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.

Reflections from Haiti

As of the last week in January, I have been working as the Haiti Emergency Coordinator for Outreach International, a charity affiliated with the Community of Christ. Since the 1980s, Outreach International has supported a network of about 90 schools catering to 9,000 students in Haiti. About 30 of these schools were in the earthquake-affected area, most of which are damaged or destroyed, affecting over 1,200 children. The following are links to reflections on my first visit to Haiti in early February, as serialized in The Examiner (Independence, MO):

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Responding Responsibly to Disasters like the Haiti Earthquake

In response to the terrible earthquake in Haiti, both Outreach International (click here for their appeal) and the church (click here for their appeal) are calling on church members to give generously to those in need.

In times like this there is often a rush of people wanting to jet to the disaster zone and volunteer, or collect clothing, medicines and food to send to the people suffering. This altruistic impulse is praiseworthy and displays the great generosity and charity human beings show in times of trouble. However, not every well-meaning response to a disaster is a good one. In this briefing paper I wrote in light of the Asian Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, I explain how, when responding to a humanitarian disaster, potential donors should keep in mind the following key principles to guide their gift:

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Feast Your Soul on This: Church HQ Officiousness

I’m just back from a week in Independence. One of the things I picked up there was an old 1980 souvenir booklet from the sesquicentennial of the church (bought from the Temple Library for 25¢). As we’re approaching another sesquicentennial — the first was 150 years since the organization of the church, next year is 150 years since its reorganization — I was eager to see how the last one was commemorated.

This 48-page booklet, entitled Called to the Work, is a concise summary of the church in 1980. The photos of church leaders were the first thing that jumped out at me. These headshots take up 14 of the total pages. But out of 237 pictured leaders, there was only a single woman: Marjorie Troeh, who was a “staff executive” and “Commissioner of the Women’s Ministries Commission.” It’s incredible how recently and how completely church leadership was a boys-only club. Continue reading

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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