Community of Christ After Action Report Part 2

By: FireTag
November 6, 2010

Last spring at its 2010 World Conference held at its Independence Temple Complex, the Community of Christ canonized Section 164 of its Doctrine and Covenants to address serious controversies within the church. The major point of the revelation was to call the church to separate fundamental, world-wide principles of the gospel from the culturally-dependent problems and issues to which those principles are to be applied.

And that separation was necessary because of the religious issues surrounding same sex marriage. Would CofChrist priesthood be permitted to perform such marriage as sacrament where such marriage was legal under civil authority? Would those holding CofChrist priesthood be permitted to engage in same sex marriage and keep their priesthood?

Church leadership had been planning since the previous World Conference in 2007 to address conditions for membership, and to defer any discussion regarding other issues. They knew the divisiveness that might develop between the largely North American church that had grown up in the Reorganized Latter Day Saint tradition of being the only true church with the only true priesthood — pause a moment for mental glitch as “Reorganized” registers — and a largely Third World church that saw Christianity as a whole, not the denomination, as the defining category. The leadership worked actively to deter people from bringing gay-related legislation to the 2010 Conference agenda, but failed. Section 164 was given and canonized in this context. Last spring I wrote at Mormon Matters a summary of Section 164.

In this post I want to focus on what has happened in regard to implementation of the Section 164 guidance concerning gay rights issues in the United States in the subsequent six months since World Conference.

There are three major groups in the church with strong stakes in these gay rights issues. In many countries where the church sees its future growth focused, it can be a cultural taboo, if not a criminal act, to even discuss the concept of same sex marriage. By moving such issues outside the jurisdiction of the World Conference, members of the church in such countries have been quarantined from the immediacy of the problem and allowed to deal with their own cultures’ challenges. However, North American members have strong liberal-conservative splits on this issue, as does American society as a whole.

The CofChrist planned to deal with gay rights issues through an American national conference to be held in the summer of 2012. Before the World Conference had ended in April, the 5 CofChrist Apostles with Field responsibilities for the United States had held a special conference session with the elected World Conference delegates to begin planning for the 2012 National Conference.

While the National Conference would have no actual legislative power to act, consensus at the National Conference would lead to recommended policy changes that could be approved by the Twelve and the Presidency. Many church liberals believed full inclusion of gay rights on these issues was a done deal, although others were much more cautious.

However, although Conference delegates are elected by their Mission Centers democratically, they are largely self-selected. Unlike in the LDS conferences, the legislative nature of a CofChrist conference means you can’t participate by watching on TV. You actually have to go to Independence for a week. So the nominating process (at least away from Independence itself) pretty much consists of the Mission Center President finding out who’s planning to go and who is willing to take on the extra work of being a delegate.

So the people who go to World Conference tend to have tighter social connections to the world church. Those whose loyalty is more to their local congregations do not allow their names to go on the Mission Center ballots.

In practice, this means that the American delegation to World Conference is now more liberal (and younger and wealthier) than the American membership as a whole.  So, despite all of the efforts of the leadership to communicate the significance of Section 164 beforehand, a significant portion of the church walked into their local congregations afterward not really grasping what had happened. And that’s when things started to get strange.

There was a sharp dropoff in World Church Tithes (CofChrist members may contribute to either local or world church funds) after Conference that lasted for a month or two and seems to have reflected nothing in the larger economy. It is unclear whether conservatives were unhappy that the church had gone too far, or whether liberals were unhappy that the church had not gone far enough. However, it provoked an equally sharp response from President Veazey, committing to impose a policy tying approval of all priesthood ordinations to world church tithes, not just local contributions or service. Budget contributions quickly returned to (and slightly above) budgeted levels.

Since the whole point of the planned 2012 conference was to create a consensus in the US church, the period before the conference was supposed to be one of dialog guided by the cognizant Apostles. That hasn’t happened, because the Presidency and Twelve have been first addressing the implementation of other parts of Section 164. In its place, people are talking in an unguided, and not always harmonious, fashion.

In a comment on an otherwise unrelated post on racism by Matt Frizzell, Michelle Dunlap, one of the Board Members of the Welcoming Community Network, noted:

“I’ve been saddened to see and hear the responses in some of our people, such as Central Mission Field. Unloving, would be the nice thing to say.”

As another example, a Mission Center President, whom I will not embarrass by naming, sent out discussion guidance quoting scripture and interpreting it in a way that equated homosexual sex, even in a monogamous marital relationship, to gang rape.

So, in September, the World Church Leadership Council met to provide guidance on the issue, specifically to review and correct “confusion” regarding existing existing policy. As noted here the Presidency took a non-routine step of asking the church for prayer as the retreat dealt with “difficult issues”.

As of this writing, it is unclear whether progress in any direction was made at the retreat. Matt Frizzell, who participated in the meetings as a newly ordained member of the church’s Standing High Council, wrote in his own blog on October 16:

“The meetings I was a part of were very institutional.  They dealt with administration, policies, funds and fund raising.   The meetings were important from an institutional perspective.  But, the meetings also went 8-10 hours a day for three days.  They were so large that there wasn’t an opportunity to disagree, question, or participate in the decisions being made.  Though, an invitation for feedback was made.    I was around friends I loved and respected, but I felt very alone.  A depressing question kept haunting me, ‘Is this life with Jesus?’   Despite all the opportunities afforded me through church, I wondered again if there was really a place for me?   This seems to be an ongoing spiritual struggle.”

The only formal output of the retreat to date is a statement condemning violence and harassment of gays. This statement, while welcome, is hardly controversial within the Community of Christ. It contains, however, acknowledgement in its own language of the difficulties ahead:

“We may not agree on all questions related to human sexuality and sexual orientation. However, we are earnestly seeking more insight and understanding. We invite all members and friends of Community of Christ to join us on this journey.”

In my next “after action report”, I’ll address the new policy towards baptism and confirmation which the Community of Christ is implementing: the policy that the 2010 Conference had been going to be about until those unruly members said, “Wait a minute. What about our gay brothers and sisters?”

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18 Responses to Community of Christ After Action Report Part 2

  1. Stephen Marsh on November 6, 2010 at 2:24 PM

    I remember reading the head of the Mennonite Conciliation Service after a year of trying to facilitate the issue. He and his partner decided it was currently intractable.

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  2. Jon Miranda on November 6, 2010 at 2:43 PM

    I don’t know why the LDS church/members should be concerned with what the CofC(formerly RLDS) thinks or does about gay marriage or any other issue. I remember back in the 80′s when they gave women the priesthood. You cannot give what you do not have.

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  3. FireTag on November 6, 2010 at 3:15 PM

    Stephen:

    The CofChrist has found it intractable for years. One of the existing policy statements being reviewed at the September retreat was issued by the Standing High Council in 1982.

    But, as will be discussed in my next post, the Community of Christ is also developing a theology of priesthood and sacraments and their relationships to denomination that have some strange logical implications, even if we aren’t institutionally recognizing them yet.

    So when the 2012 conference comes, things may shake out in unexpected ways. Even to not decide will have its own set of consequences.

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  4. FireTag on November 6, 2010 at 3:25 PM

    Jon:

    Probably true from the standpoint of a TBM, although there are a lot of others who read this site, Jon.

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  5. Stephen Marsh on November 6, 2010 at 3:39 PM

    FireTag, I’ve been watching the Anglicans and the way that the American branch is trying to dictate to the roughly fifty million African branch members, who form the vast majority of the communion. It has been interesting to watch, and it provides a reflecting surface for any communitarian governance group.

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  6. MH on November 6, 2010 at 3:44 PM

    FireTag, I have really enjoyed following this issue, and I appreciate hearing your perspective on things. As you said, there are others who read and enjoy your perspective.

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  7. Margie Miller on November 7, 2010 at 5:37 AM

    Jon,

    I have held the priesthood since 1987 and much of that time have been pastor of my congregation. The congregation and the church recognize my ordination. Just because you do not, does not make it invalid.

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  8. FireTag on November 7, 2010 at 11:10 AM

    I do not want to fight the battles of a century-and-a-half ago. Both Margie’s and my certificates of ordination were signed by a great grandson of Joseph Smith. I was baptized by a great great grandson of Joseph Smith and grew up in a congregation built on the farm in Pontiac, Michigan from which one of the wings of Zion’s camp left.

    This week the Community of Christ issued guidance about baptism that would have to acknowledge baptisms performed by LDS priesthood, thus implying the acceptance of that priesthood (and most Christian priesthood) as legitimately acting for Christ.

    We just have a different view of what the keys of the priesthood were given to do. I’ll leave it at that.

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  9. Charlotte on November 7, 2010 at 2:23 PM

    I am following the discussion of this issue with great interest and deep concern. Thanks for your informed insights.

    I wonder how Christ remained independent of any big institutions’ approval/validation/authority and continued to bring God’s saving grace to everyone he met…..

    Oh yes, that’s right….I believe he was crucified (after 3 years of teaching, preaching, baptizing, explaining the mysteries in parables, and bringing the living Word to the world)….by the authorities for staying on course with his message of God’s unconditional love and compassion for all people.

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  10. Jeff Spector on November 7, 2010 at 7:06 PM

    Firetag,

    Thanks for bring us up to date. I find the contrast in the two major Mormon groups to be amazing.

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  11. Rigel Hawthorne on November 9, 2010 at 6:16 PM

    I also thank you for the update. Thanks Margie for joining the discussion.

    “we are earnestly seeking more insight and understanding. We invite all members and friends of Community of Christ to join us on this journey.”

    I know there are many who would like to just move into a new age and let the chips fall where they may, AND if they don’t get what they want, then they may not choose to wait. The invitation to “join the journey” suggests that a wait may be in store for those who respect the authority of the spiritual leadership.

    Firetag, you alluded to your own (in LDS lingo) Priesthood Line of Authority. Thanks for sharing that. Is there emphasis on acquiring your line of authority when you are ordained within the CoC?

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  12. Mike S on November 9, 2010 at 6:24 PM

    Firetag:

    Thank you for the information, and also your comments. Despite comments like #2, I think we all have a lot more in common than we have differences.

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  13. Margie Miller on November 9, 2010 at 6:33 PM

    I agree. I have learned that often we set aside our prejudices when we learn to really like or care about someone we formerly had a prejudice against.

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  14. FireTag on November 9, 2010 at 11:05 PM

    Rigel:

    I am not exactly sure if I understand your question, so pardon me if I answer something you didn’t ask.

    Lineage has historically been very important to us — we were led by a lineal descendant of JS as Prophet/President until nearly the 21st Century, after all — but priesthood has never been an automatic calling of all “worthy” males, even before it was a potential for women. If I fully grasp the concept of calling as your denomination uses it, almost all tasks from the ward on up are supposed to be by revelatory insight of those presiding. Historically, that was the same for us in regard to priesthood itself, but NOT for offices equivalent to EQ president, RS president, home teaching, etc. Those were usually volunteers or elected by the members.

    It was required that the officer originating the call to priesthood be able to testify to that effect, often in terms of a specific experience, and get the concurrence of higher presiding authorities. It helped when other priesthood had independent testimonies of the call, and there was an expectation that it would be “normal” (though not required) for the candidate to have his own testimony.

    In the RLDS tradition, with a theology that emphasizes Zion building, priesthood is not necessarily a more noble calling than service in other aspects of life. You say that, too; we just weren’t supposed to break it up by hierarchical rank (though we often let pride creep in), but by specialization. Eventually we realized that implied priesthood had nothing to do with gender, and applied to women as well.

    We are now realizing that if God can call and authorize whomever He wishes within the church, He can certainly do the same outside the denomination.

    One last point: I did not suspect that the person who baptized me at age eight was a great great grandson of Joseph Smith until I was a married adult. I had simply wanted the new stake missionary to have a little taste of success. :D

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  15. Rigel Hawthorne on November 10, 2010 at 11:46 AM

    Firetag,

    When I was ordained a Deacon, my parents made a special page for my “Book of Remembrance” that had a face picture of my Father (who ordained me), the person who ordained him, etc back to the early members of the church to Joseph Smith/Oliver Cowdery and to John the Baptist. The LDS-oriented bookstores at the time even sold templates that had some of the pictures already printed onto the page. This was simply a keepsake and nothing official, although one can still request a printout of their line of authority from church headquarters. So somewhere back far enough, you and I should have a common link of someone who performed an ordination of individuals in our lines of authority. There were stories in some of our Priesthood meeting lessons of individuals who were challenged as to how they could prove that they were ordained ministers, and the line of authority could provide documentation of how their authority was received, although I have never used mine is that manner.

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  16. FireTag on November 10, 2010 at 12:52 PM

    Yes, Rigel, there would surely be some point between 1830 and 1844 where our lines of authority would have a common intersection.

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  17. FireTag on May 26, 2011 at 3:16 PM

    The Community of Christ has just announced that the 2012 USA National Conference, called under the auspices of Section 164 to address the issues of GLBT relationships and ordinations INSTEAD of dealing with them legislatively at the 2010 World Conference, has been delayed until AFTER the 2013 World Conference.

    The delay is supposedly for financial reasons, though the church simultaneously announced an increase in the budget; it also allows foreign leaders to make only one trip, although the supposed purpose of the conference was to separate North American deliberations from impacting the church abroad.

    Want to bet that the World Conference will tell the USA Conference what to decide or be sure nothing gets decided until 2016? I don’t see how this has any other outcome, because any change MAXIMIZES publicity, and therefore the impact on the rest of the Church.

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  18. George on June 30, 2013 at 11:08 AM

    I did find the comment above to be appropriate:
    “You cannot give what you do not have.”

    Are any of us in churches arrogating to ourselves claiming rights, offices, insight, and revelations that we do not actually have?

    That bears a great deal on the entire controversy.

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