Community of Christ Delays US National Conference on GLBT Issues for Year

By: FireTag
June 11, 2011

In response to revelatory guidance accepted at its 2010 World Conference, the Community of Christ scheduled a US National Conference for the summer of 2012 specifically to deal with questions of sacramental marriage and priesthood ordination for GLBT members of the church.

On May 25, the church announced a delay in the US National Conference until April 2013, so it convene immediately following adjournment of the World Conference. The stated reason is the need to minimize travel costs to American delegates from having two major conferences within a nine-month period, in light of continuing economic difficulties in the United States.

Frankly, I find this explanation puzzling — because I can’t imagine what the church leadership thinks it knows about financial issues now that they didn’t know in April, 2010, when the church accepted Section 164 and moved, with great hope among more progressive elements of the church, to schedule the National conference as quickly as possible.

After all, in April 2010 the Obama administration already was projecting unemployment into the 2010-2012 period that the left described as “grim” for Democratic congressional and presidential election chances. The projections were remarkably close to what the current rates actually are and should not have been unexpected, even if one thought US government fiscal policies would eventually work or were justified to avoid a worse situation.

Within the church itself, President Veazey followed the World Conference with a downbeat assessment of the budgetary prospects for the church that was markedly less optimistic than the corresponding 2011-2012 budget plan announcement released the day before the national conference was delayed.

So, finances sounds like the surface justification for some deeper reason the leadership does not want to be transparent about. To consider what may really be happening, we should consider how the new schedule affects:

  • what decisions will be made before the US National Conference is held;
  • the make-up of delegates to the US national conference; and,
  • the press coverage (particularly international coverage) the US national conference will receive.

Watch Canada

I previously noted here that field assignments following the 2010 World Conference created a “gerrymandered” Mission Field from Canada to Australia that just happened to include all of the Mission Centers that had passed World Conference legislation preempted by Section 164. Interestingly, the delay of the US National Conference does not affect the schedule of the Canadian Conference (any change in Australia’s schedule is still undecided).

Thus, Canada, where gay marriage is already legal, will have the lead in setting precedent in dealing with this issue — not the US. This has a lot of advantages for the leadership in reducing the risks that GLBT issues will blow up in the church’s face. These issues are not as controversial in Canada as in the US, and certainly what happens in Canada will be less publicized in the US and in the conservative Christian nations of the third world where the CofChrist increasingly sees its future.

If the Canadian church decides to accept GLBT ordination and/or some version of sacramental marriage rites, the church can simply attribute it to local decisions and shield itself from any conservative backlash. If the Canadian church can not address this issue — either by reaffirming traditional understandings as correct, or by producing a harmonious consensus for change that the church leadership can then lead the US national conference to adopt, ┬áthe leadership then has months to conduct damage control prior to the 2013 World Conference and the US National Conference. And so…

Watch for Section 165

LDS readers are familiar with the dynamics of the twice-yearly General Conferences, which involve many more members than are actually present at the Conference because they are televised. Even I could watch them, even though I wouldn’t recognize one Apostle from another.

Because CofChrist conferences only occur once per three years, and we don’t own a TV network, they occur in more of a bubble of insiders, almost like a political convention. The leadership always comes out of World Conference with an approval bounce, and a unified delegate body behind them. The bounce may fade thereafter, and may not extend to those who are not insiders, but, by holding the US Conference over the two days after World Conference ends, the leadership maximizes the probability that whatever message they wish the US Conference to adopt will be adopted without immediate schism.

What that message will be, or whether it comes attached with some form of “Thus Saith the Spirit”, I have no idea, but the new schedule psychologically subordinates the deliberations of the US National Conference to the 2013 World Conference.

Watch Delegate Selection

Insider orientation in conferences of a liberal church increases the election of liberal delegates. (Do LDS liberals travel across the country to Salt Lake City as often as LDS conservatives will?) If the US National Conference was held in 2012 instead of 2013, conservatives opposed to GLBT policy changes would mount a major effort to elect delegates to that conference and probably ignore the 2013 World Conference. With the World and National Conferences running sequentially, there will be more overlap in the delegations — no matter how much the church maintains that they are separate events and hold “separate” (but simultaneous) Mission Center balloting for the two delegations. It is typical in many Mission Centers that only a small fraction of those who wish to be delegates do not get elected; it seems that the willingness to attend is the primary qualification for election. So I expect the schedule shift, by itself, will produce a more liberal result than would otherwise be the case.

Watch when the National Media go Home

At the 2010 World Conference, press coverage outside the Independence area addressed church actions toward the GLBT issues overwhelmingly more than other Conference issues. The church had actually tried to minimize coverage overseas, because the church exists in countries where discussion of GLBT issues is itself a serious crime. If reporters don’t stick around after the World Conference for the National Conference, that might just be fine from the POV of the leadership.

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21 Responses to Community of Christ Delays US National Conference on GLBT Issues for Year

  1. Stephen Marsh on June 11, 2011 at 12:53 PM

    Interesting. Thanks.

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  2. mh on June 11, 2011 at 1:59 PM

    I always find these posts fascinating.

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  3. CatherineWO on June 11, 2011 at 7:50 PM

    Thank you for this very interesting post. I really admire the progressiveness of the Community of Christ.

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  4. Henry on June 11, 2011 at 10:25 PM

    Do you want gay marriage to be legal in all 50 states? What is your main reason for posting this?

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  5. FireTag on June 11, 2011 at 11:50 PM

    Henry:

    Part of my contribution to the blogging team here is to be the “beat reporter” for issues related to the second largest branch of Mormonism. You’re welcome to consider me one of the tares rather than the wheat.

    A great deal of the divergence between our branches in the 1830′s had to do with the different theological attitudes the two groups developed towards sexual identities and roles in relationship to the purposes of God for mankind.

    I think it is instructive to LDS to recognize how difficult it is to deal with these issues even in a Restoration framework in which the most relevant modern revelation is NOT the Proclamation on the Family, but a section of our D&C that defines monogamy as the basic principle of Christian married life.

    Monogamy on earth, not gender attraction, is the principle on which I’ll take my personal stand as the basis of covenental marriage.

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  6. mh on June 12, 2011 at 10:27 AM

    henry, your question seems quite accusatory-I am not sure if that is your intent. I really appreciate firetag posting this.

    I remember a quote from a podcast from john hamer stating there was a battle between conservatives and liberals in the lds church and the conservatives won. in the rlds church, the opposite happened. to me, the community of christ is an ‘alternate reality’ as to what might have happened if the liberals in the lds church had won.

    in fact, the rlds is so liberal, that in the 1970′s, they allowed polygamists in india to be baptized. this is highly ironic, given their persistent opposition to polygamy for 100 years. hence, this is part of the statement on monogamy that firetag referenced.

    firetag has noted that the rlds church has more conservative members than leaders. the opposite is true in the lds church. this is why I personally find so much interest in the community of christ. conservative members were so upset at liberal changes in the rlds, that around 25% left and formed ‘restoration’ churches. there is even a new rlds church that in a way replaced the original rlds church church that changed their name to the community of christ around the turn if this century.

    for me, it is fun to watch the community of christ as a testing ground for future changes possible I the lds church. I don’t think we will make all the changes of the rlds church, but it is interesting to see the dynamics of the rlds church. their communication. from firetag’s posts, it seems they are much more transparent in communication between church hierarchy and members than the lds church is.

    I don’t expect that the lds church will do anything nearly as accommodating as the CoC. but if gay marriage becomes legal in the U.S., what will that mean for polygamy in the lds church. the proclamation on the family seems to reflect the ‘monogamy’ ideal of the rlds church. watching the rlds church is like watching a test case of how things may play out in the lds church.

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  7. FireTag on June 12, 2011 at 11:04 AM

    Thanks for the defense, MH, but you don’t want to get me started on alternate realities again. :D

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  8. [...] other parts of their journey). And in the discussion of why not to save GLBTs from themselves (not all religions do it but the gay/atheist correlation isn’t just a coincidence) — here’s the central [...]

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  9. Stephen Marsh on June 12, 2011 at 8:49 PM

    I was reading http://mormon.org/kelly and I thought, it would be neat to see Firetag’s entry. I know, different branch of the Restoration, but still, that sort of thing.

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  10. gibson on June 13, 2011 at 2:42 PM

    GREAT post firetag! Thanks for keeping me an informed ex-RLDS. My brothers never mention this kind of church news to me.

    “Watch for Section 165″ That reminded me of reading that Joseph Smith 3rd, after trying several times to enact change through conference vote, finally “resorted” to a revelation (history’s word, not mine). I can’t remember which one; it wasn’t section 116.

    Let me ask you: How does the church see its future in the conservative third-world nations when the leadership seems to be doing everything it can to alienate them?

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  11. FireTag on June 13, 2011 at 3:58 PM

    Gibson:

    Hadn’t heard that story. Sure it wasn’t FM Smith?

    As an observer, I’m honestly not sure whether the leadership wants to see the change at this time or not. It could have permitted the change by conference action last time, and is PRIMARILY concerned with avoiding schism whatever is decided.

    That’s not quite as strong a rationale when you stop believing you are the one and only true church as it was when we did believe that.

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  12. gibson on June 15, 2011 at 1:38 PM

    It was in one of the first two volumes of RESTORATION STUDIES: A Collection of Essays….

    I no longer have them to check which article.

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  13. FireTag on June 15, 2011 at 1:47 PM

    Maybe someone like John Hamer with RS in his library will be able to identify it for us.

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  14. bewarethechicken on June 16, 2011 at 11:48 AM

    FT, one item I’ll take issue with – Canada (like the US) will not get to “decide” anything, and therefore will not be taking the lead or setting the tone on anything.

    Remember, the CofC First Presidency will decide if the policy of the ENTIRE church will change based on the “consensus” reached at these national conferences.

    What has been promised is that national conferences will occur – no voting or “deciding” will happen – and, sometime thereafter (maybe) leadership will make a decision based on its perception of the “consensus” on policy that will not be different among the church.

    This is a means of avoiding the appearance of top down dictation of policy but also the discussion among internationals (read Africa, Haiti) that would otherwise be necessitated by the usual World Conference discussion.

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  15. FireTag on June 16, 2011 at 12:01 PM

    BTC:

    I’m not sure we’re in disagreement at all. Any voting will be on a “recommendation”. The counting of votes will “decide” the leadership’s “political” strategy in precisely the same way as a poll decides an election campaign’s strategy.

    The primary goal is to keep the church together and expanding. The leaders have made clear that a personal belief in gay rights on their part does not trump the primary goal.

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  16. Stephen Marsh on June 16, 2011 at 6:56 PM

    How does the church see its future in the conservative third-world nations when the leadership seems to be doing everything it can to alienate them?

    That is a huge issue for a number of Churches. As I look at what is occurring with the Anglican Communion, ostensibly a group that has a majority rule voting system, with the heavy majority of its members in Africa where the issues are ones of life and death, slavery and freedom.

    I’ve been searching for a good solution, and I don’t see one at present.

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  17. bewarethechicken on June 17, 2011 at 11:42 AM

    FT – I guess from my perspective – not voting and having that vote not count for anything, isn’t deciding.

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  18. [...] and American and African conservatives on sexual cultural issues is one of the key motivations for addressing the discussion within National, rather than World Conferences (See also Stephen Marsh [...]

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  19. [...] previously described how the selection of delegates to Community of Christ conferences produces a more liberal (and economically richer) delegate body [...]

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  20. Sutekh on July 8, 2012 at 6:38 PM

    I appreciate the reference to leftwing politics, and the political maneuvering necessary to make certain that the delegates elected will be those who will vote as the leadership desires, rather than provide votes that represent the true feelings of the laity.

    That is how the Community of Christ works — like a left-wing political organization. Sometimes I think that liberals infiltrated the church in order to get a political exemption for their political party.

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  21. FireTag on July 8, 2012 at 8:30 PM

    Sutekh:

    I have no reason to believe that the leadership of the Community of Christ operates outside of the mainstream moral systems of liberals and conservatives which we are discussing in my July 7, 2012 post (which I presume is what led you to this earlier post).

    Their beliefs are sincerely held, and they are trying to find a path forward for the church that preserves it as an institution. But there are three major blocks within the church (two socially conservative, one socially liberal; two first-world, one third world), only two of which, I believe, can find deep fellowship together. Trying to make them into a “threesome” might be possible, but seems pointless. The worth of all persons can’t be respected in that relationship unless the fellowship is kept distant.

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