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2004 World Conference Legislation

 

H-11 Ecumenical/Interfaith Relations Committee Report

To the First Presidency and the World Conference:

As a result of the action of the 2002 World Conference, the First Presidency appointed a committee on “Ecumenical/Interfaith Relations” for 2003-2004. WCR 1275 called for the establishment of this committee to “serve as a link between the Community of Christ and interdenominational, interfaith, and other carefully selected mission-oriented groups.” This same resolution expressed the support of the World Conference “for the Community of Christ entering into membership with the National Council of Churches of Christ-USA (NCCC-USA) and the World Council of Churches (WCC). It further called on the church to enter into dialogues with the NCCC-USA and the WCC “regarding an appropriate relationship between the Community of Christ and these ecumenical/interfaith organizations.”

The committee took its charge in three ways:

1. investigate and enter into a dialogue with the NCCC-USA about possible membership by the Community of Christ;

2. investigate and enter into dialogues with the WCC about possible membership by the Community of Christ; and

3. begin the development of a list of other groups that the Community of Christ should investigate for possible membership.

The committee met three times during the biennium. Apostle Gail Mengel was designated as the point person with the NCCC-USA, and Apostle Leonard Young took this same role with respect to the WCC.

I. World Council of Churches

Wim van Klinken (Netherlands national president) and Apostle Young visited the headquarters of the WCC on April 10, 2003. Discussions took place with WCC officials about the Community of Christ’s interest in possible membership.

The WCC rules indicate that one of the conditions for membership is involvement with the appropriate regional ecumenical body. The emphasis is on assuring that each communion requesting membership has a history of involvement in the national ecumenical organization in which its headquarters is located. WCC officials felt it would be advisable for the Community of Christ to join the NCCC-USA before seeking admission to the WCC.

Members of the WCC are expected to make contributions. The rules indicate that this is “mutually agreed upon.” For many years the financing of the WCC was based on voluntary contributions from member churches and there were no requirements for funds to be paid to the WCC. This is not the case now. The amounts contributed to the WCC by member churches ranges from a few hundred dollars to several hundred thousand dollars. The contribution from new members is an agreed-upon figure negotiated at the time of membership.

The WCC is financed from a number of sources. Currently income from contributions amounts to only about 20 percent of the WCC’s income; 60 percent of the income of the WCC comes from contributions by ecumenical organizations, such as Church World Service, who cooperate with the WCC on human relief and development ministries. These contributions vary widely year to year due to the appropriate collaboration relationships that may wax and wane for any particular organization. Other income comes from individual contributions, sales of materials, and interest on investments.

The basis upon which the WCC is formed relates to the statement, “The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior according to the scriptures….” This gives rise to questions about the use of extra-biblical scriptures by the Community of Christ. As discussions move forward in future years, an intentional information process will be required to share our view of scripture and the role of the Bible, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants in the life of the church.

It is important to note that the WCC has many noncredal churches as members and there is a wide range of churches in the WCC on the issue of credalism. They do ask churches seeking membership to declare acceptance of the “Basis” of the WCC and to acknowledge that the decision taken by the church to join the WCC was made with full knowledge of the Basis. A new set of rules for applications for membership will be considered in 2006 by the WCC Central Committee. These rules require the following:

1. In its life and witness, the church professes faith in the Triune God as expressed in the scriptures and in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.

2. The church maintains a ministry of proclaiming the gospel and celebrating the sacraments.

3. The church baptizes in the name of the “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” and acknowledges the need to move toward the recognition of the baptism of other churches.

4. The church recognizes the presence and activity of Christ and the Holy Spirit outside its own boundaries and prays for the wisdom of all in the awareness that other member churches also believe in the Holy Trinity and the saving grace of God.

5. The church recognizes in the other member churches of the WCC elements of the true church even if it does not regard them as churches in the true and full sense of the word.

The WCC does take stands on important political and social issues that relate to peace and justice and the witness of the Christian church. None of the member churches are ever bound by decisions of the WCC on social/political/economic issues. The authority of the WCC lies in the wisdom of what it says and does, not on any binding authority over member churches. The WCC often seeks to broker member churches into alliances where this is possible and helpful. Such alliances may seek to make public statements for those involved. It is expected that if a member church has a strong disagreement with a position taken by the WCC, such disagreement will be discussed with a WCC official prior to any public statements of disagreement. There is always a consultative approach taken with member churches that might be affected by any statement made by the WCC.

The WCC offers a fellowship of commitment. The goal is unity and common witness. The unity of the churches is the primary calling of the Council. The Council believes that no church alone can be the church of Christ by itself, but all together they represent the body of Christ in the world. The WCC offers to member churches the opportunity to be in dialogue with one another, to make joint efforts to promote better understanding among churches toward the goal of Christian unity.

The present climate on admitting new members to the WCC is not entirely positive. Over the last few years there has been a fairly intensive and extensive discussion within the WCC on whether the Orthodox churches would continue as members of the WCC. In the 1980s and 1990s the Orthodox churches have grown increasingly uncomfortable with the activities of the WCC. This has particularly been true as there has been an increase in evangelism in the area of the former Soviet Union and as Western churches have given greater emphasis to the ordination of women and issues of human sexuality.

As part of this discussion, the Orthodox churches have put into question the issue of whether the WCC should accept new member churches. The concern is that there are only increases in membership on the Protestant side since the Orthodox churches admitted to the WCC are only those associated with the ecumenical patriarchate in Constantinople. So there cannot be more Orthodox members.

They have agreed that during this time of discussion no new members will be proposed before the Central Committee meeting in February 2005. In the meantime, the proposals to change the theological criteria for membership (listed in #5 above) will “guide” but not control decisions made by staff in bringing forward churches for possible membership to the February 2005 Central Committee meeting.

Typically the process of membership takes two to three years. The process usually goes like this:

A formal letter of invitation is sent from the church seeking membership to the WCC general secretary. The letter indicates that the church wishes to pursue membership in the WCC and would like to initiate a dialogue with WCC officials on possible membership.

The WCC will request information about the church, including theological statements, polity descriptions, and governing documents.

There is discussion among staff about the church seeking membership and subsequently specific questions may be raised to which the church is asked to respond.

Often there are seminars or consultations scheduled in which members of the WCC staff can interact with representatives of the church and ask questions about the church.

A delegation from the church may come at some point to visit with WCC officials in Geneva and there will probably be at least one visit by WCC representatives to the church’s headquarters.

After this initial visit with the WCC, there are several concerns that have surfaced:

First, this is not a good time to be seeking membership in the WCC given their internal discussions about membership and their on-going financial difficulties.

Second, the new “theological” criteria may pose a problem for the Community of Christ and should be examined carefully.

Third, it appears that the WCC would prefer for the Community of Christ to be a member of the NCCC-USA before seeking membership in the WCC.

Fourth, there appears to be a potential problem with the Community of Christ’s acceptance of extra-biblical scriptures. This is only lifted up as a potential problem that will have to be addressed if a process of membership application goes forward.

Fifth, no assurances could be given to the Community of Christ that even after staff consultations and a recommendation for approval of membership is made to the Central Committee, that the Central Committee will give final approval.

There are enough questions raised in this report to warrant caution on the part of the Community of Christ in its approach to the WCC. There is an openness to further meetings and discussions with officials of the Community of Christ.

II. National Council of Churches of Christ-USA

As the committee began its work, we recognized that many church members have attended training events, conferences, and workshops sponsored by the National Council of Churches. In addition, we identified numbers of church members who have served on committees locally, regionally, and nationally during the last twenty years.

The decision of the World Conference authorized the church to begin the more formal discussion with the NCCC-USA concerning our participation as an associate or full member of the organization. We learned early in our discussions that it might be a several-year process of discussions and approvals if we were considered for membership.

Thirty-four denominations make up the membership of the board of the National Council of Christian Churches. Participation at that level requires a formal application and review process. During our months of discovery we learned that fifty-four denominations participate at the commission level of the organization. This is a more open and inclusive level where representatives of the denominations work together on commissions for Faith and Order, Justice and Advocacy, Education and Communications. We have been invited to send representatives to participate as members of these commissions. This was received positively, but it would also require a financial contribution, and the costs have not been identified at this writing.

III. Other Ecumenical/Interfaith Organizations

The committee also investigated the Parliament of World Religions as an organization in which the church should participate. The first Parliament was held in 1898, and Joseph Smith III was a participant. The focus of the Parliament is to foster interreligious dialogue and appreciation for diverse worldwide religious expressions.

The next Parliament will be held in Barcelona, Spain, in June 2004. The committee recommended to the First Presidency that the church have a strong presence at the upcoming Parliament of World Religions.

Early in our work and investigations of possible options for NCCC-USA membership, we learned that a new organization was being considered by a large representation of Christian churches in the United States with a vast variety of perspectives and backgrounds. The name that has been chosen during the months of discussing the formation of the group is Christian Churches Together in the USA.

President Grant McMurray and Apostle Gail Mengel were invited to participate in the third gathering of this new group. Representatives from Protestant, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, evangelical, pentecostal, racial, and ethnic denominations along with participants from Christian organizations gathered to discuss the purposes and activities of this emerging and historic group that seeks to create new levels of relationships that offer a shared witness for Christ to the world.

In their preamble they stated:

We are challenged as Christians by the prayer of Jesus in John 17 that all who believe in Him might be one with God and with one another so that the world would believe in Him as God and Savior.

We acknowledge that this is not what we experience now and recognize that we have different histories and convictions on some key issues.

We pray for a fresh awareness of the Holy Spirit’s work among us that will foster:

relationships in which differences can be better understood, our commonalities better affirmed, and our brokenness healed by God;

more opportunities to engage in shared witness, vision and action; and

a strong prophetic voice of the Christian community in America.

A steering committee is working to develop guidelines for membership and bylaws, and to make plans for the first General Assembly in spring 2005.

IV. Recommendations

A. Education: The committee has given sustained consideration to the question of how church leaders can share their experiences of ecumenical and interreligious participation with the wider church. The committee offers several suggestions:

1. Consider the creation of an “interfaith desk” at world headquarters that focuses on helping the church see the value of interfaith dialogue.

2. Include in the annual Worship Helps an “Interfaith Celebration” with appropriate worship outlines and helps.

3. Publish articles in the Herald about the work of the committee specifically and issues related to interreligious dialogue generally.

4. Consider making a course on world religions and/or interreligious dialogue part of the MAR/MEADS programs.

5. Consider sponsoring a World Religions Colloquy similar in format to the Peace Colloquy and Theology Colloquy to educate members about the world’s wisdom traditions, mutually introduce Community of Christ and leaders of world faiths, and explore the possibilities and issues of interreligious dialogue.

6. Continue to include information about ecumenism and interreligious dialogue in church school curriculum resources for adults and youth, as well as in reunion texts and other vehicles in order to further educate the church about the religions of the world.

7. Encourage every mission center to investigate appropriate ecumenical/interfaith organizations and associations that are available for local participation and encourage pastors and mission center leaders to become involved where possible.

B. National Council of Christian Churches-USA: Continue observing the national organization and consider the best options for our contribution as members of the NCCC commissions, in which fifty-four different denominations participate.

C. Christian Churches Together in the USA: As this organization moves toward its founding date of April 2005, support our participation in the formative discussions and submit application for membership.

D. World Council of Churches: Continue dialogue with the WCC during the next biennium as its rules and procedures for membership become clear and as the church’s position with relation to the NCCC-USA becomes more firmly established.

The committee appreciates the opportunity to share its observations with the church and looks forward to an ever-increasing participation by the church in ecumenical/interfaith dialogue.

Ecumenical/Interfaith Relations Committee

Gail E. Mengel, co-chair
Leonard M. Young, co-chair
Miklos E. Csorba
Sherry Gordon-Long
Jean L. Holmes
Pauline Holmes
Jeremy S. Kohlman
Brad A. Martell
Mark E. Megee
Anna E. Patterson
John F. Rawson
Beth A. Richardson
Scott W. Sinclair
Willem F. van Klinken
J. W. Windland
Hiroshi Yamada