Mormon Stories alumnus John Hamer returns to talk about Community of Christ as a viable spiritual home for transitioning Mormons in this two-part video series. John Hamer was raised LDS, but became a doubting teenager and left organized religion altogether as an adult. In 2010, he joined Community of Christ and currently serves as pastor of its congregation in downtown Toronto, Canada.
In part 1, John Hamer sits down with John Dehlin and makes the case for “non-literalistic” religion. (The presentation is illustrated with John Hamer’s amazing diagrams, so the podcast audience is advised to watch the YouTube version.) John Hamer describes how a church with Restoration roots has evolved beyond doctrine and dogma to become inclusive of the LGBT community and a wide diversity of individual beliefs.
In part 2, John Dehlin challenges John Hamer with tough questions, including whether it is possible for some transitioning Mormons who feel real betrayal to join a church that traces its origin to Joseph Smith, or, indeed, any organized religion. The resulting dialogue was wide-ranging and intensely fascinating. Regardless of where you are in your own Mormon journey, you’ll surely find John Hamer’s case for Community of Christ thought-provoking.
In the course of their discussions, John Hamer referenced the “Latter-day Seekers” facebook group and the website Latter-daySeekers.org.
I looked at the Latter Day Seekers website and found it fascinating. I loved their idea that, ” we seek to be a true church–recognizing that the church belongs to Christ alone, and transcends any earthly institution or doctrine.” I find great comfort in this idea given some of the issues (polygamy, priesthood ban, etc.) that I’ve been struggling with in the LDS Church
One of the very best Mormon Stories podcasts ever. Eminently informative and—dare I say?—inspirational. For years I’ve been more or less of the Christopher Hitchens opinion that “religion poisons everything.” Could the Community of Christ be developing the world’s first non-toxic religion? Listening to John Hamer I almost felt as if I was witnessing a phoenix rising from the ashes of Mormonism.
Uncle Ralph, I think you are onto something by asking “Could the Community of Christ be developing the world’s first non-toxic religion?” Here is my story about discovering these progressive folks: https://orthodoxodyssey.blogspot.com/2012/12/discovering-rlds-community-of-christ.html.
Very interesting—your story and the building.
I agree that the principles enumerated in Mr. Hamer’s presentation form an internally, externally, and dynamically consistent foundation for the RLDS tradition and potentially any tradition. I would like to see the foundation of the RLDS church become the bedrock of a world church–one that distances itself from absolute truth claims and organizes around “Community” (no need for a possessive/alienating phrase) as it allows members themselves to integrate/reject doctrinal propositions because they are both theologically empowered and skilled. Unfortunately, as history suggests, religious movements can only persist if they are seeded with (or calved from larger movements that have) a compelling, “meaningful/symbolic” founding narrative–with at least a hint of historical accuracy at first–upon which to build common unity (community). I do not recommend, however, that we cultivate an Earth where new, religious super-narratives perpetually are born and compete for meme share. I believe the work ahead of Mr. Hamer–if his rejuvenation is to endure–involves mergers of equals. He needs to find a way to accommodate other (maybe American) founding narratives and merge, not acquire, them in such a way that the assimilated migrate their values from the narrative to the principles (which he has demonstrated he can do). If his principles can become perceived by onlookers as narrative-agnostic, he will really have something much bigger than a layover for some disaffected LDS Mormons. He will have discovered a model for political leaders if/when they may eventually seriously contemplate the notion of global citizenry.
Furthermore, Uncle Ralph, your comment: “Listening to John Hamer I almost felt as if I was witnessing a phoenix rising from the ashes of Mormonism.” reminds me of my LDS upbringing in Phoenix (!) AND MORE IMPORTANTLY the closing paragraph in neuroscientist Eban Alexander’s newest book “Map of Heaven” (after he recovered from a coma during which he had an NDE) in which he writes “As each of us awakens to the fact that our individual awareness is part of a much grander universal consciousness, humanity will enter the greatest phase in all of recorded history, in which we will gain a deeper understanding of the fundamental nature of all existence. This will involve the consolidation of wisdom over millennia, a coalescence of science and spirituality, and a convergence of the greatest concepts about the nature of our existence. The answers lie within us all…”
It seems to me that the RLDS/CoC, per John Hamer and Uncle Ralph’s above observation, is offering a communal religious structure that will better help realize Dr. Alexander’s above-stated NDE awareness and, at the same time, give our ‘Brother Joseph’ his due (flawed though it might be) in attempting to reach for such an individual and universal experience and awareness.
As a lifelong member of the RLDS/Community of Christ, interested in the church’s early history, and participant in the Mormon History
Association with numerous LDS friends, I was fascinated to hear John Hamer’s story. I appreciated his approach to analyzing the divergent paths of our churches and his openness in expressing both the intellectual and emotional components of his journey to joining with the Community of Christ. I can’t wait to meet this brother.
I will not soon forget RLDS/CoC Apostle Susan Skoor’s workshop at a Salt Lake City Sunstone symposium a decade or so ago. The most profound thing for me was when she said “We have learned to see Joseph through the eyes of Jesus, rather than seeing Jesus through the eyes of Joseph.” Aha! And Amen!
Problem is, if Joseph smith was a fraud, is not any religious group that arises out of his movement also inevitably a fraud? It seems to be that Hammer is rationalizing, and in the process he rejects most of the teachings of Smith on critical issues like what is the nature of God. In the classic sense he substitutes his own wisdom for that of Smith. So, then why is his “wisdom” in such matters to be considered better or closer to truth?
Robert – John addresses this in the podcast. Did you get a chance to actually listen to it?
Excellent podcast! John Dehlin, I am so glad you are back. Your podcasts are great and help me a lot. John Hamer – many thanks and kudos.
Life is messy and we are all in this together whether we like it or not.
I am going to give you the most important bit of information you need to know about living a mortal life here on Earth: The only thing that matters is how you treat those around you… especially those who can do nothing for you.
Jesus Christ really did give us all we need to know: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
With this simple phrase, he gave us the key to this mortal life. The key to our salvation. The key to our eternal soul.
After this life is over, your soul will be shown how it affected the lives around it — good or bad. Then it will be given the “opportunity” to experience how each and everyone one of those people felt.
Remember that, the next time you tear someone down or treat someone with disdain and anger… or you try to control someone with rules, laws or religious doctrine. Whatever you send out, will come back to you.
I encourage all who are on this website to heed my words and decide today to be the change they want to see in the world. To treat everyone around them the same way they would like to be treated. Take one step at a time. Find those you have offended and offer them love. Find those who have offended you and offer them more love. Doing this, you will truly find God.
Remember, we are all eternal souls having a human experience and our worth will be determined the quality of our relationships with those around us.
God bless you on your journey and be well.
Hey, Michael, while I found much, if not most or all of what you say to be true and maybe even useful, what I didn’t like was your pontifical tone. It reminded me too much of me in my younger years (if not also this year). :-)
Most important questions then…
Do CoC have Roadshows, Firesides, Youth Dances and Camps, Potluck Dinners, Gold and Green Balls, etc??
What does the community life look like to a family on the ground?
All the more reason these two churches ought to find a way to value and share the best parts of their respective experiences. Mark’s “most important questions” remind me of the best part of my LDS upbringing as a youth and a parent.
Thanks John and John for a very interesting interview. While I understand John Hamer’s vision that the Community of Christ could possibly fill the community void and provide a “church home” for transitioning Mormons, I just don’t see it. At least not for me nor any of my disaffected Mormon friends.
I’ll admit that I don’t know much about the CofC, but to me it feels like it’s 3 parts de-Jesused Christianity combined with 1 part watered-down Emma Smith Mormonism with a dash of…what’s that other flavor? Humanism maybe?
I think if Starbucks made a Community of Christ beverage it would be decaffeinated iced coffee (hold the ice), with lukewarm Postum, stirred with a honey stick.
No thanks. Just give me the honey stick and I’ll be on my way.
Gary, I don’t think anyone is suggesting that a huge number of disaffected Mormons will find a suitable home within the CofC. But potentially some, perhaps as many as a few thousand (given time), might just do so. You say you ‘understand John Hamer’s vision..etc’.But it is not at all clear to me that you in fact do understand. Did you listen to his comments early in Part 1, for instance?
Jonathan – “Vison” was probably the wrong word. The purpose of John Hamer’s presentation (as described by John Dehlin) was to “present his best case” for why transitioning Mormons should consider the CofC as a valid option for a spiritual home (paraphrase). John is clearly very gifted and he presented a compelling case. I’m pretty sure I understand his reasoning and I accept his arguments as valid. That’s all I meant by “I understand his ‘vision'”.
I admire what John Hamer is doing and truly respect his passion and dedication. He convinced me that the CofC is a viable option that some transitioning Mormons will, and should, find appealing for the reasons he outlined. I’m sure some former Mormons will find a comfortable home there. All I’m saying is that it’s not for me and probably not for those disaffected Mormons who are like me (which I suspect is the majority).
I think most disaffected Mormons will find their community by connecting with the ever increasing number of “tents pitched on the periphery of religious faith” (As Jeffery Holland put it)
John, I have had an opportunity to revisit this podcast as I indicated in my previous comment that I would. Having done that, I think that my earlier comment remains completely valid.
Both churches share a common early history and theology with divergence beginning even before the start of the 1847 exodus and culminating with the formal formation of the Reorganized Church in the 1860’s. Both Churches have to own the early history of polygamy, polyandry, frontier violence, and theocratic politics and economics beginning with the 1830 formation of the Church and continuing with the Kirtland, Missouri, and Nauvoo periods. Both Churches must contend with the fact that Joseph Smith claimed prophetic powers and visions and created an organization which purports to be a restoration of the primitive Christian Church.
Both Churches have had to deal with a problematic history and evolving theology. But they have taken very different paths in that regard. The LDS Church has determined to hold fast to Smith’s ideas and theology, embracing such difficult areas as the anthropomorphic nature of God, polygamy, the Book of Abraham translation et al, but limiting the discussion about these things so that most members until recently had no real awareness or opportunity to consider their ramifications. On the other hand, the Reorganized Church has dealt with them by initial denials, then by a course of rationalization and accommodation that has minimized or even eliminated these theological and historical issues as significantly framing the modern Community of Christ’s claim to theological uniqueness.
John Hamer said something quite revealing that bears on his apparent view of Joseph Smith. He said that in the Community of Christ, members can believe anything one wants to believe about Smith. If that is so, then is it not fair to suggest that members of that church are free to believe that Smith never actually restored the primitive church as he clearly claimed, and that therefore, in that respect, he was a fraud?
The modern LDS Church on the other hand has determined to make Joseph Smith the “Choice Seer,” the head of the “Dispensation of the Fullness of Times” making him in the minds of the membership nearly a demigod. It is safe to say that modern LDS members could not question the credibility of Joseph Smith, or any subsequent prophetic leader, in any public way without fear of ecclesiastical censure. It can be fairly said that the modern LDS Church is orthodox, dogmatic, and exclusionary in regard to any members who hold theological views divergent from those held by those currently in power. You, John, have just been made an example of that extreme orthodoxy. The modern Community of Christ (based on what little I know of it) appears to be inclusionist, anti dogmatic, and accommodistic. But what has it done to its original claims of uniqueness claimed by its founder? Quite simply, it seems to me, that it has all but abandoned them. The question then becomes, is that abandonment a good thing or a bad thing?
One person’s opinion: It’s a good thing. Hew to the truth and let the chips fall where they may.
“Members are free to believe what they want about Joseph Smith and other figures in history.”
The JWHA takes kind of a different view though, right? For example, does the JWHA publish articles arguing Smith was NOT a polygamist? Would a person who believed that be welcome in the JWHA?
for a number of podcasts, john dehlin has talked about the possibility of the lds church allowing there to be other, more progressive groups in the way that judaism has such groups where you don’t even need to believe in god to be a rabbi. it seems to me that the community of christ is such a place. based on what i’ve learned about the community, it’s perfect for disaffected lds members who still believe and have progressive views that dont fit the lds mainstream.
obviously, it’s not for everyone. but i would gladly go and check it out. unfortunately, i am a ways away from salt lake and live in a situation where i cant leave the lds church without a big backlash to my livelihood. if there was a congregation on provo, perhaps i could sneak in once in a while.
Jebediah, how about the CofC in Ogden? After a Sunstone conference several years ago I attended a Sunday service there and had a positive experience. For the sacrament, the bread is gluten free!