World Conference Reflections, Chapter 1

This week we will be featuring several reflections from our World Conference. Enjoy!

By Rick Sarre

This was my seventh World Conference. If one assumes that there are usually six days of legislation, that’s 42 days that I have observed (and participated in) legislative deliberations. Of those 35 days none has been more satisfying than Friday, June 10.

Mid-way through the morning we began the consideration of G-7 Supporting Indigenous Peoples submitted by the World Church Human Rights Team, which read (in part):

Resolved, that the 2016 World Conference officially renounce the Doctrine of Discovery and ask the First Presidency to issue a statement to be published in official church publications, including the church website; …

This doctrine, which survives historically today, states that colonizing countries were right to subjugate the indigenous populations of the countries they colonized (USA, Canada, Australia, Central and South America, Africa). Elray Henriksen, Europe Mission Centre, moved acceptance of G-7 and it was finally approved by a vote of 1,797 in favour and 126 opposed.  Considering that a similar motion three years ago was shelved, this was a remarkable achievement.

Just before lunch we began discussion of Item G-6 Palestine and Israel submitted by the World Church Peace and Justice Team. It read:

Resolved, That Community of Christ specifically declares its belief in the love of God for Muslims and Jews, and we denounce all Islamophobia and anti-Semitism; and be it further Resolved, That Community of Christ join with other Christian, Jewish, Muslim, ecumenical, and secular peace movements in the call for peace in Israel and Palestine. We, with other Christians, call for the right of the State of Israel to exist in secure borders; for the cessation of Israeli military occupation and illegal settlements in the West Bank; and for the recognition of the State of Palestine (in accordance with 1947 UN General Assembly Resolution 181/II, 1967 UN Security Council Resolution 242, and 1988 UN General Assembly Resolution 43/177).

Former Herald editor Jim Hannah led the debate. There were a number of attempts to amend the resolution, including a substitute motion (defeated) and an amendment to the amendment (defeated) that would have had the effect of watering it down. G-6 as originally proposed was (after 90 minutes of debate) finally adopted by a vote of 1,332 in favour and 569 opposed. It was a wonderful moment.

The afternoon included consideration of G-5 Opposition to Predatory Loans submitted by the Central USA Mission Center:

Resolved, That Community of Christ condemns predatory lending practices as immoral and sees them as a threat for luring vulnerable individuals and families into a debt trap that often pulls them into poverty; …

After a splendid debate, G-5 was approved by a vote of 1,624 in favour and 301 opposed. It was a very strong statement on a matter of human dignity.

I am delighted that the church has chosen to re-establish itself as a voice for grand statements of principle.

There were two things that left me a little disappointed at conference, however.

Firstly, the Australian delegation was assigned dreadful seats. We could see very little of the front podium. As far as I could see, all other internationals were given preferred seating positions. I felt sorry for our first-timers.

Secondly, the security staff were overly visible and excessively surly. While I appreciate that security for the presidency is a necessary requirement, and while I appreciate that these men are volunteers and church members with law enforcement backgrounds, their presence (and their concealed firearms) are unnerving to me. We do not need up to eight people on duty, stationed around the auditorium (but not the Temple for reasons unexplained), especially given that the issue that initially inflamed some aggressive threats (homosexuality) was not up for discussion. Those people who have been to Disneyland and Worlds of Fun would not have seen security officers because they are dressed as sweepers and gardeners. This is done so that kids don’t get spooked. They are highly trained but invisible. It’s a model worth considering at conference. The black suited, expressionless, ‘secret service’ look has no place in our midst. The quality is questionable too. One guard sitting in front of me for an afternoon spent the entire time playing war games on his mobile phone, and not watching proceedings at all. The software was programmed to have his ‘victims’ crumple to the ground when hit. Later his sights were set on buildings and jeeps, and he blew up a half dozen of those while I watched. This is not the calibre of guard that I find comfort in. We can do much better than that.

But putting that aside, this was one of the best conferences that I have attended. No more do people get the chair’s attention by yelling loudly “Mr President” (a feature of the 1970s and 1980s). No more do we have the threatening and actual enmity that shrouded the long debates over the issue of women in the priesthood, the new name of the church, or the acceptance of LGBTQI persons into complete and ‘corporate’ membership of the church. While these conferences engaged the church memberships in some important debates, they were difficult and divisive debates and some of my friends, sadly, no longer attend because of them.

In contrast, this 2016 conference considered (and approved) a powerful revelatory statement that had emerged not from ‘on high’ but after three years of discussion. Even the statement on tithing that was finally approved was in its third iteration by the time it was passed by a majority of delegates. The church is acting bravely and counter-culturally on a number of issues, and the leadership is not unwilling to put something to the people and then re-work it if the spirit of the body is not with them. This is the common consent that we have all paid lip-service to in the past; it has now, to my mind, reached maturity. We still have work to do. It is the nature of Zion that it is filled not only with joys but also with concerns, and with an eye to challenging injustices wherever and whenever they occur. It is when we listen to God’s voice calling us into the future that our eyes are opened to new possibilities. The 2016 conference has opened my eyes to many new possibilities. I look forward to the 2019 conference with great anticipation. I just hope we get better seats.