Wednesday, October 12, 2005
A Reflection on a World Conference Controversy
By [Flannel Christian]
This piece was published in the October 2005 issue of The Herald, the Community of Christ world church magazine.
One of the most amazing things at the recent World Conference was the membership’s response to become a prophetic church. What was viewed by some as discontent or lack of faith, seemed to me an inspiring testimony of our faith in the direction our community has set itself.
Typically, Christian churches consist of a progressive membership led by a conservative leadership. Our denomination has always been a peculiar exception, with a leadership so progressive we call it prophetic, struggling to challenge and inspire a dedicated and well-meaning but more conservative membership. It took us 124 years to officially recognize the ministry and priesthood role of women, and even then the church body was wrent with struggle. It has taken us decades of discussion to begin responding to the call to be a peace church, and there is still wide diversity of opinion on this issue.
At World Conference, in the Elders’ Quorum and the French-language Caucus, and even in the main chamber, the issue was raised that although each of the selected ordinands for the offices of Apostle and Bishop are able, spiritual and gifted individuals, one couldn’t help notice that as a group they were comprised of exclusively white North Americans with English as their primary language.
Two of the five were women – a fact that twenty years ago would have threatened quite a row. We could have conceivably congratulated ourselves for our growing (albeit belated and slow) representation of “both” genders in the Council of Twelve. How tremendously affirming that the gender of the individuals received little or no attention in the prayerful consideration and testimonies surrounding these calls. The Call set forth in Section 156, in this respect at least, we as a people have risen to meet. The painful, challenging, necessary prophetic leadership of the Presidency has moved our corporate worldview, and transformed our world. Just as it should.
Our forward-thinking leadership dragged our sluggish and resistant membership, but we eventually arrived. This World Conference showed me that we could respond to the prophetic call. But ours is not to merely respond to the prophetic call – we are called to be a prophetic people.
Peculiar amid our corporate history, the 2005 World Conference should be remembered for the daring, heartfelt, multiple voices from the floor of the chamber telling the leadership of the church not that they were being too progressive, but in fact that they were not being progressive enough. Nevermind the gender mix – where’s the diversity of nations, the variety of races, the breadth of languages, the assortment of cultures that our church body includes? We have taken the message of inclusion and representation and run with it – in the very best way.
What a wonder-filled witness to our community’s having taken hold of the call to be a world church, a peace church, a community of Christ. At every Conference the flags of the nations are unfurled to remind us that we are more than North Americans, or Westerners. And I can imagine this need to constantly remind us growing weary on our leadership. How tremendously encouraging it must have been to them that in the midst of the ceremony and structure a few courageous and concerned people stood to remind them.
Whether our leadership needed reminding is not the point – we’re all human and things are rarely as simple as they seem on the surface. But just the fact that the faithful had held the prophetic call so close to their hearts that they could not refrain from posing the difficult question – that is what I will remember.
It was one of those moments that fills my soul with confidence and hope – with this kind of spirit we really could build Zion. Among those first steps on Zion’s road is not just responding to the prophetic call, but being it for the world… and sometimes each other.
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