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).
I’ve begun teaching adult Sunday School once a month at my congregation in downtown Toronto. The other three weeks, we’re going through the Enduring Principles, but my week is “Church History Sunday.” I’m working without a manual, but I’m planning to write out what I do and post it here as a resource for anyone interested.
I started last week at the beginning by asking my class the question: “How does our history begin?” Now, I was prepared for people to take this as a trick question. I thought I might get answers like “actually, since Christ founded the church, our history begins with the ministry of Jesus in Palestine,” or I thought someone might want to push back further to Eden or even the Pre-Existence. Instead, I instantly got the answer I was fishing for, “with a young man praying in a grove,” one of the class members volunteered immediately.
Exactly. This is how we today always start our story. With the “First Vision.” I next asked “What is the story of the First Vision?” and I had one of the folks write each detail on the whiteboard. The class came up with these details, which I’ll put into order: 1820s, revival meetings, confusion of sects, James 1:5, grove, prayer, vision, personage, creeds an “abomination,” don’t join any sect, found the church. The only details I had on my list that didn’t get volunteered were: “confronted by dark powers” and “pillar of light.” The class clearly knew the story from memory. Continue reading →
I share the link here to invite reactions and comments to my observations about the nature and limits of RLDS identity and how I believe Community of Christ logically fulfills essential non-sectarian strands of RLDS heritage in Restrationism and early American Christianity. I welcome responses from Mormonites, ex-Mormons, Community of Christ members, Restorationists, historians, theologians, and others.
CLICK HERE to go directly to the post, or follow the links above to my blog.