In response to revelatory guidance accepted at its 2010 World Conference, the Community of Christ scheduled a US National Conference for the summer of 2012 specifically to deal with questions of sacramental marriage and priesthood ordination for GLBT members of the church.

On May 25, the church announced a delay in the US National Conference until April 2013, so it convene immediately following adjournment of the World Conference. The stated reason is the need to minimize travel costs to American delegates from having two major conferences within a nine-month period, in light of continuing economic difficulties in the United States.

Frankly, I find this explanation puzzling — because I can’t imagine what the church leadership thinks it knows about financial issues now that they didn’t know in April, 2010, when the church accepted Section 164 and moved, with great hope among more progressive elements of the church, to schedule the National conference as quickly as possible.

After all, in April 2010 the Obama administration already was projecting unemployment into the 2010-2012 period that the left described as “grim” for Democratic congressional and presidential election chances. The projections were remarkably close to what the current rates actually are and should not have been unexpected, even if one thought US government fiscal policies would eventually work or were justified to avoid a worse situation.

Within the church itself, President Veazey followed the World Conference with a downbeat assessment of the budgetary prospects for the church that was markedly less optimistic than the corresponding 2011-2012 budget plan announcement released the day before the national conference was delayed.

So, finances sounds like the surface justification for some deeper reason the leadership does not want to be transparent about. To consider what may really be happening, we should consider how the new schedule affects:

  • what decisions will be made before the US National Conference is held;
  • the make-up of delegates to the US national conference; and,
  • the press coverage (particularly international coverage) the US national conference will receive.

Watch Canada

I previously noted here that field assignments following the 2010 World Conference created a “gerrymandered” Mission Field from Canada to Australia that just happened to include all of the Mission Centers that had passed World Conference legislation preempted by Section 164. Interestingly, the delay of the US National Conference does not affect the schedule of the Canadian Conference (any change in Australia’s schedule is still undecided).

Thus, Canada, where gay marriage is already legal, will have the lead in setting precedent in dealing with this issue — not the US. This has a lot of advantages for the leadership in reducing the risks that GLBT issues will blow up in the church’s face. These issues are not as controversial in Canada as in the US, and certainly what happens in Canada will be less publicized in the US and in the conservative Christian nations of the third world where the CofChrist increasingly sees its future.

If the Canadian church decides to accept GLBT ordination and/or some version of sacramental marriage rites, the church can simply attribute it to local decisions and shield itself from any conservative backlash. If the Canadian church can not address this issue — either by reaffirming traditional understandings as correct, or by producing a harmonious consensus for change that the church leadership can then lead the US national conference to adopt,  the leadership then has months to conduct damage control prior to the 2013 World Conference and the US National Conference. And so…

Watch for Section 165

LDS readers are familiar with the dynamics of the twice-yearly General Conferences, which involve many more members than are actually present at the Conference because they are televised. Even I could watch them, even though I wouldn’t recognize one Apostle from another.

Because CofChrist conferences only occur once per three years, and we don’t own a TV network, they occur in more of a bubble of insiders, almost like a political convention. The leadership always comes out of World Conference with an approval bounce, and a unified delegate body behind them. The bounce may fade thereafter, and may not extend to those who are not insiders, but, by holding the US Conference over the two days after World Conference ends, the leadership maximizes the probability that whatever message they wish the US Conference to adopt will be adopted without immediate schism.

What that message will be, or whether it comes attached with some form of “Thus Saith the Spirit”, I have no idea, but the new schedule psychologically subordinates the deliberations of the US National Conference to the 2013 World Conference.

Watch Delegate Selection

Insider orientation in conferences of a liberal church increases the election of liberal delegates. (Do LDS liberals travel across the country to Salt Lake City as often as LDS conservatives will?) If the US National Conference was held in 2012 instead of 2013, conservatives opposed to GLBT policy changes would mount a major effort to elect delegates to that conference and probably ignore the 2013 World Conference. With the World and National Conferences running sequentially, there will be more overlap in the delegations — no matter how much the church maintains that they are separate events and hold “separate” (but simultaneous) Mission Center balloting for the two delegations. It is typical in many Mission Centers that only a small fraction of those who wish to be delegates do not get elected; it seems that the willingness to attend is the primary qualification for election. So I expect the schedule shift, by itself, will produce a more liberal result than would otherwise be the case.

Watch when the National Media go Home

At the 2010 World Conference, press coverage outside the Independence area addressed church actions toward the GLBT issues overwhelmingly more than other Conference issues. The church had actually tried to minimize coverage overseas, because the church exists in countries where discussion of GLBT issues is itself a serious crime. If reporters don’t stick around after the World Conference for the National Conference, that might just be fine from the POV of the leadership.