After Action Report: The Community of Christ Did WHAT?

April 21, 2010
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Headline in the Independence Examiner for Thursday, April 15, 2010:

“Delegation Takes No Action on Human Sexuality Issues: Church Will Continue Dialogue.”

Headline  by John Hamer on BCC on Thursday, April 15, 2010:

“Gay Rights Revelation Added to The Community of Christ D&C”

———-

The two headlines above generally cover the spectrum of opinion about what happened at the Community of Christ World Conference as it completed the process of canonization of a new Section 164 for its D&C. The spectrum of opinions about whether what happened was a good thing or bad thing, of course, runs even more broadly. Indeed, I’m not at all certain that we’ll even be able to see how intense the various “colors” of that spectrum will prove until information about the conference filters down to the bulk of the North American church that maintains no real connection to the World Church in the “Blogitorium”. As in many churches on the Christian left in North America, that membership tends to be somewhat more traditionalist than its leadership.

Nevertheless, I’ll give my view as someone from one part of the peanut gallery, focusing on what was in each portion of Section 164 and the effects of associated legislation passed to begin implementation. A future post will provide a similar analysis on legislation considered by the Conference not specifically addressed by Section 164 and suggest something about the overall direction of the Community of Christ in the future.

SECTION 164, PARAGRAPHS 1-4

President Veazey describes the experiences of meditation, particularly on portions of Galatians 3:27-29, that led him to offer the Section. After commending the church for similarly seeking to discern the Spirit in a structured process that has been going on for well over a year, he makes explicit an understanding of the church and its sacraments which has been implicit in CofChrist theology for a number of years.

“…Instruction given previously about baptism was proper to ensure the rise and cohesiveness of the church during its early development and in following years. However, as a growing number have come to understand, the redemptive action of God in Christ—while uniquely and authoritatively expressed through the church—is not confined solely to the church. God’s grace, revealed in Jesus Christ, freely moves throughout creation, often beyond human perception, to achieve divine purposes in people’s lives.”

The Community of Christ is to see itself as “one true church”, not as the “one and only true church”. How serious is this theological intent was earlier signaled by something I haven’t seen commentators note elsewhere. The first sessions of Conference always feature certain speeches of welcome. One is usually a non-CofChrist speaker. This speaker is often a local Congressman or a Missouri Senator. The speech is strictly non-political even then, but the identity is interesting because trends over time seem to show the direction of the church leadership’s interest.

This year that slot went to the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches. Kinnamon unabashedly spoke of the Community of Christ having unique gifts that should be seen as adding to bodies such as the NCC, rather than as a body going its own way. Ironically, contacts between the RLDS and the NCC were among the suspicions cited by fundamentalist opponents of the church circa 1970 as evidence of apostasy. Thus, such a speech 40 years ago might itself have been too controversial to occur.

Section 164 then lays out specific instruction (that will be followed quickly by formal administrative policy guidance to become effective by September 1, 2011). These policies will result in acceptance into membership into the Community of Christ upon confirmation by CofChrist priesthood – without requiring rebaptism if the original baptism: a) involved water;  b) was performed by an ordained Christian minister;  and c) as a personal expression of faith in Christ. In particular, we will not require someone to present proof of their baptism or the baptizing minister’s credentials, since that would be impossible in many places throughout the world. This clearly expands the notion of true priesthood authority beyond the boundaries of those called through the priesthood line passed to Joseph Smith.

The phrase “using water” also allows for baptisms done by immersion, pouring, or sprinkling, while upholding the church’s own standard practice of baptism by immersion at the age of accountability. There is also some additional specific guidance regarding the substance of the prayer of confirmation (Baptism of the Spirit) that is now the means by which one moves from being part of the Body of Christ into membership within the denomination. And preparation for confirmation will now be a formal requirement for the ordinance to occur.

Paragraph 3 contains a call for all members to serious consider and live the meaning of their baptismal covenants (water and Spirit). Paragraph 4 ties this call to consideration of the role the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper should play in renewing, witnessing, and amplifying our covenant. (Portions of the preamble specifically warn us to NOT make the meaning of the covenants atrophy even as we broaden the procedures, because of the concern that in some places this has happened with open communion).

This portion of the Section makes the Community of Christ look very Protestant – if you can call becoming more Protestant through modern revelation a Protestant concept in the first place.

SECTION 164, PARAGRAPHS 5-7

These are the paragraphs whose approval generated the widely divergent headlines above. Their actual content is to call attention to “serious questions about moral behavior and relationships” – but to prioritize those questions not simply as they are listed within the dominant culture of the denomination.

“These issues are complex and difficult to understand outside their particular settings because of strikingly different cultural histories, customs, and understandings of scripture. For example, the issues include female submission, female genital mutilation, child brides, forced marriages, and sexual permissiveness. They include cleansing and exploitation of widows, harsh conflicts over same-gender attraction and relationships, and varying legal, religious, and social definitions of marriage, to name just a few.”

More importantly, the Section calls us to see the solutions for these moral dilemmas as arising from an understanding of Christianity as a community that transcends definitions by economic status, social class, sex, gender, or ethnicity. They simply are no longer primary. Relationships are to be rooted in the principles of Christ-like love, mutual respect, responsibility, justice, covenant, and faithfulness, against which there is no law.

Section 164 then extrapolates that these principles require that the church move the resolution of moral issues to the church in the cultures most affected by them rather than let the dominant North American church decide for the rest of the world. Field Apostles, under the guidance of the Presidency, are authorized to call and set the agenda for field, national, or (non-geographical) cultural groups to deal with issues such as those listed above as they feel directed.

Uncertainty about the nature and timing of these conferences is generating the widely divergent headlines about gay rights. First, everyone in the Community of Christ seems to understand that the leadership feels that it must not expose our leaders and members in cultures where discussion of gay issues is taboo. If so, they can hardly move toward expanded gay rights in the United States unless they can find a way to maintain what the government would call “plausible deniability”.

Second, there is a large body of conservative members in the US church (and non-members in society) whose reaction must be anticipated and allowed for. The LDS experience with Prop 8 shows what happens when the church in the US takes any position on controversial issues in the political arena. Many feel the church has moved too hesitantly and will continue to do so; others are likely to feel the church is moving in the wrong direction entirely.

Finally, there are logistical questions. It seems unlikely that the US church has the resources to assemble a national conference on gay rights issues before the spring of 2012 at the earliest. It will take until September, 2011, simply to implement the new conditions for membership.

The greatest sign of movement toward gay rights comes from something in administrative minutia. It is normal for the church to realign Apostolic Fields following a World Conference (our Apostles retire, so there are usually changes in the Twelve). This time a gerrymandered field has been carved out for Apostle Susan Skoor that stretches from Southern Australia to Eastern Canada – and just happens to cover all of the non-US jurisdictions that proposed World Conference legislation expanding full priesthood and sacramental rites for gays. The extension of rights in that Field or in nations within that Field might be granted while maintaining sufficient distance from the World Church (and prying media) to protect the church in cultures hostile to gay rights.

Expansion to the US is much more difficult to do while maintaining any credibility to foreign governments and religious bodies that “this is just local jurisdictions acting on their own.”

Perhaps more significantly in the long run than the particular moral issues – at least from the perspective of this Washington spectator – is the change these paragraphs make in the legislative rights of mission centers to set the agenda for the church. The Presidency immediately ruled 21 legislative proposals that had been painstakingly brought to the conference as out of order because they reflect National or Regional concerns. These rulings were entirely appropriate under Section 164 guidance.

However, the Conference later passed implementing legislation for the field and national conferences that make them “special conferences”. Such conferences operate under different parliamentary rules than World Conference. In particular,  Mission Centers lack the right to place items on the agenda of special conferences; that agenda is set only by the Apostle who calls the conference with the approval of the Presidency. In short, this revelation makes the Community of Christ less democratic and more theocratic than it was a year ago.

SECTION 164, PARAGRAPH 8

Paragraph 8, by contrast, shows the flexibility and speed with which the Community of Christ can move on organizational issues when it wishes to do so. The Twelve and the Presidents of the Seven Quorums of Seventy have been meeting for several years in response to the immediately previous revelation (Section 163) to consider organizational changes to increase evangelistic effectiveness. Paragraph 8 is taken as authorization to make these changes.

Within 24 hours of Section 164 approval, the number of Quorums of Seventy was increased from seven to ten, the additional Quorum Presidents were named, and they were approved by the Conference and set apart to that calling. Jack Bauer couldn’t have moved faster. Clearly, the outcome of these discussions among the leading quorums was well prepared in advance, while they are still feeling their way around the notion of how and when national conferences will function.

Reorganization of the Twelve, while not fundamental, essentially separates the world into 10 Fields for the moment, each led by an Apostle, with the remaining two Apostles focusing on Headquarters-oriented tasks. For the first time, a single Quorum of Seventy will be aligned with the geographic or other missionary focus of a Field Apostle.

SECTION 164, PARAGRAPH 9

The final paragraph of the document is a benediction of sorts, and a challenge that the rise of Zion is no farther away than the willingness of all of us – all the “beloved children of the Restoration” – to overcome our insecurities and embrace a Christ-like life.

“The mission of Jesus Christ is what matters most to the journet ahead.”

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29 Responses to After Action Report: The Community of Christ Did WHAT?

  1. bbell
    April 21, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    Firetag,

    I am still confused. Can you give us a 2 paragraph concise answer?

    Your prediction on what this does with the conservatives still left in the COC?

  2. April 21, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    bbell:

    Confusion seems to be part of the goal, at least with the gay rights issues, in order to protect church harmony and the safety of members and leaders in the third world. Two key words: “plausible deniability”.

    Since I scheduled the above post, I received a two PAGE summary of what will happen in the US church that was passed out to US delegates from the US Apostles on Friday of Conference. It is entitled “Journeying Toward a U.S. National Conference.” I’ll limit myself to quoting three paragraphs:

    “…Our plan is to convene a national conference in the spring or summer of 2012. From now through 2012, the church in the US will engage in a participative process to discover God’s will about these issues [ordination of people involved in same-gender relationships, and same-gender marriages/unions] for the church’s mission in the US.

    “Following this experience, the US Apostolic team will review the existing policies and create, if needed, based on our journey together for the church in the US. With the approval of the Council of Twelve and the First Presidency, these policies will replace the current policies, provided that a change is needed, to reflect the consensus of the church in the US regarding how to address ordination of people involved on same-gender relationships and same-gender marriages/unions.

    “As instructed in Doctrine and Covenants 164, the 2012 US Conference will provide opportunities for broader dialogue, understanding, and consensus-building toward a common resolution on these two issues for the church in the US. The specific method(s) for faithfully achieving this type of experience will be determined as the US Apostolic Team collects feedback from the US fields and researches various consensus-building models.”

    Is that clear as mud?

    What the conservatives — or the gays, for that matter — will do will emerge over the next several months, and I have no prediction.

  3. Rigel Hawthorne
    April 21, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    to me it is a mass of confusion…(hehehe)

  4. CarlosJC
    April 21, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    Seems that our cousins in the community of Christ are moving further away from what Joseph Smith came up with and away from what the modern LDS church has become.

    But then again in many respects we (LDS) have also moved away from what Joseph Smith founded so long ago.

  5. April 21, 2010 at 7:33 pm

    Carlos, I think many in the Community of Christ see this as living out Restoration principle that God is still speaking. So the prophetic office continues to push the church forward. Is that away from Joseph Smith, perhaps in content of doctrine, but in the spirit of the movement.

  6. Margie Miller
    April 21, 2010 at 9:15 pm

    “as out of order”

    Actually, he did not call it “out of order”. he just simply said the World Conference would not deal with it. It will be dealt with in national or regional conferences.

  7. Mike S
    April 21, 2010 at 9:55 pm

    #4 CarlosJC

    A Mormon from JS/BY time would think the LDS Church today is completely off its rockers in apostasy. We gave up the eternal principle of polygamy caving into government pressure, our Church leaders are all clean-shaven, blacks not only have the priesthood but a black can marry a white without dying on the spot and can even be sealed in the temple, we would actually keep someone out of the temple for drinking a glass of the same wine that used to be used in the temple or drinking a drink from JS saloon, etc.

    We have changed a lot from their day, and probably no more than the CofC, but just in different directions. It does make you wonder, though. On my mission, one of the examples we used of the apostasy was things that the church changed over the first 100-200 years after Christ was here. This change was held up as “evidence” of man corrupting the original teachings. Yet when we do the same, we call it being lead by our church leaders per God’s will. Perhaps the same thing happened in the early days of Christianity?

  8. April 21, 2010 at 10:16 pm

    FireTag, as you know I’ve been looking forward to this post for a few months. When I saw the conflicting headlines, it makes much more sense to me why i was confused and thought the section was voted down. (I realize now that it was the amendments that were voted down.)

    One of the fascinating things about this post is some of the terms used: legislation, amendments, parliamentary rules, gerrymandering–it sounds so much more political than any revelation or organization change put forth by the LDS church. (Ok, there hasn’t really been a revelation since 1978, and that was published as more of a press release.) Even when we look at changes in LDS church policy, like the Perpetual Education Fund, or the reconstitution of the Quorum of 70 in the 1980′s, the LDS church doesn’t seem to have the political overtones that the CoC does in announcing this revelation. This “plausible deniability” and intentionally confusing message makes it seem like politics have overtaken the church hierarchy.

  9. Heber13
    April 21, 2010 at 10:26 pm

    MH, I had a little different feeling when I read through it. I guess I kind of thought it was more sincere that it was worded the way it is, because it doesn’t seem like all revelation has to come sounding like the way Joseph Smith received it for it to be valid. The world is different today, the church organizations are different, the prophets are different…so why not have the new D&C sections sound different. It might seem unnatural or disingenuous if they tried to rewrite it to sound more like the other D&C scriptures. I’m not saying I believe it or they are real prophets, I have a different faith…but I’m just saying I thought it was logical the verbiage would be more modern sounding.

  10. April 21, 2010 at 10:26 pm

    Beware The Chicken has posted his take at http://bewarethechicken.blogspot.com/2010/04/section-164-homosexuality.html . He has there a history of what has actually gone on in the Community of Christ legislatively on this issue this past decade. It may explain why my own take is closer to the “Church will Continue Dialogue” headline than the “Gay Rights Revelation Added” headline.

  11. April 21, 2010 at 10:41 pm

    MH:

    Bear in mind that I come out of a lot of years of government work, so I’m attuned to those features. But any organization large enough to have a bureaucracy has politics. You just hope and pray that the leaders of a prophetic church are correctly sensing what God wants and guiding the politics in that direction.

    (I have no idea what politics are like in the inner workings of the LDS, but they will exist.)

  12. April 22, 2010 at 12:13 am

    Heber, I think you misunderstood my comment a bit. I agree with you that section 164 “was more sincere that it was worded the way it is, because it doesn’t seem like all revelation has to come sounding like the way Joseph Smith received it for it to be valid.”

    I was really commenting on the process of canonization for the CoC. This revelation was publicly issued in January (if memory serves me correctly) for the whole church to review for the April Conference. To me, this initial step is astounding. When Pres Kimball issued the lifting of the Priesthood Ban in 1978, he didn’t say, “here’s the revelation–use the Spirit of discernment and we’ll vote on it in 4 months.” Pres Kimball received the revelation, they drafted a press release, and the policy was changed. Four months later, it was ratified in Conference, but that ratification was a rubber stamp. If someone had come out in opposition, they would have probably been told they weren’t following the brethren, and if they continued to resist, they would have been excommunicated.

    As I have followed this process over the last 4 months for the CoC, I noted that there were 21 amendments offered to the revelation–the membership actually played a significant part of the canonization of this revelation. While these amendments were struck down, I think this is an astounding difference between the CoC and the LDS. The people had a chance to modify the revelation (perhaps a snowball’s chance in hell, but that’s still more than what would happen in the LDS church.) Furthermore, the vote on canonization last week was an actual vote, not a rubber stamp. I’m positive that people voted against this section, and no church action will be taken against them so far as I know.

    As such, with 4 months of people trying to make amendments, persuade, etc, the process is much more openly political than anything in the LDS church. Yes, I agree with FireTag that there is going to be politics in any large organization, but the openness of the politicking in the CoC is a stark contrast to the behind the scenes politicking in the LDS church. You will still hear apostles in the LDS church say that they marvel at the unity of the apostles. They always present a united front, even if they disagree on policies behind closed doors. However, with the CoC it seems that they are more comfortable accepting dissenting opinions. Now, as FireTag has explained to me, the CoC hasn’t always been this way; during the 1980′s when they allowed women to hold the priesthood, it was much more along the lines of the 1978 LDS revelation lifting the priesthood ban that was more of an edict from the prophet. But to watch (from a distance) the process of this canonization has been a very interesting experience for me as I contrast how things would have been for the LDS church.

  13. April 22, 2010 at 12:41 am

    MH:

    Let me correct one thing. The 21 legislative proposals were not amendments to the revelation. The proposals were passed by mission centers in 2009 to come before World Conference in the expectation that the revelation would NOT deal with gay rights at all. (The formal discernment process that had been underway since 2007 dealt ONLY with conditions of membership, and the Presidency was on public record as NOT wanting the Mission Centers to propose such legislation).

    It was the rejection of these wishes of the leadership that was astonishing, because nothing like THAT had happened in probably 80 years. In the early church, a conference might have asked the Prophet to “inquire of the Lord”. This insistance on “legislate if no revelate” had the same effect.

    A revelation can be approved by the Conference or sent back for further guidance (one body actually both approved and asked for further revelation, according to the minutes), but it can not be amended.

    Once approved, revelation preempts legislation, and that then let the Presidency dispose of all the legislative proposals without discussion.

    However, notice that this power to dispose of “local moral legislation” by this means is not limited to gay issues or to this Conference. The power of Mission Centers to bring controversial moral issues to World Conference is now taken away, period. There is no current provision for such actions even in the Field or National Conferences when they are eventually called.

  14. Mike S
    April 22, 2010 at 7:58 am

    To those thinking that it is good that there are “no politics” in the LDS Church, I’d encourage them to read McKay’s biography as well as Kimball’s biography. The 1978 declaration on blacks and the priesthood was absolutely NOT as clear cut as “Pres Kimball received the revelation, they drafted a press release, and the policy was changed.”

    As far back as 1954, President McKay organized a committee to look into the issue to see if denying blacks the priesthood was doctrinally based or just a practice. They decided that there wasn’t actually any reason doctrinally to keep doing that, but that the members weren’t ready. In the 1960′s Hugh Brown argued for a change, stating that if it was just a policy, the Church could change policy at any time. He politicked hard for the change. At the same time, Harold B Lee fought against the change trying to preserve the status quo. Through the 1970′s, President Kimball spent years studying the issue, discussing it with other leaders, trying to convince others to come around to his point-of-view, etc. Finally, in 1978, they finally reached consensus. It was only at that point that they formally prayed about it and received a spiritual confirmation that the decision they made was approved. And even then, Mark E Petersen insisted that they print a formal Church News article stating that even though blacks could have the priesthood, that interracial marriage was still wrong.

    So, it’s not as if “God spoke” and President Kimball revealed God’s words over night. It took decades of debate and study and argument and cajoling and conversations to get that to happen. It took dying off of some of the apostles more opposed to it. It took pressure on sports teams at BYU. It took pressure in the media. Etc.

    In my mind, this isn’t too different from the account given above in the CofC. They also have people on each side of the various issues. They also have people who interpret God’s previous words differently. The debate the pros and cons. The look at the issue in the context of society and the membership. And after they have a consensus, they bring it to the Lord. From prior posts on here, there was a great spirit of peace at the convention. So, in reality, it isn’t much different from “revelation” in the LDS Church.

    I do see 2 differences:
    1) They seem to have more official revelations than we do. We have a great many programs presented to us: correlation, PEF, Duty to God, etc. But prior to the 1978 issue, we haven’t really had any official revelations for decades or more.
    2) We seem to prefer that our policies are changed by the “man behind the curtain”. It seems like we don’t really want to know about all of the politicking that takes place behind the scenes before any revelation or new program comes out. We would prefer that all of that be done, and a proclamation is simply made for us. The CofC makes the process more transparent.

  15. CarlosJC
    April 22, 2010 at 6:25 pm

    Todd Elkins, Mike S

    Yes, I agree with what you are both saving. We probably are saying the same thing basically.

    Interesting point (true) that we would, today, be evidence of man corrupting the original teachings since we gave up polygamy, have all leaders shaven and so on…..maybe some 21st century mormon church in, say, arizona, can use that in its missionary pitch!

  16. CarlosJC
    April 22, 2010 at 6:31 pm

    Mike S #14

    Following up on that, there is a very interesting interview with the younger son of president kimball on http://mormonstories.org/?p=940 that covers some of what the process was like for that revelation on the priesthood (ep2).

    And yes it seems to be a similar process to what the CoC is going through with these issues.

  17. April 22, 2010 at 10:56 pm

    Mike, It is the transparency in the CoC vs the LDS that I find so startlingly different.

    Carlos, thanks for the link to the Edward Kimball interview. I used to listen to all the Mormon Stories, but after John went on hiatus, I joined a Mormon book club, and haven’t had time to listen to John’s wonderful podcasts. I’ll definitely have to listen to this.

  18. Margie Miller
    April 23, 2010 at 2:27 am

    “Pres Kimball received the revelation, they drafted a press release, and the policy was changed. Four months later, it was ratified in Conference, but that ratification was a rubber stamp. If someone had come out in opposition, they would have probably been told they weren’t following the brethren, and if they continued to resist, they would have been excommunicated.”

    This is only one thing I couldn’t handle about the LDS church. I know too many who have been excommunicated for writing history the church did not want written.

  19. jmb275
    April 23, 2010 at 6:46 am

    Re Mike S

    On my mission, one of the examples we used of the apostasy was things that the church changed over the first 100-200 years after Christ was here. This change was held up as “evidence” of man corrupting the original teachings. Yet when we do the same, we call it being lead by our church leaders per God’s will. Perhaps the same thing happened in the early days of Christianity?

    Ah, the beauty of in-group logic! :-)

    Re post, MH, Firetag
    Thanks for the post Firetag. I listened to the podcast with John Hamer, and have been following his stuff at BCC. I really think the CoC is fascinating! In many ways, I confess, they are what I wish the LDS church was. Like MH I love the transparency and ability to handle dissenting views. I think it speaks volumes about the “truthfulness” of the CoC church. It rings true to me that the organization seeks for openness and honesty.

    I have one question for Firetag. Although there is confusion right now over what the revelation means in terms of gay rights, it is clearly a very bold move for any religion in the US to even suggest things of this nature, and even more so for a Mormon based religion. Do you feel that the CoC church worries about appealing to the masses (increasing membership), or retaining membership, or are they more concerned with doing what they feel is right, even if it drives some folks away? It seems to me, given the nature of what it went through in the 70′s it is more the latter. But this post makes me think that some of the deliberation and confusion is partly because they are perhaps becoming increasingly concerned with the former.

  20. April 23, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    jmb275:

    This is the question that continues to haunt me. The analogy is this: if Nephi were the OLDEST son of Lehi, how would you tell of there was anything prophetic in his father’s selecting him as the successor to lead Lehi’s people? It’s simply the expected thing to do in that culture.

    It is NOT a bold move for a Christian church of the Protestant LEFT in the United States to suggest these things. The gap between “red” and “blue” cultural bases on this issue is truly large, but it seems almost monolithic within each individual culture.

    So, if preservation is at play, it’s a concern about preserving itself in the third world more than the US. To the extent the Community of Christ still regards itself as a Mormon church, it is the organized church of the Mormon left, evolving on its own historical course. It’s trying to decide how much of Mormonism it keeps, and how much of the High Church traditions of Anglicanism and the peace traditions of the Quakers and Mennonites it will adopt.

    But none of this is happening as consciously as we’d like to think. I think people join the church because it believes some of what they think to be true and then, as they rise to leadership, tend to pull the church toward the rest of what they believe. We are all attuned to hear different parts of God’s truth.

    Sixty years ago, when baptisms began to decline in the RLDS, people who sincerely believed that preserving the church and doing the right thing were one and the same began to diverge about how to accomplish that. Some moved harder toward tradition, and ultimately lad to a fundamentalist RLDS movement that became the Restorationists. Some moved harder toward openness and inclusiveness and evolved into the modern CofChrist.

    That divergence continues unabated, as does the decline in baptisms — which leads me to be pretty sure that the decisions of churchmen aren’t really running the show.

  21. April 30, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    FireTag:

    I have a good friend who joined a Restorationist “branch” a couple years ago. It had absolutely nothing to do with doctrinal beliefs, but came about because the pastor and several others in that congregation “loved her into membership.” She continues as a member there because they still love her and she loves them. (It apparently matters not at all that she frequently likes to have a beer or glass of wine.) I have to admit, this is a hard thing for somebody like me, who by default was raised to put beliefs at the center of church membership. Who knows, maybe what’s been happening in the Community of Christ for several decades now isn’t primarily about where we place ourselves doctrinally from left to right, or from Mormonism to Protestantism. What if instead it’s the Holy Spirit giving us a good shake and challenging us to be a “true” body of Christ in the world, with expressions of that truth different in each of the cultures where we’re located? Which is to say: What if it’s not all about us?

  22. May 1, 2010 at 10:39 pm

    “What if instead it’s the Holy Spirit giving us a good shake and challenging us to be a “true” body of Christ in the world, with expressions of that truth different in each of the cultures where we’re located?”

    Rich:

    Sorry I passed over this yesterday. I think the quote above is very true. And I would add that the chief threat needing a shake up might be the assumption that we need to get people into the church, while never quite being willing to let them OUT even when they might find a better place elsewhere.

    In the Galatians verses quoted in the preamble that lead into Section 164 it talks about “neither Jew nor Greek”. Steve talks about that as if referring to ethnicity specifically. But Paul would never have simply thought of Jews and Greeks, as neither American nor African. Jewishness would have been at least as much religious distinction as ethnic distinction, if not more.

    Indeed, Paul’s version of Christianity comes to us after a “denominational age”, not as a straight transfer from Judaism to Christianity. In between there were competing “denominational” versions of the faith until Constantine forced religious unity to quell the rise of political rivals from the Eastern part of the Empire.

    So, “neither Jew nor Greek is probably to read “neither Mormon nor Methodist” as well as “neither American or African”.

    Is that our blind spot? We want people to find God’s truth, but we really want the vindication of finding our parts first? Isn’t that where the Restoration came in at Palmyra?

  23. May 2, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    In Joseph Smith’s “original” first-vision account, from 1832, the core message was: your sins are forgiven; now, go and walk in my statutes. Years later, after Joseph’s movement had become more sectarian (and what we’d call denominational) the core account became much more about how all the other religions/denominations of the day were wrong, he was to join none of them, but wait until God directed him to start a new “true” church. The image of God also went from a single “being” surrounded by light to become two separate beings in the light, which is related to the developing multiple beings in the “Godhead.” But that’s another story for another time.

    Yes, you’re absolutely right: we do want people to come join us AND in the process prove or vindicate our rightness, all too often in comparison to others’ supposed lack of rightness. Apostle Paul’s encounter with the risen Christ led him to preach the “gospel” (good news) that it was the One Universal God’s intention, at least from the time of Abraham, that all people would someday be aware of and enjoy the benefits of being part of God’s “family.” Paul’s letters provided variations on a single theme: how can the Gentiles (meaning Greeks and barbarians) gain access to this chosen status? In subsequent centuries lots of Christians used Paul’s writings to answer questions he never intended. And a big part of that was an effort to separate “orthodox” from “heretic.” We in Joseph’s Restoration movement are the benefactors of that “We’re right so you must be wrong; be baptized in this church–and sin no more.”

  24. Ray
    May 2, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    Rich, but we also are the beneficiary of a core theology that actually does preach that “all people would someday be aware of and enjoy the benefits of being part of God’s ‘family.’” That concept simply isn’t part of the VAST majority of “mainstream” Christian denominations, so it really is a case, with this particular example, of whether someone wants to see the empty half of the glass or the full half.

  25. Rob
    May 10, 2010 at 8:18 pm

    As a member of the Community of Christ I am moved by inclusiveness of the church.
    I am sometimes sad for the dwindling members in North America.
    At this point in my life my faith does not require a traditional Sunday morning service.
    But fellowship with other members is a rich experience.
    I cherish the exploration of why and what we believe.
    I cherish quiet meditation with others who have common experiences and history.
    I cherish group prayer and a communal sharing of the Spirit.
    It is so easy for me to be dominated by what I want… to be critical of what I see or hear… to stray off the path of the Christ.
    So my experience with other members of the CofC can be like a “Whirling Dervish.”
    The World Conference is a Whirling Dervish. Section 164 is our Whirling Dervish.
    We may not all be in agreement. But we are focused.

  26. May 10, 2010 at 10:49 pm

    Rob:

    I had to make a short trip to wiki to find the context of your reference to whirling dervishes”, and I’m still not certain I’m on the track of what you’re trying to say.

    Are you saying that these things may make no more sense to outside observers than the Sufi rituals do to us, but they are nevertheless valuable because through them WE are finding a way closer to God?

  27. Rob
    May 11, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    Good question, Firetag. I probably could have chosen a better symbol than a Whirling Dervish.

    Inside of the whirling, spinning, frenetic pace of the dance one finds focus… one finds purpose, even peace.

    The world conference can be a “whirling dervish” for the delegates. The delegates move through a spinning storm-like experience. But they can reach the eye of the storm… a calm place for reflection and a place of clarity.

    The debate, the struggle to find consensus, and the realization that there is not consensus can be an exhausting experience. But those who returned from world conference (those I’ve shared with) were reflective and tired, but focused. They returned embracing the diversity of thought within the body of the church.

    Some of the language of Section 164 is beautiful. But it is new scripture that is causing angst for some members and a sense of growth and peace for others. But for all of us there is a focus on what comes next. We are in a Whirling Dervish.

    The symbolism within the dance may not work for all but the image works for me:)

  28. May 11, 2010 at 11:02 pm

    Rob:

    OK. Now I get what you’re saying.