A Moment of Decision: Veazey’s Address

I don’t like to focus solely on Community of Christ or internal denominational issues.  This internal focus is part of a greater disease plaguing so many of our churches.   However, that said, denominations do face challenges from many sides in the U.S. and many of us face these challenges together.    This disease is no respecter of denominations.

Click the picture to view President Veazey’s Address.  (52 minutes)

President of the Community of Christ, Steve Veazey gave an address to the Community of Christ this past Sunday, April 5th that deserves attention.   In the end, I think Steve has prophetic direction that is not simply limited to our church, but could be for Christian communities everywhere.  In this time of economic uncertainty and denominational instability,  “The vision and mission of Jesus Christ matters most.”   I believe our scriptures are clear on this.  Jesus proclaimed a kingdom beyond religious loyalties, ethnic identity, moral codes, rules of righteousness, and dependency on profits.  I thank President Veazey for taking our attention there.  Amen!

In the following, I give what I believe is a summary of his main points, along with my own reflections.   My hope is that together, we can digest the message available in his address and work it into our lives.  Quotations are taken from the text, which can be found here.

  1. Our denomination’s long term financial viability. To start off, President Veazey addressed concerns about the long-term viability of the Community of Christ.  As a denominational structure, the church 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, to make ends meet, the church will reduce the 2010 World Ministries budget by $4,000,000.   How will our people respond?
  2. Our Economic Challenges Reveal Spiritual Issues. How will we respond?  Veazey offers prophetic leadership by offering us spiritual insight.  It is an insight that has far reaching implications for our discipleship, not only as a church but also for our personal lives and America as a whole.  Veazey states, “I believe the economic situation actually reveals a spiritual issue that will require a spiritual response.”    Any spiritual response will take us beyond ourselves.   As a church, President Veazey reminds us that we are not simply members of a congregation.   But, this insight applies to all Christians.   As a community of Christ – both denominationally and figuratively – we belong to a world-wide family.   It is made up of all who profess the Lordship of Jesus Christ.    Veazey stated, “The church is an international body that God has called into being to fulfill divine purposes related to the coming reign of God on earth.”  What President Veazey says about the Community of Christ is a theological statement – a confession of faith – that bleeds over denominational walls and applies to every disciple of Jesus Christ throughout the world. This is a prophetic statement.  President Veazey’s call is for no less than a spiritual awakening.  If Jesus’ life and teaching ground our hope and guide our energies, our generous response – in both financial terms and in personal stewardship – will follow this spiritual trajectory.   Christ’s call is life-sized.  Religion is not a strictly “personal” matter.   Following Christ requires a vision that is world-wide.  All this reveal a vision for life lived in biblical proportions.   Beyond any priesthood office or denominational definition, Jesus’ life and teaching reveals precious truths told with a subtle plainness.   As a Rabbi, Jesus knew we teach what we are living.   This is a challenge to every member, every priesthood member, every Mission Center President, and every World Church leader.   The paradox of God’s sacrifice is its generosity.  Such divine generosity is a defining characteristic of Jesus’ life and teaching.   God’s economy, relational and spiritual, pours forth out of the life and death of Jesus Christ.   It continues in the life of his followers.   Grace and generosity flow equally in Jesus standing invitation to “Follow me.”
  3. Internal Questions: History. Before returning to the centrality of Jesus’ mission, President Veazey addressed certain internal denomoninational concerns that continue to hinder and distract the church form its purpose.  The first is the entanglement of the church’s sense of identity and history.  In brief, Veazey stated that the church has focused too long on the importance of the churches first 14 years (1830-44).  In fact, we have neglected the much larger portion of our history: the figures, decisions, and events of the Reorganization from 1860 on.   These years provide a kind of theological corrective to some of the speculations and indulgences of the church’s early period.  It is in the Reorganization that we can find the historical roots of our unfolding faith-story.  Veazey concluded, “I think [Emma Smith and Joseph Smith III] 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.”
  4. Internal Questions: Scripture. President Veazey called the church to greater responsibility in its interpretation, use, and understanding of scripture.  Referencing the church’s recent statement on scripture as well as Doctrine and Covenants 163:7d, President Veazey re-emphasized that Community of Christ does not hold nor condone the doctrine of scriptural inerrancy.  Instead, the church emphasizes two principles or teachings with regards to the nature, use, and interpretation of scripture.  First, there is the defining role of the Holy Spirit in illuminating scripture.  Second, the life and teachings of Jesus Christ are the definitive rule and revelation for interpreting and using scripture.  He stated, “Community of Christ…stresses that all scripture must be interpreted through the lens of God’s most-decisive revelation in Jesus Christ.”  In sum, “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.”    Being grounded in God’s revelation is a matter of discipleship, i.e. living a life of study, faith, and humility in relationship to scripture, not claiming to possess such truth or claim its authority.
  5. The Problem with Our Attention on Internal Issues. I believe the conclusion of President Veazey’s address is most prophetic, even by scriptural standards.   Steve Veazey recognizes the tragic scenario that befalls us as we place our energies and attention on internal church matters instead of putting faith in Jesus Christ and the promises of his community.  He stated plainly, “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…”   He follows with the kind of questions a modern prophet would ask – questions that echo in the empty spaces of our internal perspective and its increasing tunnel vision.   He asks, “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?”  He, then, reminds the church, “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.”    Just like in scriptural times, these questions tell us if we have ears to hear.  The prophet presents us the divine gift of our own uneasiness and introspection – the kind that calls for repentance and cultivates inspiration if we have the faith to suffer it and grace to receive it.
  6. Inspired Pastoral Counsel. President Veazey ends his 52 minute address with a note of confirmation and conviction.  “What matters most,” he says directly, “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.”     Honestly, these words hit me numb, but only because they to convey both the possibility and impossibility.   What’s true for the church, I believe, is true for me and every Christian.    Jesus proclaimed a “here-and-now” kind of gospel.  His disciples followed him before he they ever knew he would die or be resurrected because he had a message.  “On earth, as it is in heaven.”   The promise of eternal life is not some personal salvation.  It’s the individual call to discipleship and universal hope for daily bread.    President Veazey ended with the inspired pastoral counsel below.

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 written.

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 Spirit. Amen.

My testimony is that discipleship is not finding the answers.  It is finding the questions worth asking.

Likewise, salvation is not simply life after death.  Eternal life begins with a life worth living.


10 responses to “A Moment of Decision: Veazey’s Address

  1. It is telling to me that the “rallying points” of Jason Briggs, Young Joseph. and Emma Smith that Steve used as examples were all people who put their own sense of the Spirit ahead of the “best judgments” of their faith community about what the missions and teachings of Christ involved and said “No!” — and that applied whether they were saying no to their brethren migrating to Utah or to the larger Christian community.

    Ultimately, I can’t imagine any Christian faith community NOT believing that following the teachings of Christ is the most important thing. I know a great many non-Christians who treat things I regard at the core of Christ’s mission and teachings as the central elements of their lives. But the Body of Christ is nothing less than a planetary civilization (and actually a lot more).

    The prophetic involves hearing the Spirit about how, who with, and in what manner one dies to give that planetary civilization and the souls who exist within it new life. Blending the differences in what we each bring to that task in personality, understandings of how the world works, and our own gifts and limits is where the prophetic task starts.

  2. Several of us have noticed a sense of order to what Steve and Dave and Becky have been bringing to us. The church has not seen this sort of organization in prophetic commumication since about 1830. This continuity nicely blends the “business-like” sense of strategy with a true spiritual sense of prophetic guidance that people like me can relate to.

    Having known both Steve and Dave for over 25 years, I keenly sense anew their shared roots and wings combination that allows someone like myself to listen and follow and feel called.

    Matt, your last two sentances were very powerful – I don’t think I have ever heard this stated quite this way, but is something I have believed most of my life.

  3. Posted on the church’s website for the “Monday Message” concerning the financial issues raised in the main post is the following:

    “President Steve Veazey is aware that in some cultures of the world, it is expected for the leader of the organization to take responsibility for people losing their jobs. During a staff meeting held at the Temple and webcast on the Internet on April 8 he said, “Since our staff is listening all over the world, I want to accept that responsibility as the president of the church. I need to say that today to all of our staff throughout the world. I take responsibility for the financial condition of the church, and I am deeply sorry for those who will lose their employment. It is a personal pain, we apologize for it, and I will carry it as a burden in the days ahead.”

    Since I’m not from one of those cultures, I want to say that none of this is Steve’s fault and it is not a burden that should be borne by anyone. These financial declines are rooted in decades-long trends in membership (particularly leadership numbers) that are controlled within the larger cultural setting and are immune to ANYTHING that does or does not occur within the church itself.

    The future of the church is being decided outside of the church, and the only thing that the church can do to matter is LET their people go and give generously WHEREVER God is prophetically calling them to affect that future. The institution is expendable for the sake of the kingdom and the souls who will and do inhabit it.

  4. I appreciate FireTag’s candor and position on the above, but I always have to go back to the scripture that says that God is in the world, working His purposes out. The future of the church is being decided by each of us, every day. While external events and cultural shifts and internal leadership all affect the life of the church, it seems to me that God has already won the victory – we just need to claim the prize for the world.

    Boy, that sounds 19th century, but I guess I’m okay with that.

  5. Doug, I’m not sure we are in disagreement about what you say. I see “external events and cultural shifts” as the mechanism God IS using to bring about His purposes to a far greater extent than he is using internal events of the church. The church is being carried along for the ride.

    If you’ve had a chance to read Matt’s paper “We, Children of the Temple…” in Theology 14: Religion and Public Life, look at the next chapter in the same volume “Growing the Church to Impact Public Life.”

  6. Thanks for your thoughts, Matt. Here are some of mine…

    Let me refer you to a quote from Pres. Veazey’s Defining Moment sermon. The context is Veazey saying that he realizes that a lot of younger people are frustrated with the slow pace of congregational life in response to mission and with the lack of opportunities to lead and serve as they feel called. (Good insight and I applaud him for recognizing that). Veazey responds with “let me say the church needs the insights and gifts of all ages to be healthy…” and shortly thereafter says, “young adults, the church needs you. We need you now. We need you to help us become who we are all yearning to become.”

    What concerns me is this pattern…”we know we haven’t…but the church needs you.” What always comes through to the youth/young adults who are disaffected is WE (the church) NEED not YOU NEED, and YOU HELP us, not WE HELP you to be your best. The first step is to learn to minister without expecting something in return for the church. The point is not to reach the youth and young adults so that they can prop up the church’s ministry. The point is to serve them as we are (each is) called and to help them serve others as they are called.
    Veazey says that young adults don’t have an opportunity to live their calling yet asks them to be patient, to sacrifice, so that the church can benefit from the young adults. I’m exaggerating with the analogy but I want to be clear…it’s like Jesus saying, “My mission is too important for me to get up on that cross,” so we need some disciples to do it. And through their sacrifice, the mission can go on and everyone will be better.
    Now, obviously there is a place for sacrifice…but what I’m talking about is moving from thinking about what the church needs (the church needs young adults), to what the young adults need (the young adults need to know that they are loved and supported, they need people to support them in ministry, and they need resources to discover and live God’s greatest desire for them) –by the way…this holds true for any age group or culture. I don’t think we disagree on the intention here, but I question the logistics of how this approached because every time I hear about a new effort, like the effort I’ve heard being talked about for evangelists to focus on youth and young adult blessings AND to include the congregation in the blessing preparation, still continues to come across as lets get the young adults involved in congregational life (congregations need young adults, the church needs young adults), not what do young adults need and based on what they need is the congregation the best vehicle for offering that? It’s like the assumption is that the more the congregation is involved with young adults and vice versa, the better things are. I don’t think that holds true, although in some cases it may. In the evangelist blessing example you’re talking about it seems like what is intended is to get the congregation involved in the life of the young adult, presumably so that the young adult feels connected but also so that the young adult is more a part of the congregation.
    The danger that I see in trying to get congregations more involved in individual’s blessings that it seems to perpetuate the notion that (a) the best place for youth and young adults to have this support is the congregation, and (b) it destroys the significance of the individual blessing as a individual sacrament not based primarily on relationship to the church as institution. Community is important and we have community sacraments, like communion, baptism, confirmation. But we also tend to talk about community as congregation, rather than recognizing, respecting, and supporting church people involved in communities that are not congregations. It feels like it doesn’t count as ministry unless a congregation is sponsoring it. We’re counseled in D&C to generously share the sacraments…most of the people who need sacraments in the world don’t belong to congregations in our church…they also will probably not be receptive to a congregation participating in their blessing or a blessing that promotes ties to our church. But, I have, for lack of a better word “brokered” a number of blessing for young adults who needed a blessing from an evangelist but weren’t called to be a part of our church. We can’t reach them as congregations…we can reach them as individual people.
    As for point a.: In cases where the young adult and evangelist feel that it is appropriate for the congregation to participate in some way in support of the young adult blessing, there is already enough freedom for this to be done. The congregation that knows an individual is pursuing a blessing can intentionally pray for the individual, throw a party, etc. So, coming up with a specific congregational meeting to do this, as is what my understanding of what is being talked about in the evangelist example, doesn’t make any sense to me. If doing so is appropriate, making it a new initiative beyond just saying “Hey evangelists, if this is appropriate and your young adult wants to do it…feel free,” seems redundant…the freedom already exists to do it. And in the cases where the congregation is not the appropriate group to spend more resources participating in the individual blessing, it can cause harm. Here’s what I mean…we make the mistake of presuming that the congregation is the primary or ideally should be the primary community. It may not be. Maybe the young adult wants to invite three or four college buddies to participate in preparation for the blessing who have no affiliation with our church. Maybe the young adult doesn’t want anyone to know about the blessing (I facilitated one with a non-church friend of mine whose parents are Muslim and who would not have approved). Putting an evangelist or young adult (or people in a congregation) in that situation who don’t want it may cause harm either by what does happen through that…or cause harm by the opportunity cost…the preparation that needs to be done or a group that needs to be met with that is not a congregation that isn’t done because resources are spent to get the young adult to participate with the congregation and vice versa. The evangelist example is just an illustration of the larger pattern that I’m concerned about.
    One of the things that Veazey says that is really good is, “we want to explore models of ministry, mission, and leadership to open more doors for your participation,” and I think this heartfelt and genuine and one that is supported with the best of intentions from ministers and members throughout the church. And this is a truly WONDERFUL thing. Our church people do an amazing job of caring about the youth and young adults as best they are able. Rather than finding ways to involve them in young adults and engage young adults in church, free them and help them discover how they are each called to serve and to minister.

    • Tacy, thanks for your rich response. I think your take on the needed relationship between YA’s and the Church is really important. I think, too, that the role of the Evangelist has gone through huge changes. The spiritual discipline to be an evangelist, I think, is in short supply. Will YA’s take this spiritual challenge on? Rock On…Matt

  7. OK – why not divest the church of the historical properties – like the Temple in Kirtland. Clearly the UT church would want to acquire it – and the funds could offset the severe financial downturn now being felt. Why not? and why not now?

    • Tom,

      Is your questions rhetorical or an honest proposal. Either way, I think my response is a couple questions. What does the Lord require of us? What would you give for the sake of Zion?


      • Tom and Matt:

        I think you both bring up interesting points. With regard to the question of Kirtland–I understand the practicality of what you’re saying, Tom. Tough times lead to tough decisions. To me it all seems to come back to stewardship. How do each of us best steward our resources. Yes, of course we are called to give God 100% of who we are and what we have…but how we do that matters. I don’t know that there are one size fits all answers, but I do know that staying in tune with the Spirit is critical…and only the Spirit has the big enough picture to direct how, where, and with whom we serve, and how we make those decisions. What we have to do is listen well…and risk the adventure.

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