Worth of All Persons

By Apostle Andrew Bolton

My journey with Community of Christ began with the love of German church members. I was a young Englishman working on a tree and-shrub nursery near Hamburg. I spoke bad German, and some German workers occasionally bullied me. I understood this mistreatment of foreigners, although it was not nice. I knew it also happened to foreigners in England, particularly if they spoke poor English.

However, the German congregations treated me with kindness and love. People were patient with my bad German. They treated me as a person of worth. I since have lived and worked in three other countries. That gives me empathy to stand up for the worth of all immigrants. In their faces as strangers I see Jesus.

If God numbers all the sparrows and knows when one falls to the ground, how much greater is God’s awareness of one human’s suffering. I oppose torture because it violates the worth of all persons. I oppose the death penalty for the same reason.

The worth of all persons is not just the worth of good, law abiding people. It is much bigger. It is the worth of all persons, no matter what a person may have done, no matter how rich or poor.

Great is the worth of all persons. There are no exceptions—not me, not you. This is at the heart of our convictions as members of Community of Christ. The following passage from Doctrine and Covenants was brought to Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer in Fayette, New York, USA, in June 1829:

Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God; for behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all [persons] that all [persons] might repent and come unto him. And he hath risen again from the dead that he might bring all [persons] unto him on conditions of repentance. And how great is [God’s] joy in the soul that repenteth. Wherefore you are called to cry repentance unto this people.—Doctrine and Covenants 16:3c–e adapted

What It Means
• God views all people as having inestimable and equal worth.
• God wants all people to experience wholeness of body, mind, spirit, and relationships.
• We seek to uphold and restore the worth of all people individually and in community, challenging unjust systems that diminish human worth.
• We join with Jesus Christ in bringing good news to the poor, sick, captive, and oppressed.
Oliver Cowdery wrote to Hyrum Smith with enthusiasm about this revelation.

This passage begins with the conclusion “Remember the worth of souls.” It then justifies the conclusion by summarizing the story of Christ’s crucifixion. This revelation was given nine months before the “Church of Christ” organized. So it was before the foundation of Community of Christ.

The love of God for sinners embodied in the cross of Jesus is the theological basis for the worth of all persons. You and I may have lost the image of God in our soul, but God in Christ has not given up on us, the lost, fallen, and ugly in sin.

This is the gospel, good news for sinners. All of us have a chance to be restored to full humanity. Christianity is the religion of the second chance, the third chance…forgiveness and restoration to wholeness and right relationships. The opportunity of repentance is the greatest opportunity of all.

The theme of the worth of all persons runs throughout the Bible. We are created in the image of God, male and female (Genesis 1:27 NRSV). We are made a little lower than God and crowned with glory and honor (Psalm 8:5 NRSV). We are commanded to love God with our all and equally our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37–40 NRSV).

To worship God with our whole being means worshiping God in everyone we meet, no matter how the divine image may be hidden. Serving the hungry, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and welcoming the strange is to meet Jesus personally (Matthew 25:35–36 NRSV).

I like how Outreach International works. It takes seriously the dignity and capacity of the poor to solve their problems in nonviolent ways. My Oblation offering and my local and global mission tithes also are regular commitments to restoring the worth of all persons spiritually, socially, and materially. In the politics of all countries, including the USA, ideologies—left or right wing—divide, oppress, and violate people.

This hostility can spill into church. It is important in church to root our values in the good news of Jesus Christ, not in right- or left-wing ideologies.

So we leave ideologies and embrace the Enduring Principles as our core values. No value is more important than the worth of all persons. The big difference between a faithful church and the world is this: The church declares in word and deed that all are human, and all can be reclaimed. Left- and right-wing ideologies say some are of worth; others are not.

Injustice occurs whenever the worth of persons is violated, for example, through sexism or racism. Restoring the dignity of a person is justice. Changing cultures and human systems so the dignity of all humans can flourish is the cause of Zion. Modeling gender equality and welcoming all races and ethnicities is being a congregational signal community.

Human rights, although a secular declaration, also are about honoring the worth of all. A human right is something you are born with. It cannot be taken away, sold, or given up.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, published in 1948 and now the most-translated document in history, can help us be practical and comprehensive in ministries supporting the worth of all persons.

We have heroes among us in the work for human rights. I think of Kathy and Jeff Bachman from Oregon in their leadership of Amnesty International USA. I remember Ed Guy campaigning against genocide in Guatemala; Rod Downing of Vancouver, Canada, working for those suffering in Darfur; and Rupa Kumar working for battered women in Chennai, India.

It takes courage to stand for human rights. In some places we must face persecution, even the cross.

The worth of all persons is rooted deeply in the good news of Jesus Christ through his ministry and suffering on the cross. To proclaim Jesus Christ is to proclaim the worth of all persons. I cannot do the one without the other.

To be an apostle is to be a special witness of the Lord Jesus and the worth of persons. In an apostolic church everyone is to witness this way. Our ultimate example of living out the worth of all persons is Jesus from Nazareth. We join with Jesus Christ in bringing good news to the poor, sick, captive, and oppressed.

This is the mission of God expressed in Jesus: restoring our full humanity so the image of God can shine in each of us.

Let us join with God and each other in that task.

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Unity in Diversity

This article was written by Don H. Compier, who was, at the time, Dean of Community of Christ Seminary

God relishes diversity! That came to my mind as I stood in front of a giant tank in the California Academy of Sciences. My daughter, Nancy, loved to visit the tropical fish with me. The wonderful colors, shapes, and sizes amazed us.

And this was only one animal! Nature sure seems to demonstrate that our Creator meant to populate our world with lots and lots of varied creatures.

We humans genetically are one of the least-diverse species. The differences between our races are minuscule. We have the capacity, however, to develop splendid variations from one culture to the next. Our holidays, art forms, clothing styles, languages, folktales, architecture, and approaches to the sacred present a splendid kaleidoscope. We have every reason to believe God delights in cultural pluralism as well.

I love the Book of Acts. Luke presents a delightful set of stories about how the church learned to embrace people from what the Book of Revelation calls “every tribe and language and people and nation” (5:9 NRSV). From the beginning Jesus seeks to implant a global vision, promising disciples they will preach good news to the ends of the earth.

On the day of Pentecost, pilgrims gathered from far-flung lands and heard the gospel in their own tongue. No one has to shed cultural skin to receive God’s Spirit. We are incorporated into Christ’s body as we are, wonderfully knitted together. As Luke’s story unfolds, we see one cultural barrier after another tumble.

First Greek-speaking Jews receive their rightful place, then Samarians considered to be of mixed heritage, then an Ethiopian eunuch, and finally all the non-Jewish people of the Roman Empire.

Jesus personally calls Paul to lead this great missionary expansion. In chapter 15 a major conference at Jerusalem shows great cultural sensitivity by admitting Gentiles to full fellowship without undergoing the Jewish rite of circumcision.

As the first history of the Christian church, Acts seems to indicate strongly that achieving unity in diversity is what the church is all about!

Living this reality in our congregational lives requires a fundamental shift in attitude. Strident voices in contemporary culture see cultural pluralism as a problem, even a threat. According to this “logic,” cultural exchange is a zero-sum game in which accepting insights and practices from others somehow dilutes one’s own identity.

But history teaches us that every national tradition is a constantly changing hybrid. By adopting helpful resources from other peoples, human cultures find better ways to adapt to their environment. Think of the adoption of Arabic numerals in the West, for instance. And passages such as I Corinthians 12 describe diversity as gifts of the Spirit.

What will we miss if we don’t embrace varied people? We are all more aware now of the delicious contributions made to our diet by various traditions—Thai, Chinese, Ethiopian, Turkish, Mexican, Italian, French, etc. And food is just the tip of the iceberg!

True appreciation comes when we realize that each culture holds important spiritual lessons to share. Reflecting on the growing religious pluralism of modern culture, a recent Episcopalian draft suggests that each faith tradition is a sacrament of God’s loving presence, freely offered to everyone. If we gratefully accept and unwrap the presents so graciously offered, our individual and congregational lives will be greatly enriched.

I am blessed to live in a home where we use three languages: English, Spanish, and Dutch. We try to honor each tradition. For instance, our Christmas celebration stretches over an entire month.

In the Netherlands we receive presents December 5, the feast day of the generous lover of children, St. Nicholas. Then we move into the Mexican posada celebrations, parties remembering how Joseph and Mary sought room in the inn.

With much of the world, we solemnly give thanks for the arrival of the Christ child on the evening of December 24. Finally, we unwrap more gifts on the feast of the Epiphany, January 6. In Spanish-speaking countries this is the day children expect deliveries from the same three kings who visited the infant Jesus.

Over the years my spouse, Yolanda Santos, has taught me so much about the ancient, spiritual practices of Mexico. I have come to a much deeper appreciation of our connectedness to the earth and all creatures. I now understand more about our insoluble bond with our ancestors.

Yola has taught me the importance of using material objects like candles to focus my conversations with God. Thanks to Yola’s generosity in sharing her culture, my life is so much fuller and more interesting.

I am passionate about congregational diversity mostly because I hope many can receive the type of blessings showered on my life. I pray that people throughout the church will develop a receptive attitude that will allow them gratefully and joyously to receive great gifts from many cultures.

I am convinced that cross-cultural sharing is God’s dream for all humans. God yearns to bless us as we bless each other in and through our diversity.

In recent decades God’s Spirit actively has moved in Community of Christ. Established in more than fifty lands, it really is a world church now! Who would have thought that in less than half a century this movement, largely concentrated in the US and a few other Western nations, would change so completely?

Now the majority of active members live in the so-called Third World. Evidence strongly suggests more members now speak French than English.

The emerging global church indeed has received many blessings. Each World Conference is colorful and exciting. It is thrilling to see all the flags displayed, to hear so many languages, to see striking differences in dress.

The international hymn festival is a highlight of the week. The new hymnal, now in preparation, will feature sacred songs from many lands and styles.

Thanks to the Internet, people anywhere can lift prayer concerns that elicit support from sisters and brothers around the globe. Each testimony, each lesson learned from engaged mission, enriches the whole body.

The Extended World Leadership Council brings together leaders from every corner of our planet. As a result church leaders benefit from a much broader spectrum of counsel and deliberation.

As never before, people representing many cultures talk about vital issues. As they do, trust increases. When people feel free to share honestly, painful differences also become clear. Divisions in the church mirror disagreements in the world as a whole. Faithful members of the church disagree about how to interpret scripture, and sometimes even about what should be in the canon.

Some question long-held traditions, such as rebaptism for admission to church membership. Various cultures hold divergent views on the role of women in church. Members feel varying degrees of comfort about discussions of human sexuality. While some cultures now give same-sex and heterosexual couples equal rights, others vehemently oppose what they consider sinful cohabitation.

Matters considered sacred arouse fervent passions. Both sides of a debate feel certain they represent God’s will. If we are not careful, such disagreements could tear the World Church apart and lessen intercultural sharing.

Because God clearly cherishes diversity, we safely can infer that God isn’t interested in a church where we agree on every issue! I once heard a leading theologian insist that church is meant to be a school where we have to learn to live with people not like us, who don’t agree with us on matters we consider vital.

Throughout the history of the Christian church, its theologians have insisted on the corporate nature of discipleship. We aren’t called to achieve individual salvation. We are tasked with the difficult but ultimately rewarding work of building true community.

“Unity in diversity” is a good definition of community. God’s own love in creating a world that is not God suggests that to grow in charity means maturing in our capacity to work for the well-being of those different from us. After all, Jesus asked us to pray even for our enemies.

This Enduring Principle calls on the church to listen patiently to one another and to grow in mutual understanding. Disciples must seek common consent, not legislative victories. When we fail to reach consensus on cherished principles, we lament the pain many feel.

In this way, being in community fulfills each Christian’s call to bear the cross patiently. Whatever happens, we must not let go of each other! For we are one body in one Spirit, with “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4:4–6 NRSV).

For Further Reflection and Discussion

1.    The author opens by using a tropical fish tank to illustrate the diversity in God’s creation. What other animals can you think of that display such grand differences while being united as a species? How can you apply the same sort of thinking to inanimate objects?
2.    The author cites Jesus’ promise that disciples “will preach good news to the ends of the earth.” In your lifetime, how many countries have been represented by guests in your home or in your congregation?
3.    Congregational diversity is a passion of the author. Yet most congregations in North America are not greatly diverse. How do our communities need to change for our churches to become more diverse? How do we as congregations and as individuals need to change?
4.    The author says that unity in diversity is a good definition of community. Yet differing groups frequently are not united. What steps can we take as disciples of Christ to bring about unity among peoples, cultures, and individuals?
5.    Think for a moment of the many ways that diversity enriches you. Imagine what your life would be if music, art, and drama were not influenced by a variety of people and different cultures.
6.    The Enduring Principles call on people to listen patiently. How can this benefit us, even when we disagree sharply on matters before the church or between individuals?
7.    Just as our diverse cultures bring new insights to everything from cooking to music, diversity in cultures also can bring insights about our Creator. In what ways would your Christian expressions differ if not exposed to various cultures?
8.    Consider your own family tree. What influences did different cultures bring to your personal history?

Discernment Activity

The diversity of gifts or talents is one way God tries to move us into loving community. In spreading different abilities among us, we are challenged to form community where each one can minister to the others, ultimately achieving the vision of communities of joy, hope, love, and peace. The Apostle Paul speaks to this in I Corinthians chapter 12 when he tells us there are a variety of gifts, services, and activities that all come from the same Spirit and are intended for the common good.

Parker Palmer, in Let Your Life Speak, shares his discovery that when we work out of our God-given talents we find fulfillment and expression of our true self. Toward this end we all share a responsibility to each other to be talent scouts, to encourage each other to develop and use our innate talents and abilities, even when they are radically different from our own. The following discernment is intended to help us to see with new eyes the talents in those around us. It is designed for two people to do together.

Select someone to participate with you. If there is not a mutually convenient time to actually be together, then do the discernment separately, but plan a time to share your experience with each other.

Go to a quiet place where you can be comfortable and uninterrupted for twenty minutes. Be intentional in transitioning from ordinary time to meditative time by taking two or three deep, cleansing breaths. Allow the concerns of the day to fall away as you move more deeply into the presence of God. Take a few moments to simply be with your Creator. When you are ready, ask to be able to see the other person as God created them. Ask to be granted a glimpse of the talents God bestowed on them. Be open to seeing them with new eyes. Staying relaxed, reach out with your soul in faith.

After your prayer time share with each other your experience. Perhaps you can affirm a talent already being used. Or perhaps you have perceived a talent just beginning to emerge. Remember to share with each other in a loving affirming way. Remember too, that the greatest gifts and talents in the world are of little use if they are not used out of love.