Terry Tempest Williams to Receive Community of Christ Peace Award

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?”

Williams is currently Annie Clark Tanner Scholar in Environmental Humanities at the University of Utah.

Mapping the Community of Christ Terrain of Identities

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).

This is what I get:

Latter Day Saint Protestant
Fideist Traditional RLDS Evangelical/Pentecostal
Rationalist Post-Modern RLDS Liberal

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Church History Sunday (Month #1)

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.

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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

What is the future of the Community of Christ in a North American post-RLDS perspective?

I just published a long-ish blog post that responds to the question, “What is the future of the Community of Christ in a North American post-RLDS perspective?” The post focuses on questions of Community of Christ identity in light of its North American heritage.

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.

Blessings,  Matt Frizzell

Veazey Blogs about Pilgrimage to Hiroshima

Community of Christ President Steve Veazey has a new blog and has been posting reflections on his experiences visiting the city of Hiroshima:

The scenes at the Peace Memorial Museum will haunt me for the rest of my life, as they certainly should. May I never forget them. If enough people could see what we saw and feel what we felt our mindset would change. We would do whatever is necessary to ensure that nuclear weapons (which a many, many times more powerful today) would never be used again for the sakes of all of our children and grandchildren.

The first article in the series is here. Click here for the second.

Veazey’s thoughts remind me of the following comments made by the late Charles D. Neff in a 1982 World Conference sermon, in which he called on the church to take a courageous stand against nuclear weapons:

My friends, I was in Hiroshima just a few weeks after an atomic bomb was dropped from an American military airplane onto that city. What I saw and felt there is indelibly etched into my mind, my heart, my soul. The stark reality of death and despair everywhere in Hiroshima in 1945 is indescribable.

Readers may also be interested to know that a retired Community of Christ minister and former editor of the church’s magazine, The Herald, Jim Hannah, was arrested at an anti-nuclear weapons demonstration in September this year. The charges against him were recently dropped and spoke at an anti-nuclear weapons rally earlier this month. To read Hannah’s justification for his participation in non-violent direct action against nuclear armament, click here.

For a previous discussion on this blog of the Community of Christ and nuclear weapons, click here.

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?

Violence Aimed at the GLBT Community

The following statement was posted on the Community of Christ Web site today (October 22, 2010):

First Presidency and Council of Twelve Statement

The First Presidency and the Council of Twelve Apostles want to be clear that while there may be disagreements over some issues related to sexual orientation, Community of Christ members and leaders should act firmly against any forms of violence, harassment, bullying, blaming, slurs, or jokes that dehumanize or degrade any human beings. The 1992 World Conference passed a resolution on Human Diversity (WCR 1226) that states: “…we accept responsibility to resist fear and hate in all forms and to strive continuously to eliminate expressions of prejudice and discrimination.”

The growing fear, intolerance, and violence throughout the world alarm the Presidency and the Council of Twelve. Recently, young people of homosexual orientation have been harassed to the point of suicide. In some areas of the world homosexuals are beaten, jailed, or killed. Also, some churches recently have increased the volume and frequency of their condemnations of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) people.

The church has not always provided clear assurance that our faith community and congregations should be safe places and sanctuaries of peace, where people need not fear embarrassment, harassment, or blame because of their sexual orientation. Our mission is to Proclaim Jesus Christ and Promote Communities of Joy, Hope, Love, and Peace. Therefore, it is vital that we engage in words and actions that “uphold the worth and giftedness of all people and that protect the most vulnerable” (Doctrine and Covenants 164:6a). We must work to ensure safe and peaceful congregations and communities for all of God’s children, including our GLBT members and friends and their families.

We may not agree on all questions related to human sexuality and sexual orientation. However, we are earnestly seeking more insight and understanding. We invite all members and friends of Community of Christ to join us on this journey.

Cheap Peace and Costly Peace

Last night I gave a talk at the Stone Church in Independence, Missouri on the “Pursuit of Peace.” I used the opportunity to explore an idea I have been thinking about lately — using Dietrich Bonheoffer’s observations on “cheap” vs “costly” grace to consider the different types of peace that people pursue.

I believe that too often, our society and our church, settle for pursuing “cheap peace” — that requires little commitment, little sacrifice and little chance of making sustained fundamental change. By contrast, I tell the story of grassroots peacebuilding efforts in Western Kenya, which have been conducted at great difficulty and personal risk (for those interested in learning more about these efforts, click here).

To read the sermon, click here.

Sticks and Stones and … Compliments?

Several years ago when my congregation attempted to join the local ministerial alliance (in a town right next door to Independence, Missouri), I was met by a coalition of fundamentalist and evangelical pastors intent on keeping out the (then) RLDS Church. Their reasoning ranged from claims we were “non-Christian” all the way to “not Christian enough” and, finally, to “it would just open the door for Mormons to want to join.”

As it turned out, they only wanted to talk about Joseph Smith. Apparently, our faith movement’s founder represented all that anybody needs to know about contemporary Latter Day Saint groups.

To shorten a long and rather nasty story, I’ll just skip to the part where representatives from United Methodist, Presbyterian, Disciples of Christ, and Roman Catholic Churches prevailed. A Methodist pastor put it this way: “Nobody asked me to prove I was ‘Christian enough’ to join, so why should we start now?”

Eventually most of the fundamentalists/evangelicals bolted from the alliance when an LDS representative was admitted a few years later. They formed their own group, which over time has dwindled in size and influence.

I mention this episode as a way to ask, “Do we expect to be misunderstood or misrepresented?” Is this a natural outgrowth of religious discrimination and persecution experienced by our forebears in the almost two centuries of our faith movement’s existence? Although nobody’s getting tarred and feathered these days (at least here in North America, as far as I’m aware), has suspicion become our default setting?

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