Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Community Of Christ To Launch Their 2013 World Conference; Ten Legislative Items On The Agenda For Discussion

Update April 22nd: Community of Christ concludes both their 2013 World Conference and the follow-on 2013 USA National Conference; updated post HERE.

Just one week after the 183rd Annual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Community of Christ will be holding their 2013 World Conference in Independence, Missouri from April 13-18, 2013, according to their official promo. They hold world conferences every three years. Since this post was published, the Blue Springs Examiner has published a story on this event.

Formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS), the Community of Christ evolved separately from us on April 6th, 1860 under the leadership of Joseph Smith III, although we share the same founding prophet, Joseph Smith, as well as the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine & Covenants. The three stated purposes of their World Conference are to gather as a worldwide family of faith, to deepen church members' understanding of what it means to live Christ’s mission, and to do the essential business of their church. The purpose of this post is strictly to provide information about the conference, and to use it as an opportunity to educate readers as to the similarities and differences between the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Community of Christ. I strive to avoid any judgmental evaluation of C of C doctrine or practices in this post.

Although the Conference begins on April 13rd with the opening legislative meeting, President Stephen M. Veazey will officially launch the conference on April 14th with a speech in which he will share Words of Counsel to the Church. This speech will be webcast. These Words of Counsel will reflect the contents of a Letter of Counsel already published, but President Veazey does not plan to submit this counsel for inclusion in the Doctrine and Covenants at this time. They also plan to share in three ordinations based on calls to be considered by the World Conference: K. Scott Murphy is called to serve as a counselor to the president of the church and member of the quorum of the First Presidency; James A. Poirier and Steven E. Graffeo are called to serve as counselors to the Presiding Bishop and members of the Presiding Bishopric. The Conference will also consider 10 items of legislation placed before the church. The manner in which the Community of Christ decides on legislation is different than that of the LDS Church; Community of Christ conference delegates will discuss each legislative item and decide by a vote if an item will be accepted, declined, or deferred to a future time. In contrast, when the LDS Church decided to appoint a new Young Women General Presidency, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve made the decision, then presented the names of the appointees to the General Conference for a sustaining vote.

It is unknown at this time whether any member of the Community of Christ will liveblog the Conference. I suggest visiting the Saints Herald blog as a possible source of insight and information; their blog is regularly updated. You can also follow the conference on the C of C's Facebook page and on Twitter.

Here is a list of the ten legislative items to be considered, along with a short description of each. Where appropriate, I will point out where these differ from the policy of the mainstream LDS Church (after the jump):

-- Wholeness and Well-Being: This resolution would encourage health, well-being, and wholeness. It would request the church lift these principles with its focus on peace, justice, and community, and that it develop resources for assisting members to have access to information encouraging health and wholeness.

-- Baptism and Membership: This resolution would point out that recent policy has allowed those baptized in other Christian denominations to be received into Community of Christ by confirmation if they were baptized after the age of eight. This resolution would request the First Presidency continue exploring the possibility of accepting baptisms of those from other Christian denominations who were baptized before the age of eight. It also would request periodic updates and a full report on this matter before the 2016 World Conference. This contrasts with the LDS policy of not recognizing baptisms performed by other churches; the LDS Church requires every new member be baptized to symbolize making a brand-new covenant with the Lord.

-- Basic Beliefs as expressed in the document Sharing in Community of Christ: This resolution would request three things: (1) The whole church study the document in forums throughout the field; (2) input from these sessions be gathered; and (3) after sufficient discussion and deliberation that the World Church Leadership Council present a document revised as deemed necessary to the World Conference for its consideration. The description of the document implies that it will be the foundation for what is referred to in the LDS Church as "correlation"; its adoption by the Community of Christ would ensure that the basic gospel as presented by the C of C would be the same regardless of where one attends their religious services.

-- Congregational Theological Education: This resolution would lift up the need for educational material for all ages based on the unique scriptures of the church. It would ask the church to provide these materials to congregations throughout the world. This resolution also appears to promote better correlation.

-- United States of America Immigration Policy: This resolution would note that the First Presidency published a statement in the Herald entitled, “Statement on Immigration Issues in the United States.” This resolution would request that in the future church leaders refrain from promulgating any official statements on immigration until the members in the nation involved have an opportunity to engage in a process of deliberation and discernment for this issue in their nation. The LDS Church has also made statements on immigration, but chooses not to discuss this issue within the framework of a world conference.

-- Drinking Of Intoxicants: This resolution would seek to rescind WCR 297 that makes the consumption of alcohol by members and priesthood a test of fellowship. The resolution further would request the First Presidency give the church contemporary counsel regarding the interpretation of Section 152:4b, specifically regarding how the consumption of alcohol pertains to Community of Christ’s understanding of sin. The resolution would request the First Presidency and the Council of Twelve Apostles review church policy on abstinence from the use of alcoholic beverages and confirm and/or revise the policy and administrative guidelines so there is a clear understanding of expectations for priesthood on this issue. Finally, the resolution would request this guidance be shared with the church on or before the president’s annual address in April 2014. This resolution seems ambiguous to me; what does the C of C mean by a "test of fellowship"? Since the C of C does not issue temple recommends or require a higher standard of compliance for access to their Independence Temple or Kirtland Temple, does this mean that abstinence from alcohol will no longer be required for Priesthood conferral or ordination to a specific office? The C of C needs to clarify this by stating whether or not they intend to consider revising the Word of Wisdom itself.

-- Baptismal Prayers: This resolution would suggest the church needs to look at the language of the baptismal prayer so alternatives may be created because the current prayer is non-inclusive in attributing the masculine gender to God. Further, the resolution would give the support of the World Conference to the First Presidency for developing optional, additional baptismal prayer language and would ask that a report on this matter be made to the 2016 World Conference. If the C of C can do this without making it look like political correctness, more power to them. In contrast, Latter-day Saints believe in attributing the masculine gender to the Father, although we do proclaim belief in the existence of a Heavenly Mother.

-- Common Consent: This resolution would lift up the importance of the equal worth of all members in the process of common consent. It would suggest that further guidance be given to administrators and leaders at all levels who preside at business meetings to assure common consent occurs. The resolution would ask the First Presidency to appoint a committee to review, clarify, revise, and recommend changes that clarify the roles of presiders and participants in our legislative assemblies at all organizational levels in the church, especially the voting processes to be used and avoided when making decisions. The resolution would ask that a report on this study be made to the 2016 World Conference.

-- Action toward Nuclear Weapons Abolition: This resolution would affirm that nuclear weapons pose a grave moral threat to the Earth and the existence of life and would call on Community of Christ to join global voices seeking to halt nuclear weapons production, supporting prudent action to minimize the threat or use of nuclear weapons, and urging renewed efforts toward eradication. In addition, this resolution empowers the Peace and Justice Committee and the Earth Stewardship Team to share resources, network, and connect those within the church and church-affiliated organizations to strengthen our witness concerning this matter. The resolution also calls for a further report to be made to the 2016 World Conference. The only time I recall the LDS Church getting actively involved in this issue is when they released a public statement in 1981 opposing the deployment of the MX missile racetrack configuration in Utah and Nevada. This is another issue that the LDS Church does not address within the framework of a world conference.

-- Graceland University Board of Trustees: In accordance with WCR 1278, the Graceland University Corporate Body (First Presidency, Presiding Bishopric, and president of the Council of Twelve) has consulted with other church leaders and the Board of Trustees to determine the existing and needed strengths of the board in filling expiring terms. Three names, Ronald E. Gillilan, Cherry M. Hartnett, and John R. Sheehy, have been placed in nomination, and additional nominations from conference delegates will be solicited. Graceland University is owned and operated by the Community of Christ; it is their version of BYU. In contrast, the LDS Church does not submit nominations for positions within the BYU system to the membership.

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