With the announcement that the National Conference of the Community of Christ has recommended expanding marriage to include gay and lesbian couples, I have spent the last day reflecting on something that I have thought a lot about for the the last few years:
What does the Community of Christ mean to somebody like me, a Mormon who is politically, theologically, and philosophically liberal?
In this case, by Mormon I mean a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the restoration branch headquartered in Salt Lake City, UT.
Mormons, in general, are dismissive of the Community of Christ. The Community of Christ was not too long ago known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mormons tend to view the Community of Christ as a fallen branch of the restoration movement which started with Joseph Smith in Upstate New York. Of course, as the culturally most dominant branch of the Latter-day Saint movement, Mormons are able to rather easily ignore the much much smaller Community of Christ, let alone the even smaller other branches.
The Community of Christ has been a more theologically liberal and mainstream church than the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Saints. This goes back to early days of the Reorganized Church in the 1860s. This is sometimes dismissed by Mormons as attempts by the RLDS, and now the Community of Christ, to bend to the ways of the world rather than sticking to the truth.
I view the Community of Christ in a much more friendly way. We share much in common. From Joseph Smith to Book of Mormon. Do they have different interpretations? Sure, but what religious tradition does not have such variations.
The Community of Christ has been friendly towards women’s rights, gay rights, and liberal theology for decades now. Yesterday, I asked my friend John Hamer via Facebook whether the National Conference announcement was a surprise.
"The recommendations of the US National Conference of Community of Christ (following on the heels of last year’s Australian and Canadian National Conferences) have been anticipated since the canonization of D&C 164 in April of 2010. Although the outcome wasn’t a surprise, the effect of the US National Conference will be a blessing for members who had been marginalized under the previous policy," said Hamer, a historian and member of the Community of Christ.
Hamer presents this change not as cowering to the ways of the world, but instead as a bold theological move.
"The move is consistent with Community of Christ’s trajectory over the past half century, which has been to focus on building Christ-centered communities. Jesus preached the gospel of inclusion and of love," Hamer said. "He opposed the worship of senseless rules as hypocritical and ‘pharisaical,’ and yet ironically soon after Jesus’ death Christians began to fixate on their own senseless rules, using them to marginalize others."
As always, John Hamer is one of the most intelligent and articulate advocates for the Community of Christ. Hamer ties these changes to the very idea of a restoration of Christianity.
"In taking this action, Community of Christ strikes one of these rules down, affirming the church’s commitment to continually restore the real intent of Jesus’ gospel," said Hamer.
For me, the Community of Christ is an example of the vibrancy of the Restoration movement that started with Joseph Smith. They are my brothers and sisters in the Restoration.
Since living in Wyoming, I have found that many of my friends and allies have been Unitarian Universalist and United Church of Christ clergy, as well as clergy and members at other mainline Protestant denominations. My association with them has bolstered my faith in Christ and my faith in humanity. I am glad to see that there is a similar line of thinking alive and well within the Restoration tradition.