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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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

Community of Christ Reunions: A Very Brief History

Since the fall of 1883, Community of Christ members have gathered annually to attend reunions, or family camp gatherings, in their local areas. Listen to this 1911 description by Elbert A. Smith (a grandson of Joseph Smith, Jr) of a reunion that occurred on the grounds of Kirtland Temple.

I reached Kirtland the second day of the reunion and found that I had been elected to preside . . . Some 25 or 30 tents were on the ground just back of the temple, and a great many people had taken rooms in the hotel and private houses. . . . Our meeting passed off very pleasantly and profitably. The meetings were spiritual and the solemn and sacred atmosphere of the temple seemed to influence the minds of those who were present. Continue reading

Theocratic Democracy and the Role of Theologians

It’s one of the most intriguing concepts, if not contradictions, central to the Community of Christ.   It’s referenced in the very front of the “Church Administrator’s Handbook.”   It is the reason the church upholds the rule of common consent.   It is why church leaders emphasize the importance of consensus.   The tension in this idea is why the church feels  like a hierarchy, even though it tries to say its not.  The idea is central to our polity and how the church functions as a body.  The idea is theocratic democracy.

Theocratic democracy makes more sense in the way its lived out.   In the church, the “theocratic” portion of the church’s body is its priesthood.   Denominationally, the theocratic structure is comprised of the church’s leading quorums: the First Presidency, the Presiding Bishopric, and Quorum of Twelve Apostles.  Next is the Seven Quorums of Seventy, the Order of Bishops, Quorum of High Priests, and so on.  In congregations, the theocratic structure of the church-body is the local priesthood:  the presiding Elder, Elders, and Aaronic Priesthood.   The democratic structure of the church is its voting conferences.  Conferences operate at the congregational, judicatory (mission center), and International church levels.   Every Priesthood call must be supported by these conferences.  Church policies, legislative functions, theological issues, all are handled by church conferences.    Conferences have tremendous power, if that power is organized and executed well.  But, like every democracy, it takes time, effort, and grass roots work. Continue reading