Monday, May 06, 2013
Big Change in the Community of Christ
In April, the Community of Christ, a church that I have been a member of all my life and being a fifth generation member, had its World Conference and the first ever USA National Conference. We've had a World Conference for as long as I remember and in the past, it occurred every even numbered year, where delegates representing congregations from all over the world would meet in Independence, Missouri to discuss and vote on church government legislation. I attended one as a child in the 1970s (either 1976 or 1978) and in 1996. I had wanted to attend this year, but its hard to get time off from work when I only have 5 vacation days (God, I hate American corporations and their stinginess regarding vacation days and benefits). I hope to attend the next one in 2016. World Conference is now once every three years, which I hate. I loved the even numbered thing. We can thank the controversial resignation of the previous church president / prophet for messing up our schedule. We had a World Conference in 2006 and then he resigned in 2007 (for reasons that have never been made public, leading some people to speculate on the salacious reason), so we had to have a special conference to pick a new president for our church (we are no Catholic conclave for sure). The next conference was in 2010 and now here we are in 2013 with TWO conferences, back to back.
The USA National Conference was specifically for the issue of what to do about church members who are gay / bisexual / transgendered. The reason why they have to decide this issue on a national basis (Australia and Canada church congregations already had their national conferences on these issues) is because homosexual rights is a growing reality in the Western industrialized nations, while the topic is still quite taboo for the church congregations in African nations in particular. It presents a problem, because in the past, church policy has been universal. Which means that in 1984, when the priesthood offices were opened up for women to be called and to serve, that meant women in the church anywhere, whether in Missouri or Malawi. Now, though, due to the dangers posed to any sexual minority in an African country, it makes it difficult to have such a universal policy.
What the delegates to the National Conference decided was a pleasant surprise. More than 70% of the delegates supported a policy change that allows the church to recognize and perform same-sex marriages in states where it is legal, or civil unions in states where it is now; and for priesthood calls to be allowed for members who are homosexual / lesbian / bisexual / transgendered. This is a significant change. I wasn't sure that the majority of the church members were quite there yet, as I know quite a few people from my home congregation in Atlanta who are troubled by this development and have threatened to leave the church over this issue (the church lost 50,000 members after 1984's decision allowing women to be called to priesthood offices). I'll be sad to see anyone leave the church over this issue, but what can you do? Society has experienced a seachange since 2004 when so many gay marriage bans were voted on in ballot initiatives. Now, Time magazine had a cover article recently about how the majority of Americans now support marriage equality (not banning gay people from marriage) and the Boy Scouts organization plans to make a decision regarding their ban this month, and the Supreme Court will release their decision on gay marriage in June (just in time for Pride parades?). Society is moving towards equality and tolerance, so it would have been damaging to the church's future authenticity among young people if they continued down the archaic path.
When I heard the wonderful news out of Independence MO one beautiful Sunday morning a few weeks ago, I was proud of my church for once again doing the right thing. Out of all of the churches that grew out of the shared Latter Day Saints history, we remain the most liberal church (and the second largest). I love Community of Christ!
The above video was played at World Conference. It shows the universal nature of our church, as it features singers in Africa, Latin America, America, and Polynesia. The words are pretty simple and comes across as a beautiful mantra. "Peace, Salaam, Shalom." This is the essence of our church and yes, I'm pretty proud to be a member of such a faith community. It is my extended family and my tribe. If you're curious about the Community of Christ, please see if there is one in your part of the world and stop in and say hello.