A Defining Moment
President Stephen Veazey addressed the church from the Temple
in Independence, Missouri, USA, on Sunday evening,
April 5, 2009.
Here is the text as printed in the May 2009 Herald.
This is a defining moment in the life of the church! Defining
moments occur at the juncture of fear and hope, challenge and opportunity,
hesitancy and faithful response.
The church has faced defining moments before. Times when
deliberate choices had to be made to clarify priorities in the face of difficult
circumstances. Such defining moments brought the best out of us and prepared us
for the next phase of our journey with God.
What is this defining moment? In general, it can be framed by
two questions: Will we allow certain circumstances and issues to divert us from
our mission? Or will we clarify our mission priorities and focus on what matters
It will come as no surprise to anyone that the church, like
other organizations, is facing financial challenges because of adverse economic
conditions. I am aware this is a major concern of many members. So, let me
address that concern first.
The church’s long-term financial viability is not in
jeopardy. The sacrificial generosity of past generations, the foresight of
previous leaders, and the disciplined application of financial policies in the
present continue to secure the church’s long-range financial future. However,
the continuing recession has caused a decline in
World Ministries mission giving
and projected income from church investments.
After carefully evaluating this situation, World Church
officers have decided we must reduce our World Ministries budget. Our current
plan calls for a decrease of about $4 million. Most of the reduction will occur
in fiscal-year 2010, which will begin in July 2009. The projected decrease will
require a reduction in World Church-funded ministries, support services, and
staffing throughout the world and at International Headquarters. How will we
Before addressing that question, I want to thank all who are
consistent contributors through Local and World Ministries Mission Tithes,
especially those on fixed or limited incomes. Your steady support, especially
during difficult times, encourages us. You already are doing your part, and the
church is grateful for your generosity.
I suppose the current financial difficulty could be described
solely in economic terms. However, I believe the economic situation actually
reveals a spiritual issue that will require a spiritual response.
One of the church’s
Enduring Principles is “grace and
generosity.” We respond to God’s grace, especially as revealed in Jesus Christ,
by giving generously and by graciously receiving the generosity of others. This
is a deeply spiritual principle that arises from the nature of God. We are
called, according to God’s eternal purposes, to grow spiritually throughout our
lives in grace and generosity.
What is our understanding of the spiritual relationship
between God’s grace, the gift of the gospel, discipleship, generosity, and
church mission? Is it limited to what mostly serves our personal needs or what
we like the most? Is it defined by casual, sporadic giving while we apply most
of our life’s means to other pursuits? Or do we understand the heart of the
gospel revealed in Christ is about compassionate, generous living that mirrors
the generous nature of God?
In Community of Christ, when we become disciples of Jesus, we
do not just become members of a local congregation. We become members of a
worldwide faith community. The church is an international body that God has
called into being to fulfill divine purposes related to the coming reign of God
Discipleship includes responding to God’s gift in Christ by
giving consistently and generously, according to our full and—we hope—growing
capacity to support local and world ministries. Such support is one of the most
evident ways we express our spiritual commitment to the vision of Christ. Local
and World Ministries giving are equally important for the church to fulfill its
divinely mandated mission.
I want to be clear with congregational leaders and priesthood
on this matter. We cannot expect growing generous response now, or in the
future, as the economy recovers, if we are not currently teaching the principles
of A Disciple’s Generous Response to all ages. Those principles include saving
wisely, spending responsibly, and sharing generously through Local and World
Ministries Mission Tithes. And, we cannot teach with integrity if we are not
fully embodying those principles within our lives.
I would like to focus now on the church’s vision for mission.
After several years of discussion and prayerful reflection, church leaders have
presented an understanding of church identity, mission, message, and beliefs in
a document entitled “We Share.”
“We Share” was created by a diverse group of church leaders
and members from throughout the world. We were richly blessed by the Holy Spirit
as we wrestled with important questions about church identity, mission, and
message from multiple cultural perspectives. Eventually, we jointly discovered
what I believe describes the heart and essence of the church’s identity,
mission, and message today.
As the document was completed, I was given clear affirmation
by the Spirit that it presents ample direction for the next chapters of our
journey as a people of God. And, if enough members and congregations embody its
principles, the church will move dramatically forward in fulfilling its mission.
Engaging this document is not about fussing over details or
looking for exceptions. It is about being captured by the vision and direction
that God graciously has provided us through the combined insights of our
worldwide church family. When the principles in the document become the
descriptors of our behaviors rather than just ideals, we will become the
Community of Christ that God is calling us to become.
[Copies of the “We Share” document may be found at
To become the Community of Christ that God is calling us to
become we must address some important issues. The first has to do with how we
relate to our history.
Our early church history is the story of faithful, inspired
people who heard the call to embrace and share the gospel of Christ more fully.
They did so with great enthusiasm. They responded with unusual commitment and
creative energy, giving tangible expression of the gospel in community life
Over the generations, though, we have tailored their story to
put the church in the best possible light. We have raised early church leaders
to the status of spiritual heroes of mythical proportions, while downplaying
their humanity and struggles.
In recent decades many books and articles have been written
about the earliest years of the Restoration movement. While some previous works
approached this period of history mainly by describing events, the more recent
works explore the interrelated religious, social, and political factors that
influenced the early church and its leaders. Many historians, with access to
additional historical information, are writing with increased frankness and
The Presidency recently released a set of “Church History
Principles.” [These were printed in the October 2008 Herald and can be
found on the church’s Web site at
The “History Principles” were created to bring perspective to the relationship
between history and matters of faith. While affirming the essential role of
historical study, the principles state that history does not have the final word
on matters of faith and unfolding direction in the church today. The history
principles provide the guidelines needed to treasure our history, but not be
totally defined by it.
Let me give you an example. Despite how our story often is
told, we no longer can claim that we were just the innocent victims of violence
during the church’s early years. While our forbearers were certainly the targets
of persecution on various occasions, more than once they provoked and initiated
violence because of judgmental attitudes toward others. In the pressure-filled
years of the early church, violence and militancy overtook Christ’s message of
reconciliation, forgiveness, and peace.
To move ahead with integrity in our emphasis on sharing the
peace of Jesus Christ, we must repent of and learn from the violent episodes in
church history. Only through honest examination, including identifying any
remaining signs of these tendencies, can we continue on the restoring path of
peace, reconciliation, and healing of the spirit to which God calls us.
We can take these steps because we know that our history does
not have to be without blemish to reveal the hand of God working in the
movement. Ironically, one of the primary principles of scripture is that God’s
grace is revealed most clearly by its working in and through humanity,
especially human weakness and sin. Viewing our history through this lens allows
us to be affirming, honest, and sympathetic.
We also need to recognize the longer part of our history by
far is the story of the Reorganization. That history makes up over 150 years of
our heritage. It is the story of Jason Briggs whose account of his experience
with the Spirit in response to prayer about the future of the church became the
rallying point for the “scattered Saints.” It is the story of the faith,
courage, and tenacity of Emma Smith. Without her we would not be here. It also
is the story of the pivotal response of Joseph Smith III to the leadings of the
Spirit in his young life.
The 2010 World Conference will include a celebration of the
150th anniversary of the 1860 conference, where Joseph III accepted his
prophetic calling. His fifty years of wise, pastoral, visionary leadership
provided the tone and direction that continue to shape the church.
Joseph III set the church on the path to becoming a faith
movement dedicated to the pursuit of reconciliation and peacefulness as the hope
of Zion and the essence of the gospel. Speaking to a special conference in 1863
about the desired focus of church ministry, he said: “We should preach the
peaceable things of the Kingdom.” (The True
Latter Day Saints’ Herald, vol. 4, p. 30.)
In 1893 Joseph III went to the jail, where T.C. Sharp, the
assumed leader of the mob that killed his father and uncle, was being held on
other charges. Much to the chagrin of many members still nursing bitterness over
the murders, he extended the healing hand of forgiveness. This is the kind of
story from our history we need to tell more often!
I believe Emma Smith, Joseph Smith III, and all who followed
the old, but ever-new path of the Reorganization would be pleased with the
church today. I think they would see their hopes for the church being fulfilled
in our emphasis on reconciliation and healing of the spirit; our openness to
continuing revelation; our growing understanding of giftedness and ministerial
calling; our concern for the poor; and our strong focus on promoting peaceful
Christian community as the hope of Zion.
Besides putting our history in perspective, we need to deepen
our understanding of the nature of scripture.
For this part of our journey we need a light and a compass.
Our light is the witness of the Holy Spirit that illuminates divine truth. Our
compass is the church’s “Statement on Scripture” that provides reliable
direction. [The “Statement on Scripture” may be found at
Basic to the “Statement on Scripture” is the understanding
that scripture is an amazing collection of inspired writings that is
indispensable to encountering the Living God revealed in the Living Word, Jesus
Christ. Scripture speaks with many voices, including testimonies, stories,
poetry, metaphors, commentary, and parables. All of these ways of communicating
point us to divine truths beyond the ability of any language to express fully.
Scripture is authoritative, not because it is perfect or inerrant in every
literal detail, but because it reliably keeps us grounded in God’s revelation.
Here is the heart of our challenge. Over the last several
centuries a doctrine of scripture emerged in Christianity that insists that all
scripture—every single word—was dictated directly by God and is inerrant in
every detail. This belief emerged as a response to the questioning of religious
authority from those who held that human reason alone was the most reliable
pathway to truth. So, a doctrine of scripture emerged that enshrined the literal
words of scripture as inerrant and as the sole authority on all matters.
This view still dominates much of global Christianity. It
also strongly influences more than a few members of Community of Christ who have
adopted it from the larger culture.
However, that doctrine is not how scripture was understood in
Christianity for many centuries after its birth. It is not how Jesus used
scripture. And, it is not how Community of Christ officially views scripture
The church affirms that scripture is inspired and essential
to our knowledge of God and the gospel. In addition, we believe that scripture
should be interpreted responsibly through informed study, guided by the Spirit
working in the church. Scripture was formed by the community to shape the
community. Therefore, interpreting scripture is the constant work of the
community. In other words, understanding and applying scripture is not just a
matter of reading a passage and deciding on our own what it means.
Community of Christ also stresses that all scripture must be
interpreted through the lens of God’s most-decisive revelation in Jesus Christ.
So if portions of scripture don’t agree with our fullest understanding of the
meaning of the revelation of God in Christ, as illuminated by the Holy Spirit
and discerned by the faith community, the teachings and vision of Christ take
precedence. This principle applies to all of our books of scripture, especially
any passage used by some to assign God’s disfavor, negative characteristics, or
secondary roles to others.
This is why our belief in “continuing revelation” is so
important. This belief keeps us open to “yet more light and truth” so we can
grow in understanding of God’s supreme will as revealed in Christ.
Doctrine and Covenants 163:7d states that “Scripture,
prophetic guidance, knowledge, and discernment in the faith community must walk
hand in hand to reveal the true will of God. Follow this pathway, which is the
way of the Living Christ, and you will discover more than sufficient light for
the journey ahead.”
We will be sharing some additional reflections about how we
relate to history and scripture in coming months in the Herald. Having
addressed this issue in general, let us turn to some particular opportunities
and needs now before us.
The 2007 World Conference passed a resolution asking the
Presidency to bring guidance to the church about our practice of rebaptism as a
condition for church membership. After a time of study and reflection, the
Presidency is inviting the whole church to engage with us in prayerful
discernment about this issue. We believe this approach is in harmony with
Doctrine and Covenants 162:2c, which states: “As a prophetic people you are
called, under the direction of the spiritual authorities and with the common
consent of the people, to discern the divine will for your own time and in the
places where you serve.”
The obvious opportunity before us is to sharpen our skills as
a prophetic and discerning people. The importance of the process is much greater
than how we will resolve the issue. Its ultimate importance lies in enriching
our capacity to engage in fair, Spirit-led dialogue about important issues. The
skills and experiences gained in this process will be essential to us in the
future as we address other issues. Resources providing individual and group help
will be mailed to pastors and soon will be available on the church’s Web site at
While we appreciate the enthusiasm and conviction of those
who already are sending in their final answers, we encourage all members to
participate in the prayer, study, discussion, and discernment process before
sharing your perspectives.
It is telling that much of what I have addressed so far is
about internal church issues. This is the greatest challenge we face. Will we be
able to put internal church issues in proper perspective so we can focus first
on our mission to Proclaim Jesus Christ and Promote
Communities of Joy, Hope, Love and Peace?
Everything else which may be of concern is secondary to pursuing this mission.
For example, I began by addressing economic challenges facing
the church and by assuring you that our long-term financial viability is not in
question. Is that the most important question we should be asking? The most
important question for a missional church is not about long-term survival. It is
about how we passionately pursue Christ’s mission in a suffering world that
groans for the liberating truths of the gospel (Doctrine and Covenants 155:7).
Are we mobilizing to provide pastoral care and tangible help
to individuals and families that are barely surviving because of economic
pressures? Are we responding to the increasing hatred and violence toward
immigrants and ethnic minorities because others want to make them scapegoats for
our common difficulties? What about the children in your community? How are they
doing? What does it mean to be a prophetic people who speak and act in the name
of God and Christ in times like these?
Many of our members live in countries with developing or
nonfunctional economic and political systems. Their situation is much worse than
anything many of us in more affluent areas are experiencing. What matters most
to them is how to free themselves and their neighbors from the devastating
effects of poverty, disease, and human conflict. The missional question for the
church is, “How does the hope of God’s peaceful kingdom become more than a faint
dream for them?” What will we do as a church whose mission is grounded in
restoring people to wholeness in community?
I am pleased to announce the Presidency, in concert with the
Community of Christ
Peace Support Network, is convening a summit this September
to address this question. We are inviting leaders of church-related ministries
and all our affiliates—such as
University, and the
Seminary, just to name a few—to meet with us.
Our goal is to create a vision and cooperative action plan
for promoting communities of economic justice and peace throughout the world.
Coordinating and integrating our compassionate relief, educational, advocacy,
and community-development ministries will allow us to make an even greater
In many parts of the western world a primary concern is
sustaining, reviving, and growing congregations to carry out the church’s
mission. The Co-Missioned Pastors Initiative is a pilot project designed to
discover the most effective pastoral training, resources, and support for
leading healthy congregations that engage all ages in focusing on Christ’s
We have learned a lot from the pilot project. Despite the
financial challenges we face, it is essential that we expand access to this
support and training for more pastors, congregational leaders, and priesthood.
Instead of one hundred pastors who now are completing the pilot, I see five
hundred, eight hundred, or one thousand pastors and congregational leaders who
will respond to the call to become effective, visionary congregational leaders.
Leaders who know how to incorporate all generations in congregational life.
Leaders who have the insights and skills to guide congregations in discovering
the ministries God is calling them to pursue in the communities they serve.
I am aware of the frustrations of some youth and young adults
with the seemingly slow pace of congregational life in response to mission. I
also am aware of your disappointment with not having opportunities to serve and
lead as you feel called. In response, let me say the church needs the insights
and gifts of all ages to be healthy. Congregations that ignore this principle do
so at their own peril.
I also know words are not enough. We need to do something
now. I and other church leaders personally commit to meet with young adults in
various locations to listen to concerns, perspectives, and hopes.
We want to envision the future of the church with you. We want to explore models
of ministry, mission, and leadership to open more doors for your participation.
We are making plans for such gatherings right now. The first will be here in the
Temple Lecture Hall immediately following this address. I invite all young
adults present to meet with us tonight. Yes, there will be food. (And, if your
children are young adults or older youth, you are no longer a young adult. I
have had to accept this fact, and so can you.)
Young adults, the church needs you. We need you now. We need
you to help us become who we are all yearning to become.
If you are ready to cause change right now, go to
www.we-cause.org. At this site you will find a special video message from me
and additional information about our plans for meeting with young adults. You
also will find information and links for specific opportunities for involvement,
and tangible ways to support the church’s mission right now.
So, after all that is said, what matters most? I hope it has
become clear. The vision and mission of Jesus Christ matters most! What matters
most is for us to become who God is calling us to become so the restoring
ministry of Christ can be shared in every possible way in every possible place.
As I was preparing this address, I prayerfully asked God many
times, “What more does the church need to hear?” On several occasions, I sensed
the impress of the Spirit. In response, I want to give voice to what I sensed
through the following words to the church:
Fear not! Do not be afraid to become who God is calling you
to become. God, the Eternal One, has been with you in your past, continues
with you in the present, and already is waiting patiently for you in the
future. Through your lives the sacred story of the Restoration still is being
Engage the current challenges and opportunities before you
with commitment and hope worthy of the dedication and sacrifices of those who
went before you. Creatively build on the faith foundations they laid. Open
windows and doors to the future.
Beloved community, God has chosen you to assist in
accomplishing divine purposes if you will choose to live out of your better
natures and potential. Deepen your faith. Refine your sensitivity to the
guidance of the Spirit so that you are not distracted by other influences.
Explore your scriptures with openness to new insights that will come. Increase
your compassion and generosity. Strengthen your relationships so the peace of
Christ may be magnified through you.
Have courage and hope. Gather in the gifts of all ages and
cultures so the ministries of the body can become whole and fully alive.
Others are being prepared around the world to join their efforts with yours,
if you will move ahead according to the direction offered to you by the
Brothers and sisters, there is a way into the future that
holds the promise that our best days are yet before us.
May we choose it is my fervent hope and prayer.