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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. Thanks for this MH.

    I’d add two comments, one about priesthood, and the other about the use of Scripture.

    The CofChrist tends to view the various priesthood offices more as ministerial specialties and less as stepping stones in ministerial development toward High Priest. The age-independence of the priesthood will be almost as noticable to a visiting LDS as will the presense of women priesthood. As society has become less rigidly hierarchial over the past several decades, we’ve become more comfortable about individuals moving into the callings that reflect their lifelong gifts relatively quickly: a teacher may spend his/her life becoming ever more expert at interpersonal peace-making rather than “graduating” to priest. My father spent his entire life as a deacon; my daughter was ordained to High Priest at an age so young she actually got “carded” when she started to walk into the HP quorum meeting at World Conference.

    The other thing I wanted to note, is that you won’t be able to find anything in the Scriptures. The verse and chapter structure of the BofM will be unrecognizable to you, even though the text is the same: Alma, for example, is compressed into 30 chapters. The order of the D&C Sections, quite apart from the fact that we continue to add sections with great regularity, will be different enough to be frustrating, and almost all emphasis will be on the most recent sections. (Older D&C sections and the BofM will most often be quoted in the context of supporting the newer revelations.) The worship will probably use a modern Bible translation rather than the KJV or even JS’s translation.

    As to the historicity of the Book of Mormon, well John and I are still debating that one on MH’s posts on Mormon Matters.

  2. Wow, I feel like I was sitting down in your living room for that, MH. Thanks for compiling that “interview.” If you or anyone want to ask followups, I’ll monitor the comments.

  3. “I think the most famous non-LDS Mormon is Alice Cooper – who was born and raised Bickertonite”

    This is absolutely false. Alice Cooper has never in any way been involved with any LDS organization of any kind, whether the mainstream LDS or any offshoots or similar organizations. As to “Bickertonite,” I cannot say. But I am absolutely certain that he has never had any involvement of any kind with any LDS organization or any organization which traces any of his roots to the founding or founders of the LDS. He had a teacher in his public school in Arizona who was LDS, who later retired to Utah, and had been known to have taught Alice Cooper, but it was in his professional capacity as a public school teacher, and not in any way anything to do with religious instruction. That is the cause of the confusion. Please correct and update your information

  4. I had an experience back in the middle 90’s that may have led eventually to the name change.

    I had read a book in connection with my work called “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind” and became quite convinced that one of the reasons the church had not grown was it’s name. The book tells about product after product that were excellent products but did not survive simply because they did not have a winning name. I recognized that was a huge problem for our church with it’s long unwieldy name. I sent a copy of the book to President Sheehy, with whom I had become well acquainted and he promised he would read it on an upcoming plane trip to California.

    Later he contacted me to say the book was very interesting and he thought I had a valid point and thanked me for the book.

    It was a very few years following that that the name change occurred.

  5. Wow this was great MH! Thanks to John, FireTag, and Margie as well. The CoC has always been somewhat of a mystery to me, but this has really sparked my interest. I am definitely going to a meeting if I have an opportunity sometime. Thanks again.

  6. Informed Person (2): You are misinformed — school teachers in Arizona and connections to Utah have nothing to do with the story.

    Alice Cooper’s father was named Ether Moroni Furnier. Ether Moroni was an elder in the Church of Jesus Christ (Bickerton). The reason why Ether Moroni had two Book of Mormon names is that his father, Thurman Sylvester Furnier, was an apostle in the Bickertonite church.

  7. I just want to back up what John Hamer says. According to Wikipedia, (the source of all truth, right?)

    “Alice Cooper was born Vincent Damon Furnier in Detroit, Michigan, the son of Ella Mae (McCart) and Ether Moroni Furnier. He was named after one of his uncles and the writer Damon Runyon [“The Fabulous Furniers” – chapter one of Alice Cooper, Golf Monster: A Rock ‘n’ Roller’s 12 Steps to Becoming a Golf Addict].

    While in Detroit, Furnier attended Nankin Mills Middle School, which is now Lutheran High School Westland. His grandfather, Thurman Sylvester Furnier, was an apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ based in Monongahela, Pennsylvania. [Incidentally, I did a series of posts on Sidney Rigdon, and this is in Part 5]

    Vincent Furnier’s father was an Elder in The Church of Jesus Christ.

    Although he tends to shy away from speaking publicly of his faith, Cooper has confirmed in interviews that he is in fact a born again Christian.[Article in which Cooper speaks at some length about his faith and career][World Net Daily article in which Cooper speaks of his wish to shun so called celebrity Christianity] He has avoided so called “celebrity Christianity” because, as Cooper states himself: “It’s really easy to focus on Alice Cooper and not on Christ. I’m a rock singer. I’m nothing more than that. I’m not a philosopher. I consider myself low on the totem pole of knowledgeable Christians.[Interview with Radio Talk Show HostDrew Marshall] So, don’t look for answers from me”.[Cooper speaking in a a World Net Daily article]

    When asked by the British Sunday Times newspaper in 2001 how a rebellious shock-rocker could be a Christian, Cooper is credited with providing this response “Drinking beer is easy. Trashing your hotel room is easy. But being a Christian, that’s a tough call. That’s real rebellion!”[Cooper’s response to The Sunday Times is quoted in an online Good News magazine article dealing with well known rock musicians who have a Christian faith]

    Wow, I didn’t think we’d be talking more about Alice Cooper than anything else on this post… 🙂

  8. John, Margie, and FireTag–Thanks for coming to my virtual living room for this post. It was fun writing this up! 😀

  9. I want to plug John Hamer’s most recent post on the Kirtland Temple. It’s awesome, and I loved hearing the trumpet during “The Spirit of God.” John, that’s another one of your awesome posts.

  10. FireTag,

    This really makes me want to purchase a CoC BoM and D&C. I have an 1830 replica of the BoM. Is the CoC version considerably different than that? Also, is there an online bookstore where one can purchase these?

  11. FireTag and John,

    I didn’t realize my post was generating comments again. Perhaps we can visit that issue some more at http://mormonmatters.org/2009/06/01/a-south-american-setting-for-book-of-mormon/

  12. Thanks MH, and all of you, for a very interesting interview. I learned lots and still have some questions:

    1.) You say that CofC has about 200,000 members. How many countries are you in? Do you have many publications in other languages?

    2.) Do you have anything that resembles the Mormon missionary program? If you have investigators, what must they do in order to be baptized? Are there any “discussions” they have to take?

    3.) Since you have dropped the practice of baptism for the dead, is there any doctrine or speculation about what happens to those who die without being baptized? Is there anything they will require for salvation, or are they lost?

    By the way, I have to agree about the LDS and RLDS names. They’re a mouthful and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished that the LDS Church had a shorter name. Community of Christ was a good choice, IMO.

  13. John,

    I have a question too. Have you read Michael Quinn’s “The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power”? I did a post about what he wrote about the Nauvoo Expositor. Do you agree with his assertion that the real reason Joseph wanted the press destroyed was not because of polygamy, but rather because he didn’t want information about negotiations with foreign governments (in essence treason)?

  14. MH (10): The Community of Christ edition of the Book of Mormon isn’t too significantly different in content than the LDS version. Of course, there have been thousands of changes in the text since the 1830 edition, but a large proportion of these were made in Joseph Smith’s lifetime. Both editions go back to the corrected Nauvoo-era text. However, that text was still not divided into verses. The LDS Church added verses in the later 19th century and, when it did, it changed the chapters. When the Community of Christ added verses, it kept the original chapter divisions. The result is two rather different chapter/verse schemes with very similar words.

    The D&C story is similar. The major changes in the revelations occur between the publication of the Book of Commandments and the original D&C. Churches which reject the D&C, like the Temple Lot church, thus have significantly different versions of the revelations. Meanwhile, in the later 19th century the LDS Church added a bunch of Joseph Smith material that had not been in the original D&C to its version, and simultaneously rearranged the sections. The Community of Christ doesn’t have that material, of course, and it also renumbered its sections. And, of course, lots of post-Joseph Jr. material has been added.

    You can buy Community of Christ versions of the scriptures at HeraldHouse.org.

  15. Faithful:

    Our mission center boundaries often do not follow national borders, so one has to guess about how some administrative numbers are split between borders. As of 2006 (the last year for which reports have been published since we only have World Conference every 3 years), we list 195,000 known members, of whom 133,000 or so are in the US or Canada. We peaked in North America in about 1980 at about 175,000.

    I presume you are most interested in Europe. Our mission center there stretches from England to the Ukraine and into Russia. We had in 2006 1151 members in the entire mission center. Growth is occurring in the east, but not (yet at least) fast enough to offset the decline in Western Europe.

    We appear to be growing most rapidly in Asia and Africa, but it’s hard to say how fast. Our baptismal records are frequently 1-2 years behind our NA records, and we aren’t getting ANY published reports about losses.

    We use English, French, and Spanish as official church languages. There is official info on numbers of countries on the Community of Christ website, but I’ll have to look that up after I get off this site.

    There is nothing like your mission program. We have seventies, of course, and there are many members and local lay priesthood who make outreach their specialties. There is nothing that members “must do” to be baptized except reach the age of accountability and express a sincere desire to be baptized. We are even debating whether or not to accept other Christians into membership without rebaptism.

    You know MY thoughts on the afterlife are probably more speculative than anyone in the church. 😀

    God judges character; we regard the sacraments as present helps for living life on earth, and not rituals to meet a heavenly checklist. Those who die without law are treated as God judges they would have acted had they had the opportunity. As in your faith, even hell is supposed to be redemptive.

  16. FaithfulDissident (12): I’ll take a stab.

    (1) The church has members in 50+ countries. A lot of folks at headquarters translate resources from English into other languages. This happens real-time during World Conference and also during meetings of international leaders, when delegates from around the world assemble and the staff translates using a system kind of like the UN. There are also printed materials, though not as much as everyone would like. The church has committed to publishing everything it publishes in English in at least French and Spanish. However, I personally think that it’s more important to publish materials written by French-speaking members in French than to just translate all the English stuff. A friend of mine is a church member getting his PhD in the Sorbonne in Paris. He’s currently working on an original history of the church in French, which we are going to work to get published.

    (2) No, there is nothing really like the LDS missionary program. Ideally, every member should be a missionary. Young people can do internships at the historic sites or with Outreach International (the church’s international relief NGO) or similar things. There are no discussions; people who are inspired to join the church do so with a much less systematized and much more organic way. The church needs to do much more outreach than it presently does.

    (3) In my opinion, baptism is not a “saving ordinance,” and there are no saving ordinances. People can and do achieve salvation without baptism. At Saints Herald, we had a long discussion about baptism which illustrates the kind of interesting range of belief you can have on topics in the Community of Christ: http://saintsherald.com/2009/05/01/rebaptism-boundaries-and-the-journey-ahead/

    Firetag and MH (9, 11): I added my two cents about the epic (and even mythic) quality of scripture vs. mundane history on the MormonMatters thread.

  17. Firetag (15): You beat me!

    Firetag and MH (9, 11): I added my two cents about the epic (and even mythic) quality of scripture vs. mundane history on the MormonMatters thread.

    MH (13): Yes, I’ve read both Quinn and your post. I think you’re exactly right. Compton tells us that Joseph stopped contracting new plural marriages in the last 6 months of his life. Instead he began to restore “the Kingdom” — which I think was critically important to his thinking at the end and probably would have gone somewhere had he lived. The idea that the princes of the kingdom had betrayed their strict oaths of secrecy to William Law surely incensed Joseph more than rehashing the very well known rumors of polygamy. The one thing that Law’s expose threatened to do in terms of polygamy was give the rumor credibility to church members in Nauvoo who were not in the loop. Everyone outside of Nauvoo already believed the rumors (which were true), as did Mormons in Nauvoo who were in the loop.

  18. When I say everyone outside of Nauvoo, I meant non-members. Of course, all the members outside of Nauvoo did not believe the rumors. But they probably wouldn’t have believed Law or the Expositor either, because they hadn’t known him up close as a respected leader of their community (since they didn’t live in Nauvoo).

  19. Thanks John. I must say that when I read Quinn’s claim, I was quite surprised to learn of the secret missions and treason claims. I will admit that Joseph was jailed for treason, but I always felt that was more of a trumped up charge, and had more to do with problems in Missouri than trying to secede/rebel from the United States. Is there more truth to this than we realize?

    One of the other guys in my book club (who majored in history) thought these claims were exaggerated, and he questioned Quinn’s conclusions. (For example, the seer stone in Quinn’s book isn’t as widely accepted as Quinn claims.) In your opinion, would you say that Quinn is respected by general academics? Would you say a majority of Mormon scholars agree with his conclusions (on this and other topics)?

  20. Nice post MH. I appreciate your blog and enjoying reading it.

  21. MH (19): I think Mike Quinn is very well respected in the historians community. We had him out to JWHA last year to give the lecture at our awards banquet. He spoke on the legacy of “us vs. them” thinking in Mormonism and it was extremely well received.

    At one point or other, way back when, there was a rumor about trying to get him to be a professor at Graceland (the Community of Christ’s university), but apparently the idea of being a single gay guy in Lamoni, Iowa, wasn’t completely appealing to him. That’s just a rumor, but I repeat it to illustrate a general positive attitude for Quinn’s work among scholars in the Community of Christ.

  22. Chicken, thanks for stopping by. You have an interesting blog.

    John, FireTag, or Margie, Has the CoC always believed in the trinity, or is that a more recent change?

    Also John, I heard a rumor about Quinn getting railroaded out of a job at the University of Arizona because some Mormon alums didn’t want him there. Do you know if there’s any truth to that rumor? Also, do you have any idea why he hasn’t caught on at another university? (Is he just too picky and wants a university in a big city?)

    One other thing–I heard that Grant Palmer’s book is used as a textbook at Graceland. (Every time I hear that I think of Elvis.) 🙂 Anyway, is he pretty well respected in CoC circles as well?

    Is Bruce Jenner the RLDS equivalent of Jim McMahon (ie a hero of somewhat ill-repute)? (Jim was a Catholic BYU quarterback and Chicago Bears Super Bowl QB in 1985.

  23. I have another question. Margie posted a long comment on my Spaulding Theory post here which seemed to make the claim that she was able to create the Lost Manuscript of Solomon Spaulding. She claims to have removed all the theological references and came up with a coherent plot. (My post quotes Fawn Brodie quite a bit, and Fawn heavily discounts the idea that a Lost Manuscript ever existed.)

    So, I’m wondering if you have any idea on how many people in the CoC view the Book of Mormon as ahistorical? From my sample size of 3, it seems John and Margie think it’s a work of the 19th century, while FireTag holds out the possibility it’s historical. Any idea on numbers of people who support each theory?

  24. Thanks for answering all my questions!

    Regarding Michael Quinn, I wonder whether the CofC has the same issues with intellectuals that the LDS Church has had, authors who bring new, controversial history to light, who challenge current doctrines and policies. Would you all say that the CofC is more “open” to history and critical thinking than the LDS Church? Do those who do engage in criticism risk being excommunicated?

  25. FaithfulDissident (24): No, the Community of Christ has the opposite take. It’s very pro-intellectual. No one faces any discipline for approaching our history openly and honestly — in fact, members of the church are counseled to do so. Graduate studies in religion, theology, and history are encouraged, and people take that encouragement seriously. Almost all the general officers of the church have graduate degrees in religion and several have doctorates.

    MH (23): With a sample size of three, you have three very different takes on the Book of Mormon. FireTag holds that it records actual ancient history and Margie believes in a Spaulding/Rigdon theory of origins, both of which are propositions I reject. Thus, there’s a vast diversity of beliefs about (and use of) the Book of Mormon. I would say that church headquarters heavily skews in the direction where I’m at, and out in the congregations there are a vast number of people who are where FireTag is at. Margie’s on her own. (j/k Margie 🙂

    On Quinn (22): When I talked to him last fall, we really only spoke about where he’s at now, which is finished with the commissioned biography that had been taking up all his time and back doing research in Mormon history; so I don’t have any firsthand information on the various past job rumors. I don’t think Bruce Jenner was RLDS; he just went to Graceland as a non-member. I don’t know whether anyone used Grant Palmer’s book in a course at Graceland; they could have. They used my book last semester in a course at USU.

  26. Hamer writes: “Community of Christ members use the term “Latter Day Saints” to refer to themselves.” Reading this it occurred to me that I haven’t heard that term used around the church in a while. I think that as we have transitioned into a new identity and a new name, Community of Christ, that term has been downplayed. Most of the language from the First Presidency and World Leadership Council tends to address Community of Christ as a whole rather than using a name like saints.

    There has been a huge “re-branding” process that continues to go on in the spirit that lead to the new name. For those of you who are interested in learning more about the specific viewpoints of the church as defined by leadership, check out the We Share documents: http://www.cofchrist.org/discernment/weshare/default.asp . I’ll add this word of caution that has been mentioned in some of the statements above–there is a lot of diversity in perspectives held by members and in many ways, this freedom of belief is encouraged. We are counseled to not mistake faith and specific beliefs as being the same thing.

    Also of potential interest, the members have been asked by the first presidency to undergo a discernment process regarding conditions of membership. More information about that is available here: http://www.cofchrist.org/CofM/Resources.asp

  27. MH – as for the number of CofC that believe in or reject the historicity of the BoM: the question is hard to answer from a pure numbers standpoint. Many, many, many are far more concerned over what to bring to potluck on Sunday than whether or not the BoM is historical. If you interviewed the average US pew-warmer, they will likely say it’s historical, for they have never considered it any other way. This doesn’t mean they are un-moving, or closed to the idea of a different history, but it’s not something discussed among US Sunday morning worshippers.

    The CofC is now growing much faster outside North America and I believe can count numbers outside US and Canada as about equal as those within. In many of these growing and developing locals, the BoM is not actively touted, and many of these emerging congregations see it as a U.S. relic and irrelevant to the CofC message and the gospel.

    I would suspect, if you sat every CofC’er in a room and the First Presidency gave an hour-long speech about how scholarly consensus agrees that the BoM is likely 19th century fiction (see Veazey’s interview language you discussed re. polygamy) but, as part of our heritage and our sacred story is no less scripture to us and no less a record of our spiritual journey as the Bible is to the spiritual journey of Christians in general, you could then take a poll as to how many believed the Book is historical and how many believed it was 19th century fiction but no less scripture – you’d get 100% for the latter.

    I say 100% because anyone who would vote the former would have gotten up and left before Brother Veazey finished his talk. 😉

  28. Intellectualism is, as John notes, highly encouraged in the Community of Christ, although the educational distribution is heavily skewed toward the disciplines John named. The church is relatively aged in North America, and so much of the membership, even there grew up in an era where much education beyond high school was not available to many.

    The concentration of education among a leadership elite is an emerging problem as it has been among other mainstream churches; it can quickly lead to a “class” separation that almost approaches a cultural one.

    John is correct that there are more people who believe in the historicity of the Book of Mormon than don’t — but not among the leadership. Most of the people believe that way because they haven’t been exposed to the historical arguments. I tend to believe that way because I’m immersed in a different intellectual tradition (physical sciences) than is the leadership and see that there are too many things RIGHT about the BofM (and many of the other revelations) that 19th Century knowledge got wrong. I think the issue will be settled as we learn more about the ancient world, not as we learn more about the 19th Century.

  29. Thanks FireTag and Chicken,

    I know it is hard to get a sense of general beliefs. It is very interesting to see a dichotomy between the leadership and general membership regarding the Book of Mormon.

    If someone were to ask me the same question in regards to the LDS church, I would say that the vast majority 80-90% of “pew-warming” Mormons believe the Book of Mormon to be historical, and wouldn’t have any idea about the Bloggernacle, or the myriad of different beliefs on the internet.

    Since intellectualism is so embraced by the CoC leadership, but not necessarily by the lay members, it seems there is a real disconnect there.

    I have a few more questions. Are the 13 Articles of Faith very important in the CoC? (LDS children are still supposed to memorize them.) Also, has the CoC always believed in the trinity, or do some believe in a godhead? Is the First Vision talked about much?

  30. The idea of plurality of gods and that God was once a human were Nauvoo developments. Some early Saints who believed in those doctrines joined with the Reorganization. Joseph Smith III always had a more conventional view of God. He advocated a policy of not talking about it and eventually he outlived people who believed in plural gods.

    I think a lot of Christians of all stripes don’t have a firm grasp on how the Trinity/Godhead works. Many people have pointed out that the Book of Mormon expresses a Modalist theology, rather than LDS Henotheism or mainline Christian Trinitarianism). I suspect that lots of people in the Community of Christ are Modalists as a result. But lots more are Trinitarian. And frankly there’s a lot of Unitarians in the church.

  31. On the “First Vision,” there have been LDS bloggers who go to their church and count the number of times someone says “Joseph Smith,” and the number of times someone says “Jesus Christ,” only to find out that Joseph Smith wins, despite the prayer-ending formula “in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.” Although they vary, I think it’s quite unlikely you’re going to find similar results in any Community of Christ congregation.

    That said, the First Vision is not ignored. In the temple in Independence, the gateway of the Worshipper’s Path that leads to the inner sanctuary is a large engraving of the sacred grove. Here’s how that is explained in a script made for tour groups visiting the temple (I think this is a good example of how the First Vision is seen and emphasized in the Community of Christ):

    “Welcome to the Worshiper’s Path, an ascending spiral passage that leads us into the Temple Sanctuary. Traveling along the Path, light increases as we move through the Temple’s sacred space, progressing symbolically towards the light and presence of God. The spiral motion of the Path projects infinitely upward, creating the spire of the Temple, and drawing our focus up towards the Heavens. Taking inspiration from God’s creation, the design of the Temple is based on the spiral of the nautilus seashell. The curve of the nautilus occurs throughout nature, and also can be found in the swirling arms of galaxies and clouds. The spire of the Temple curves both up to the heavens, and then down from the heavens and out to all the earth— reminding us that the path of discipleship is both an inward and an outward journey.

    “Fittingly, this sacred and symbolic journey begins with the Sacred Grove. These panels of carved glass depict the grove of trees where the Prophet Joseph Smith encountered God as a youth. A representation of where our common faith journey began, it also speaks to our common search for an encounter with the Divine.

    “As with Joseph in the grove, an earlier prophet was called from the burning bush. [There is another piece of artwork here representing the burning bush.] Moses encountered God and was called to free the oppressed people of Israel from their Egyptian captors. Like Israel, we are not left in darkness, but God sends prophetic messengers to establish covenant communities and lead us in paths of righteousness. Like Mount Horeb, this mountain of the Lord is holy ground. And like Moses, we are called by God to liberate the oppressed.”

  32. Thanks for the useful info. It’s so interesting

  33. MH:

    As a child, I was taught to memorize “faith, repentence, baptism, laying on of hands, ressurrection, and eternal judgement”. The first vision was taught in a single, standardized version, but no great theological significance was attached to the physical bodies seen in the appearance, or that only the Father and the Son were perceived. I think the assumption has always been that the divine can appear anyway It wants to do so, and probably picks forms most easy for mortal humans to relate to. So, we’ve been trinitarian without really thinking about it; I was surprised as I got into high school to discover that my “gentile” classmates’ faiths argued about the trinity, and was even more shocked later to discover that Orthodoxy argued that the early church was binitarian.

    The materials I was taught as a child were continued in missionary work for adults until sometime around 1970.

    To this day, I couldn’t tell you what all 13 Articles of Faith contain if my life depended on it, and have read Joseph’s listing of them no more than once or twice in my life.

    One comment re Chicken. His notion that the church is larger outside North America than inside is conventional wisdom in the church, but contradicted by official membership records. In a few countries where Christianity is growing dramatically, we’re growing as well, and the continued decline in North America will make this a non-NA church in 20 years or so.

  34. BTW: Even though LDS teenagers memorize the Articles of Faith, the LDS Church abandoned the policy of the “gathering of Israel” (#10) in the 1890s. Because Mormons used to believe that they were blood descendants of Israel (primarily the lost tribe of Ephraim), this meant gathering to the center place. It also meant gathering native Americans (also believed to be lost Israelites) to Kansas; also no longer emphasized. Likewise #7 “We believe in the gift of tongues,” (i.e., glossalia like in Kirtland) is not a current LDS practice.

    Despite the fact that #6 says, “We believe in…pastors,” I find that any time you mention that the Community of Christ has “pastors,” LDS people’s eyes buy out and they say, “those guys are just Protestants now!” #6 needs to be revised to say, “We believe in the same organization as existed in the Primitive Church, namely, Stake High Councilmen, Relief Society Presidents, Beehives, Miamaids, Boy Scout Patrol Leaders, and so forth.” 🙂

    All in all, the Articles of Faith are a somewhat odd document. Article #1, as phrased, could be Trinitarian or Adoptionist or anything else. Meanwhile it omits some of the core LDS distinctives today, including any mention of temples or eternal families.

  35. By the way, I wasn’t aware that John Hamer was a member of the Community of Christ. I thought he only attended there but was still LDS.

  36. John, thanks for the virtual tour of the Independence Temple. I really want a physical tour of it, as well as the Kirtland Temple someday. How close is Independence to Nauvoo?

    I agree in your analysis of the Articles of Faith–especially #6! 🙂 I’ve tried a few times to talk about the lost 10 tribes mentioned in #10, both here and on Mormon Matters, but it seems to generate very little interest. It’s a fascinating topic for me.

  37. I learned a while back that Jews will not excommunicate anyone from Judaism–even murder. Their rationale is that God will be their judge, not man. So, is there anything a CoC member can get excommunicated for?

  38. MH:

    Excommunications occur, but they are literally in the dozens each year. The “whys” are almost never announced, and only when the offense is serious enough to bring scandal to the church otherwise. This is more likely because the church court system is of such low priority rather than because there are not excommunicable offenses — there are such offenses listed in the Church Administrators Handbook (which is online somewhere at the Community of Christ website). But the approach is intended to be redemptive, rather than punitive.

    Administrative discipline of priesthood by withdrawing authority to represent the church (“silencing”) in more common, but even then membership rights are not lost.

  39. I guess I do know that excommunication occurs for polygamy (as mentioned before about India), but what warrants “silencing”? For example, 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.

  40. The CofChrist policies on priesthood are here . You’ll see that they leave a lot to the administrator’s discretion, and the attitude of the people at congregational or higher levels is critical to how the administrator (presiding elder or higher level) will act, both initially and on appeal. They do NOT, however, have anything to do with belief systems.

    John’s BCC bio says he is not a member of any Restoration denomination, so his priesthood status isn’t an issue. (I know priesthood when I see it, John, and you carry it.)

    I decided to request voluntary release from my priesthood office more than a year ago, because I knew that I would have to help people follow their personal missions, inside or outside the church, if I was to be faithful to my understanding of the denomination’s intended role at this point in history. I met the standards for release for reasons of conscience because I had a paper trail of 15 years in, I believe respectul, dialogue, with the “GA’s” over my issues of concern.

    Margie is well to the left of the mainstream in the church, but she’s said nothing in any forum I’ve read that would come anywhere near drawing discipline.

  41. The link to priesthood policies above is a fairly long pdf file; give it a moment or two to download.

  42. FD: Re: #15.

    I noticed this morning that I’d given you the membership figures for continental Europe, excluding the British Isles, by mistake. When we add the British Isles, we move up to a whopping total of 2524 members 😀

  43. Fire Tag, according to this link, CofC is even in Norway. I’m also quite impressed that you’re in countries like Haiti, Sri Lanka, Côte d’Ivoire, and Papua New Guinea.

    By the way, the building pictured in that link is stunning. Is that the Independence Temple?

  44. FD:

    Yes the building you can see is our Temple. You can take a virtual tour here of everything except the employee offices. The menu at that link also allows a similar virtual tour of the Auditorium, our former HQ (not having Temple status, but on the Temple Lot). John Hamer has recently posted video from inside the Kirtland Temple at http://www.SaintsHerald.com.

    We do not require Temple Recommends for anyone to enter, since there are no special ordinances performed there, and we see parts of its mission as essentially interdenominational in nature.

  45. I’m guessing that your buildings and publications are funded by tithing like in the LDS Church. Is it also 10%? Is it emphasized a lot in meetings? Is being a full tithe payer a requirement for any ordinance in the Church?

  46. Faithful:

    John can probably give you a better answer about the various patterns prevalent in Mormonism since 1830, and which ones we followed. I’ll pick up the story from the 20th Century, in the RLDS era.

    The RLDS taught tithing as “10% of increase” — basically income minus necessary living expenses — and encouraged filing of annual tithing statements as a present reminder of how much we owed the church. Tithing paid for world church programs. There was also an “oblation fund”, given specifically for care of the poor, particularly but not exclusively the poor in the church. Local offerings supported local congregational budgets (including building funds) and a prorated share of Stake or “district” (collections of congregations in most of the church too dispersed to be organized as stakes.)

    It is amazing what the American economy has made “necessary” over the years — and I’m not being entirely cynical in that statement. Even then, compliance was poor among the membership, and probably not even a majority among the priesthood. Remember that “increase” involves everything since they cut the umbilical and slapped the first diaper on you, so having one’s tithing paid off was a life milestone somewhat akin to (and often as expensive)paying off a house. Many people made completion of tithing payments a condition of their wills before their estates were divided. Most people didn’t make the effort.

    Gradually, as we moved into the third world and realized how rich even poor Americans were compared to the rest of the world, our understanding of stewardship took on a more universal meaning: we began to teach principles of “generosity” more than tithing — giving to our full measure of capability and even faithfully going beyond. More attention was paid to not being self-serving in our giving, e.g., raising the fraction of our giving that goes outside the local congregation. Indeed the new principles defined “tithing” in terms of giving to God’s work, WHETHER THAT WAS INSIDE OR OUTSIDE THE CHURCH OR ITS AFFILIATED CHARITIES.

    I think that principle is correct, but I notice that people are increasingly choosing the “outside” option. The church has become almost panicky about this as tithing given for world church programs has been on a steady downward trend since at least 1980. The most telling statistic is that only about 3% of tithing is now paid by members under 40 years of age. You’ll accordingly see “opportunities to give” scattered all over our websites and internal communications, and the authorities increasingly stay quiet about the outside option.

    Tithing payment is clearly not, then, a requirement for any ordinance. In fact, membership is not a requirement for most of them. Marriage, administration for the sick, evangelist’s blessings, blessings of babies, or receiving communion don’t require membership, just off the top of my head, and I may have forgotten something that should be added to the list.

  47. FireTag, thanks for the PDF on priesthood. You have many more levels of “disfellowshipment” than LDS. I noted from the article that there are 6 categories of priesthood:

    1. Active
    2. Inactive (carries no negative connotation)
    3. Superannuation (essentially “emeritus” in LDS jargon)
    4. Release (voluntary or involuntary). Involuntary would be 3 years of inactivity, active membership in another church, unknown whereabouts of member)
    5. Suspension (because of divorce, legal problems, bankruptcy)
    6. Silence (conviction of felony, moral turpitude, willful disregard of church law, willful breaking a church confidence, misuse of priesthood)

    What’s interesting to me is that many of the “silence” infractions would generally result in excommunication in the LDS church, yet membership is not affected in the CoC–only priesthood.

  48. FD,

    Thanks for that link. I found this statement startling as well.

    “At the 2007 Community of Christ World Conference, President Stephen M. Veazey ruled a resolution to “reaffirm the Book of Mormon as a divinely inspired record” out of order. In so doing he stated that “while the Church affirms the Book of Mormon as scripture, and makes it available for study and use in various languages, we do not attempt to mandate the degree of belief or use. This position is in keeping with our longstanding tradition that belief in the Book of Mormon is not to be used as a test of fellowship or membership in the church.”

  49. This year at the MHA conference my husband and I had the pleasure of meeting a couple of C of C members. (We had briefly talked to John Hamer the year before in Sacramento–I had not realized he was C of C. until now.) After the conference we took the tour at Nauvoo (there were only four of us plus our guide) and had a wonderful time. Our guide was open to any question we might ask and gave us honest answers–what a contrast to some of the other Nauvoo tours!

    Although we long ago severed our ties with the LDS church, I am thinking of attending a C of C service. For the last 25 years I have passed a C of C (and RLDS) chapel on Meridian Avenue in San Jose, CA on my way to and from the dentist. Until now I only noted it as I drove past, but now I would like to visit.

    Thank you so much for posting this.

  50. Susan, I’m glad you enjoyed the post. As I have learned about the CoC, I think that if I ever decided to leave the LDS church, I would probably look into the CoC. It seems to fit in very nicely with many traditionally LDS beliefs, though I can’t say I’m completely comfortable with everything. If you go, perhaps you’ll have to tell us what stood out about their services….

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