Diverse Voices: Measuring the Potential for Non-Americans to Express their Views at World Conference

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

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Some Walls Just Came Tumbling Down

The boundaries separating Community of Christ from other Christian denominations have just gotten considerably more porous.

Item No. 1:
Last week CofC leaders released details on new procedures for church membership for Christians previously baptized in other denominations. An interim policy takes effect January 1, 2011, and will be valid through the following August 31.

On September 1, 2011, an official policy becomes effective. It is anticipated that a new church-members introductory course will be available by that time, and all new prospective members will be required to complete it. Until then existing resources (Walking with Jesus: Disciples in Community of Christ and Sharing in Community or We Share: Identity, Mission, Message, and Beliefs) may be used by local authorities.

A key element in both the interim and official policies is that this procedure is only for those people who were baptized (1) at the age of eight or older and (2) their baptism involved water [full or partial immersion, pouring, or sprinkling]; in other words: infant baptism does not qualify. All people seeking membership in Community of Christ in this way must agree to a Shared Understanding of Baptism statement.

Included with the official announcement of this significant policy change was a letter from church president Stephen M. Veazey. In it he explains how the policy came into being, its direct connection to Doctrine and Covenants Section 164 (approved in April 2010 at World Conference), and a brief personal reflection.

Item No. 2:
On November 10, delegates to the General Assembly of the National Council of Churches U.S.A. unanimously approved Community of Christ for membership. A report by a NCC committee recommending approval is here (the report also includes the church’s “We Share” document). The NCC report makes for interesting reading, particularly the section that notes that the Community of Christ’s “founder” was not Joseph Smith Jr. but Joseph Smith III (admittedly, this information is provided by a representative of Roman Catholic bishops and excerpted from a letter by him to the committee).

The announcement on the church’s Web site is here. While this announcement is not totally unexpected (recall that the NCC’s general secretary, the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, addressed the CofC World Conference this year and expressed his strong support for this step), it does represent a significant (some would probably substitute “radical”) development in RLDS/Community of Christ history.

These separate announcements are not simply administrative actions, of course. There are major theological and historical issues involved. Clearly there are those who view this moment in the church’s long history as a leap into religious maturity while others see it as damning proof of apostasy.

Perhaps in both cases this becomes a core question: Now that the Community of Christ allows church membership for Christians without requiring rebaptism and the denomination is a part of the National Council of Churches USA, what difference is that going to make as the church (understood as a worldwide communion, national churches, mission centers, congregations, and faith movement) moves ahead?

In its shortened form, it’s simply this: So what?

D&C 164: My Response to John-Charles Duffy

Concerning my interpretation of the compromise underlying D&C 164, I’ve found my understanding to be in keeping with the understandings of the delegates and leaders I’ve interviewed here at World Conference in Independence. However, I have found that many folks on the internet don’t share this interpretation for various reasons, as we’ve illustrated in discussions here at SaintsHerald. I want to address a very thoughtful response that John-Charles Duffy posted on his excellent blog, Liberal Mormon Spirituality. You can read his post here. Continue reading

World Conference in the Blogosphere

The Community of Christ Blogitorium has been as lively as the conference chamber as the church’s World Conference gets underway. In addition to the thoughts posted on this blog, a variety of people have been posting their reflections:

John Hamer journals his positive impressions of his first conference here. Todd Elkins (here and here) offered concerns about the consolidation of power around the First Presidency, a theme that ‘Beware the Chicken’ seems particularly alarmed by (here and here). Matt Frizzell takes a more upbeat tone here, impressed by President Veazey’s sermon. Cross-posting some of his thoughts on this blog, Rich Brown has been doing some theological reflection on the issue of sexuality and the church. Lyle Anderson II has been offering a few initial impressions too.

As more people blog on World Conference, please post links to them in the comments section below.

Anti-Nuclear Weapons Legislation will Test CofC Peace Commitment

At stake is whether I trust in God or the bomb. In nuclear war there are no winners. I therefore cannot agree that perfecting the bomb and developing the ability to use it first is a basis for my security and well being. It is certainly not an appropriate basis for my faith. … The fashioning of nuclear weapons and threatening to use them is a sin — a sin against God, against God’s likenesses (all humans), and against God’s creation. … Our security as a people of faith lies not in demonic weapons which threaten all life on earth. Our security is in a loving, caring God.

These prophetic words were delivered in a brave and remarkable sermon given by Charles D. Neff to the 1982 Community of Christ World Conference. Neff knew what he was talking about. He was in Hiroshima as a US Naval Officer just a few weeks after the city’s destruction by an atomic bomb. “What I saw there,” he told the conference attendees, “is indelibly etched into my  mind, my heart, my soul. The stark reality of death and despair everywhere in Hiroshima in 1945 was indescribable.”

Among the many contentious pieces of legislation that the Community of Christ faces at its upcoming 2010 World Conference is G-11, “Abolition of Nuclear Weapons” from the Central USA Mission Center. I believe this will be a key test of whether the church is moving toward becoming a peace church, something I have expressed doubts about on this blog.

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