Sunday, April 11, 2010

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?

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