Models of Mission in a Pluralistic World

Charles Neff (left) surveying the globe

Over the last several years, mission and outreach have become major emphases within the Community of Christ. I must admit I often feel quite uncomfortable with this. Missionaries have a long history of collaboration with imperialism and have a record of insensitivity to cultures other than their own. I am not always convinced that we, who often have difficulty defining precisely what we are and believe, have something so much better to offer than other cultures and religions.

Indeed, stripped of all political correctness, the job of a missionary is to go tell people that they are wrong and that they must change the way they think and act. This holds incredible potential for arrogance – at its root is a belief that the missionary knows better than the potential convert how to live one’s life. Unsurprisingly, this does not jibe very well with the notion of a pluralistic society, in which diverse cultures and faiths are tolerated, celebrated and encouraged to thrive.

One way to think about this issue is to look at the different approaches to mission that were expressed in the work of Charles D. Neff, one of the Community of Christ’s most prominent missionaries from the early 1960s to 1980s. I believe his work in Japan, Korea, India, the Philippines, Nigeria, Liberia and Kenya has rich potential for teaching the Community of Christ how to interact with people of different faiths and cultures. His understandings of mission evolved over his career through at least five different models:

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The Community of Christ is Becoming a Peace Church!

Please Note: This post is a response from Community of Christ Apostle, Andrew Bolton, to two blog postings by his son, Matthew Bolton: “The Community of Christ is Not a Peace Church” and “Managed Decline or Rejuvenation?” Matthew Bolton’s articles critiqued the church’s implementation of its peace mission. —Ed.

I want to respond to Matthew’s article.

Perhaps we should own up to being father and son straightaway. In recent years our relationship has become more like equal friends and that has been a real joy for me. I even look up to him — he is 6ft 5in and I am only 6ft 2 1/2 in. He writes better than I do and intellectually he is ahead of me. I like to think though that the thousands of conversations we have had over the years have helped shape not only his intellectual skills of analysis but his interest and deep convictions about peace and justice… and his outspokenness. Emily, his beloved wife, is also having a good influence on him. We both look up to her (5ft 5in) and she may, in her Mennonite convictions and personal courage, be even more committed to peace than either of us.

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The Community of Christ is Not a Peace Church

At face value, Community of Christ’s claim to be dedicated to the pursuit of peace must be deemed a failure.

As far as I can tell, the sum total of our contribution to peace on earth is an annual Peace Colloquy, a Peace Prize, a Peace and Justice website, the Children’s Peace Pavilion, a Peace Committee and a few million dollars contributed to Outreach International, World Accord, the World Hunger Fund and the Save Darfur Coalition.

This might seem like a lot to some, but it is actually no more than any other mainline denomination. It certainly does not match up to the work of the historic peace churches like the Mennonites, Brethren and Quakers. The word ‘peace’ in our logo does not make us a peace church.

How many major international peace negotiations have we supported or facilitated as an institution? Some may say this is setting the bar too high, but the Quakers (a similar sized denomination) were instrumental in providing a back channel in Northern Ireland. The Community of Sant Egido (a Catholic group) was one of the main players in ending the conflict in Mozambique.

How many church employees are working on the ground to end the world’s most deadly armed conflicts? Sure, there are a few members working with NGOs, the diplomatic services or the military, but none of these are working on behalf of the church.

Where is our fearless advocacy on behalf of the poor and oppressed of the world? We’ve given a little money to Bread for the World and have a couple interns working for the Friends Committee on National Legislation. But we have no established or effective way of mobilizing people for advocacy, unlike the Quakers, Mennonites, Presbyterians or Catholics.

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