Help Needed in Haiti

Outreach International is looking for a long-term volunteer with good research and writing skills to work in Haiti for 6-12 months. If you are interested in helping Outreach International’s school system in Haiti, which serves over 9000 students, recover from the January earthquake, click here to read the vacancy announcement.

The Globalization of Zion

‘Zion’ has been a central theological concept and practical imperative of the Community of Christ, since its very beginnings.  Particularly in the first half of the 20th century, Zion (not to be confused with Zionism) represented a vision of ‘the kingdom of heaven on earth’ – not to be realized in some far off future, but to be built in the here and now. But the political and economic forces of globalization have significantly impacted the way the Community of Christ now thinks of Zion. Continue reading

CofConomics 2: Exit, Voice and Loyalty

When we are dissatisfied with an organization, said economist Albert O. Hirschman, we have three basic options:

1. Exit: We can leave it, either physically, or by mentally and emotionally disengaging,

2. Voice: We can voice our discontent through protest or dialogue, or

3. Loyalty: We may stick with what we have. This might be because our freedom of exit and/or voice is limited (e.g. in an authoritarian state). However, we may stick with it  because we feel that the world would be a worse place without the organization, even if it is broken, and that weakening it would be worse that the current situation.

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Comparing the Missouri Mormon War with Contemporary Conflicts

UPDATE 11 January 2010: Kenny and Jake Ballentine, two brothers who make films together, have just announced the upcoming release of a new movie ‘Trouble in Zion’, a documentary on the Missouri Mormon War. Several years ago, Kenny Ballentine read the essay attached to the below posting and talked with me about it while making the film. Click here to find out more about their movie.

The 1838 Missouri Mormon War (see LeSueur’s great book) resulted in at least 22 fatalities, millions of dollars worth of property destruction and the displacement of 15,000 people. Fought in a context of fierce rhetoric, sectarian and paramilitary violence, weak governmental authority and a privatization of military force, it actually bears significant resemblance to what some security scholars (e.g. my former PhD supervisor Mary Kaldor) have called the “New Wars.” These contemporary conflicts in places like the Former Yugoslavia, Chechnya, Columbia, Rwanda, Somalia and Sudan are characterized by the targeting of civilians; powerful non-state actors; prolonged, seemingly intractable, hostilities; connections to organized crime; and exclusivistic ethnic, religious and sectarian ideologies.

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Joseph Smith, Jr. as a Warrior Prophet: Messianic Warlordism in Times of State Fragmentation, Economic Disruption and Religious Upheaval

In 1986, in the midst of a violent conflict between the newly installed Museveni government and remnants of the former regime, Alice Auma, a spirit-diviner in northern Uganda believed she was commanded by a Christian spirit called ‘Lakwena’ to lead a military-religious rebellion on behalf of the northern Acholi people and bring about heaven on earth. She claimed:

The good Lord who had sent the Lakwena decided to change his work from that of a doctor to that of a military commander for one simple reason: it is useless to cure a man today only that he be killed the next. So it became an obligation on his part to stop the bloodshed before continuing his work as a doctor.

Alice Auma, assuming the name Alice Lakwena, led a insurgency against the new government, known as the Holy Spirit Movement, which had several early victories before being defeated by the new Ugandan Army. (For more information on Alice Auma/Lakwena and the Holy Spirit Movement, see this book or this article).

Alice Lakwena, as a religio-military commander, stands in a long tradition of Warrior Prophets that extend as far back as Joan of Arc, Guru Gobind SinghMohammed and King David. Warrior Prophets have been particularly prominant in modern Sub-Saharan Africa, associated with guerilla movements in, for example, Zimbabwe and Sudan. In areas of the world where political authority is fragmented and the state does not have a monopoly on the use of violence, savvy and consummate ‘political entrepreneurs’ take advantage of their ability to wield violence to rise to power (and often prosperity) by offering security to people willing to accept their authority and punishing those who are unwilling to do so (For further information, see this book on warlordism in Africa, or this one on Afghanistan). Likewise, Paul Gifford, a scholar of African Christianity, has argued that charismatic and dogmatic religion provides believers with a sense of stability as Africa faces great social, political and economic upheavals in its encounter with modernity.  Warrior Prophets are thus able to capitalize on the dual opportunities created by chaos — people’s perceived needs for 1) a powerful, paternalistic protector and 2) a charismatic diviner who is able to provide assurance of cosmic certainty. They offer the promise of both physical and spiritual security.

It may be enlightening to understand Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of both the Mormon and Community of Christ churches, as having played a similar role in mid-19th century America. His time was one of great political, social and economic upheaval.

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CofConomics: Congregation Size and the Theory of the Firm

Scholarly study of the Community of Christ has tended to focus on its history and theology. These are clearly important, but there gaps in Community of Christ studies that could be productively filled with reference to insight from the social sciences, like economics, political science, sociology, anthropology and social psychology. In this post, I want to highlight this potentially fruitful avenue of research by applying microeconomic theory to explore why Community of Christ congregations tend to be quite small (in the 30-50 people range).

Before I begin, I must start with a caveat. I am not actually an economist; I am a political scientist.  I dabbled around the very edges of economics in my Master’s and PhD degrees, and went to a graduate school obsessed with economics. So, if there are any real economists out there reading this — feel free to comment below.

I will start with a problematic: Why is that most CofC congregations in North America and Europe rarely average more than 30 to 50 active members? My hypothesis is that they rarely expand beyond this size because of their predominantly lay leadership and middle-class members. As a result, congregations do not have have the money or human resources to attract or to minister to many more people. Pastors have other jobs, so have little extra time for counseling, home visits, outreach, etc. Moreover, a lack of seminary training reduces pastors ‘productivity’ as spiritual leaders.

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