May 26, 2014

Response to Susan Oxley and CEM Leadership Team

by Wendy Williams

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26 May 2014

To:          Apostle Susan Oxley, Tim Stanlick and the CEM Leadership Team

From:          Wendy Williams, Scarborough Congregation, Community of Christ

Re:          Shaun Withrow, Danica Williams, and Community of Christ policies

Please know that I am writing this letter not only as the mother of Danica Williams and future mother-in-law of Shaun Withrow, but also as a deeply concerned member of the Community of Christ.


Many things have changed in the church in the 45 years I have been a member – women in the priesthood, open communion, the name of the church – to list a significant few.  Many would argue that these changes have come more slowly than they should have, but change has indeed come and the church is better for that change.  


The first National Conference of the Canadian Church, with its discussions about same sex marriage and related changes to church policy, was another significant step towards positive change.  As a parent, it was wonderful to hear from Danica how proud she was of HER church, and how thrilled she was to tell her non church friends all about the conference and to answer their questions about the church, about HER church.


Since that Canadian National Conference, more things have changed and not all of it has been good.  As a parent, it breaks my heart to see how Danica's feelings towards HER church have changed.  First, I am sure she is no longer sharing with friends how proud she is of HER church. She would likely not refer to it as HER church at all, but simply as THE church.  As a member of the church, this one fact troubles me deeply.


Danica and Shaun have grown up in this church.  They continue to develop and share their many gifts and talents in their congregation, at CEM and CWM camps, through Community Place, and Shaun in his priesthood role.  If these young people – respected young leaders and role models among their peers and in their congregation – can no longer call this THEIR church, we must ask why.


President Veazey shared with the church, in his “A Defining Moment” address, on April 5, 2009:

     “Young adults, the church needs you. We need you now. We need you to help us

      become who we are all yearning to become.”


For a church that claims to value the contributions of their youth, we (the church) continue to put up a lot of roadblocks to their success.  One such roadblock is the set of “rules”, written and un-written, that determine whether or not those contributions will be accepted by the church, and specifically whether a church member is allowed to become or to stay a member of the priesthood.  I was taught that God called people to the priesthood in his church, through church leaders who discerned how God wanted to use that person in the ministry of his church.  Later, I learned that priesthood calls could be held back for various reasons.  The issue at hand is co-habitation of a priesthood member.


Shaun Withrow has been a priest for a number of years and continues to grow and develop his ministry in that role.  Shaun exemplifies moral and ethical leadership, particularly among his peer group, and is a role model and trusted confidant to many.  The fact that Shaun and Danica have bought a home together and are co-habitating prior to getting married in no way affects Shaun's ability to minister in his priesthood office or to continue to provide leadership, especially among the youth.  


If anything, Shaun and Danica's decision to buy a home now provides the youth with an example of sound financial stewardship, of responsibility and maturity.  The youth see Shaun and Danica as a loving couple in a committed and supportive relationship.  They look to them as leaders and as trusted friends.  This “issue” of co-habitation does not exist for the youth of today.  They are long past that and on to more important issues like equality, justice, inclusiveness, community, and abolishing poverty, ending human suffering and healing the earth.


As a member of Community of Christ, I would like to know what rules, guidelines and policies are in effect today regarding admittance to the priesthood – all of them, very specifically and in writing.  I would like specifics on how the church defines marriage and co-habitation, in particular, and how the church evaluates a priesthood member or candidate's relationships, whether they be married or unmarried.  Is there some kind of scale of what is acceptable and what is not?  We all know, members and church leaders alike, that unmarried people have sex – that they have done so for generations and will continue to do so.  What has changed with Shaun and Danica, is that they have been open and honest about their relationship and their commitment to each other.  They are not ashamed or secretive or dishonest about it.


In our society today, in Canada, this co-habitation “rule”, if it indeed exists, is outdated and needs to be changed.  As a member of this church, I want to know how we make this change and any other changes needed, NOW, to provide our youth with the support our church leaders have pledged, before it is too late and our youth give up on this church and direct their talents and energy elsewhere.  


Again, as President Veazey said to the youth in his April 5, 2009, address:  “We need you to help us become who we are all yearning to become.”


To me, this implies that the young people of our church already know what they are doing – that the rest of us (members, congregations, leaders) can learn from our youth – that we should strive to be more like them.  We, as a church, should be supporting and encouraging our young people, mentoring and empowering them and doing everything we can to ensure that they are successful – that they bring their church, our church, into the future along with them.


Unfortunately, this has not been the case in many instances, recently.  Our CEM youth and young adults do not feel supported in their efforts, but feel frustrated and defeated.  Taking away Shaun's priesthood, for this reason that the youth will see as antiquated and even ridiculous, cannot possibly benefit the church or its mission, Christ's mission, in any way.  It could, however, have a lasting and potentially devastating effect on the future of the church here in the Canada East Mission.


By devaluing the contributions of our young people, and the ministry they have provided and continue to provide, whether it be through a priesthood office or other leadership role, the church is contradicting itself and killing its future at the same time.


This is not working – things must change, and must change now.

Sincerely and respectfully,

Wendy Williams

Member, Community of Christ, Scarborough Congregation, Canada East Mission