Visit to Community of Christ

Part of a series about My Faith Journey.

On July 3rd, 2016, I attended Salt Lake Community of Christ for the first time. CoC is a branch of Mormonism, formerly known as the "Reorganized LDS church". In some ways, they're a lot closer to the LDS church that existed in the 19th century.

In the late 60's, disturbing information about LDS church history began to emerge. These findings prompted two very different responses from the LDS and the RLDS churches. The LDS church doubled down on the "faithful" narrative, using isolation and excommunication to deal with anyone who found out the truth. The RLDS church, on the other hand, began a period of soul-searching where they asked themselves "Is it going to be Jesus or Joseph?" They decided to come clean and tell their members the disturbing (and true) story of early church history. They took a hit and lost some members. They greatly de-emphasised the works & role of Joseph Smith and started talking about / celebrating Jesus a lot more. The period of soul-searching culminated in 2001 when they renamed the church Community of Christ, distancing themselves from the LDS church, and adapting a much more liberal theology. They've been rebuilding their numbers since then.

I learned more about Community of Christ by listening to some Mormon Stories podcasts where they interviewed various leaders / pastors of the church. There were a number of things that appealed to me about it: no practice of polygamy post-Joseph Smith (as there was under Brigham Young), no history of discrimination against blacks, they started ordaining women to the priesthood in 1984, and they're very okay with gays getting married. The podcast(s) I listened to said that CoC could be a home for Mormons who have experienced a faith crisis and are looking for a home with Restoration roots but just can't stomach the LDS church any more. I decided I would give it a try. Here are the high points of what I saw:

The image of the cross is occasionally used but it's not "in your face". For example, there were crossbeams in a stained-glass window behind the pulpit.

Lots of attendees wore street clothes. The women in attendance wore dresses, skirts, pants, skinny jeans, or even (short) shorts.

I sat on a bench next to a young couple. They warmly welcomed me and asked what brought me there. I explained to them that I'm a disaffected Mormon who had a faith crisis and is displeased by the LDS church's intolerant public stances and penchant for leader-worship. The fellow said, "That describes 95% of the people here. You already have a lot in common with us." We went on to talk about (post-)Mormon podcasts we listen to. It was so refreshing to openly discuss these things in church.

There was an older gay couple sitting on the bench in front of me (Mark & Dan). They were planning on getting married in December.

A woman presided / conducted the meeting.

A woman gave the opening prayer and prayed to Heavenly Mother.

An older gent gave a 4th of July-themed talk that was unlike any I'd heard in church. He began it by talking about how, at the founding of U.S. history, blacks were slaves, native americans were hunted & killed, and women were treated as chattel. He then posed the question: How have we improved and what do we have left to improve? This stood in stark contrast to the 4th of July talks I normally heard in LDS wards, which are very rah-rah / nationalistic / jingoistic. It was a refreshing change, and a very candid talk.

People quoted from very high-numbered sections of Doctrine & Covenants (e.g. section 164). Apparently, Community of Christ believes in an open canon of scripture and church leaders add to D&C on the regular.

When they did the sacrament (nee communion) a woman (wearing a tank-top dress and bearing a big tattoo on her shoulder) said the blessing on the bread (which was gluten-free). A man said the prayer on the wine (which was unfermented grape juice). I learned that the woman was ordained to the office of Elder some years back and her TBM husband drove up from his ward in Provo to attend the ordination. Nice show of support from him. She & her husband are regarded as a model of a successful, interfaith, married couple.

The hymn "Amazing Grace" appears in their songbook. We didn't sing it that day, but I've always loved that hymn and was delighted to see it in the hymnal.

The young man sitting next to me was invited to give the closing prayer, and prior to saying the prayer, he notified the congregation that 5 gay LDS teens had committed suicide during the previous week and that he was fairly close friends with one of them. He wanted to remember these people in his prayer and asked for comfort for their souls.

One of the members referred to the last Sunday of July as "Sunstone Sunday" since it fell on the same weekend that Sunstone conference was going on. (Referring to Sunstone conference in an LDS ward will earn you some sideways looks, at the very least.)

As the meeting concluded, one member of the gay couple on the bench in front of me (Mark, same name as me) said that if I wanted to share my faith crisis / disaffection story, we could meet somewhere and talk.

In many ways, it was wish-fulfilment for me to see all of these things that would be taboo in an LDS ward occur without anyone batting an eye. It was so refreshing.