Monday, April 19, 2010

Seekers on the Journey

Over the last couple of days, I have been reflecting on a comment made by John Hamer on a thread over on Saints Herald. John said that, "I believe that the Community of Christ is being called to provide a spiritual home of disaffected Mormons who have left their church but remain spiritual seekers." It reminded me of a series of discussions I had on the eve of my appointee career. The process of entering appointment was very different than it was now and there were more internal discussions/debates within the Council of Twelve about the allocation of appointee resources (this was before Transformation 2000, of course and there were largely no field ministers funded by the World Church, only appointees).

I was finishing seminary in Denver and Jac Kirkpatrick was my apostle and his field also included Salt Lake City. Jac wanted me to be placed in Salt Lake with part of the thrust of my assignment being outreach to these disaffected seekers that John speaks of. I was far more involved with groups like John Whitmer and the like than I am now, so he thought it was a good fit.

Grant McMurray was a counselor in the First Presidency and he reflected negatively on the proposal. Grant had a historical perspective to draw from knowing that since the early days of the Reorganization there has always been an attempt by the Community of Christ/RLDS to peel off members from the LDS. It was his observation that often the cultural ties to Mormonism were too great for any large scale (or medium scale) effort to be successful.

While there is solid connections between intellectuals between the LDS Church and Community of Christ, how would the average Community of Christ congregation do with welcoming a LDS seeker? In order for this to happen would some more specialized resources or more importantly resource persons be available to serve as a guide for those Mormons that might be open to the church?

I write this as my own spiritual journey has led me currently to be involved with both the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the Community of Christ. Yet both the book of Revelation and the Book of Mormon says that in the end their are only two churches. I think it is arrogance on our part to believe that either of those churches exist in their present form today. Could it be that the Community of Christ could serve institutionally to serve as a bridge between the Mormon Church and the larger ecumenical community? It seems that the prevailing opinion of Community of Christ leadership is willing to side with those who reject the LDS claim to be Christian in order to advance the Community of Christ place in the ecumenical world (another approach which has a long history).

I don't have an answer to these questions, but instead think that it is one of those "we make the way by walking" efforts. If we are open about spiritual path and outreaching to others, it might be hard to say how the Spirit leads us.

(I did not check with either Jac Kirkpatrict or Grant McMurray before I wrote this. I don't think there are any confidentially issues here. It was 15 years ago, so I think I'm safe.)

Monday, April 12, 2010

John Hamer on his First World Conference

Over at By Common Consent, John Hamer has a great first installment on blogging about his first World Conference.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Frizzell on Veazey

Matt Frizzell presents a more appreciative entry than I did. Plus Matt's entry seems to be more poetic.

A Pragmatic and Prophetic People?

Sunday night at world conference is a little bit like the state of the union. It is the chance for the church's president to make his appeal to the delegates. In general, there was nothing new in Steve Veasey's address, except perhaps for the announcing of a $4 million gift to help fund to continue to fund bi-vocational ministries (quite a major thing in these tough times).

Steve formally submitted his counsel to the church and went on to talk about some of the key passages. Seeking inspiration from Galatians, section 5 of the counsel says:
It is imperative to understand that when you are truly baptized into Christ you become part of a new creation. By taking on the life and mind of Christ, you increasingly view yourselves and others from a changed perspective. Former ways of defining people by economic status, social class, sex, gender, or ethnicity no longer are primary. Through the gospel of Christ a new community of tolerance, reconciliation, unity in diversity, and love is being born as a visible sign of the coming reign of God.
It is truly a lovely notion and worthy of us to live up to. And while there are some significant exceptions, the Community of Christ is still largely governed by middle to upper-class whites from the United States. And while the conference shows many multicultural elements, it is the church in US and Canada that is financially supporting the remaining international presence of the church. Significant power dynamics still exist between the haves and have-nots and it seems like little effort is being made to change those dynamics.

I also still struggle on how to understand how "former ways of defining people . . . no longer are primary." Does the reality of living in post-earthquake Haiti suddenly not become primary to church members living there? Or perhaps just as important, do nominally US Christians, who are hyper-active consumers move from being passing members of the Community of Christ to fully engaged in the prophetic call?

Then there is the part of the document that deals with "ethical behavior and relationships" with homosexuality being the issue not mentioned, but clearly at the forefront. The document presents a pragmatic approach that allows different areas/nations of the world to deal with issues at a different pace. There does seem to be some wisdom in this, but how one deals with major differences within a single geographic area then is unclear (in the KC metro area, some congregations are already open & affirming to GLBT, many are not).

Steve noted that we have been ordaining women for 25 years in the Community of Christ. Could the approach advocated in the current document had prevented the schisms from happening? And are there some issues where we can't afford to go slow? We never had much of a presence in slave-holding parts of the US, but could slavery had been tolerated by parts of the church in the Nineteenth Century? And when we consider the civil rights movements of the 1950's and 1960's, the RLDS Church's record is horrible. So the challenge is when to be pragmatic and when to be prophetic and can they co-exist?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Places to Watch in CyberSpace

The collaborative blog, Saints Herald will no doubt contain a number of items related to conference this week, including Matthew Bolton's thoughts on the importance of passing the Anti-Nuclear Weapon resolution.

Beware of the Chicken has some of the best writing I have seen lately on the reality of increasing power of the church leadership.

Velton Peabody, has a very helpful Facebook group called Community of Christ in the News.

Are there other must read places you are finding?

Friday, April 09, 2010

Required Reading Before Conference.

One should read the best, pre-conference theological reflection, What Might the Apostle Paul Say to the Community of Christ by Rich Brown, former Herald editor and emerging publisher.

Updated: Rich continues with another the blog post, Apostle Paul Thought Everybody Was Straight.

Thoughts on the Community of Christ World Conference

Tomorrow (Saturday, April 10) the Community of Christ World Conference will begin. For many the activities have already begun. Yesterday and today, the Restoration Studies Symposium has been held over at Graceland University, Independence Campus. Scholars of both Community of Christ and LDS persuasions (and others) are joining together to reflect on a variety of theological and historical issues facing the movement.

The International Leader's Meeting is also going on. Delegates from around the world have arrived early and participate in these pre-conference classes and workshops. It makes sense from a logistical point of view because the travel expenses are so high that one needs to really use the time wisely when these leaders are here, but one also wonders if this is a subtle way for Church Leadership to shape the opinion of the international leaders.

Because of the increasing size of the international church and the fact that financially and logistically, it is impossible to field a full slate of delegates from most countries, the international delegates will cast weighted votes giving them voting power much greater than a typical US delegate.)

On the numerous questions before the conference on full inclusions of gays and lesbians in the church, it is understood that the strongest opposition comes from the so-called Third World (countries in Africa, Haiti and others). Yet the challenge for these international delegates is that they are largely financial dependent on the US Church for their existence.

In general there does seem to be an increasing movement of more and more control to the top levels of leadership in the Church, even though the church theologically is moving, more and more liberal. I made this point when I spoke with a writer of the KC Star today. I don't see any thing on the conference agenda to move that trend, though I believe it is largely not helpful for the church.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Stigma Alert: Anti-Kobach Web Site

My friend Dan over at Gone Mild linked over to my blog with the entry "Courageous Mental Health Blogging." He says that even supporters (like himself) "tend to lurk in silence because it's not a topic we're accustomed to being honest about." That describes part of the reason stigma about mental health issues exist. I understand Dan's feelings and I have been there myself.

NAMI (The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill) has a great network of Stigma Busters. Stigma Busters watch for images that portray mental illness in a particularly offensive and outmoded way. I have a site to recommend.

Krazy Kris Kobach showed up as a Google Ad on Gmail the other week. The site is a blog which seeks to negatively attack Republican Kansas Secretary of State candidate Kris Kobach. Sometimes politics is a full contact support. And Kobach is clearly an intelligent candidate who can more than defend himself.

My issue with the blog is the photoshopped image of Kobach in a straitjacket. This is a classic stigmatizing image for people with mental illness and the site should remove it immediately.

I would like to email the creators of the site, but they are anonymous and a check of the domain whois shows they have used a service to hide their identity. I don't know Kansas campaign law (or should I say kampaign law to keep with their kute use of the letter k?) but I wonder if they should have a disclosure (paid for) statement on the page.

I'm not a voter in Kansas and if I was, I probably wouldn't be a supporter of Kobach. I also recognize that by putting this blog entry up, more people will go the page. Still, the image, if not the entire site should come down.

The image is not funny. It is offensive in the extreme and critics of Kobach can do better.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Coming Out of the Mental Health Closet

In the spring of 2007, I found myself checked into Research Pyschiatric Hospital. The same hospital that I had received my initial diagnosis of bipolar some 11 years before. There were a number of interesting encounters that week, but one of them was with a young mother who had been suicidal after the birth of her child. The mother happened to be a member of the LDS Church and I noticed that I was the only person in the entire wing who had any clergy visiting them. When talking with this LDS woman, I asked her why she had not asked for the bishop or one of the other elders to come visit her and she responded, "Some things are best handled within the family."

There was a lot of wisdom in this woman's response. For many, hiding mental illness is the best option for ones career and interactions with friends and family. Yet I have also come to believe that the shame and stigma of mental illness then also contributes to further depressions and new cycles of shame and stigma.  Mental illness is a huge killer in our nation. Twice as many people in Missouri die of suicidie than die of homicides. Yet why isn't there an outrage and a demand for better access to mental health services? Because too often those that suffer, suffer and then die alone.

Andrew Sullivan is one of my favorite bloggers. When I realized that this gay man who happens to be HIV+ can be honest about his status, perhaps so can I.  It is perhaps one of the reasons why I have found myself spending Sunday evenings at Stonewall Ministry. A ministry of the Community of Christ that is open and inclusive for gay, lesbians, bisexual and transgender individuals and their advocates. One of my lesbian friends said that I would find that hanging out with a bunch of "queers" would toughen me up a bit. Perhaps she was right.

I hope so, because as a part of me coming out of the mental health closet, I have received many positive comments and appreciations. (Especially from those who struggle with mental illness as well.) But I also have encountered some anonymous haters. 

Here in Missouri we have had one of the first cyber-bullying cases in the nation, when Megan Meier completed suicide after a classmate's mother sent her threatening messages.  Well, I'm not a 16-year-old, and I can handle the haters, especially because it feels like it takes little or no courage to attack a person with an anonymous comment.  I'm glad to be out of the mental health closet.