This post is another installment in my “5 Cool Things” series. Today I’m giving a list, again in no particular order, of some things I think are really cool about our prairie cousins, the Community of Christ (formerly RLDS Church).
Just in case some readers don’t know, the Community of Christ is not one of the polygamist branches of Mormonism. They formed about 10 years after the LDS left Nauvoo, out of the saints who were not convinced that either Brigham Young or Sidney Rigdon should be the successor to Joseph Smith. They rejected polygamy especially, but also most of the theological evolution Joseph Smith went through during the Nauvoo period (i.e. ordinances for the dead, God as an exalted man, etc.).
Thus, from their beginning they were sort of founded on a very different profile than LDS. One of questioning authority and viewing a prophet as something more nuanced than the LDS view, something which LDS are only now beginning to experience in a mainstream way through things like Richard Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling and the church-sponsored Joseph Smith Papers Project.
Without further ado, the list:
- Pragmatic Priesthood
Members are only given the priesthood when they are called to a position which requires it. Teenagers are rarely ordained. The priesthood is not considered a rite of passage for spiritual maturation, but a tool that is used when necessary to perform the Lord’s work.
- A Democratic Canon
We all agree that all human beings, even prophets, have the potential to be fallible. The CoC leaders embrace that admission to the point that even new revelation from God is put to the membership at their bi-annual world conference to vote and either approve or reject as new scripture. I don’t know if there is a corollary, but they also have a much more active canon than their LDS cousins. The Doctrine and Covenants of the CoC only shares the first 120 sections or so with LDS, and yet they currently have 163 sections, with the latest one coming in 2007. In the last 100 years, the LDS church has only added one document to the official canon.
- Formally Trained Leadership
In order to be an Appointee (an equivalent to a General Authority), a bachelor’s degree is required. Once someone becomes an Appointee, they are admitted into an Advanced Leadership Study program which results in the equivalent of seminary graduate degree. Many callings actually have an application process where the needs of the position are measured against the talents and gifts of the candidate to provide a good match. That process is combined with spiritual inspiration for the ultimate selection, but generally callings are qualified on the basis of a person having the appropriate skills for the job.
- An Open Diversity of Opinion
Just as with LDS, the Community of Christ membership hosts a wide diversity of opinions and beliefs. There are CoC members who believe the Book of Mormon is a literal, historical translation of ancient scripture and there are those who see it as complete fiction which may or may not be useful as a source of poetic inspiration. The primary difference is that the Community of Christ, at the leadership/authority levels, does not impose an orthodoxy upon its members. They can freely and openly discuss these varied opinions in their public discourse and its just totally normal. This cultural aspect actually harkens back to early church history when it was fairly common to see a public debate between Orson Pratt and Brigham Young (at the time was the Prophet) heatedly arguing some pretty core doctrines and walking away as friends and fellow saints in good standing.
- Cyclical Leadership
The modern leadership system in the Community of Christ is not a lifetime calling. Even their prophets retire before death. Current president Stephen Veazey is quite a young man, and I would guess based only on physical appearance that he may be younger than any LDS church president since Brigham Young, and younger than any current LDS apostle. Some CoC apostles serve for only a couple years (their world conference, in which major priesthood business is conducted, is every two years). The position of Pastor (like an LDS bishop) is only a one year call which has to be re-confirmed each year (I think most pastors get “renewed” for a while, though.)