, the church leadership responded by dimissively saying the “internal racial problems in our church have been very minor.” This was despite an earlier article by the African-American pastor William T. Blue, Sr. decrying the existence of segregated RLDS congregations in the south. For more on the church’s history of attitudes on race, click here to read a college paper I wrote on the topic for my Civil Rights history class.

It strikes me that the Community of Christ could benefit from a spending some time reflecting on its ‘whiteness’ — defined by one scholar as the phenomenon of “how white skin preference has operated systematically, structurally, and sometimes unconsciously as a dominant force in American—and indeed in global—society and culture.” What does whiteness mean in the Community of Christ? I would like to open a discussion of what this means by inviting readers to reflect in the comment section on how race has manifested itself in their lives and in the church.

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