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Interview with the Community of Christ

Over the last year, I have come across a few bloggers who are members of the Community of Christ (formerly known as RLDS).  I have always been curious about the Community of Christ, and have often wondered the differences in worship between their services, and LDS services.  I wanted to share some of the stuff I’ve learned.

This is a compilation of questions and answers from my blog, as well as a post from Mormon Matters by John Hamer, LDS Myths about Reorganized Latter Day Saints.  The following answers come from John Hamer, Margie Miller, and FireTag, who are all Community of Christ members.  I’ve corrected spelling, and changed the formatting to make this appear to be in an interview format, but it is just an ongoing conversation.  Many people on Mormon Matters and my blog asked these questions.

Do Community of Christ members like to be called Mormons, or some other nickname?

John Hamer,

Community of Christ members use the term “Latter Day Saints” to refer to themselves, but they only rarely use the term “Mormon” to refer to themselves. Generally speaking, only LDS members, fundamentalist Mormons and Strangite Mormons use the term “Mormon” to refer to themselves. The reason for it is that members of the early church used almost always put quotes around the term and said “so-called Mormons” or emphasized that it was outsiders that called the Saints “Mormons.” Then, during the late 19th century, LDS Mormons were reviled nationally because of polygamy. RLDS people who were violently anti-polygamy wanted no share of that opprobrium, so they tended to say things like “we believe in the Book of Mormon but we’re not the Mormons.”

When/Why did the RLDS church change it’s name to the Community of Christ?

John Hamer,

Charles D. Neff, who was one of the more important RLDS apostles in the later 20th century, was actually a convert. He told the story that when he first heard the name of the church, “The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints,” his reaction was, “that is a terrible name for a church.” And he was right. Frankly, the LDS church has a terrible name too.

The church was established in 1830 as the “Church of Christ.” That name was indistinct and was often confused with other churches of the same name, especially the Campbellite Church of Christ (Disciples of Christ). So, in 1834, the name of the church was changed to “Church of the Latter Day Saints.” That change upset members who had come to believe the Campbellite doctrine that God’s true church must have Christ’s name in it, so in 1838 the name was changed to “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.” (The spelling “Latter-day Saints” was used occasionally in the early church, but LDS church only formalized that spelling in Utah.) “Reorganized” was legally added to the name in the late 19th century in order to protect church property from the Federal anti-polygamy legislation.

The change in 2001 to “Community of Christ” was meant to evoke the church’s heritage (by returning close to the original name), while emphasizing one of the core values that Reorganized Latter Day Saints have always drawn from their organization: the special sense of community.

How would you characterize the historical differences between LDS and RLDS?

John Hamer,

RLDS members at their core are dissenters and free-thinkers – the Mormon value they have always put first is free agency. For the RLDS, William Law (the editor of the Nauvoo Expositor) is a hero because he fought against creeping theocracy and corruption in the church, even though it meant taking on Joseph Smith Jr. himself. The people who became LDS, by contrast, were the mass of movement’s obeyers. For the people who joined Brigham Young’s organization, William Law was a Judas. It doesn’t matter that he was exposing terrible abuses of authority because it is of paramount importance to obey the hierarchy, right or wrong: Enter into polygamy because the leader commands it; cease polygamy for the same reason.

FireTag,

The CofChrist was founded by people outside of Nauvoo, and had become pretty suspicious of doctrinal elaborations coming from there well before 1843.

I wonder if I walked into a Community of Christ meeting, how similar or different would it be from an LDS meeting?  I’ve heard you only do communion/sacrament once/month instead of weekly, but I’m wondering what other things are similar/different?

John Hamer,

There is a lot of local control, so meeting styles vary at the congregation level. Talks I’ve listened to seem just as likely to quote the Book of Mormon as any other scripture. Possibly they have the most emphasis on the New Testament, followed by the D&C, with the Book of Mormon and Old Testament taking up the rearguard.

The services I’ve attended are somewhat like an LDS service: there is congregation business, hymns, musical numbers and prayers and there’s a main talk. They do sacrament/communion once a month and they use the same prayer that other Latter Day Saints use, so that’s familiar. Their offeratory is not familiar to LDS service. They can have a little bit of litergy, which is definitely unfamiliar to LDS ears.

FireTag,

[We] do serve open communion…

Worship practices vary widely throughout the church, not only from country to country but from congregation to congregation. Most of our congregations are very small; I haven’t had an actual home church that wasn’t in a converted home or a school since I came to the East Coast 35 years ago. That certainly affects the form of worship; since there are often not enough priesthood (because priesthood calls were in no sense fairly automatic), we’ve long extended worship leadership to non-priesthood.

You will also notice a much greater emphasis on the most recent D&C sections (we’re up to 163 now) and the New Testament than on any works of Joseph Smith. We are certainly Christ-centered in all of our teaching.

There is absolutely no emphasis on the afterlife …The Book of Abraham is not regarded as Scriptural, so there is no doctrine of exaltation or sealing for eternity. There are no special Temple ordinances at all, and we, in fact, encourage the use of our Temple for interdenominational gatherings whenever possible.

Oh, and Bishops are financial specialists, not congregational leaders, and Stakes no longer exist.  You will notice Bishops are not in the administrative line. They are Financial Officers, and pretty well stay in that role.

I have been, but no longer am, the presiding officer of what you would consider a small congregation – in fact so small that I often had to preside over the service, preach the sermon, and teach the Sunday school class on the same morning.

We’ve gone back and forth over the years between the terms “pastor” and “presiding elder”. We’re currently in a “pastor” phase, and in fact often have to share the role among two or three priesthood.

We no longer had the personnel concentrations anywhere but in Independence, and consequently changed the administrative structure to “fields” administered by 1 of the Twelve assisted by a President of a Quorum of Seventy. The equivalent of a Stake President would be a Mission Center President, a High Priest who has administrative control over as large as a several state area in the US and sometimes half a continent overseas.

Is there still an RLDS church on the hill above University Parkway in Provo near the University Mall – or was there ever one there?

John Nilsson, Jan 28th, 2008 at 9:57 am

There was an RLDS Church on the boundary of Provo/Orem in the spot you mention ten years ago. I attended a service there with a couple of my roommates from BYU for a class project on other denominations. It was a fascinating experience, and I interviewed the pastor, an older gentleman who preached from Moroni 9 on the gifts of the spirit. And we were served sparkling grape juice as part of the open communion by an older woman!

John Hamer,

The congregation in Orem is very small, as is the one in Salt Lake. Ogden’s is the largest in Utah, but the church has never had a very strong presence in Utah.

Are local CoC leaders “professional” clergy (i.e., trained, paid ministers) or are they laypersons, as is the case in local LDS wards?

John Hamer,

The Community of Christ has the same general priesthood offices as the LDS church without the Utah-era practice of title inflation. It’s quite normal for adult men and women to be teachers or deacons. Bishops are financial officers at the Stake (“Misson Center”) level, rather than “ward” leaders. They have “Pastors” – a title that was also used in the early church – which is effectively “Branch President” or “Presiding Elder” of a congregation. Most Pastors are volunteer lay ministers. They do have some paid pastors in large congregations. Church headquarters has full-time paid employees like the LDS headquarters. The leadership includes the First Presidency, the Council of the Twelve, the Presiding Bishopric, the Presiding Evangelist (patriarch), the Presidents of the Seventies, the presiding Quorum of High Priests and the Standing (presiding) High Council.

The First Presidency and the Apostles are generally all in their 50s or 60s because they serve for a number of years and then they retire.

Do CoC members observe the Word of Wisdom?

John Hamer,

Some do some don’t; it’s not a test of fellowship. My friend Ron Romig (who is church archivist) doesn’t smoke, drink or drink coffee. However, other Community of Christ friends of mine do drink and drink coffee. (I don’t know any who smoke.) A famous story Jan Shipps tells is that when she met Bob Flanders (a leading RLDS historian) in the 60s, he sat down with her at lunch, bringing a full mug of coffee. She had never seen such a thing among Latter Day Saints, and she was apparently staring. He told her, jokingly, “You’ll observe that I let it cool before drinking it.”

What is your position on the Plan of Salvation/Three Degrees of Glory?

FireTag,

The various glories exist in our belief system, but I actually haven’t heard anyone teach anything about them since I was a teenager.

I know you technically believe in baptism for the dead, but (as I understand it) only do it for family members, and it is downplayed much more than in the LDS church.  Is this correct?

John Hamer,

The Community of Christ does not practice baptism for the dead, although it was not opposed as a practice with the same kind of vehemence as polygamy. The sections of the D&C on baptism for the dead were only removed in the 1970s.

I do think that the RLDS church adopted certain practices to be different from the LDS church and finally eliminating baptism for the dead may be one. Their history on that particular ordinance was mixed. One of Joseph Smith III’s brothers felt very strongly in favor of baptism for the dead. Joseph III was more circumspect and I think he implied that they church might do that again if there were a temple for it. I’ve heard that some congregations were performing the practice (unauthorized) as late as the early 20th century. And up until the building of the temple in Independence, there was some question whether or not it might be included. But when the temple was made without a font, the answer was no.

FireTag,

We, in principle “allow” baptism of the dead in response to direct revelation by the prophet, but no such revelation has been received or expected in 150 years…   We see no need to baptize the dead.

What happens to rejected revelations?  How does the conference decide what is authentic revelation and what is not?

John Hamer,

The D&C sections on Baptism for the Dead were voted by a World Conference resolution which moved them to a “Historical Appendix.” Then a later Conference resolution removed the appendix.

Another example is the doctrine which was called “Supreme Directional Control” – a controversial effort by Prophet/President Frederick M. Smith to centralize authority under the First Presidency. Although the membership approved the doctrine (causing a certain amount of schism), within a decade the policy had effectively been abandoned as the stresses of the Great Depression saw the return of financial power to the Presiding Bishopric.

How do you view temple ordinances?

FireTag,

The Community of Christ believes in the concept of endowment, but does not associate the concept with a particular ceremony. Indeed, the flow of the Spirit through the ordinances of the church is more “organic” than it seems to be in LDS.

What are the financial arrangements that allowed the LDS to build the Nauvoo Temple, and the Community of Christ to build the Independence Temple?

John Hamer,

The LDS church did not make a financial contribution toward the construction of the temple in Independence and the Community of Christ did not contribute financially to the construction of the new Nauvoo Temple. However, both churches swapped land in order to make both temples possible. The RLDS church owned some of the land that the Nauvoo Temple is on and the LDS church owned some of the land that the Independence Temple is on. My understanding is that it was a straight swap and that money didn’t change hands.

Does the Community of Christ view the Book of Mormon as historical?

John Hamer,

I do think people who view the Book of Mormon as a literal history book are in the minority in the Community of Christ. However, these same believers have a generally more sophisticated view of scripture in general. Much of the events of the Bible are not literal histories, from Adam and Noah to the Judean kings. There doesn’t have to have been a real person named Job to make the scripture inspired.

Does the Community of Christ believe they are the “one true church”?

John Hamer,

What the Community of Christ has scrapped is the exclusivist claim to be “the one and only true church.” The church now understands that while its own heritage has been inspired by God, other churches and individuals have also been inspired and are valid.

I’ve always heard that the CoC wants to act more protestant, and every time I’ve heard that by LDS members, it is always meant in disdain (and makes me cringe.)  What do you make of such a comment-is it true that the CoC wants to appear more protestant?

John Hamer,

I’ve said elsewhere that it’s an academic argument whether the LDS church is a Protestant Christian denomination, whether it is part of a new branch of Christianity, or whether it is part of a new world religion altogether. However, because the RLDS church never embraced the King Follet discourse theology, it seems hard to argue that it ever strayed far enough away from the fold to have been anything other than Christian (and frankly Protestant). That’s not a recent change; that dates back to the 1860s.

FireTag,

The church has moved strongly into the “peace and justice” wing of progressive Christianity under the last two prophets. You’ll notice that everywhere.

The church also now sponsors an intern to work with the largest Quaker lobbying group in the country and is trying to actively promote political alliances with progressive denominations and interest groups on legislative agendas within the federal government.

Could you explain a little on how the RLDS church approaches the issue of GLBT persons in comparison to the LDS SLC church?

John Hamer,

I have in my hands the proof copy of a new book, Homosexual Saints: The Community of Christ Experience, edited by William D. Russell with a preface by D. Michael Quinn. You may be interested in getting it: http://www.johnwhitmerbooks.com/books/details_HS.asp

This is a book of 26 personal essays about the lives of gay, lesbian and transgendered RLDS members and their friends, relatives and allies. It also has a detailed historical overview of the evolution of RLDS thinking and practice on the issue.

The back cover has an endorsement from retired Prophet/President Grant McMurray:

“I have always believed that the pathway to understanding the issue of homosexuality is in the telling of personal stories. Decisions about policy and law, whether religious or secular, must first have a human face. Bill Russell’s compilation of personal essays – some courageous, some tragic – provides an excellent resource for the dialogue that has only just begun.”

There is also an endorsement from Apostle Susan Skoor, Dr. Don Compier Dean of the Community of Christ Seminary, and one from Richard Howard, Historian Emeritus of the church. That’s a lineup that you would be unlikely to replicate in an LDS context.

What is the CoC position on polygamy?  Is it still the case that RLDS/CoC members tend to deny that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy?

John Hamer,

In terms of who started polygamy: all of the Community of Christ leaders I know are aware that Joseph Smith Jr. is the originator of polygamy and that’s true for most of the membership I’ve talked to. However, there is a whole segment of members (especially the older generation) who don’t believe the evidence is there.

FireTag,

The Community of Christ position was and remains that Joseph was NOT inspired regarding a practice that was among the key reasons the RLDS, from whom we are descended, would not unite with the LDS who embraced it (whether they did so resentfully or willingly). The change in the CoC position is now to acknowledge that Joseph did indeed wholeheartedly participate in a practice that we continue to condemn.

We hope, for Joseph’s sake, that he DID recognize that he had been deceived before the end of his life and was trying to rid the church of the doctrine.

The Community of Christ asserts, as I’ve said previously, that “monogamy is the basic principle on which Christian married life is built”. The second prophet of the CofC, Joseph Smith III, stated his belief that his father had never been involved in polygamy, but that if evidence ever showed otherwise, he would continue to regard the doctrine as abhorrent while not discounting the truths his father had taught before becoming entangled in the error. That has more-or-less been the official default position until recently…

MH:  In April, the current prophet/president of the Community of Christ made what I view as a startling admission.  Posted on the official CoC website, it says the following,

Prophet/President Stephen Veazey,

“There is no doubt the early Reorganization endeavored to distance Joseph Smith Jr. from the doctrine and practice of plural marriage. Such separation was viewed as critical to church identity and survival.

However, during the past fifty years or so, RLDS/Community of Christ historians cautioned us not to be so certain in our conclusions. Unfortunately, many ignored their findings. Even worse, some attacked their integrity and harassed them and their families.

The vast majority of church historians have persuasively concluded that Joseph Smith Jr. was involved prominently in the doctrine and practice of celestial or plural marriage. There is also some evidence that shortly before his death, Joseph approached William Marks, Nauvoo Stake president, and said that he (Joseph) had “been deceived” in the matter of plural marriage and that every effort must be made to rid the church of the doctrine. Unfortunately, he was killed before anything could be done.

So, where does this leave us? The Reorganized Church has always said that plural marriage in the early church was wrong, regardless of its origins. We need to let it go at that. Reigniting old debates over this issue will be unproductive and only serve to distract us from more important endeavors.”

Is it true that the Community of Christ allowed polygamist members to join in the 1970s?

MH:  Missionary work commenced in India, where polygamy is legal.  FireTag tells that a revelation allowing polygamist Indians to be baptized.

FireTag,

The revelation brought to the church and confirmed by the general conference established for us the principle that “monogamy is the basic principle on which Christian married life is built” and authorized the First Presidency and the Quorum of 12 (Apostles) in their field jurisdictions to interpret that principle as directed by the Spirit.

The implementation ultimately meant that newly baptized polygamous people were allowed to remain in those marriages for the rest of their lives, but were not allowed to take additional marital partners into the marriage. The latter act would be treated as adultery or fornication under church law (I forget which).

This ruling became a schismatic issue for a number of people.

Margie Miller discussed this amazing development on my blog.  In her words,

Community of Christ had a valid reason for allowing that practice to continue in 1970. I was one of the people who took exception to it at the time and made a special trip to Independence to visit with President Shehee about it. I was appalled! He had [asked] me to read a couple of books about the culture beforehand and then gave me an appointment the week before World Conference. I went up determined that I was right.

He told me about the cultural situation. In that culture, if the church had insisted that all but the first wife be put aside, those woman and their children would be ostracized in their culture and would never be able to find another man to marry them.

The Indian men considered virginity to be very important.

That was not long after the war between India and Pakistan. Many women were roaming the countryside after being raped by soldiers. No man would marry them. Many of them had children from these terrible circumstances and the women traveled in groups begging for food for their children and themselves. The UN was trying their best to find men who would marry these women and give their children a home. It was very difficult.

We had gone into their villages with a horticulturist to help them to find a better strain of wheat to grow in hopes of alleviating their poverty. That was very successful and then they were more wealthy then their neighbors. The church wanted them to share their technology with the other villages and had to teach them the principles of sharing in love before that would happen. It was very successful!

A few went back to adding more wives but then the village elders excommunicated them for that. That was the agreement. The church has been very successful in a mission there in East India.

Due to many theological changes in the Community of Christ over the last 30 years, there have been splinter groups, and even a new group calling itself the RLDS.  Can you talk about that?

FireTag,

We have proportionally as many splinter RLDS groups as you have splinter LDS groups. (I know – from where you stand, we’re the largest surviving splinter!) Those who splinter to the cultural right do so over many issues – some of them going back to the original 1844 successor to Joseph Smith, others over Scriptural literalism, others over allowance of polygamous converts on the Indian sub-continent in the 1970’s, others over open communion, the movement to select a prophet who was not a lineal descendent of Joseph Smith, etc.

We have at least a few more equally traumatic issues coming down the road over the next year or two, so we’ll continue to replace cultural conservatives with cultural progressives among our membership within North America.

What’s your impression of the schism with Richard Price and the whole Restoration branch? How much of the membership ultimately broke away? Going forward, are both the CoC and the Restorationists going to remain viable religious bodies as separate entities? And is there much in the way of interaction between them?

John Hamer,

According to historian David Howlett (who was raised Restorationist and converted to the Community of Christ), Restorationists have about 10,000 members worldwide. That compares to perhaps 200,000 Community of Christ members. Richard Price is now in very poor health. I personally don’t think that the Restorationists are viable in the long term (more than 3 or 4 generations), because they don’t have any organization; they’re just independent branches and what causes them to continue? I think there’s more potential in the Remnant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which comes from the same general group (RLDS conservatives) and is headed by a great great grandson of Joseph Smith Jr. They have maybe 3,000 members.

Can you talk about the CoC granting women the priesthood?

FireTag,

The debate at the time was traumatic (and even schismatic) for the church, but I don’t recall the arguments specifically debated. It was finally settled by the church’s acceptance of our Section 156 of the D&C which encompassed direction for the ordination of women in a larger document related to initiation of building our Temple and the purposes it was to have. There was a strongly organized attempt to rescind Conference approval of the revelation at the next world conference, but that was beaten down by about a 4:1 margin on a procedural vote.

Interestingly, 25 years later, those who stayed all pretty much take it for granted; we see the same power of priesthood in men and women, if the gift and talent mix has different emphases.

We …extend opportunities for Evangelist’s Blessings – we found it awkward to refer to women “Patriarchs” or “Matriarchs” – or baby blessings outside the church whenever possible. We regard the sacraments as present helps along the path to follow the Lord, not things to be checked off in this life as requirements for the next.

So, when feminism forced us to reconsider the issue of priesthood for women as an issue of theological principle rather than cultural tradition 30-40 years ago (easier to do since we have no doctrine that focuses on family roles in the hereafter), the church decided it was God’s will that women should be ordained the regular way, and that we’d simply been blind to it all along.

I don’t have general statistics on women in the priesthood, but 1/3 of the Apostles and First Presidency [are women].

Is the Community of Christ trying to distance itself from Joseph Smith?

FireTag,

There does seem to be movement away from tracing our roots to Joseph Smith, and recasting our founding with Joseph III. Expect tremendous controversy in the CoC over the next 18 months as this plays out in the context of official guidance from the current Prophet of which the April 5, 2009 Sermon on CommunityofChrist.org is only the first preparatory word.

Is there anything to the rumors of the CoC having financial difficulties? Haven’t many of the paid jobs (i.e. in the historical department) been eliminated due to lack of money? If so, do you see this as a temporary setback or a sign of things to come?

John Hamer,

I’m confident the Community of Christ will remain viable for the foreseeable future.

There is some basis for rumors of RLDS money troubles. The truth is that the RLDS church has always had more ambition and vision than they have had resources. The Auditorium is an enormous structure for them to have attempted in the 1920s and the onset of the Great Depression was very untimely for their finances.

RLDS doctrine of tithing (10% of increase) has always been significantly less lucrative than the post-Lorenzo Snow LDS church’s practice. The Community of Christ initiated an ambitious plan to have more paid ministerial support in the late 1990s called “transformation 2000.” This increased expenses, but revenues did not increase to cover the costs. The result in the last few years has been a budget deficit, which resulted in downsizing a fair number of jobs at church headquarters. However, the church historian, the director of historic sites, the church archivist and most of the other heritage team positions were not affected. The restructuring had the long-term in mind. The fact is that a single Community of Christ donor gave the church $50 million just a couple years ago.

Is the Community of Christ really losing members?  If so, what are the prospects for future growth?

FireTag,

My statements [below] are mine, and do not represent the policy of the church in any way. The church is seeking to revitalize its institutions, but I do not believe that is what God wants us to concentrate on doing.

When you folks went west to Salt Lake, we had nowhere to go without embracing doctrines like polygamy that we could NOT, in good conscience, embrace. Left behind, our movement became coupled to our “gentile” communities in a way that yours never did until you were large enough to reenter at least partially on your own terms.

And that coupling means we can’t progress very far spiritually unless we bring the ENTIRE culture along with us at the same time. Resources leaked into and out of the church – to family, to neighborhood, to profession, to social or political activity – in whatever way maintained the spiritual “water level” between the church community and larger society.

By focusing on “growing the church” we’re like the tail trying to get big enough to wag the dog. The only way the tail gets bigger is for the dog to get bigger, and the tail is never going to get to be big enough to wag the dog. In fact, as shown by trends across the entire religious “mainstream” (liberal) denominations, the society since post-WW2 has not been “eating well” spiritually, and the tail is starving.

…God shows us things, whether through scientific study (in my case) or through inspiration in order that we can act to further His will. In this case, if the disease is in the dog, we’ve got to get the medicine into the dog and stop worrying about maintaining the tail. My church needs a lot of us working out of the church and in the society because that’s where God is deciding the future of my church.

MH:  Regarding the tail wagging the dog, it seems to me that you are saying that the CoC is the tail, and North American society as a whole is the dog. The CoC is trying to become more mainstream (liberal) in order to effect a positive change in North American society. This could mean that the tail gets quite sick and quits growing, but in order to do God’s will, we all have to get the dog better, and then the tail will be more healthy. So, in a sense, the CoC is trying to get more in line with mainstream North American society, and then the tail will start growing again. (Of course, the tail may need to be amputated in the process of healing the dog too, so there is a risk here.) Is this correct?

FireTag,

We have to change the ENTIRE culture toward God before we can grow, not just the Christian church, but we keep thinking we can revitalize the church and THEN change the society from a position of greater strength.

The equations that govern our growth say that cannot happen. If society doesn’t change, we can’t grow to GET to a position of strength to change the society. But if society becomes less receptive to our message, as it did 50 years ago, we can’t sustain ourselves and rapidly decline. That’s the paradox we have to find a way around.

I believe our continued value as a corporate entity to the work of the Lord at this point in history involves the church supporting our people in dispersing out of our “corporation” and moving wholeheartedly into participation in the multiple, cross-cutting communities that make up a modern society. This is almost like the early Christians moving into the catacombs of Rome where they could refresh themselves beneath Rome’s notice, yet continue to provide enriching ministry to their neighbors in their daily lives as God opened doors. None of the turmoil of the Empire could ever dig them out of the society once they were so dispersed, and these “meek of the earth” did inherit the Empire.

In our time, such distributed efforts will send us into fellowships with groups made up of differing Christian, non-Christian, and/or secular backgrounds. The unity or preservation of our faith community and its institutions will no longer be primary, for the time has come for many of us to expend ourselves. Should that not be enough to fulfill our part in the mission of transforming the world, then we can best hope that God will grant us the opportunity to prepare the path for the work of our successors, and perhaps even allow the youngest of us to participate in the movement of our successors.

For our denomination to adapt the gospel faithfully in our cultural setting, and hopefully even to thrive, requires that we become a denomination that glories in sending people OUT of our denomination, to where God calls them to best serve in the culture.

MH:  Wow FireTag, it sounds to me like the church is working toward its own extinction. This must be quite unsettling to the general membership. I think your statement is quite troubling.  So you’re saying that the CoC has 2 options for growth: (1) society needs to change to be more receptive to the CoC message, or (2) the CoC needs to get big enough to enact change in society. So, as I understand it, the CoC is going with option 1 because option 2 hasn’t worked very well in the past. So, as a way to accomplish option 1, the CoC is trying to work with more Protestant and/or governmental organizations (through world peace initiatives) to facilitate option 1. Is this correct?

FireTag,

I am saying option 1 is the only option for our growth. Period.

We have to give up worrying about growing or shrinking and worry only about how we build peace and justice. If we build peace and justice, I’m not sure God cares whether we shrink or grow. Remember, the Community of Christ no longer argues it is the “one true church”, so OUR growth shouldn’t be that important to us if growth stops being a means to a greater divine purpose. Christian institutions, like individual Christians, have no guarantee they won’t be asked to give up their lives for the Lord.

The church is now torn by competing drives. Our rhetoric says we should make decisions as if we will build peace and justice, whatever the cost. Our emotions haven’t caught up with our rhetoric, so we spend much of our time as an institution still futilely (and perhaps fearfully) trying to make option 2 work.

And finally, on a lighter note, is Bruce Jenner Graceland College’s most famous graduate? Was he ever interested in the RLDS church?

John Hamer,

As far as Bruce Jenner goes, I don’t think he was ever tempted to convert. I think the most famous non-LDS Mormon is Alice Cooper – who was born and raised Bickertonite.  🙂

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99 comments on “Interview with the Community of Christ

  1. I wonder, actually, how many former Mormons the CofC attracts. Indeed, it seems like a very attractive alternative to those within the LDS faith who appreciate a lot of the Mormon tradition, but feel more at home with a more liberal, progressive interpretation of things. For example, I think that a lot of Mormons (like myself) have a really hard time reconciling things like polygamy and if we can’t accept it as divine revelation, it leads to other issues in need of being reconciled in our hearts and minds. Like MH, I don’t think I’d be comfortable with everything in the CofC, but I really respect the approach it takes.

  2. “if John or Margie expressed some of their views about the BoM, I would expect at least a disfellowshipping, if not excommunication in the LDS church, yet they seem to be embraced in the CoC rather well.”

    I have belonged to John Whitmer Historical association ever since it’s inception. In all those years, I have heard many of the leadership of the church give presentations and many of them have been every bit as controversial as mine.

    I have never even been considered for either silence or excommunication. I have been a pastor for years. I did have a non attending Elder silenced for using his license from the Community of Christ to preach in another church for money.

    I have also met many ex-LDS who have converted to Community of Christ because there they find the best of two worlds. I have met one man who returned to the LDS because he considered Community of Christ too liberal.

    What I love about the Community of Christ, besides the wonderful fellowship, is the church’s emphasis on it’s members working out their own spiritual walk. When Grant McMurray was president of the church, the church’s website was quite specific about that with a broad disclaimer. It has since been changed some.

    One of my favorite stories from Shehee’s experience is his story of a return visit to India just before his retirement. While there, he ran onto one of the members at church who had been excommunicated for taking another wife after his baptism. He called aside the pastor there and said, “I thought you excommunicated him for further polygamy?” “Yes”, said the pastor, “we did. But he will not stop coming.”

    That’s a testament to the fellowship.

    I have presently been studying the development of the New Testament and the early Christian Church. I find that fascinating.

    Ron Dawbarn and I have been working on a book about the Book of Mormon origins and gave a presentation on our progress last year at Restoration Studies Symposium.

  3. I’m not sure why John hasn’t commented for a few days, but I did some digging, and this is what he wrote on his user page at Wikipedia.

    I’m not a member of any of the Latter Day Saint denominations, but I do consider myself something of a “cultural Mormon” as my ancestors joined 7 generations ago. Early family members had connections with the Brighamites, Rigdonites, Strangites and Whitmerites. 6 generations ago, my great great great grandfather (who was a childhood playmate in Nauvoo of both Joseph F. Smith and Joseph Smith III) left Mormonism. But members of my family have rejoined and left and rejoined and left again in the intervening generations down to me, where my mother is practicing LDS and my father is former Mormon convert turned Presbyterian. I was raised in the LDS church (but not in the Mormon cultural zone). I wasn’t religiously inclined and I decided that being a practing member wasn’t for me by the time I was 18 (I’m now 35). I have friends and family who are practicing members of the LDS church and lots of friends in the Community of Christ, as well as the Restoration RLDS movement, and even a few Strangites.

    See the full thing at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:John_Hamer

    (And don’t confuse him with the ice skater of the same name, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Hamer )

  4. Margie, thanks for sharing your thoughts. When I went to Sunstone last year, I remember a talk by Lavina Fielding Anderson “Why I stay.” She was one of the “September Six” who were excommunicated in 1991. She still attends the LDS church every week.

  5. John is in Kirtland this weekend for something, and said he’d be in NY on vacation next week.

    He’s been writing extensively on the Saint’s Herald blog this week, as he puts it, “trying to talk his liberal brethren down from the ledge”. It relates to the question Bored in Vermeil asked on your Mormon Matters transfer of this thread. Tune in over there if you want to be a fly on the wall, or even join in yourself.

  6. Sorry that I haven’t been around. Like FireTag mentioned, I was in Kirtland, then I took a week off in New York. Now I’ve been back home a week and buried by work.

    Although the wikipedia bio is 4 years out of date (I’m now 39! eek!), it’s correct that I’m not a member of any of the churches. I was raised LDS as a child, but did not consider myself a member from adulthood on. (I was never endowed and never went on an LDS mission).

    I didn’t correct MH on the Community of Christ membership thing because I am very closely associated with the Community of Christ. So it’s correct to say that I’m not, at present, technically a member of the Community of Christ, but I am associated with the church in a way that is functionally akin to membership. It’s confusing, so I don’t mind the confusion.

  7. Thanks for checking in John. This has been one of my most popular posts of late.

  8. Thanks for this website. I found it enlighting. My family was a convert from Baptist to LDS when I was a small child in Texas. As a committed memebr I cannot understand the RLDS view or CoC view and wonder if CoC members feel uncertain, but remain due to family or a lot of faith?

  9. Mark, thanks for stopping by. Just like with any religion, I suspect that some members remain due to family, while others fervently believe in their faith.

  10. Mark:

    Can you clarify if you mean you can’t understand WHAT we believe, or if you mean you don’t understand WHY we believe it?

  11. Interesting Comments from Matt Bolton’s blog:
    http://blog.sustainablegood.org/sustainable_good/

    —–
    Over the last couple of months I have had a series of conversations with Community of Christ young adults in the US and UK who over and over again echoed each others’ painful stories of growing alienation with the church.

    Without wishing to rely on crude stereotypes, let me sketch a caricature of this group of people, of which I consider myself a member.

    They are generally white, middle class and in their 20s and 30s. Many went to Graceland University, the church college, and during that time began to question and critically analyze their faith. They realized many of the treasured myths, which rooted their grandparents’ and parents’ faith, were historically inaccurate or even completely false. By and large, they have little or no interest in using the Book of Mormon and are embarrassed by the church’s early shared history with the Mormons. Compared with previous generations they have a more forgiving/lax/open attitudes toward the use of alcohol, sex before marriage and homosexuality.

    Many of them are involved in vocations of social service or politics. They believe strongly that their spirituality and involvement in calling for social justice are mutually enforcing. But they have not found many outlets for this passion in their church, either at the congregational or HQ level. So they have taken their practical spirituality into their hands, working as journalists, medical professionals, social workers, campaigners, political aides and international aid workers. They give little money to the church, as a result of their frustration with it, but are actually very generous with time, money and talent, giving to organizations and causes in which they strongly believe.

    Almost all have had a bad experience of being ignored, shut down, underutilized and underappreciated at the congregational level. As a result, many of them, including myself, no longer regularly attend a Community of Christ congregation. The depth of pain and alienation is very real, for they often want to leave the church, but actually feel they cannot, because it is part of who they are. They feel an ‘ethnic affiliation’ with the church, having grown up in families with generations of history in the church…

    ——

    I think I know exactly where he’s coming from.
    I have often felt exactly the same, except that I’m not in
    my “20s and 30s.”

    Dale R. Broadhurst

  12. I’m going back to this thread to let you know about an opportunity to observe if you wish how the process of canonization works in the CofChrist, The cghurch announced yesterday that President Veazey will publicly announce inspired counsel to the church in a webcast on January 17, 2010, so that it can be reviewed and tested by the people before World Conference in April.

    I expect this counsel will be formally presented to the conference for inclusion in the CofChrist D&C as Section 164. Its subject matter will be conditions of membership (e.g., whether other Christians may join the church without being rebaptized.) It may also deal with issues of how the church will treat gay rights in regard to preasthood authority in jurisdictions where gay marriage has been legalized (an issue that has exploded in the past several months because a number of fields in North America and Australia have forced legislation on this issue to the conference agenda). Hopefully, it may provide guidance on issues the church ought to be considering but hasn’t noticed as well.

    As LDS, you will not be directly effected, of course, but you may find it interesting.

  13. FireTag,

    That sounds interesting. As we get closer to the date, could you write up a guest post in anticipation of the event, as well as a summary of it after the meeting? I could get you a guest post at Mormon Matters, and I am sure many would find your perspective interesting.

  14. I can write up a post as soon as there is a written text of the document published on the web, which will be sometime between Jamuary 18 and Feb 1. (I have a better chance of seeing your conferences on my cable system than I have of getting my own webcasts from our temple without glitches and gaps, so I better plan to work from the written text.

    I can also do a preview of how the process will work in late March, but business sessions are not webcast at all, so it’ll take a couple of days until minutes are published to know what happened — but the order in which resolutions are called up on the agenda will tell a lot. (Conference is a full week.)

  15. great discussion-by the way,alice cooper was a member of the bickertonite church but was essentially dismissed years ago.He attends a Methodist church now as his wife is Methodist.His father was a pastor in the Bickertonite Church of Christ and his grandfather was a member of its counsel of twelve.Basically the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ is two churches-the traditional RLDS which is conservative and the community of christ which is liberal-the liberal activists control most of the church now unfortunately ,although most members of the church tend to be conservative/RLDS in their thoughts in the US where half the church membership is.There are prayers for peace at the world church every day in Independence but not prayers for freedom.Grant Mcmurray was a staunch liberal activist and the first non Smith and non America President.He of course resigned with little explanation

  16. Richard:

    I hope you’ll take a look at the post MH put up at Mormon Matters “Canonizing Modern Revelation: A Tourist Guide”. You certainly seem to represent the conservative demographic that is one of those discussed there. I will be very interested in reading your comments after the document is issued this weekend — whatever the document says.

    In any event, I fear that one of those demographics has been significantly reduced this week. The Community of Christ has about 400 congregations in Haiti, and only on the order of a thousand congregations in North America. I fear we may have lost 1-2 percent (or even more) of the membership of the entire church if the six-figure casualty estimates in Haiti prove correct.

  17. Whoops! Flipped a denominator. Make that 1/2 to 1 percent.

  18. This was just posted on the CofChrist website:

    Apostle Bunda Chibwe and Executive Assistant Steve Graffeo were able to speak with Michel Rosier, Haiti Mission Centre Financial Officer this morning on the phone. “Michel reported to us that his home is destroyed and he and his family are living in the street. Renand Hilaire, our Mission Center President and 3 of his children sustained injuries when their home was destroyed and they too are living in the street,” said Graffeo.

    We have been able to determine that most of the damage and destruction has occurred within the Department of the West. Community of Christ has more than 10,000 members in this area along with 40 churches and 20 schools.

    “At this time we know that the school in Petionville is completely destroyed and the church standing near the school has sustained major damage,” said Graffeo. “We have confirmed the deaths of 7 church members.” He continued, “On a more hopeful note, we learned that the school had just released all the children for the day minutes before the earthquake hit, hopefully enabling the children to be out of the building before it collapsed.”

    Apostle Chibwe was also able to speak with Faustin Charlestin, a world church minister in Haiti, on the phone last night. Faustin’s home has been completely leveled and he and his family are living in the only church still standing in Croix de Bouquet. He was deeply moved to hear from Apostle Chibwe and to know members around the world are praying for him and his people.

    “When I asked Faustin how the people were doing, he said the church is packed with people who have no where else to go. Then he shouted, ‘Praise be to God’ and then I heard a chorus of voices in the background shout back to him, ‘Praise to the Lord, Praise to the Lord,'” said Chibwe. “And then I heard singing. In my African heritage, when a man cries it is seen as a sign of weakness but when I heard that singing tears started dropping from my eyes. I wondered how these people who have lost so much could still praise the Lord at a time like this. Their faith has touched me deeply.”

    Chibwe continued, “When I asked Faustin how we could help he replied immediately, ‘Everything is destroyed, there are dead bodies everywhere. Continue to pray for us. We need prayer.'”

  19. Christ was interviwed a few days ago in the US TV. Alleluya! Glory to the Lord! Our eldest brother is with us again, and He will take us to the House of the Father! It is time to rejoice because the Day of Days, the Day of Declaration is coming soon!

  20. Richard, thanks for your thoughts on Alice Cooper. FireTag, thank for the info on Haiti. It is such a catastrophe there, and it’s good to hear your church has mobilized to help.

  21. I am 52 yrs old, raised rlds, converted to lds in 1999. The rlds proclaimed that they had the “true” latter day saint religion and utah mormonism was false, as well as having a lineal descendant of joseph smith. Since both points have been abandoned, what is the main purpose of the coc’s continued existence?

    Does the rlds still regard its church president as a Prophet? i’m not referring to infallibility, but grant mcmurray once stated the he was uncomfortable with the term “prophet, seer and revelator”. He resigned his calling, as did wallce b. smith and w. wallace smith. In addition, rlds history stated frederick m. smith tried to resign but the conference wouldn’t accept it, and early in joseph smith III’s leadership a dissatisfied segment of the church tried to have him replaced by one of his brothers, david h. smith. So five out of seven rlds “prophets” have had a crisis of confidence, either within or without. Not a very good track record!

  22. How many coc members know that the hymn “We thank thee O God for a Prophet” is originally a Utah Mormon hymn? I didn’t until I converted to lds and saw it in the hymnbook, knowing that the lds church would not include a rlds hymn in their canon. Also I have sung old rlds hymns as solos in lds services with positive reactions; where in the coc they would be rejected as politically incorrect

  23. Mark:

    I have grown up enjoying many hymns by early church leaders such as Parley P. Pratt. I consider it part of our common Restoration heritage and am grateful for it, just as I am grateful for the great hymns of Wesley’s Methodism, the great classical religious music of German Protestantism, the early litergical music of Catholocism, and the lyrics from the Jewish psalms that also makes up so much of our hymnbook. In fact, I find contemporary Christian almums to be more worshipful than many hymns.

    ALL RLDS/CofChrist prophets have always had the right under their authority as Prophet to name their successor and pass on the “mantle” as led by God’s spirit. Grant’s resignation was unusual only in that he did not name a successor but deferred to the 12 to do so. I doubt we’ll ever again have an aged prophet OR apostle; our internal financial structure is no longer set up to handle deferred retirements, but perhaps we’ll have Apostles who are volunteers.

    I’m happy you’ve found a church home that better suits you than did the RLDS. We’ll of course be happy to accept any who need a home within the Restoration that is not Utah Mormon. Intra-conversion between our denominations is a pretty common phenomenon.

  24. I’m not sure, but would like to know how many rlds convert to the lds church. In our local ward we have 5 adults who were rlds and 2 more who have since moved. When my family became lds my aunt said “I’d rather be catholic than mormon”. I thought “and give up all of your restoration beliefs”? That left me puzzled.

  25. @Mark Wiser
    My oldest brother, upon my coversion from rlds to lds said “I just can’t leave the church our parents raised us in.” I responded that in the mormon church I have more of the teachings we grew up with than he does in the rlds today.

  26. @Margie Miller
    I found, while still a member of the rlds church, that members could reject doctrine /priciples considered traditional or conservative and remain in good standing; but if they rejected modern doctrine/priciples they were subject to disciplinary action. An elderly uncle who was an rlds deacon said during his priesthood review that he struggled with the idea of women’s ordination was told “consider yourself silenced” It was lated withdrawn when my uncle informed higher authorities.

  27. Mark:

    Now that I understand your background a little better, I’ll amplify. The number of conservative RLDS (and I’m assuming you are originally from a Mississippi Branch from the name of the musical group you mentioned being part of on my blog) who became Utah Mormon around the time women were ordained to the Priesthood is something I can’t estimate with any precision. However, I’m quite confident that the number is smaller than those who joined the independent Restoration Branches, which have perhaps as many as 20,000 members, I imagine. You can get more accurate information by searching for that term in association with RLDS.

    Not all such branches are conservative — MH even had someone show up here whose disputes with the church were more from the liberal side and who traced his origin to a single branch from pre-1844, as I recall. But those Restoration Branches are more like those of the church of your youth than either LDS or Community of Christ.

    And, yes, church authorities in the period of the 80’s did come down harder on fundamentalists than they do today. I guess wearing the bulletproof vests got to people after awhile, if that’s not an urban legend.

  28. I’m back! The rlds world conference is a couple of weeks away and I’d like to know if and where daily conference updates can be found on the web. Also, a question about the name change, which happened after we became lds. At the 1990 conference a resolution on a church name change was defeated, but I remember among several suggestions the most promising was “Restored Church of Jesus Christ”. I fact some areas of the church were already using it. Any idea why it wasn’t officially adopted?

  29. The general Community of Christ website is at http://www.cofchrist.org and conference proceedings will figure prominently on the home page menu. There is already a great deal up related to conference legislation and the proposed Section 164 (counsel). Additional proposed policy guidelines related to the Section, to become effective if approved, should be posted this coming week.Minutes of legislative sessions are usually posted within 36 hours of the sessions, depending on staff availability.

    Community of Christ came down as a recommendation of the leadership and was adopted by the Conference in the early 90’s. It was not an issue I followed closely, so I’d have to google it to find out more.

  30. Mark, I haven’t commented much but I welcome your participation here. FireTag and I have discussed the new section 164 of their version of the D&C. They will tackle the issue of gay marriage and baptism. FireTag previuosly posted about this at Mormon Matters. Click here is the post. I look forward to hearing more about the vote.

  31. @Mormon Heretic
    Thanks for the post. I read the proposed “inspired counsel” as well as the comments concerning. One thing seemed to be missing in the comments on open baptism; this issue was addressed in April 1830 with lds section 22 (rlds 20). I quote rlds author F. Henry Edwards…”many persons….wished to become members if they could do so without severing the church connections they already had…closely akin to that in the apostolic church when interested jews wanted to help as long as they could do so and still remain jews”. When I was rlds a college friend asked me why he would have to be baptised if he converted? I answered that if he wished to join, logically he would believe the church had a higher spiritual power than what he was currently part of and he would desire to partake fully. And I agree with comments made that this would cause the slippery slope of accepting infant baptisms, baptism by sprinkling etc. etc.

  32. Mark:

    In regard to your earlier question, the name change was made in 2001 under the “administration” of Grant McMurray as Prophet. The gap of several years between the 1990 suggestion and eventual adoption suggests there was something that just didn’t feel right about the earlier suggestions to either liberals or conservatives, but “Community of Christ” was accepted without much dispute. (I still have no idea whether a name change was really our most important issue then, but it does seem to be part of a trajectory toward a “non-denominational” denomination, doesn’t it?

  33. Firetag:

    You are absolutely right. We had four rlds branches in south Ms. at the time of the name change (pascagoula branch was not rebuilt after katrina). The local newspaper’s church directory used to list them under “latter day saints” but has since categorized them as “non-denominational”

  34. Mark:

    The third Q&A section on implementation of the counsel went up earlier today here. It does accept baptism from other denoms by sprinking or pouring, although when we baptize it will be by immersion after the age of accountability. Confirmation will be performed by Mel priesthood after a lengthy period of post-baptism training specific to the CofChrist.

    It’s also necessary to read the fine print carefully to see what is not explicitly said. Offices that can perform confirmation are explicitly listed. Offices that may perform baptism are NOT listed, even in a statement that includes a number of other procedural requirements. Does that mean that the church will now allow baptism by teachers and deacons, under the principle that we will accept baptism (but not OTHER sacraments) performed by other denominations? And I’ll have to read it several more times to try and figure out what it says about infant baptisms performed by other denominations. Implementation will be effective 9/1/11.

    As to gay issues, it is clear that the Presidency will rule their discussion at World Conference out of order. Logistically, even if they moved as rapidly as possible, no national conference could be organized prior to thespring of 2012, and the answers make it pretty clear that they will call no such conference if they don’t think there is consensus in North American culture by then.

    That kind of consensus is a long way off.

    MH:

    I guess I can start drafting the MM post now!

  35. Thank you for this thread, which has been very informative and thought-provoking. I have a question about Community of Christ doctrine. You seem to be very focused on carrying on Jesus’ mission of peace, justice, and relief of suffering. I think this is wonderful. After all, this is really what Jesus did during his ministry. This is basically how he spent all his time. But this very strong focus seems to push aside in a way the doctrine of atonement. I’m not saying Community of Christ doesn’t believe in Jesus’ atonement and its importance in salvation. But similar to the deemphasis of the Book of Mormon, the doctrine of salvation through Jesus’ atonement seems to be very deemphasized. In fact, in my limited exposure to Community of Christ, I don’t recall it being mentioned at all. Could someone please comment on this?

  36. butch, welcome. firetag is the resident expert on the community of christ, so he will be the best one to answer your question, but I am curious why you are coming to the conclusion that the atonement is deemphasized. from my interactions with firetag, I don’t get that impression at all.

  37. Butch:

    I think your comment is quite accurate. We tend not to think about the afterlife at all, although we have a very mainstream Protestant theological statement in our basic beliefs at

    http://www.cofchrist.org/OurFaith/christology.asp .

    We even have all the revelations about the various glories just as the LDS do. But the afterlife is out of sight, out of mind.

  38. Hmmm, I wonder if we are using the same terminology. I don’t equate “atonement” with “afterlife.” Atonement isn’t mentioned on that link FireTag. I’m not even sure I have a good definition of atonement–perhaps Butch can provide one. When I look at the atonement, I think it means that Christ paid for our sins so that we can live with the Father if we accept Jesus. Yes, Perhaps the afterlife (and judgment) can be included here, but I’m not relating atonement with afterlife so much as it is about Christ making it possible that we aren’t all going to Hell as the Book of Mormon says would happen if Jesus didn’t succeed.

  39. Thank you for your responses. Thank you for providing the link about Community of Christ christology, FireTag. I was really touched by it. The doctrine of the atonement is certainly there. But as you said, listening to Community of Christ sermons, the doctrine of atonement is not often brought out explicitly. In the LDS church, we focus quite a bit on Jesus’ atonement and how to “make it active” in our lives, how to “come unto Christ,” how to develop Christ-like attributes, and we make service a part of this. Also, the idea of developing one’s personal relationship with the Lord is something that seems to cycle in popularity among LDS church members; there seems to be somewhat of a tendency against the idea among “the Brethren,” and I am always trying to figure out why that is….

    In comparison, Community of Christ christians seem to focus very heavily on a “peace and justice” message and ministry. Doing good as Jesus did, both on an individual/interpersonal level as well as on an institutional/worldwide level, is really their way of doing what we LDS talk about so much. I really admire that. Of course, the LDS people and church also do a lot of good in their communities and in the world, but I don’t think it is our principle focus, as it seems to be in Community of Christ.

    MH, I agree that the LDS teaching of the atonement goes beyond discussions of the afterlife. In my reading of the scriptures, Jesus’ infinite atonement is active from the fall of Adam until the redemption of all mankind. It is the instrumentality through which God’s grace is made available to each and every soul throughout time, not just for salvation in the afterlife, but also for salvation in the here and now, for forgiveness of sin, but also for life itself, the ability to move and think and breathe and act. But theologically speaking, the thing that makes an atonement essential as part of a belief system is indeed the afterlife. So, I guess if you take away the focus on the afterlife, then it is kind of natural for the doctrine of the atonement to go behind the scenes, so to speak, in the dialogue.

    I really enjoy learning from other faiths, and in particular, my recent exposure to Community of Christ has really helped me understand some things and think some new thoughts, so I thank you MH and FireTag (as well as John and Margie) for helping make this possible.

  40. I’d like to clarify something I wrote. A doctrine of atonement through a vicarious savior is not essential for a doctrine of salvation in the afterlife. Many non-christian religions and even some christian religions teach that expiation through a divine savior is not needed. Of course, the Book of Mormon condemns this doctrine strongly. Amasa Lyman, an LDS apostle, was excommunicated for teaching that the atonement was not part of the plan of salvation. However, going back to why a deemphasis on the afterlife would lead to a deemphasis on the atonement, the two are very strongly linked in christian tradition, and this explains why one can reasonably explain, as FireTag does, a deemphasis on the doctrine of atonement stemming from a deemphasis on teaching about the afterlife.

  41. MH:

    Another aspect of this is that the CofChrist views the Atonement as unimaginally healing medicine rather than in the sense of someone has to pay the fine. Our view of all of the sacraments comes from this worldview as well, which, I guess, also leads to a deemphasis on sealings, etc. as salvation requirements.

  42. Although it is commonly taught in the LDS church by both the members and “the Brethren”, I feel the debtor model of the atonement is very limited. You can only take it so far before you start to encounter problems. The only thing it really does well is introduce the idea of a conflict between justice and mercy.

    An alternative model that I personally have found to be helpful is the Christus Victor model. My understanding is that this model frames Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection as an ultimate struggle against and victory over sin, death, and all things evil.

    FireTag, could you elaborate on “unimaginably healing medicine”? I’m very interested in alternative models of the atonement. Also, it occurs to me that Community of Christ doctrine might not agree about the conflict or tension between God’s justice and mercy. In LDS theology, God is kind of in a bind, because his perfect justice causes him to not be able to simply excuse sin, while his perfect mercy is manifest in his desire to save his children. What is the Community of Christ take on this? And if you’ve got time, how about your ideas on Satan?

  43. Butch:

    As you describe it, the Christus Victor model certainly seems to describe the theological statement in the christology link I provided above. How that victory comes about is NOT described in that model; the healing medicine is a description of the very real, human-behavior-modifying presence of Jesus in the current events of the world which we emphasize (in practice) as our mechanism.

    I should distinguish here between my personal theology and CofChrist theology. On this subject I’m not the best one to ask. My training as a physicist leads me to picture the relationship between the human body and the human spirit very differently than either Mormon or non-Mormon Christians picture it. Rather than picturing one body and one spirit for each of us, I think my spirit is a collective entity arising from interaction among a literally infinite number of copies and variations of me — the way my mind arises from the interactions of huge numbers of neurons within my body.

    Conventional theology is hard to translate into such terms, though I think such translation is called for by what science is telling us.

  44. […] spoke with John after his presentation, and thanked him for participating on my blog here with the Interview with the Community of Christ.  He said that he blogs over at By Common Consent, and said he has had a request to comment on […]

  45. Dear brother ,
    Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ who left heavenly throne and came down here to die for us .We honour and glorify Him. Let me take this chance to thank you and your church .I request to work with you in Christ .Please pray for me and my family ,church fellow ,pastors and our poor people and young orphans who are among us .
    Thank you and may God bless you and the saints.
    Yours Faithfully ,

    Pastor Julius Nyabuto

  46. @mark gibson
    The hym “we thank thee Oh God
    for a propht” was writen for the deacation of the kertland tempel. Is that lds? dose it mater? If the C oc C sing it shouldn’t mater at all if it is there hymm book. The Hymm is part of the history of the Resroration and if you abject then sing somthing eles. F J Toney: by the way the Kertland Tempel belongs to and is matained by The Comunity of Christ.

  47. It is true that Community of Christ emphasizes building community and peace and justice. We seldom hear any mention of atonement except in the context of “at one with”. There is very little concern with an afterlife. Jesus message, according to Community of Christ was one of building God’s Empire on earth. We are most concerned about this life…it’s quality, service to others and building community, etc.

  48. I am a member of the Cof C (RLDS) and attend the original RLDS church in Plano, IL. I do not believe that Joseph Jr. ever participated in polygamy himself nor can I believe that he encouraged the idea since it is evident in the original D & C that he have revelations against such practice. That and the fact that if he had, I believe Emma herself would have been part of the mob that offed him in Carthage. 🙂 Joseph III spent a great deal of his life following up on every claim of anyone of such a marriage to his father and found no evidence to substantiate any. I believe that the early church was growing so fast that many differing ideas of different groups were allowed to join, some who were involved in polygamy, to the original church’s (which the RLDS was declared in court) detriment. Brigham Young was obviously in favor of the practice wholeheartedly. Since Joseph III was ordained by his father to be the next Predident of the church, Brigham Young and the current LDS are the offshoot not the other way around. Brigham Young was the first president and founder of the current LDS church, NOT Joseph Jr. as the practices he instituted were NOT sanctioned by Joseph Jr. as well as original doctrine and books were changed once Brigham Young led followers out west. Personally, and this is no reflection on the current LDS people, from what I have read and learned of Brigham Young he was an evil, ego-driven man who even participated in a massacre of innocent people. I believe the Bible says “by their fruits ye shall know them”. To me, murder sanctioned by a so-called leader of Christians is a fruit that is rotten to the core. That, plus the fact that all the young Mormon missionaries I have met, once told about our church, are not allowed by their Bishop to return, only goes to show the control under which the current LDS reside and sheeplike qualities of the current Mormon population. We raise our children to be free thinkers and researchers of ALL information. I have heard it said in our congregations many times that ALL good spiritual books are scriptural. Again, I believe that by their fruits you will know them so if you have no free thought how are you allowed to discern?

  49. RLDSer:

    I wish it was that simple, because I was taught the same thing when I was growing up. But even the CofChrist Presidency no longer believes that JS was NOT involved. They will only go so far as saying there is some evidence that JS recognized he had been deceived and was trying to reverse what had happened before he was killed. You can check out the CofChrist website and go to the First Presidency page and see statements to that effect since the 2010 World Conference.

    In general, there are substantial differences in mindset between those comfortable in the CofChrist today, and those who identify more closely with the RLDS tradition. And BY did not bring the original poison into the Restoration tree.

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