Monday, November 05, 2012

In Preparation for USA National Conference (Part I - "Since no one else is talkinga bout it"

In general, I thought the statement on sexual ethics was fine.

When it did falter, in my opinion, is when it did what it said it wouldn't do - ie. state good and bad behaviour.
"In this statement, "morals" primarily refers to personal conduct, character, or virtues. Descriptions such as good or bad, appropriate or inappropriate, and right and wrong may be used to describe the morality of individual behavior.  The term "ethics" as used in this statement has two primary meanings. First, "ethics" refers to the principles or standards by which individual moral behavior is guided, evaluated, or judged"
So we were going to discuss basic principles, not good and bad conduct. Specifically, we are told that lists of “do’s and don’ts” are a bad idea:
“Vice lists, rules and prescribed penalties are used to control personal morality, community relationships, and religious life. A rigid emphasis on vice lists, rules, duties, and penalties is called legalism. The inherent danger of a legalistic approach is the tendency of some people to apply rules in absolute terms in all situations.”

And when the statement stuck to principles, rather than conduct, I thought it was quite good.  When it went beyond that, and actually gave its vice lists (which we’re told was a bad idea – “dangerous” even) I feel the statement at least highlights and at worst, exacerbates the problems we are having as an international/intercultural church.
On the “Good” side: Monogamous marriage. Without going into why monogamous marriage is “the relationship through which sexuality can fulfill its potential to bless human lives” – isn’t this the whole point of this discussion? What is monogamous marriage? For years it was a legal marriage, then homosexuals were allowed to be married, and all of a sudden, it wasn’t legal marriage anymore. Interculturally, do all monogamous marriages “promote love, trust, companionship, intimacy, spirituality, and peace?” I submit this is not universal. So why not put forward the “ethic” of this type of relationship, so we can decide if the conduct of marriage fits into this moral principal on a case-by-case basis, rather than declaring a certain moral conduct (marriage) to be “good” and then presuming that such conduct is equally the same across all cultures and countries? Especially when this is the exact issue this statement is supposed to be trying to help us illuminate?

The “Bad” column is far longer, and we are cautioned that it is not limited by these few things (query that no similar flexibility was offered with respect to marriage, which is THE relationship that God blesses): Promiscuity; incest; sexual harassment, pornography, genital mutilation, child abuse, rape, prostitution, and human sex trafficking. That’s quite a vice list. And, as promised, it is replete with all the problems and dangers “inherent” in these sorts of legalisms.

Rape, sexual harassment and child abuse, are criminal/legal terms. They vary not only from country to country, but state to state. Surely the church’s statement on sexual ethics is not meaning to imply that sex with a 16-year-old is ok in one legal jurisdiction but not in another depending on their particular state legislature? Incest, prostitution, promiscuity are all in the eyes of the beholder. Is there anyone opposed to homosexuality that does not consider it to be promiscuous? So does this sexual ethic confirm homosexuality is wrong? And pornography? I’m sure a Victoria’s Secret catalogue would fall squarely within some people’s definition of pornography (and it’s certainly used as such by many). Does a teenager with a flashlight huddled under his blanket with such a sales catalogue really constitute an example of “sexual expressions that damage or exploit others through harassment, violence, or abuse?”

Anyway, you see what I’m saying. I appreciate the “ethics” part – where we affirm principles of love, respect, non-violence, personhood, integrity, etc. But when we start listing the vices, the statement not only gets off track, but perpetuates anyone and everyone’s preconceived notions of what is bad conduct. And I thought that was exactly what we were not going to do.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Not that it matters, but one issue not directly discussed is the changing of the dates for the 2013 World Conference. At the 2010 World Conference, the dates of April 13-20, 2013 were presented, discussed, had amendments proposed and finally voted on and approved by the body politic.

Again, it's no big deal, but does it interest anyone that the First Presidency, or the USA Apostles, or whoever, has unilaterally overridden Conference action by changing these dates to accomodate the USA Conference?

We've discussed how the First Presidency has used Section 164 to unilaterally decide which legislation the World Conference will or will not address - and now we see leadership just ignoring World Conference action.

Perhaps this is for the best.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Delay, Delay, Delay

I'm not one to say "I told you so".

But I did.

April 2010

But I don’t think it’s unreasonable for one to question whether a conservative (institutionally if not ideologically) leadership struggling to maintain status quo during a time of economic and theological upheaval, may have just found a way to once again put off a difficult and potentially divisive decision for another day – upsetting some, but outraging no one. Might there be another problem as leaders attempt to “create and interpret Church policy” or implement local or national conference? Sure. But I’m sure the First Presidency, as Scarlett O’Hara put it – is happy to think about that tomorrow, after all, tomorrow, is another day.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Executive Power

In my opinion, Br Veazey is merely streamlining and codifying the state of leadership in the Community of Christ since the beginning. Although we have always had World Conference and common consent, in practice, they have never meant much. Real policies are always set by the leadership, either by divine revelation, or by just doing it (no conference action or divine inspiration created the policy that says priesthood can't perform civil marriages of glbt, for example).

In general, the Presidency has used its influence to direct Conference action to its desired outcome - either through direct action, or indirect usurption of rules. In the rare event that Conference takes action in contravention of Presidential desires (non-discrimination policy; requirement that all publications are simultaneously translated into 3 languages) they are generally ignored. This is possible because of the fact that our structure has no checks and balances. Their is no Supreme Court to take leadership to, there is no official opposition to criticize, and no policy auditors with even the ability to see if they are conforming to WC dictate.

All Br Veazey is doing differently, in my mind, is stopping the charade. WC becomes less and less legislative and more and more about learning and communing ( go back and count how many resolutions have been adopted by WC over Br Veazey's tenure ). With the establishing of the "non-legislative" national conferences to handle any contentious issue, he has further established the notion that there is a collaberative process of decision making, but that the ultimate decision is not made by raising our hands, but by the Presdiency.

And this is not necessarily a bad thing. We do not have a corporate body or structure that is very capable of important legislative decision making. Delegates are not chosen based on their insight, knowledge or position on any particular issue. Due to the nature of WC, delegates are genearally not a very good representation of consituents, as they need to be made up of people with the time and resources to attend. And, as previously stated, there is no mechanism for checks and balances anyway. So having decisions made by a bunch of relatively homogenious, disinterested and uninformed reunion-goers is not exactly a solid cornerstone for representative government.

That said. Br Veazey does have a choice. He could implement a better system, a better structure - where the constituents of the Church are actually represented. Resolutions could be presented in such a manner to allow proper, deliberative consideration prior to Conference. He could establish a body to hold the Church accountable for decisions made and a mechanism for checks and balances of power, in order to give the legislative process some real legitimacy.

Of course, as long as you agree with the way the President is leading the church, the most efficient and effective way to go is through a more dictatorial style of government. This is certainly the direction the US is going as it vests more and more power in the executive.

In that event, however, the most important decision the body can make, is who that executive is.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Taking a Stand

Here's the deal, folks: indidivduals, in the name of their religion, do something. If we deny those individuals certain rights that we might grant others, that is intollerance. If we tell those individuals that we disagree with what they did, that's not intollerance, that's merely disagreement.

In this instance, Group A flew some planes into the World Trade Center in the name of Islam. Group B responds to that by non-violently expressing its disagreement against this action and other actions of violent extremism. Group C responds, not to the first act, by Group A, but to the second act, by Group B - saying that it is intollerant, and hateful.

I don't get it. The Church in Flordia is objecting to violent acts carried out by extremist Muslims. They are doing so in a non-violent fashion without breaking any laws and, frankly, in the tradition of many who protest by burning representative things (flags, efegies, etc.) This is not intollerance. They are not saying that Muslim's shouldn't be allowed to build certain places (like the Ground Zero Mosque - for which the CofC did not "denounce"). I thought we all denounced the acts of violent extremists in general and 9/11 specifically?

So why does the CofC (Group C) publicly denounce this legal and non-violent denunciation (oh the irony)? Probably because it's easy. Because everyone is opposed to it. And, because we all claim to be "christian" so it's ok to criticize other christians. I doubt we'd get the same lecture from the CofC leadership of Muslim clerics calling for the killing of Christians. Now that sounds intollerant.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Responding to Budget Woes

A conference minister within the United Church of Christ gave a workshop presentation a couple of weeks ago and left the attendees with, what he called, the “one thing” they could do to ensure healthy and growing congregations. It was for each adult in that congregation to get to know one child or youth in the congregation by name, to know what school they go to, what grade they’re in, what their teacher’s name was, and what they were interested in – and then to talk to that youth each Sunday, calling them by name and asking what is happening in their lives.

The concept is not profound, but I know I don’t know any youth in my congregation that intimately. But his next point struck me even more. Someone responded cynically that, with soccer and baseball and other Sunday sports activities, their youth were rarely around. His response was to recount his own testimony about attending his grandchildren’s t-ball games. He said that, when each child went up to bat, every grown-up there, from her parents, to her coaches, to the other players’ parents, to the parents of the other teams’ kids, called out her name, shouting encouragement and voicing their support for her success. “Perhaps,” he said, “if Church were more like that, it would make a difference.”

I thought about this story as I read President Veazey’s address to the Community of Christ Finance Board regarding the latest woeful budget numbers. What strikes me as concerning is the overarching paradigm of leadership that current mission and work is above reproach such that the status quo is not only important to maintain, but the lack of response by the members is solely a result of their lack of awareness of how good this mission is or a lack of personal responsibility for the success of this mission.

The response of Church leadership to fiscal troubles appears to be almost entirely uni-directional. Diminished funds are a result of a failure in response of the membership and needs to be addressed by an increased response.

I desperately want to believe our people will respond to the vision and case for giving that we will be presenting to them.

I am going to trust the Spirit to bless the church and turn our members’ hearts to increased generosity in support of our worldwide mission.

I also will talk to people who are deeply devoted to this work who need some extra “inspiration” for increasing their generosity to reflect their full capacity.

To the extent World Church or leadership should be engaged, it is for the purpose of helping individuals better respond.

I am asking the Presiding Bishopric and Integrated Communications to reformat the FY 2011 budget you have just approved to communicate clearly the ministries supported by WMMT in contrast to those supported by other income sources.

Be a positive spokesperson for our worldwide ministries and the importance of supporting those ministries through tithing.

Be proactive in your public teaching and preaching ministry to bring positive witness to bear on Disciples Generous Response principles, World Church mission, and the need to support worldwide ministries that are making a real difference in the world.

Let me be clear: I do not mean at all to imply that world ministries specifically, or the Church’s wider mission in general is not laudable or even superior. I know many who work diligently in this area and are rightly committed and proud of this work and I am not meaning here to disparage it in any way.

But couldn’t some of the lack of response to the mission be attributable, in even a small part, to the mission itself? After all if we subscribe to the theology that tithing is a response, rather than merely a responsibility, then it stands to reason that the two sides of the coin should be examined in the face of decline – the response, and the mission to which we are asked to respond.

Imagine parents stop signing their kids up for a particular local t-ball league after years of full membership. To what would you attribute this decline? Do you suppose it’s because people have forgotten how much fun the league was? Have they forgotten how good the league is for their kids? Have parents made other choices, poorer choices even, at the expense of their children? All of these are perhaps possible and certainly, any good strategy for recovery would include a campaign to remind past members and inform new membership.

However, if support is waning for the league wouldn’t it make just good common sense for the league to take a look at its own product for potential problems? Has the t-ball league changed in a way that people didn’t like? Has the league failed to change in ways that made it less competitive relative to alternative sporting activities?

Shouldn’t the Church be asking itself these questions? And perhaps they are – but if they are, shouldn’t they also be communicating this to the members? Because it sure doesn’t sound like it – to the contrary, it sounds like it’s all the members’ fault: they’re not generous enough; they are unaware of the importance of the mission; they need extra “inspiration.”

Moreover, President Veazey is resolute that he will moralistically stick to the mission notwithstanding any contrary opinions of the members.

A nonnegotiable for me is that I will not compromise vision, message, and the Spirit’s clear guidance in the face of threats from individuals that they will withdraw their financial support if they do not agree with church direction or certain decisions.

I’m not saying he should not take this approach in the face of individual threats, but the optics are that Leadership sets the mission and we are to follow. If we elect not to follow, however, President Veazey makes it clear that threats can go both ways.

Another nonnegotiable for me is priesthood support of World Ministries Mission Tithes. Soon, we will put in place an administrative policy that will state clearly that we will not approve the ordinations of people whose understanding of the gospel and ordained ministry does not include awareness and support of the worldwide ministries of the church through tithing.

Again, this is not to say that the Leadership does not have the right mission and the right policies. But this message by President Veazey comes across as arrogant and elitist, and certainly doesn’t inspire me to increase giving.

If the President’s goal is not first and foremost to maintain status quo – then don’t open your budget address congratulating yourself that “[t]his budget decrease was achieved without staff reductions” - because members that aren’t close friends and colleagues with world church staff, probably don’t get passionate about increasing giving so that more church employees can keep their jobs. (Imagine President Obama having a press conference saying he managed certain minimal budget cuts – but “good news!” – they were all from cuts to programs and none of his staff will have to lose their jobs!)

If the President is examining the mission of the Church to see if it can be more meaningful in order to elicit a more meaningful response from members, then don’t dismiss concerns of members with regard to that mission as being “non-negotiable.”

If the President wants tithing to be a response to the ministry of Jesus, rather than admission to the club, then don’t threaten to deny what are supposed to be calls of God due to a failure to pony up in a sufficient manner.

The Community of Christ is not alone in this struggle. All denominational churches are seeing membership and giving decline – and have seen this for decades. But note the following contrasting response from the UCC:

Minister and Team Lead for Financial Development, Donaldson Hill, will provide leadership to a team exploring a broad range of alternate income streams and says that the projected budget shortfall "reflects the redefinition of the role of denominations."

Hill maintains that attitudes in the church and throughout society have shifted in such a way that the funding of ministry and non-profit organizations is changing dramatically. "We need to catch up with and build our organization around this change," says Hill. "That will be our task over the next few years. Going back to old funding models will not work."

The Church needs to implore those who use the services of the Church, who value it’s mission, to understand their responsibilities to support those services and the mission. But I don’t hold out a lot of hope for anyone who looks at the problem of declining interest, declining membership and declining donations as solely the problem of those who don’t feel compelled to give.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Community of Christ National Conference

Does anyone have any further insight on the discussions/decisions regarding national or field conferences? I know there were meetings after World Conference, and that summer 2012 has been penciled in as a potential US Conference date, but have their been further developments?

In the words of Bugsy Siegel: I cannot function efficiently when I am in a state of ignorance.

Thanks for your help.