Pondering Reunion 2016

reunion2016

Hey check out my blogs on Reunion 2014 and Reunion 2015

After much well deserved anticipation, the 2016 Community of Christ Northern Ontario Reunion at Camp Noronto has come and gone, but as always, the memories, and the people, live in my heart.  This was my third Noronto Reunion in a row, after an absence of 12 years, and it still feels so rejuvenating and awesome to return to North Monevtille each summer for some fun in the sun.

And did we ever have sun!  I’m not sure that we have ever had better weather at any prior reunion that I’ve attended.  It was sunny, and it was hot.  Very, very hot.  Unfortunately, the weather changed on the last full day, as it rained most of that day, and all of the next day, as we were packing up and heading home.  After so much sun and heat, this seemed a bit of a letdown, especially for those who had to pack up tents and trailers in the rain.  But at least it helped cool things off a bit.

Reunion 2016 was another great reunion.  We had a new director, who did an awesome job, and everyone contributed in one way or another to the success of the week.  For myself, the following are some of the highlights:

1) Having among our guest ministers not one, but two, World Church leaders: Apostle Art Smith (of the Council of Twelve Apostles) and President of Seventy Adam Wade (of the Ninth Quorum of Seventy).   The ministry that they brought was spectacular, and I’m grateful to both of them for their willingness to share, worship, minister, and simply be present with us.  We also had author and historian John Hamer, who ran a very poplar church history elective, and some of the Revitalization Ministers of the Canada East Mission center were on hand supporting the camp in various ways.

2) Watching and witnessing, and being transformed by the enthusiasm and passion of our 2016 (and first time) director.  Thank you Cathy!

3) Having the opportunity to support World Accord via our annual pancake breakfast fundraiser.  To learn more about this awesome organization, and how they help improve the lives of people all around the world, please click this link.  This organization is among those in the forefront of groups affiliated with the church that are actively seeking to further the church’s mission initiative of “abolish poverty/end suffering”  – which they have been doing long before the church had mission initiatives.

pancakes
4) Being the host of the “Inside the Chapel Studio” portion of Noronto Wants to Know! (a morning gathering/celebration of the upcoming day).  My piece involved interviewing a different person each day, and I really enjoyed doing this.  My thanks to Cathy for asking me to take this own, and to Shaun for providing the music.  And of course, to the people I got to interview: Art Smith, Dar Shepherdson (Bishop of Canada), John Hamer, Clair Shepherdson (one of the people who helped build the campgrounds over 50 year ago), and Adam Wade.  Sadly, we did not think to video these interviews, but they were a lot of fun. Questions ranged from “what is your favorite favor of Jell-O” to “what are you most known for” to current church issues.

5) Digging up a time capsule.  So, 27 years ago, the campers and staff who attended Senior High Camp 1989 buried a time capsule.  For 25 years.  But, none of us could remember when we buried it, so we were late by two years.  But it was a lot of fun (and hard work) to dig it up (for atmosphere, we waited well after sunset), and a large crowd of people gathered around as we opened and revealed each item that has been sealed within, including a copy of the camp log book.  Much of the stuff had disintegrated, but a few things survived, and it was a thrill to step back in time to that other camp now so long ago, and we fondly remembered some people at that camp who are no longer with us today (though I’m sure they were looking on).

6) Being reunited with friends I have not seen in years.  Two people very important to my senior high camp years came to reunion this year, one of whom I had not seen in 18 years, and other it had been 24 years.  It was so awesome seeing them again, and also getting to meet their families.  There were a couple of moments when I was watching them each getting reacquainted with the campgrounds and old friends, that my throat got a little tight (just a little) as I remembered all the good times, and long talks, we had together over the course of several senior high camps, reunions, retreats, and fast-a-thons when we were campers and young staff members.  We all have moments when we think fondly of someone form the past, and ask “will I ever see that person again?”  Some we don’t expect to.  Its very moving when, on occasion, we are proven wrong.

7) Sharing with close friends  that I see each year at Reunion.  When I returned to Reunion in 2014 someone said to me “welcome home”.  That is what it feels like each year.  There are so many people that I see at Reunion who live forever in my heart.  I can’t really describe the bond between us all.  What is truly amazing is that most of these people are individuals I only see once a year, at Noronto, and its often always been that way. In a few cases, I might have seen some at Junior high in July, as well as back-to-back at reunion and senior high camps in August, so, at most, tree weeks out of the year, and often just 1, and, since returning to Noronto three years ago, just once a year.  

How do you form such amazing friendships with people you only see once, twice, or at the most, three a year?  There are many people who attend Reunion who are very special to me, and who I truly count on seeing there every year.  The long talks, the support, the trust, the comfort, can never be adequately acknowledged  but I need each of you in my life, and although I may only see you once a year, you live forever in my heart.

8) Being tormented all week long by a pack of miniature humans, three of whom grabbed my ipad and decided one night to help me write this blog (I always begin this blog while still at Reunion).

Here are some pictures of me (that they took, with my camera, that they stole) as I reviewed their handiwork:

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They insisted that that I include what they wrote on my behalf in this blog.  Sadly, what they wrote was in my rough draft, so I have to go from memory, but this is, I believe, a perfect transcript of what they said:

“David is forever entitled to buy anything he wants from the canteen using any of our tabs, at any Norotno camp, until the end of time”

They also told me that I had to post a picture of them in this blog:

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The never ending persecution that I endured from these mini-humans was a small price to pay for the glee I constantly received by refusing to tell them a ghost story that they desperately wanted me to tell them.  Maybe next year.  If your parents tell me that you behaved all year long.

9) Observing the love that everyone had for everyone at camp.  It was so apparent to me that people truly love one another, and the laughter, tears, compassion, charity, support, hugs, smiles, and constant good-hearted teasing proves it.

10) Most importantly, sharing the entire week with my wife, who I first met at Camp Noronto in 1985.  This was the first year, since I’ve been going back, that she was able to attend the whole week with me, and that made Reunion that much more meaningful for me.

So, those are just some of the highlights.  But what makes Reunion special each year?  Each year, I try to put into words what it is that makes Reunion awesome.  

I was talking to someone during Reunion about this very question, about what makes Reunion such a great experience.  She said two things that perhaps help explain it:
“its the people” and “camp friends are forever friends”. 

I’ve been hesitant in the past to say its the people, because there are great people everywhere.  But, I guess that is the heart of it, or perhaps, the people are the foundation. Everything else is built on the people who attend. The people really are special.  Most are united by the church, and are shaped by the cause of Zion.  And that becomes contagious, regardless of what a person’s background is.  The whole experience just seems to bring out the best in each of us.

Reunion (as well as our other camps) is a safe environment.  I’m not foolish enough to believe that we have a perfect track record.  But, in my own experience, the camps I’ve attended at Noronto, and elsewhere in Community of Christ, are the safest experiences I’ve ever participated in: no masks are needed.  People can be truly honest.  They can be fully real.  They can be vulnerable and they can risk.

Everyone can be open.  There is laughter (the constant, free flowing, unashamed, uninhibited, laughter).  There is support (the unconditional, sincere spiritual and emotional support). There is compassion (not feigned, not begrudged, but sincere, and I hope without judgment).  There is charity (of time and willingness to help out).  And, of course, there is love.  Unconditional.  Freely given.

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And, it is very true, that camp friends are forever friends.

But I still feel that there is more to it than just “we’re all just really amazing and awesome people”

The camp itself is special.  I had the honor, during our first gathering this year, to share some of the history of the camp.  I talked about the faith, hard work and willingness of so many people, to come together, well over 50 years ago, to build Camp Noronto.  Out of a forest and swamp.  I compared their story to the story of those who built Kirtland Temple.  Because it is a similar story.  A story of deep conviction and sense of God’s guiding hand.

And, like Kirtland Temple, when you walk the grounds of Camp Noronto, you feel like you are walking on holy ground.  And I believe that to be the case.  The grounds have been set apart.  They have been dedicated to God, and they have been blessed by the presence of God, in the midst of well over a hundred camps since it was first established.  God dwells there, and, God’s spirit permeates everything there.  The camp has been consecrated.  It is hallowed.  It is blessed. It is holy.  And the communities that form there are sacred communities.

The people, and, the grounds, help make Reunion awesome.  What else?

What else makes Reunion so awesome?  What makes some people come back here every year?   What compels some people to come back after being away for a very long time?  Why do some people agonize when they cannot come?

The entire Reunion or camp experience has power.  It has the power of rejuvenation.  It has the power of spiritual healing.  It has the power of making someone feel loved and accepted.  It has the power of nostalgia.

And as much as I find this to be true for Camp Noronto, I know that many people feel the same way about Ziontario, and Erie Beach, and McGowan’s Lake, and various other camps around the world. 

Each of these camps brings us, whether we recognize it or not, a bit closer into the presence of God.  And we dwell in God’s spirit together.

Its all a joint effort.  The people, the forever friendships, the holy grounds, the presence of God, the nostalgia, the fun, the memories, the emotional and spiritual support, the joy, the hope, the love, the peace, etc.  Each helps foster the rest, and the result is the Reunion experience, that we often describe as reflective of Zion.  And for that one week each year, that is exactly what Reunion is: Zion, a sacred community.  And I leave each year craving to go back, and excited by the potential that we have to make the next Reunion even better.

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Some Specific Things About the 2016 Reunion That I Am Grateful For

Having a wife that “gets it”
Having a wife that was willing to attend Reunion with me
The director, admin. team, and cooks!  Thank you!
Our guest minsters: John Hamer, Art Smith, Adam Wade, the CEM Revitalization ministers, and, for one day only, extra special guest minister Dar Shepherdson
Interviewing John, Art, Adam and Dar 
A very special interview with Clair
All those who helped build Camp Noronto.  There are no words to express our gratitude
Everyone who made Reunion what it was
Seeing so many old friends
Making new friends
Late night walks
Great food
Taking one or two pictures and videos
The support provided by Community Place
Sharing in memories
Sharing some of my favorite scriptures
Canteen
  Celebrating church heritage
Renewing friendships with people after 18 and 24 years.
Pop-up electives
Seeing people’s willingness to consider the future of Camp Noronto
All the people who support and take care of the grounds
Late night talks
Not being judged
Trusting & Being Trusted
Cherished friends
Having an extra sleeping bag to loan to someone who really needed it
  The Legend of Bobby Jones
Digging up the time capsule
Canteen manager willing to re-stock with my favorite treats ( I love you Pat!)
 Higher attendance
Willingness of many people who could not attend the entire week still making the drive for part of it
The chipmunk who attended my class

Camp friends are forever friends
All the people I need to see each year

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Scriptures of Hope & Comfort

healingtouchI offer these scriptures “as is” – not with any promise or expectations.  I hope they will resonate with all who read them.  For most of the Biblical scriptures, they are presented twice, first from the Inspired Version, and then from the NRSV.

1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul; he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. –Psalm 23

29 He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.
31 But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. –Isaiah 40:29,31 (IV)

29 He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.
31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. –Isaiah 40:29,31 (NRSV)

“For I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds, saith the Lord…” –Jeremiah 30:17 (IV)

“For I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal, says the Lord…” –Jeremiah 30:17 (NRSV)

“They shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” –Mark 16:19 (IV)

“…they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” –Mark 16:18 (NRSV)

“Now, when the sun was setting, all they who had any sick, with divers diseases, brought them unto him, and he laid his hands on every one of them, and healed them.” –Luke 4:40 (IV)

“As the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various kinds of diseases brought them to him; and he laid his hands on each of them and cured them.” –Luke 4:40 (NRSV)

1 Then he called his twelve disciples together, and he gave them power and authority…to cure diseases.
2 And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick. –Luke 9:1,2 (IV)

1 Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority…to cure diseases,
2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. –Luke 9:1,2 (NRSV)

“And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever”  –John 14:16 (IV)

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate,* to be with you for ever. –John 14:16 (NRSV)

“And it came to pass, that the father of Publius lay sick of a fever…Paul entered in, and prayed, and laid his hands on him, and healed him.” –Acts 28:8 (IV)

“It so happened that the father of Publius lay sick in bed with fever…Paul visited him and cured him by praying and putting his hands on him.” –Acts 28:8 (NRSV)

14 Is any sick among you? let call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord;
15 And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. –James 5:14,15 (IV)

14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.
15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. . –James 5:14,15 (NRSV)

“And they were healed by the power of the Lamb of God” –1st Nephi 3:85

“For the Lord hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted.” -1st Nephi 6:43

“For the Lord shall comfort Zion”
–2nd Nephi 5:72

Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. -2nd Nephi 13:29

“And shall go forth amongst men, working mighty miracles, such as healing the sick, raising the dead, causing the lame to walk, the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear, and curing all manner of diseases” –Mosiah 1:98

“And see that ye have faith, hope, and charity, and then ye will always abound in good works” -Alma 5:41

“And Alma said, If you believe in the redemption of Christ, you can be healed.” –Alma 10:97 (adapted)

“And then Alma cried unto the Lord, saying, O Lord our God, have mercy on this man, and heal him according to his faith which is in Christ.” –Alma 10:99

“And it came to pass that the Lord did visit them with his Spirit, and said unto them, Be comforted; and they were comforted.” –Alma 12:17

109 O Lord, will you give me strength, that I may cope with my infirmities? For I am infirm, and such wickedness among this people pains my soul.
110 O Lord, my heart is exceedingly sorrowful; will you comfort my soul in Christ?
111 O Lord, will you grant unto me that I may have strength, that I may suffer with patience these afflictions…
112 O Lord, will you comfort my soul, and give me success, and also my fellow laborers who are with me…even all these will you comfort, O Lord? Will you comfort their souls in Christ?
113 Will you grant unto them that they may have strength, that they may bear their afflictions which shall come upon them?
114 O Lord, will you grant unto us that we may have success in bringing them again unto thee, in Christ?
115 Behold, O Lord, their souls are precious, and many of them are our near brethren, therefore, give unto us, O Lord, power and wisdom, that we may bring these, our brethren, again unto thee.
116 Now it came to pass, that when Alma had said these words…
117 …they were filled with the Holy Spirit.
118 And after that…
119 …the Lord provided for them that they should hunger not, neither should they thirst;  and he also gave them strength, that they should suffer no manner of afflictions, save it were swallowed up in the joy of Christ.
120 Now this was according to the prayer of Alma; and this because he prayed in faith.  –Alma 16 (adapted)

49 And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings; and ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. -3rd Nephi  4:49

“And there were great and marvelous works wrought by the disciples of Jesus, insomuch that they did heal the sick, and raise the dead, and cause the lame to walk, and the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear” –IV Nephi 1:6

“Wherefore man must hope” –Ether 5:32

“And these signs shall follow them that believe: in my name shall they cast out… they shall speak with new tongues…they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover” -Mormon 4:87

“…and because of meekness and lowliness of heart, cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love, which love endureth by diligence unto prayer…” –Moroni 8:29

“I have heard your prayers which have been raised to me without ceasing, and I have sent my healing ministry as a dove to be in your midst. Therefore, lift up your hearts and rejoice in the promises which have been given for your assurance.”
–Section 157:12

“And the elders of the church, two or more, shall be called, and shall pray for, and lay their hands upon them in my name…”–Section 42:12d

“Search the scriptures for the Living Word that brings life, healing, and hope to all. Embrace and proclaim these liberating truths.” –Section 164:6c.

The Validity of Full Inclusion

or “Why I now Support Same-sex Marriage”
(from Within a Latter Day Restoration Context)
~A Church Conservative Perspective~

redemptionI know that many conservative members of Community of Christ completely reject same-sex marriage, or the ordination of people in same-sex relationships.  I encounter people all the time who still really struggle with this issue, and I know they are in turmoil, and that concerns me very much, as I don’t like to see my fellow conservative church members (or anyone) be in a state of spiritual crisis.

Some I know are surprised, and perhaps even feel hurt or betrayed to learn that I now support same-sex marriage and the ordination of people in same-sex relationships (I was, for a very long time, until 2013, strongly and loudly opposed to both, hence the “now”).

For this reason, and because I do keep encountering people who are really opposed to, and struggling, with these changes, I want to explain, in detail (to be as clear as I can), why I now support same-sex marriage and the ordination of people in same-sex relationships (going forward, I’ll  group both of these as “full inclusion).

However, before I do that, I want to direct some remarks to all those people who do support full inclusion.  Please be understanding with those who do not. I will not say “please be patient” as that presumes that you’re trying to change them.  Some may, like me, one day support full inclusion, others may not.  But each group are just as much a part of our church family as those who now, or always have, supported full inclusion.

During the 2012 First Presidency Address to the Church, President Veazey made the following statement:

“no matter what the outcomes of the national conferences, some beloved brothers and sisters in Christ will be disappointed, afraid, and angry. Conference recommendations do not instantly change strong views about the nature of God, humankind, human sexuality, and human relationships.

This prospect weighs very heavily on me. No matter what happens, the initial response of some probably will be to want to separate themselves from the faith community. So, here is a more fundamental question to prayerfully consider: Regardless of the outcomes of the conferences, how will we continue to live as loving communities of “oneness” in Christ, called to focus on the whole mission of Christ, while some have such strong differences around certain matters? We all need to feel the weight of this question now.”

While many people do not understand why some people oppose full inclusion, it is important to understand, recognize, and I believe even sympathize with those who do.

I realize that asking people, especially those in same-sex relationships, to sympathize with those people who oppose non-traditional marriage is a tall order.  And, I’m certainly not asking anyone to permit themselves to tolerate abusive remarks or respond to blatant acts of bigotry, injustice, etc.

It is sadly true that some people oppose same-sex marriage because, quite simply, they just want it to be wrong.  And I don’t have much sympathy for those people myself.  They tend to be fundamentalist extremists, who use scripture as a weapon, to justify the views they already have.

But, there are other conservatives, who, I believe, would not care themselves, but believe that same-sex relationships are contrary to the will of God.  These people often have their beliefs shaped and informed by scripture.  These are the ones who I feel are in a place of spiritual crisis, feeling that the members and leaders of the church have betrayed them, and have corrupted the church, falling from our divine call to be what we were established to be: the Restoration of Christ’s church.  Some worry that we have become, or are becoming, apostate.

These concerns, these feelings, will be foreign to many people, who are less focused on traditional concepts, and the foundational aspects of the Restoration.  Some might raise eyebrows, or scoff at such notions.  But, for those who feel them, these thoughts and concerns, are very real.

jsgroveIf you believe, with all your heart, that there is a one true church, that Christ has personally restored, and that you are part of that church, and that it is being slowly corrupted from within, there is going to be an obvious manifestation of concern, grief, spiritual agony, anger, sense of betrayal, sense of rightness about their own beliefs, perhaps some misguided elitism, and various other feelings.  Many of which are appropriate and understandable within the theological context and framework that they have.

This is what I encourage church leaders and all those who support full inclusion strive to understand.  Full inclusion is not simply a “mistake” in the eyes of church conservatives, it is the undoing, or an additional factor, in the undoing of Christ’s direct work.  It is something that might possibly bring about a new apostasy.

Pointing out that the church no longer claims to be the one true church, or that scripture is not to be understood in absolute black and white terms, or highlighting that some concerns are (as you see it), not logical, rational, or plausible is to miss the point: yes, the corporate church has its beliefs, but sometimes individuals have different beliefs, and pointing out that “the church no longer teaches that”, etc., does not mean that individually held cherished beliefs are now rejected, or have been set aside.  This is of course all the more compounded if people think the church is drifting away from God’s revealed truth and will.  You’re just making their case for them.

Let me share some of my own beliefs, to help people understand where I’m coming from, and then I’ll explain why I now accept full inclusion.

I believe (in/that) …

1) God: This may seem obvious, but it is still worth highlighting.  I should also point out that most conservatives (in my experience & including myself) understand God in the traditional Christian sense (save perhaps where tweaked by Restoration scripture) – that of some sort of supreme, divine personage with purpose, intelligence, personality, memory, identity, etc.  This is very important, because a person’s view of God will shape his or her theology *and* how they approach scripture.

2) Jesus Christ: I believe that Jesus was a historical figure, and that he was truly God incarnated, rose from the dead, etc.

3) the Great Apostasy: The ancient church & priesthood became corrupt and had to be restored by God.

4) Joseph Smith Junior: was A true prophet of God called to restore the priesthood and the church; whose sections in the Doctrine and Covenants (along with those of his true successors) presented as divine revelations, truly are.

5) Joseph Smith III was the true legitimate successor to Joseph Smith Jr., and that true succession of the prophetic office continues only in Community of Christ.

6) Authority: We are the one true church & our priesthood alone has power and authority from God.  But what this truly means is likely not well understood.

7) the Book of Mormon Is both inspired scripture, and a historical account of a lost civilization.

8) the Inspired Version Is the result of divine revelation, for the purpose of correcting some errors and restoring some lost content.

9)  The Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants are the only true examples of scripture, which is spiritually inerrant.

10)  Scripture trumps World Conference resolutions, which trump the Bylaws, which trump various statements and policies, procedures, parliamentary rules, etc., including the Enduring Principles, History Principles, Statements on Scripture, Basic Beliefs, the Church Administrator’s Handbook, theology statements, individual policy statements, etc.  The further revealed will of God, by definition, becomes (if accepted), scripture.  Therefore, *nothing* trumps scripture.

The above are what I call my “cardinal convictions”.  I believe in them because, quite simply, I just believe in them.  So, pointing out that the church no longer promote that we are the true church, or that the Book of Mormon is historical, etc. is not a great use of your time.  I’m fully aware, respect, and support (and celebrate) much of what makes us the 21st century church that we are.

I don’t believe it makes sense to tell people “we are the one true church and you’ll burn forever unless you join us” – so, I’m glad that we don’t push that anymore.  But I still believe that we are the one true church (but nobody will burn for not being a member).  Its just not something that we need to open with, or get into, in our outreach efforts, evangelism or missionary work. But, recognizing this, does not mean that I need to surrender my personal conviction that we are the one true church.

enochAnother example: As currently taught, I believe that we are called to build Zionic  communities.  Everywhere.  Wherever we live.  But, while I’m aligned with, and support and celebrate that modern interpretation of the cause of Zion, I still believe that a Zionic city will one day be established in Independence, Missouri.  And/or that the city of Enoch will return.

I’m mentioning all of the above to show that I can be very passionate about our 21st century identity, as defined in our Basic Beliefs, Enduring Principles, Mission Initiatives, etc., but still have my own, personal heritage convictions, that mean just as much to me, as these other elements.  And, for me, my cardinal convictions, my heritage beliefs, are the core of my faith (surrounding, of course, an inner core of God as revealed in Jesus Christ).

They are sacred to me.  You don’t need to understand why I believe what I believe.  You don’t need to ask “How can you possibly think that the Book of Mormon is historical?”  You don’t need to ask “How can you possibly regard the Inspired Version as truly being the result of divine revelation?”   You don’t need to ask “How can you possibly believe that there was a Great Apostasy, and a need for a Restoration, and that we alone have priesthood authority”.  Just understand that for me, those are very real, sacred beliefs, which shape my faith and how I view the Church, the Latter Day Restoration movement, the Christian religion, and the world.

And then please understand that for many people who think as I do, our approach to some issues is grounded in our heritage beliefs, our cardinal convictions, and this then impacts how we respond to pending or implemented church changes.  When you believe that God corrected the Bible, its hard to find common ground on controversial issues with people who say “But Moses never existed”.  But we can find common ground, if we strive to understand where we are coming from, and work at not being exasperated with one another.

It is my belief that conservative church members do understand where liberal church members are coming from.  Justice, equality, worthiness, etc., these are motivations for change that are easy to grasp, and even sympathize with.

But, I tend to feel that (in my own opinion), liberals often do not have an accurate understanding of where conservatives are coming from, with regard to why we sometimes resist implemented or pending changes.  Sadly, as noted before, some of the more extreme conservatives object to changes because they want whatever the change is, to be wrong.

Consider same-sex marriage or female ordination.  There are some people who believe that one or both are wrong, and view it that way because they just don’t like either, and want them to be wrong – they want God to view each as wrong.  They don’t want God to ever sanction either, and they will go to great lengths to not have to deal with such changes, sometimes even forming other denominations.

But, there are other conservatives who object to some of the changes that have been made, as I touched on earlier, because they believe that the way things are right now (before a change goes into effect), is God’s will – and to make the change therefore would be to go against the will of God.

To have a deeper view of how church conservatives think and why change is sometimes not easy for us, I strongly encourage you to read my blog “the New Conservatives”

So, now that I’ve shared what I believe in, I’m sure many people will wonder “well how can you support full inclusion?”

For a long time, I did not.  And I wrote documents and posted at length, several items on Facebook explaining why I did not support it.  And I spoke and voted against it at the Canadian National Conference.

However, in exploring other doctrinal and theological questions, I discovered that God does change things.  You see, one of the major obstacles in supporting full inclusion is the belief that many conservative church members have that God does not change what God has established.

This belief, that God never changes things, is derived from multiple verses of scripture found in our canon that seem to imply that God does not change things.  And, truthfully, there is no verse that says that God *does* make changes.

And there are of course multiple verses of scripture that condemn same-sex relations.  The various explanations I’ve seen, given by those who support full inclusion, as to why those scriptures are not roadblocks after all, are, in my opinion, flawed.  I’ve not changed my view on that.

scrollNow, when you believe that scripture was written by the prophets of God, inspired by God, to reveal God’s will, and such scripture informs us that same-sex relationships are prohibited, and you combine that with the belief that God does not change things, you are held to the view that full inclusion cannot be divinely sanctioned.  Which of course means that the church should not sanction them.

But God does change things!  And I have no choice to accept this, if I’m being honest with myself.  You see, as I stated earlier, in my overview of my cardinal convictions, I believe in the Book of Mormon, the Inspired Version, the Doctrine & Covenants, etc.

And, since I do believe, and claim these as my beliefs, I have to be guided by what they say.  They are authoritative.  And, officially speaking, that is not a “me” only comment – they are authoritative for the entire corporate church.  I cannot claim to be an advocate of the one true church, restored through Joseph Smith Jr., if I ignore what the scriptures state. I cannot disregard the Book of Mormon, the Inspired Version, and the Doctrine & Covenants.

And when we study these books, and consider our church history, we do see that God has indeed made changes.  Here are some examples:

Teachers Can Baptize – And then Cannot

“And Alma established a church in the land of Sidom, and consecrated priests and teachers in the land, to baptize unto the Lord whosoever were desirous to be baptized.” -Alma 10:103

Compare the above passage with Doctrine & Covenants Section 17:11e:

“but neither teachers nor deacons have authority to baptize, administer the sacrament, or lay on hands”

So, we see that in the ancient church, according to the Book of Mormon, teachers could baptize. Yet, in the restored church, as indicated by the Doctrine and Covenants, they cannot. God changed what the office of teacher was authorized to do. This represents a change made by God to the priesthood.

Slavery Endorsed, Commanded, and then Condemned

Another very important change pertains to slavery. In the Old Testament, slavery was tolerated and even commanded by God:

44 Both thy bond-men, and thy bond-maids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bond-men and bond-maids.
45 Moreover, of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land; and they shall be your possession.
46 And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession; they shall be your bond-men for ever; but over your brethren the children of Israel, ye shall not rule one over another with rigor. -Leviticus 25 (Inspired Version)

However, we read the following in Section 98:10g:

“Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another.”

This demonstrates God reversing a prior divine position. This would be, in my own opinion, an example of something that was not previously viewed by God as a sin, becoming so.

Regardless of that question, the point here is that God, for whatever reason, openly tolerated, and seemed to even command, or at least encourage slavery – the treatment of some people being regarded as property by other people; only to then reverse that position in 1833 – several centuries after the Torah was recorded.

An Eye for An Eye – Or Not!

In Leviticus 24:20 we see a reference to God’s Old Testament version of justice: “eye for eye”. The verse states:

“Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to  him again.”

According to verse 13, this was the word of God spoken to Moses. So, this custom was God’s will.  However, this policy was reversed in the Gospel of Matthew:

40 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.
41 But I say unto you that ye resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. -chapter 5

Divorce – Forbidden. Then sanctioned.

We are told by Christ that divorce was not permitted in the days prior to Moses. However, at some point, because of the hardness of their hearts, divorce was sanctioned.

This change is significant. I’ve often had people tell me that God does not make changes to suit humanity.
This clearly teaches us that such is not the case.

These are just some of the examples of God making changes.  However, the most extensive changes were made to the priesthood, and the church itself.  I’ve written a detailed overview of these changes in another blog that you can read here (and it also includes the changes just mentioned).

3in1Anyone who claims to believe in the Book of Mormon, the Inspired Version, and the Doctrine & Covenants, and who does not agree with me that God can change things, I ask that you read this other blog, slowly and carefully.  Print it out.  Highlight and underline.  If you refuse to read this other blog, and yet claim that God does not make changes, then you are not being honest with yourself, nor with your faith in God.

And those of you who do believe that God can change things, I think you may still find my other blog to be interesting – and potentially helpful in future discussions.

When I realized that God can make changes, it occurred to me that perhaps God has made a change with regard to full inclusion.  Some might say that this is one change that God could not make, since he won’t ever declare something not sinful that He has previously stated was sinful.

But, God has already done this.  In the Old Testament, God forbade people from eating pork.  This prohibition was part of the law. Therefore, eating pork was a sin.

However, the law was ended by Christ, as recorded in the Third Book of Nephi.  Therefore, there is no longer a prohibition against eating pork.  So, it is no longer a sin to eat pork.

(for an exploration of just what a sin is, please read this blog)

Now, some might say that same-sex relations are on a different order than what we eat.  A different magnitude of sin.

I do believe that some sins are greater than others.  Some sins are sins because they are things forbidden by God.  Some things we fail to do are sins because they are things commanded by God.  But, some things are sins because they are just plain evil.

Murder and rape are two such things that immediately come to mind, as examples of things that are, quite simply, evil.  These are sins that *are*greater than many other sins.

But, it is not evil for two loving, committed, consenting adults, of the same-sex, to be in a relationship with each other.  No harm is being done.  No one is being taken advantage of.  There is no evil being done.  Therefore, God can approve that which was previously prohibited.

Some might claim “but it does go against nature”.  The implication of course being, that in order for the human race to be fruitful, and propagate itself, men and women must have sex with each other.

This is a flawed argument.  How many times will a person engage in some form of sexual activity, with an opposite sex partner, in his or her lifetime, and how many of these experiences will directly result in the human population increasing?

The purpose of sex is not *limited* to propagating the species.  How many times have you had sexual intercourse with an opposite sex partner?   How many children do you have?  If the latter is lower than the former, you cannot disagree with me.

Sex, and loving relationships are of tremendous value for reasons other than having children.  So, to tell people of the same sex that they can never have a functional, happy, intimate relationship with someone they love, because they are biologically unable to make a baby together, is absurd.

My wife cannot have children.  Should I leave her for a woman who can?  I did not marry her for the purpose of having children.  I married her because I fell in love with her, and wanted to have an ongoing, lifelong relationship with her.  Is our marriage, and our love for each other, and our desire to support each other, improve each other, be devoted to each other, etc., a form of blasphemy in the eyes of God because my wife cannot have children?

The simple fact is this: the human race is not in jeopardy of dying out because some people form relationships with members of their own sex.  In fact, in our modern era, being married to a person of the same sex is not at all a barrier to raising children.

This takes us to another issue.  Some people fee that same-sex couples should not become parents because a child should have a parent of each sex.  I’m not a child psychologist, so I honestly don’t know if this view has any merit or not.

But, I don’t see this concern as a factor in deciding if full inclusion is itself appropriate or not.  People with same sex attraction are going to form relationships with members of their own sex.  And, some of those couples are going to become parents.

Would it not be better for the parents to be jointed together in a covenant with God, than not?  Would it not be beneficial to the child to be fully accepted into our church community and raised in the Restoration, in a way that makes them want to remain active, by fully accepting the child’s parents, and not driving them away by telling them that their parents are not able to be married or serve in the priesthood?

Some people accuse the Church of “giving in” to the whims of society.  The Church does not do things simply because society does something.  People might ask “well then why now?  Why is it that when society, for the most part, opposed same-sex relationships, the church did likewise?  Why did the church sanction them when society did?”

It is actually not unexpected that the church and society would, in some ways, mirror each other.  Conservative church members sometimes like to remind us that we are meant to be in the world, not of the world.  This does not mean that disciples of Jesus Christ should ignore the world.  This does not mean that the world cannot sometimes move in the right direction.

So, to simply dismiss a course of action because it seems to have originated from secular society, and not within the church, is very flawed reasoning, and suggestive of being against a change because you want it to be wrong (which is an expression of bigotry).

As people in the church, and outside the church, have moved together towards having a more accurate understanding of same-sex attraction, it is perfectly reasonable to see the church take steps to sanction full inclusion as society does.

Besides, can we truly claim, as a fact, that society was not influenced by the church?  I once heard  a story that claimed that members of the RLDS church were somehow instrumental in the modern state of Israel being established.  I’m sure its probably more complicated than just saying it that way – but the views or actions of one person can influence an unlimited number of other people.

You share an idea with someone else.  It might only be with one other person.  But what if your idea really resonated with that one other person, so he or she shared it with others, who in turn shared it, etc.  Perhaps you never wrote a book, but it your idea may have been the seed of a more complex system of ideas that formed in the mind of someone else who did write a book, and thus read by hundreds of other people, some of whom expanded your idea further, and wrote their publications, who can say how many people you might have influenced?

Also, can we truly claim that God was not helping to guide secular society to where He was also guiding the Church?  If we don’t consider these possibilities, and jealously try to claim that God’s Holy Spirit only moves within the membership of the church, we are limiting the very nature of God, and making God less than God.

USA Constitution ParchmentIf God can influence the authors of the American Constitution (“And for this purpose have I established the constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood.” –Doctrine & Covenants Section 98:10h) and if God can confirm to a non-member the truths of the Book of Mormon by setting the reader’s chest afire, and if God can respond to the prayers of a young boy kneeling in a grove, we cannot claim that God works only through the members of the church, and it is blasphemous to suggest such a view.

Another objection that is commonly made is that God said that same-sex relationships are an abomination.  I’ve used this argument myself, when I was trying to prevent our polices from being changed.  I would quote the Law of Moses, and those who supported full inclusion would point out that the Law of Moses was rescinded – but when I quoted the Law of Moses, I wasn’t quoting it for the sake of it being a law, but because that the specific commandment in question states that the pertinent sin is an abomination.

However, when I read the word abomination, I translated that in my mind to mean “obscene” or “disgusting”.  This is our typical, modern understanding of that word.

However, I’ve come to understand that the Biblical use of the word abomination means that something is prohibited, or forbidden.  And, as with the eating of pork, which was a sin that became a non sin, there were some forbidden foods listed in the dietary code that were also described as abomination – forbidden.  But, the dietary law was lifted, we were told to view nothing created by God as unclean – therefore, that which was forbidden to eat, is no longer forbidden, and such things were not incorporated into the Word of Wisdom.

Likewise, other prohibitions can also be lifted by God.

Of course, there are always those who ask “Why have we never received a revelation telling us that full inclusion is now OK?”

We have.  Twice.  The first revelation was Section 164.  The second revelation was the 2013 Word of Counsel. Neither has wording that says what people expected them to say, with regard to sanctioning full inclusion (Just as Christ did not conduct himself in the manner, or do the things, that the Israelites expected).

Section 164 does state:

164:6a. As revealed in Christ, God, the Creator of all, ultimately is concerned about behaviors and relationships that uphold the worth and giftedness of all people and that protect the most vulnerable. Such relationships are to be rooted in the principles of Christ-like love, mutual respect, responsibility, justice, covenant, and faithfulness, against which there is no law.
164:6b. If the church more fully will understand and consistently apply these principles, questions arising about responsible human sexuality, gender identities, roles, and relationships; marriage; and other issues may be resolved according to God’s divine purposes. Be assured, nothing within these principles condones selfish, irresponsible, promiscuous, degrading, or abusive relationships.
164:6c. Faced with difficult questions, many properly turn to scripture to find insight and
inspiration. Search the scriptures for the Living Word that brings life, healing, and hope to all. Embrace and proclaim these liberating truths.
164:7a. A world-wide prophetic church must develop cultural awareness and sensitivity to distinguish between issues that should be addressed by the World Conference and those that are best resolved nationally or in other ways.
164:7b. Fundamental principles of ethical behavior and relationships should be addressed by the World Conference. The Conference should not decide specific policies for all nations when those decisions likely will cause serious harm in some of them.
164:7c. However, timely resolution of pressing issues in various nations is necessary for the restoring work of the gospel to move forward with all of its potential. Therefore, let the proper World Church officers act in their callings—as already provided in church law—to create and interpret church policies to meet the needs of the church in different nations in harmony with the principles contained in this counsel.
164:7d. Where possible and appropriate, convene national or field conferences to provide opportunities for broader dialogue, understanding, and consent. In those gatherings, let the spirit of love, justice, and truth prevail.

It is clear from these verses that one of the themes being covered is same-sex attraction.  And, God, in verse 7d, has invited the church to hold national conferences to explore, on a nation by nation basis, if full inclusion is, or is not, viable for the nation in question.

God of course would not grant the church permission to hold such conferences if it was still God’s stance that people in same-sex relationships are defying God’s will.  So, clearly, God is now ok with such partnerships.  He does not need to actually say it.  It is enough that he is putting the matter into our hands.

The 2013 Word of Counsel state:

3 a. More fully embody your oneness and equality in Jesus Christ. Oneness and equality in Christ are realized through the waters of baptism, confirmed by the Holy Spirit, and sustained through the sacrament of Communion. Embrace the full meaning of these sacraments and be spiritually joined in Christ as never before.
3b. However, it is not right to profess oneness and equality in Christ through sacramental
covenants and then to deny them by word or action. Such behavior wounds Christ’s body and denies what is resolved eternally in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
3c. You do not fully understand many interrelated processes of human creation. Through its wonderful complexity, creation produces diversity and order.
3d. Be not consumed with concern about variety in human types and characteristics as you see them. Be passionately concerned about forming inclusive communities of love, oneness, and equality that reveal divine nature.
3e. Oneness and equality in Christ do not mean uniformity. They mean Unity in Diversity and relating in Christ-like love to the circumstances of others as if they were one’s own. They also mean full opportunity for people to experience human worth and related rights, including expressing God-given giftedness in the church and society.
4 a. Regarding priesthood, God calls whomever God calls from among committed disciples, according to their gifts, to serve and reach all humankind.

These words, even more so than 164, must be understood as indicating that sexual orientation is not something that God considers with regard to who is, and who is not, suitable to be called & ordained to the priesthood.

So, we have received two revelations which, when responsibly interpreted, reveal to us that God is no longer prohibiting same-sex relationships.

I’m sure some people want to know “Why did God not simply say so, in more direct language?”  I’ve delved into that before, in my blog “Breaking Deadlock”.  However, I believe that there are other reasons.

scruffyjesusConsider what God is, who God is to us.  Some religions seem to teach that God is distant and cold.  They believe that the relationship between mankind and God is one of the former submitting in all things, in all ways, to the latter.  In such a culture, God seems to want, and perhaps even need, active human worship, and it is the role of humans to provide this worship, and to be, in all things, totally subservient.  Mankind exists to submit to, and worship God.  That is the very purpose for which humanity exists.

Thankfully, this is not the Christian approach. And, we can look to our own Restoration scriptures to see what the purpose of humanity actually is:

“Adam fell, that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.” –Second Nephi 1:115

This verse I believe says a great deal about God’s nature.

Christianity approaches the Divine in what is, in my view, a much more wholesome, way than other religions.  God is our creator, but more than that, God is a loving parent, a father who provide for us because He truly cares about us.

The entire human race is the child of God.  We are all the children of God.  And, thorough the teachings of Jesus Christ, we have come to understand that God loves us, and wants us to be happy, and to take away our burdens, and to provide for us, to sustain us and nurture us.  He created us for no other reason than for us to have joy!

The dynamic between the human race, and God, is, from a Christian perspective, perhaps rather unique.  We are in a parent-child relationship with our creator, with our deity.

God is the Supreme Being.  God is the Divine.  God is God.  But, God is more than these things.  God is our father, and we are His children, Or, collectively, we are, as the sum of all humanity, God’s child.

And, like a child, the human race has evolved over time.  In our infancy, we were prone to temper tantrums.  We committed atrocities, and waged wars, and worshipped false gods.  God has to discipline us, as any parent disciplines a child.  He gave us laws, he separated the wicked from the righteous, he confounded our language.  But, as we have matured, we have become, to some degree at least, civilized.  And, we continue to grow, to mature, to move out of our infancy and juvenile years.

It is my belief that we are now old enough for God to teach us, and guide us, by asking us “Well what do you think?”  Like any child-parent relationship involving children who have grown to a certain degree of maturity and intellect and individualism, we are, in a sense, in some measure, now in a relationship with our creator that is more like a partnership.

God does not want to rule us like a tyrant sitting on a throne.  He wants us to grow, and to impress him.  I believe that God wants us to make Him proud.  So, now that we are where  we are, on some matters, God, I believe, is essentially saying “this is fine by me – what do *you* think?  Is this something you are ready for?”

This is why the recent revelations have taken the form that they have.  God does not wish to just dictate such things to us, but to encourage us to go on a soul searching journey, to give us the means to express our own collective maturity and sophistication.

Another insight I’ve come to understand in my exploration of this topic is that, the way God’s will has been shared with the church in these two revelations has called the church into a deeper, and more sophisticated approach, and understanding, of the principle of Common Consent, which is of course one of the foundational principles of the Latter Day Restoration.

So, instead of drifting from our roots, as some might believe, we are being called back to our roots, for revelation itself has now become part of our greater appreciation, celebration, and utilization of Common Consent.  To some degree, Common Consent has always been part of the process of considering and approving a revelation, as it is through Common Consent that revelations are formally submitted and voted upon.

But, Common Consent is much more than voting and the rule of alternates, and now are beginning to understand more fully what the principle of Common Consent is all about, as we are brought, more directly, into the process, through extended prayerful study, dialogue, discernment, etc.

To move us in this direction, the revelation are worded they way that they are, because if the wording was as simple, and brief as “Same-sex marriage is now OK”, there would be no opportunity for growth on our part, to develop a deeper appreciation and utilization of the multi-dimensional principles of Common Consent, and our own spiritual growth and maturity, and evolving relationship with our divine Father, would not evolve.

I also believe that embracing the many changes that the church has made, is key to our survival.  We could, if we had so wished, voted down any action that would have resulted in full inclusion being sanctioned.  We could have voted down Section 154, never approving female ordination.  We could have stuck to our guns on baptism, and kept our longer name as our only name, and opposed being welcoming by withholding communion from non-members, etc.

But the more we strive to prevent anything from changing, when the changes sought are not actually contrary to God’s will, the more we try to make it about what we want, vs. what God wants, the more we will continue to stagnate, shrink, and die.

In order to flourish, people must see value in our church.  They must see that we are redemptive.  They must see that we resonate with people, and that we are relevant.

PHARISEESBut, the reality is, those churches that do not strive to be such, are not actually doing God’s work, but are in fact transforming themselves into Pharisees and the Great Sanhedrin, who are so caught up in tradition, and preserving everything as its always been, for that sake alone, that God’s Spirit is no longer with them.  Christ brought renewal to the people of Israel.  He made things relevant, redemptive, and resonating.  We must always ensure that we do the same, or we will become the Pharisees of today.

The church will, quite simply, die without embracing change.  Not all change is appropriate, but those changes that are not contrary to God’s will, and which bring us closer to the purposes of Christ, naturally are.  If we fail to see them as such, if we continually try to confound Christ by saying “But does it not say….” we will only succeed in driving people out of the church, and accelerating our own demise.

In my “Breaking Deadlock” blog, I talked about how I gradually came to feel that Section 164 was truly reflective of the mind and will of God.  I don’t want to repeat myself here (but I encourage you to read that other blog), so it suffices me to say that I went through a deliberate and prayerful and extended period of reviewing that revelation, and came to believe, over time, that it is truly a revelation from God.  This is my testimony; and it is my further testimony that the document known as the 2013 Words of Counsel is also an authentic revelation from God.

Thus saith the Spirit.

Please also read “The New Conservatives”
Please also read “God’s Changes”
Please also read “What is Sin”
Please also read “Breaking Deadlock”
Please also read “What Did We Gain from National Conference?
Please also read “21st Century Restoration”

Statements on Christ

“It is to Christ that scripture points.”
–Scripture Affirmation #1

The following is not a blog as such, but some statements about Christ made by the Church, or by church leaders.

scruffyjesus
From A Defining Moment” (2009 Address to the Church, by President Veazey):

“Community of Christ also stresses that all scripture must be interpreted through the lens of God’s most-decisive revelation in Jesus Christ.

So if portions of scripture don’t agree with our fullest understanding of the meaning of the revelation of God in Christ, as illuminated by the Holy Spirit and discerned by the faith community, the teachings and vision of Christ take precedence.”

From Continuing Revelation by Stephen M. Veazey (Enduring Principles Series)

“We believe God clearly and reliably was revealed in Jesus Christ.”

From our Christology Statement:

“Christ is our peace, breaking down the dividing walls of hostility between us. He promises us the redemption and healing of our relationships with God, one another, and all of creation.” –Paragraph 6

From “The Restoring Christ by Stephen M. Veazey

“Today I come before you to bear testimony of Jesus Christ as proclaimed and experienced by the Restoration movement, our faith heritage. The Christ of whom I bear witness, lives eternally at the center of our faith. We know this Christ as the embodiment of God’s nature and purposes—God’s eternal and living Word active in creation. We know this Christ as the One in whom and through whom divine judgment, mercy, and grace interact to affect our reconciliation, redemption, and salvation. We know this Christ as the One in whom and through whom the passionate dream of God for shalom—the fullness of peace—throughout the whole creation is clearly revealed.”

Please also read “Pondering the Scriptures”
Please also read “The Nature & Role of Scripture”
Please also read “Views on Scripture”

 

Views on Scripture

“We believe God clearly and reliably was revealed in Jesus Christ.”
Continuing Revelation, by Stephen M. Veazey (Enduring Principles Series)

This is not a blog as such, but a collection of statements made by the Church, or by church leaders, regarding scripture.

scroll

From Doctrine & Covenants Section 163 (2007):

7a.Scripture is an indispensable witness to the Eternal Source of light and truth, which cannot be fully contained in any finite vessel or language. Scripture has been written and shaped by human authors through experiences of revelation and ongoing inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the midst of time and culture.
7b. Scripture is not to be worshiped or idolized. Only God, the Eternal One of whom scripture testifies, is worthy of worship. God’s nature, as revealed in Jesus Christ and affirmed by the Holy Spirit, provides the ultimate standard by which any portion of scripture should be interpreted and applied.
7c. It is not pleasing to God when any passage of scripture is used to diminish or oppress races, genders, or classes of human beings. Much physical and emotional violence has been done to some of God’s beloved children through the misuse of scripture. The church is called to confess and repent of such attitudes and practices.
7d. Scripture, prophetic guidance, knowledge, and discernment in the faith community must walk hand in hand to reveal the true will of God. Follow this pathway, which is the way of the Living Christ, and you will discover more than sufficient light for the journey ahead.

From “A Defining Moment” (2009 Address to the Church, by President Veazey):

“Besides putting our history in perspective, we need to deepen our understanding of the nature of scripture.

For this part of our journey we need a light and a compass. Our light is the witness of the Holy Spirit that illuminates divine truth. Our compass is the church’s “Statement on Scripture” that provides reliable direction.

Basic to the “Statement on Scripture” is the understanding that scripture is an amazing collection of inspired writings that is indispensable to encountering the Living God revealed in the Living Word, Jesus Christ. Scripture speaks with many voices, including testimonies, stories, poetry, metaphors, commentary, and parables. All of these ways of communicating point us to divine truths beyond the ability of any language to express fully. Scripture is authoritative, not because it is perfect or inerrant in every literal detail, but because it reliably keeps us grounded in God’s revelation.

Here is the heart of our challenge. Over the last several centuries a doctrine of scripture emerged in Christianity that insists that all scripture—every single word—was dictated directly by God and is inerrant in every detail. This belief emerged as a response to the questioning of religious authority from those who held that human reason alone was the most reliable pathway to truth. So, a doctrine of scripture emerged that enshrined the literal words of scripture as inerrant and as the sole authority on all matters.

This view still dominates much of global Christianity. It also strongly influences more than a few members of Community of Christ who have adopted it from the larger culture.

However, that doctrine is not how scripture was understood in Christianity for many centuries after its birth. It is not how Jesus used scripture. And, it is not how Community of Christ officially views scripture today.

The church affirms that scripture is inspired and essential to our knowledge of God and the gospel. In addition, we believe that scripture should be interpreted responsibly through informed study, guided by the Spirit working in the church. Scripture was formed by the community to shape the community. Therefore, interpreting scripture is the constant work of the community. In other words, understanding and applying scripture is not just a matter of reading a passage and deciding on our own what it means.

Community of Christ also stresses that all scripture must be interpreted through the lens of God’s most-decisive revelation in Jesus Christ. So if portions of scripture don’t agree with our fullest understanding of the meaning of the revelation of God in Christ, as illuminated by the Holy Spirit and discerned by the faith community, the teachings and vision of Christ take precedence. This principle applies to all of our books of scripture, especially any passage used by some to assign God’s disfavor, negative characteristics, or secondary roles to others.

This is why our belief in “continuing revelation” is so important. This belief keeps us open to “yet more light and truth” so we can grow in understanding of God’s supreme will as revealed in Christ.”

From our Statement on Scripture:

Scripture provides divine guidance and inspired insight for life when responsibly interpreted and faithfully applied. Scripture helps us believe in Jesus Christ. Its witness guides us to eternal life and enables us to grow spiritually, to transform our lives, and to participate actively in the life and ministry of the church.

Affirmation One

We declare that Jesus Christ—who lived, was crucified, was raised from the dead, and comes again—is the Living Word of God. It is to Christ that scripture points. It is through Christ that we have life (John 5:39–40). It is Christ whom we must hear (Mark 9:7).

Affirmation Two

We find the Living Word in and through scripture. Scripture is the indispensable witness of the saving, transforming message that God has entrusted to the church. The church formed the canon of scripture so that it might always have a way to hear the good news, nurture its faith, measure its life, test its experience, and remember its identity.

Affirmation Three

Scripture is a library of books that speaks in many voices. These books were written in diverse times and places, and reflect the languages, cultures, and conditions under which they were written. God’s revelation through scripture does not come to us apart from the humanity of the writers, but in and through that humanity. In the earthen vessels of scripture we have been given the treasure of divine love and grace (2 Corinthians 4:7).

Affirmation Four

Scripture’s authority is derived from the model of Christ, who came to be a servant (Mark 10:45). Therefore, the authority of scripture is not the authority to oppress, control, or dominate. If Jesus came to serve, how much more should the books that point to him be treated as a servant of the saving purposes of God.

Affirmation Five

Scripture is vital and essential to the church, but not because it is inerrant (in the sense that every detail is historically or scientifically correct). Scripture makes no such claim for itself. Rather, generations of Christians have found scripture simply to be trustworthy in keeping them anchored in revelation, in promoting faith in Christ, and in nurturing the life of discipleship. For these purposes, scripture is unfailingly reliable (2 Timothy 3:16–17).

Affirmation Six

Faith, experience, tradition, and scholarship each have something to contribute to our understanding of scripture. In wrestling to hear and respond to the witness of scripture, the church must value the light that each of these sources may offer.

Affirmation Seven

As the church tries to interpret scripture responsibly, it seeks the help of the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised that the Spirit would guide his disciples into new truth (John 16:12–15). By the Spirit, the ancient words of scripture can become revelatory, allowing us to grasp what may not have been seen or heard before.

Affirmation Eight

Disciples are called to grow in their knowledge and understanding of the scriptures so that they may ever increase in love for God, neighbor, and self (Matthew 22:37–40; Mosiah 1:49), uphold the dignity and worth of all persons (Doctrine and Covenants 16:3c–d), and faithfully follow the way of Jesus Christ.

Affirmation Nine

With other Christians, we affirm the Bible as the foundational scripture for the church. In addition, Community of Christ uses the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants as scripture. We do not use these sacred writings to replace the witness of the Bible or improve upon it, but because they confirm its message that Jesus Christ is the Living Word of God (Preface of the Book of Mormon; Doctrine and Covenants 76:3g). We have heard Christ speak in all three books of scripture, and bear witness that he is “alive forever and ever” (Revelation 1:18).

For our time we shall seek to live and interpret the witness of scripture by the Spirit, with the community, for the sake of mission, in the name of the Prince of Peace.

Please also read “Pondering the Scriptures”
Please also read “The Nature & Role of Scripture”
Please also read “Statements on Christ”

A Second Glance at the Trinity

trinityThis blog is an expression of my own ideas.  The church that I belong to, Community of Christ, teaches that God exists as a community of three personages, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.  The latter is now commonly termed the Holy Spirit.

The official website of the church says:

“We believe in one living God who meets us in the testimony of Israel, is revealed in Jesus Christ, and moves through all creation as the Holy Spirit. We affirm the Trinity—God who is a community of three persons. All things that exist owe their being to God: mystery beyond understanding and love beyond imagination. This God alone is worthy of our worship.”

I don’t have any objection to this view of the trinity being a position of the church, and I’m not at all finding fault with, or rebuking the church, for advocating the existence of the trinity.  This blog is merely an exploration of my own thoughts.

In my own opinion, there is no such thing as the trinity.  There is only God. 

For most of my life, I have really struggled with the concept of the Holy Spirit, as a distinct aspect of God. I would joke that I did not believe in the Trinity, but in the “Duity”, or the “Holy Twinity”.  My issue with the Holy Spirit was that I could not conceive how the Holy Spirit is different from God (or, more specifically, God the Father).

If Jesus is the “Son of God”, or God incarnated, then, in my view, the Holy Spirit is just God the Father.  If mythological gods were real, Zeus, when traveling abroad, interacting with mortals, would still be Zeus.  He would not be Bob.  He might tell people he is Bob, and we might understand him to be Bob, but he is still Zeus.  Whether he is physical, intangible, wandering the Earth, or sitting on his throne in Olympus, he is just Zeus.  Viewing a manifestation of Zeus, as being a different aspect, just makes no sense to me.

And, it did not make much sense to me with regard to God.  The Father might dwell in His Kingdom, but when God decides to comfort someone or be present in our world, through what we understand as being the manifestation of the Holy Spirit, it is not a different aspect of the Godhead, distinct from the Father, but it really *is*, in every sense, the Father.  He does not need to be known by a different name.  He does not need to be regarded as a separate entity of the godhead from Himself.  It just does not make any sense.

More recently, I’ve come to view that the same is true for the Son.  Yes, God did manifest as an incarnated being, that we call Jesus Christ.  And Yes, Jesus Christ is God.  But, he is not a distinct aspect of the Godhead from the Father.  We call Christ “the Son of God” – but he is not the son of the Father.  He *is* the Father.

This is the glorious thing about Christianity – God, the very God that we traditionally term the Father, is not a far off distant being that is cold or unloving.  On the contrary, the Father loves us so much, that the Father Himself came down and dwelt among us as a human being, in the form of Jesus Christ. 

I came to have this understanding of God by reading two passages from the Book of Mormon.  The Book of Mormon teaches us that the Father and the Son are in fact the same. Jesus is not the Son of God. He is called the Son of God, but he is not actually the Son of God. Jesus is God. And the Son and the Father (and the Spirit) are not different aspects, or components, or personages, or whatever, of the godhead. There is just God. We understand God as consisting of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, but this is just a tool to help humans understand what is not easy for humans to understand. But in actuality, God is just God.

Here are the two passages:

28 And now Abinadi said unto them, I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people;
29 And because he dwelleth in flesh, he shall be called the Son of God:
30 And having subjected the flesh to the will of the Father, being the Father and the Son; the Father because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son:
31 And they are one God, yea, the very eternal Father of heaven and of earth. -Mosiah 8

and…

93 Now Zeezrom saith again unto him, Is the Son of God the very eternal Father?
94 And Amulek said unto him, Yea, he is the very eternal Father of heaven and of earth, and all things which in them is;
95 He is the beginning and the end, the first and the last; -Alma 8

Note that, these two passages exist to teach us something about the nature of God. There are many verses that speak of “the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost” (or some variant), but such usage is almost always secondary or even tertiary to the main point of the verse in question. But, in the two passages quoted above, the wording of each makes it clear that a specific teaching about the nature of God is being given.

It is true that neither of these two passages mentions the Holy Spirit, but we can reasonably conclude that if the Son and the Father are the same aspect of God, we can say the same for the Holy Spirit.

The Lectures of Faith state that the Holy Spirit is in fact the shared mind of both the Father and the Son:

5:2j And he being the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, and having overcome, received a fullness of the glory of the Father – possessing the same mind with the Father;
5:2k which Mind is the Holy Spirit, that bears record of the Father and the Son;

I actually thought this was an interesting idea, to understand the Holy Spirit not as a distinct aspect of the godhead, but as the shared mind of the Father and the Son. 

However, the Lectures of Faith were removed from the Book of Doctrine & Covenants a very long time ago, in 1897 (the LDS church following suit in 1921) and therefore are not authoritative.  And of course, this notion of a shared mind presumes that the Father and Son are distinct, which according to what *is* regarded as authoritative scripture, they are not.

There are of course many verses of scripture that suggest that the Father and the Son (and the Spirit) are distinct.  I’m not pretending that such is not the case.

However, most of these scriptures are not teachings about the nature of God, at least not in the sense that we might think.

Here is an example:

“And now behold, these are the words which ye shall say, calling them by name, saying: Having authority given me of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.” –Third Book of Nephi 5:25

trinity2Does the above passage teach us about the nature of God (in the context of the Trinity)?  We might think it does, perhaps at least to some degree. But, what is it’s primary purpose?  Is it *meant* to be a teaching about the nature of God?  Was it given for that purpose?

It should be obvious that the above passage was intended to be instructional, with regard to the mode of baptism.  Yes, it does make references to God, but it was not provided to be a specific, overt, direct or explicit “teaching” about God’s nature, but rather to bring uniformity to what should be said during one of the sacraments of the church.

Most of the scriptures we can think of that suggest to us that Jesus and the Father are different, are of a similar nature to the above (not in purpose, but lacking as intent, a desire to convey a specific teaching about the relationship between the Father and the Son).

But, the two passages I quoted are *directly* providing information regarding God’s nature. 

In the Book of Mosiah, it says:

“I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men” –Mosiah 8:28

He is clearly providing instruction regarding the nature of God.  His purpose for saying what he is saying is to teach the people something about God’s nature.  That is why these verses exist.  He goes on to say:

“And because he dwelleth in flesh, he shall be called the Son of God” –Mosiah 8:29

So, after making his opening remark on this subject, he provided further information, by actually giving us an explanation for why God is sometimes regarded and known as, the Son.

In the Book of Alma, Zeezrom specifically asks about God’s nature. 

“Now Zeezrom saith again unto him, Is the Son of God the very eternal Father?” –Alma 8:93

So, again, what we read here is not secondary or tertiary to the purpose for why this passage exists.  It is the purpose.  It is a teaching about God, and in reply, he is told:

“Yea, he is the very eternal Father of heaven and of earth, and all things which in them is” –Alma 8:94

Knowing what these passages teach, and what the purpose of each is, and understanding that most verses that suggest, at first glance, that God exists in multiple aspects, but which generally do not exist for that express purpose, which, on such questions that we are exploring, must take precedent?  Which are, on such matters, the most authoritative?

In my opinion, reason, logic, & common sense  must inform us that the only plausible answer is that passages that exist for the direct purpose of teaching us about God’s nature must trump any verse that does not.

It just makes no sense to conclude otherwise.  If you want to know if the Father and the Son are the same or distinct, what verses should hold more weight?  Those that exist for the express purpose of informing us on such things or those that exist for some other reason, and just happen to make references to them being separate?

But what then becomes potentially problematic for some people is that we then seem to have scriptures that are contradictory.

We have scriptures that record that Jesus prayed to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane. Was he praying to himself? The suggestion that maybe he was, is probably going to be dismissed by many people as absurd.  But, that is to then overlook what the real purpose of his prayer might have been. Was he trying to teach his disciples something by leading by example, and seemingly praying to the Father?

I suspect that when God incarnated Himself, He made that measure of Himself subject to the human experience. He (the incarnated form of God) possibly felt fear. And a need to be assured, prepared, etc. And so, he prayed. The incarnated version of God communing with the divine spirit. So, in a sense, he was praying to himself. This might seem silly if we fail to recognize that in that moment (and all through Christ’s life) God existed in multiple states or conditions at the same time, and therefore, it is not at all unreasonable to conclude that 1 state would communicate with the other. We might think of as the left side of our brain speaking to the right side and vice-versa.

But, it may also have been a lesson.  God wants us to turn our burdens over to Him.  What better way for God to encourage us to do so then to have a written account of
Jesus praying to God.  I have my doubts that the disciples truly understood who Jesus truly was.  But, they did know that He was the Messiah.  And to understand that the Messiah himself turned to God, in prayer, admitting to fear, would, I feel, be a powerful lesson for them.

Whatever the real reason, the existence of this story in our Bible is certainly not an absolute, unarguable indication that the Father and the Son are separate.

Another example that someone gave me:

“And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? None is good but one, that is God.”  –Mark 10:16 (Inspired Version )

trinity3This verse would seem, at first glance, to imply that the Son is distinct from the Father.  In fact, it goes one step further, and implies that the Son is not God, which of course, undermines the very concept of the trinity.  So, even for those who accept the existence of the trinity need to accept that the real purpose and meaning of this verse is something different from what we may initially think.  Which fact reminds us that it is always a good idea to ponder scripture.

So what was the purpose of the above verse?  I can only theorize, but perhaps there was a desire to teach the rich man about humility. When we read the Gospels, it seems that Christ sometimes preferred for people to not know who He was. So, this might be an example of Him avoiding acknowledging who He was, and then taking that opportunity to make a point – fostering humility, etc.

It is certainly not an absolute, unarguable indication that the Father and the Son are separate.

There several other verses from scripture that seem to imply that the Father and the Son are distinct.  This is not unexpected, when we consider the culture and era in which our ancient scriptures were written.

The people who became the Israelites could not accept that God could dwell among His own creation as a flesh and bone incarnated being.

This is why Jesus was a bit vague about who He was. He did not go around yelling “I am the very eternal God, the Father, etc”., because he knew that the Judeans in his own day, even those who saw His power, would have a hard time accepting that the person they walked with on the roads, ate with, shared camp fires with, saw running off to a tree from time to time, was God the Father.

But, he was accepted by a different title, the Son of God:

28 And now Abinadi said unto them, I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people;
29 And because he dwelleth in flesh, he shall be called the Son of God -Mosiah 8

But, given what was revealed in the Book of Mormon about the nature of God, why do we continue to use such terms? I’d say its about honoring and reinforcing three major roles that God plays in our lives: creator, redeemer, & sustainer (but we use the original terms of Father, Son and Holy Ghost to honor tradition and to impress upon us that God is not just some divine force but the head of our family. Father and Son suggest a family bond).

This is similar to how God, to clarify which god is being discussed (the real god vs. all false gods) is sometimes called “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” Why not just say the “God of Abraham?” why list all three patriarchs? To honor God’s blessings upon them, and by extension, the nations that are descended from them, genetically and spiritually.

I had an interesting conversation with someone once about this very topic, and he kept giving me different scriptural verses that suggest Christ and God are not the same, asking me, each time, to reconcile them, which I did by saying something similar to what I posted above – that the use of “Father, Son & Holy Ghost”, etc. was used because that was how human beings needed and perhaps wanted, to understand God.

The amusing thing was, he seemed to be sort of playing a “Well what about this verse?” game with me (giving me a new verse after I reconciled the prior verse) So, I finally said “The answer is always the same to each example you give. The people who became the Israelites could not accept that God could dwell among His own creation as a flesh and bone incarnated being….”

The implication being, if that is the reason why we see “Father, Son and Holy Ghost” in one verse, it is also the reason we see it used elsewhere.

And it is simply beyond the scope of this blog to explore every single verse that suggests that the Father and Son are different, and try to reconcile them to my position.  It suffices to say what I’ve said, and also to consider the following.

Once again, the passages I quotes are direct teaching about the nature of God.  Therefore, if someone does not think that the Father and the Son are the same, but who does accept the authority of Restoration scripture, the onus is then on them to explain what those passages mean, since they are direct teachings about God’s nature, and the other examples that tend to pop up, are not.

Also, we need to understand that part of the purpose of the Book of Mormon is to clarify doctrine, etc.

So, its only plausible, reasonable, rational, logical and reflective of common sense too conclude that verses of scripture that only are present because they are specifically intended to reveal something about the nature of God, found in the Book of Mormon, which exists in part to clarify scripture, take precedence over other verses. Therefore, instead of trying to reconcile the teachings of Abinadi and Amulek to other scriptures, we need to reconcile the latter with the former.

So, in my view, any verse that, at first glance, seems to suggest that the Father and the Son are distinct, can be understood either in a way I’ve already stated, or, if not a “Father, Son and Holy Ghost example” (such as what Christ told the rich man), via an explanation unique to the verse in question – likely to model some particular principle, teach by example, etc.  Even if a particular verse or passage seems to defy a different understanding than the obvious, we still need to understand that the Father and the Son are the same, given that we have verses that tell us they are, and they naturally take precedence, for the reasons I’ve already stated, over those that don’t.

Simply being unable to explain the real meaning of a verse is not sufficient basis to conclude that no deeper meaning exists.  As we continue to grow in our understanding of scripture, it is only natural that new insights will be gained over time.   We’ve gained new insights into many passages of scripture before, but prior to gaining them, we would have had no cause to conclude that we would never achieve them.

Another thing to consider is this: We believe in only one god.  There is no god other than God.  God is a unique, infinite, divine being without beginning or end.  Why would such a being need to exist as a threefold entity?  It is not rational for God to exist as “father”, “son” and “spirit”.

Some people view the personages of the trinity as “creator, redeemer & sustainer”. I like these words, as they remind us of some of the major roles that God has in our universe.  But, in my view, they do not describe different entities within the godhead, that are distinct from each other, but just different ways that we understand God, who exists as just one aspect.

In my own personal opinion, the concept of the trinity is a juvenile one.  That is not at all to be taken as me suggesting that any person or institution that believes in the trinity is juvenile.  Rather, I simply feel that this is a concept within Christianity-at-large which will one day be discarded, and which, looking back on it many years later, will be regarded as a belief that prior Christians held to help them grasp God, and which, having been for so long a pervasive part of our shared Christian faith, was something we just felt we ought to cling to.  But, as Christianity continues to mature, I feel this concept will eventually be set aside, in much the same way that many Christians today no longer believe  that the world is only 5,000 years old.

As I noted at the start of this blog, I don’t take issue with, nor do I challenge, the church’s stance on the godhead.  However, if the church were to invite it’s membership to engage in an exploration of this topic, with the possible intent of revising our position, I would probably want to point out the following.

(after pointing out all of the above)

The church upholds the Book of Mormon as scripture. 

Regarding scripture, the church states:

Scripture is an indispensable witness to the Eternal Source of light and truth –Doctrine & Covenants Section 163:7a

The church also upholds the Book of Mormon as part of our standard of authority.  This is defined as:

“That this body, representing the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, recognize the Holy Scriptures, the Book of Mormon, the revelations of God contained in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and all other revelations which have been or shall be revealed through God’s appointed prophet, which have been or may be hereafter accepted by the church as the standard to authority on all matters of church government and doctrine, and the final standard of reference on appeal in all controversies arising, or which may arise in this Church of Christ.” –World Conference Resolution #215

Therefore, the passages from the Book of Mormon, having specific statements about the nature of God (of the context previously described) should take precedence, and as a result, a change in position, to recognize Jesus Christ as God, in every sense, not simply the Son of God, not even as an aspect of the godhead equal to the others, but just God, would be in order and perfectly acceptable, being in harmony with what we uphold as forming part of our standard of authority and sacred canon, and which exits, in part, to clarify doctrine.

The New Conservatives

This is a reformatted version of a prior blog, originally posted in three separate entries.  In this version, all three are in the same entry.  If you prefer to read it in the original format, click here.

This blog is part of my ZionBound series.  The full series can be read in post order here.

PART 1 – CARDINAL CONVICTIONS

jsgroveThere have been many occasions over the years when my traditional church views have made me feel very alone, even isolated in the church.  The fact that I have felt this way at times also became it’s own source of resentment, frustration, and even irony.

The irony derived from the fact that, in my mind, I felt that what separated me from most members of the church was the fact that I had the nerve, or the audacity, to actually believe in, well, our beliefs.

In my opinion, members of churches are supposed to believe in their church’s beliefs.  It sort of goes together, and it’s circular: believe…beliefs – beliefs…believe; and it has always struck me as strange that many church members, at least, in my own experience, do not believe in some of our beliefs.

However, I have come to understand that I am far from alone, and that numerous church members share several, if not all, of my major church convictions.

I have also come to understand that many non-traditionalists don’t know what makes a church traditionalist what he or she is; and in fact, that may be true of some traditionalists as well.

It has been my observation that non-traditionalists sometimes misunderstand what motivates a church conservative, or, to put it another way, many people don’t understand why traditionalists have the viewpoints that they do, or what those viewpoints are based upon, and why it’s sometimes not possible to accept certain things.

Therefore, I want to share a little list I’ve made of what I feel are some common convictions that conservative church members have.  When we resist some of the changes that have occurred in the church, it is often because of these convictions, and these convictions alone, and not for the many other speculative reasons that some people might presume.

But before I go any further into this area, let me make a comment on the use of labels.  When I converse with church members, I often use terms like “liberal”, “conservative”, “traditionalist”, “moderate”, etc (within a church context – not political).

On occasion, some people have responded directly to my use of such terms.  They have cautioned me, quite appropriately, that such terminology, such labelling, such classification can sometimes be negative.

I truly appreciate and respect that point-of-view.  And there are many cases when I agree that labelling can be negative.  So I want to explain why I use these terms, within a church context.

There are a couple of reasons.  The first is, I’m a lazy writer.  It is, quite honestly, just very convenient to say “conservative” vs:

“people who have a tendency to be comfortable with the former customs and would prefer that you avoid tampering with anything that could be construed as doctrinal or theological in nature.” 🙂

The second reason is, using such terminology helps me better understand who I am, again, in a church context.  It helps me better identify with my own spiritual growth.  It gives me a base, or foundation.  And it even pushes me to new understandings, as we shall soon see.

It also, I feel, helps people have a shared identity.  It provides a sense of comfort, and connection, and that in turn, especially when conversing with people with opposite points-of-view, makes our interactions less intimidating.

In short, it helps eliminate that sense of loneliness and isolation that I spoke of earlier.  It provides a sense commonality, even community.  And of course, no one has to feel that they must align with any church demographic.

Returning to the question of “what is a conservative?” (within the context of Community of Christ), I of course have to acknowledge that I can only present things as I see them, but I do feel it is worth exploring just what it means to be a conservative or traditional church member, and I am confidant that what I outline below does cover a lot of the conservative membership of the church.

In essence, there are (in my opinion) several “cardinal convictions” that we traditionalists are very likely to share.  What I feel are the most common are presented here.  We believe in…

1) God: This may seem obvious, but it is still worth highlighting.  I should also point out that most conservatives understand God in the traditional Christian sense (save perhaps where tweaked by Restoration scripture) – that of some sort of supreme, divine personage with purpose, intelligence, personality, memory, identity, etc.  This is very important, because a person’s view of God will shape his or her theology *and* how they approach scripture.

2) Jesus Christ: Traditionalists tend to believe that Jesus was a historical figure, and that he was truly God incarnated, rose from the dead, etc.

3) Apostasy: The ancient church & priesthood became corrupt and had to be restored by God.

4) Joseph Smith Junior: A true prophet of God called to restore the priesthood and the church; whose sections in the Doctrine and Covenants (along with those of his true successors) presented as divine revelations, truly are.

5) Joseph Smith III: The true legitimate successor to Joseph Smith Jr.

6) Authority: We are the one true church & our priesthood alone has power and authority from God.  But what this truly means is likely not well understood.

7) Book of Mormon: Is both inspired scripture, and a historical account of a lost civilization.

8) Inspired Version: Is the result of divine revelation, for the purpose of correcting some errors and restoring some lost content.

9)  The Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants are the only true examples of scripture.  Scripture is the result of God revealing His will, through inspiration, visions, vocalization, or dictation.  While we know that no member of the godhead physically wrote scripture, scripture is the result of God moving someone to write down what they wrote down.  Scripture is therefore understood as being spiritually inerrant.

10)  Scripture trumps World Conference resolutions, which trump the Bylaws, which trump various statements and policies, procedures, parliamentary rules, etc., including the Enduring Principles, History Principles, Statements on Scripture, Basic Beliefs, the Church Administrator’s Handbook, theology statements, individual policy statements, etc.  The further revealed will of God, by definition, becomes (if accepted), scripture.  Therefore, *nothing* trumps scripture.

Questions to Ponder:

1. What are your thoughts regarding the above list?
2. What are you comfortable with, and what do you struggle with?
3. Had you considered these items before, and do you feel that this list is at least a somewhat accurate summary of what conservative church members believe?

PART 2 – CONSTRAINING CUSTOMS

readingbibleUnderstanding that many traditionalists will hold to some of the cardinal convictions presented in part one, will help people understand why conservatives like myself have the opinions that we do.

For example, let us presume that a traditionalist is debating a doctrinal issue, and quotes a verse attributed to Moses.  This is countered by someone saying any of the following:

a) God’s revelation to Moses, though divine, was nonetheless received through the filter of Moses’ own humanity, therefore, it is possible that what Moses wrote as representing the mind and will of God is not wholly accurate.
b) Moses did not write some portions of his books.
c) One or more of the books of Moses were not written by Moses at all.
d) None of the books of Moses were written by Moses.
e) Moses did not exist.
f) The Old Testament is meant to be understood only metaphorically.

If any of the above are used, the person so doing will then immediately negate any hope of convincing the person he is debating with that his view is valid, because, point a) clashes with (at least) cardinal conviction #9 (scripture is spiritually inerrant), points b) through e) clash with cardinal conviction #8 (the Inspired Version is the result of divine revelation); and point f) clashes with both #8 & #9.

Look at it this way. A conservative church member who accepts the validity of the Inspired Version therefore believes that the Inspired Version is correct, and that it is the result of divine revelation.  It was God’s effort to correct mistakes, restore lost truths, and remove falsehoods.  If you accept the Inspired Version, you reject many of the notions that some people have today regarding the Bible.  Belief in the validity of the Inspired Version, and in the validity of some of the newer theories about Moses and his authorship (or very existence) of the Torah, are, quite simply, not compatible.

But let’s move on.

Personally, I celebrate (where appropriate) the various cardinal convictions.   I greatly cherish the elements that we have in common with all Christians, as well as those elements that are unique to Community of Christ and / or the Latter Day Restoration Movement.  I’ll even say that I find them empowering and exciting – when understood, and used, appropriately.

Yet, I have come to recognize in myself, and occasionally in other traditionalists, some traits that are not things that ought to be celebrated.  These, in my view, include the following (what we might term “constraining customs”):

1) We often don’t return to the scriptures.  What I mean by that is that if we have a particular doctrinal opinion based on a passage that we reviewed a long time ago, we often perpetually presume that our prior interpretation was correct.  We seldom feel the need to go back to what we read before, and make sure that we read it correctly, and / or that we interpreted it correctly.

2) We tend give false authority to things we read or were told, especially when we don’t like them, regardless of how old they are, without taking into consideration more current references.  Why would we do this?  Why would we “authoritize” something we don’t like?  Quite simply, to have  more ammunition to find fault with the church or at least it’s leadership.

I’ve often heard, as recent as 2013, people cite the “Positions Papers” (which is probably about 30 years old), or quote something said by an apostle 25 years ago to “prove” that the church today is off track.  This is not a truly honest approach.

You see, we must keep current with the latest statements, etc., to truly understand what the church is advocating *today*.  We can’t just ignore the current positions and say “well, I read 30 years ago..” or say “well an apostle once said to me, 25 years ago…” and give more authority to such things than the actual current policies and positions of the church.  But we tend to often do just that.  We tend to authoritize things that were never official, and never truly authoritative in the first place, and we often don’t want to let go of them, because for us, they may have been personal.  But, we need to move on, and ensure that we are clear on what the living church is endorsing today.

3) We tend to regard church folklore and church tradition and church custom and local church culture as church doctrine.  When these things are sometimes changed, we sometimes respond just as passionately as when a change in  a church position is considered.  Yet, we need to understand that church folklore, tradition, etc, are *not* doctrinal.  They are not reflective of our theology (even when derived from it).

4) We tend to be stubborn, to the point of preferring stagnation (and therefore church death) over rejuvenation.

5) We really don’t like admitting that we are wrong.  Even (& especially) when it’s proven that we are.

6) We sometimes put how we want things to be ahead of how God would have things be.

7) Sometimes, we are so comfortable with the status quo that our motivation for what we teach and preach becomes muddled.  Are we really proclaiming God’s truth, or simply finding reasons to defend what we would prefer God’s truth to be?

8) We often don’t like change.  We envision the ideal church as being the church as it existed in our own childhoods, overlooking the fact that the church has never been, nor can it ever be (if it is to be effective), static.

9) We have a tendency to view the church as a rural, North American institution.  We therefore feel threatened by doing what Christ told us to do (taking the gospel into all nations, converting all people), because we fear the influence of other races, nations, cultures and experiences.

10) We become preoccupied by petty issues and fail to focus on what matters most.

11) We often fail to embrace the church’s supporting documents, such as the Enduring Principles or Mission Initiatives, because we are too preoccupied with the “correctness” of our church, its “Restorationisness”.

12)  Some of us fail to express unconditional love by deliberately withholding our tithes from World Church as a form of punishment. This is unacceptable.

13) We often interpret someone disagreeing with us as a personal attack.

14) If we cannot win a debate, we often simply drop out of the dialog.

***

The time has come for a new breed of conservative church member to arise within our global membership…those who still cherish the cardinal convictions outlined in Part One, but are willing to let go of the constraining customs outlined above; they are those who are wiling to see our Restoration heritage as a means of furthering our transformation into a 21st century church.

Questions to Ponder:

1. What are your thoughts regarding the above list?
2. What are you comfortable with, and what do you struggle with?
3. Are any of them true for you?

PART 3 – ARE YOU A FOUNDATIONALIST?

let_theSpiritBreatheBeing a traditionalist is not really about promoting tradition for that sake alone.  Being conservative should not ever be about impeding progress and fostering stagnation!    We need a new understanding of what it means to be conservative.

What I call traditionalist or conservative perspectives regarding the church might be better expressed as “Restoration foundationalism”.

To put it simply, as demonstrated by the list of cardinal convictions in Part One, I believe in many of the things that this church was built on: God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the revelations of Joseph Smith, the divine organization of the church, the Book of Mormon, the Inspired Version of the Bible, etc.  These are deeply important to me.  They are part of my personal theological identity.

So, I’m a “foundationalist”.  But being a foundationalist is not incompatible with belonging to an innovative church.  I don’t need to be arrogant in my beliefs, and I don’t need to presume that my interpretations are 100% accurate.

In fact, as a foundationalist, I know that the (1st) prophet Nephi, some 2,600 years or so ago, encouraged us to ponder scripture.  This is what he wrote:

“For my soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them…”
Second Nephi, 3:29 (RLDS 1908)

This is one of my favorite verses of scripture.  Think about it.  Nephi didn’t just read the scriptures.  He pondered them.   He wrestled with them, sought to understand them, and formed interpretations of them.

This must become a principle that all church members should adopt: We must not just read the scriptures, we must ponder them.

As I have been challenged by the church to explore my beliefs, I have found that our foundational beliefs and doctrines still sign to me.  They still excite me, and they still, in my opinion, reflect God’s truth.  In short, I still believe in our beliefs.

But the exploration has taught me that I don’t need to resist everything.  For example, if the church wants to broaden and deepen it’s understanding of Zion, I’m totally ok with that.  In fact, I embrace that.  I don’t need to cling to the notion that everyone should uproot themselves and move to the city of Independence.

But I still believe that Independence is (or will become) Zion.  I don’t feel that my belief on that point is in any way threatened by broadening and deepening our understanding of Zion to see the benefit to the world of building Zionic communities outside of Zion.

The point is, I don’t need to resist that new way of thinking about Zion, because it does not negate or diminish my own beliefs.  It does not negate Joseph Smith, or the Book of Mormon, or any of the other foundational beliefs that I hold to be sacred truths.

And, the new understanding of Zion can also become one of my personal beliefs…and not merely a corporate belief that I feel obligated to claim as my own, or begrudgingly accept as true, but I can, without negating my other understanding of Zion, truly accept, embrace, and celebrate the broader notions of Zion.

That is the beauty of being a foundationalist.  I don’t need to feel that I have to resist things.  I can continue to cherish all those foundational concepts, and be fully excited and passionate about our Enduring Principles, our call to respond generously, our Mission Initiatives, and the challenge to magnify our callings.

So that is who I am now.  I’ll still call myself a conservative, or a traditionalist.  But in my heart, what I really mean is, I’m a foundationalist.  And if you think as I do, then you are too.  As such, we are the new conservatives.  And that gives us the freedom to envision a church that is both a church of the Restoration, *and* a 21st century church at the same time!

And if we can truly become that, then maybe one day, all of us, conservatives, liberals, foundationalists, moderates, etc., can shed our labels, no longer needing the security that they offer, and just be the church that Christ is calling us to be.

In the mean time, it is my hope and prayer that liberals will strive to better understand where conservatives are coming from, and it also my prayer that conservatives will, in addition to being patient with liberals, more deeply explore their own convictions, why they have them, what they truly mean, and what they enable us to become.

If you lean more towards the liberal or moderate spectrums of the church, are you willing to strive to better understand why traditionally minded people have the positions that they do?

If you are a conservative church member, are you willing to evolve into a foundationalist?  Are you willing to find your voice, to courageously proclaim both what you believe *and* your support of the full mission of the church?  Are you wiling to let go of the constraining customs, and embrace the call to be generous and committed disciples, who see the heritage of the Restoration not as an end unto itself, but the means by which our sacred community can truly become a 21st century church?

Are you willing to help guide the church towards becoming something that truly resonates with people, and which is relevant and redemptive?

Will you join me on this journey?  Consider yourself challenged to do so.  Who will accept this challenge?

Questions to Ponder

1. What are some of your own “cardinal convictions”?
2. Are you able to keep them in the wake of a changing church?  If not, why not?
3. Do you feel empowered to have traditional beliefs, should you wish to?

Thank you for reading!

Female Ordination – Did We Make the Right Choice?

This is a re-formatted version of one of my prior blogs, originally posted in four separate entries.  This is a one page version.  If you would prefer to read it as originally posted, view the first part here.

Part 1 – Pondering Paul

This blog is part of my ZionBound series.  The full series can be read in post order here.

3marysSince the reorganization took place, I think its probably unlikely that any issue has created more division in the church than female ordination.  Section 156, the revelation that made female ordination possible, was presented to the church in 1984, by Prophet-President Wallace B. Smith, great-grandson of our founding prophet, Joseph Smith Jr.

April 2014 marks the 30th anniversary of the World Conference that sanctioned female ordination.  After thirty years, people are still divided.  New denominations have been organized, and many people have been born and raised in factions of the Restoration that claim descent from Joseph Smith III, but which reject the ordination of women. So the division continues.

Did we make the right choice?  The answer to that question is of course “yes”.  Yet, given the resistance to it exhibited by so many people, I have often wondered why so many members and former members of the church reject it.

A common objection I’ve been given for female ordination are two verses from the writings of Paul.  These passages are as follows:

“Let your women keep silence in the churches; for it is not permitted unto them to rule; but to be under obedience, as also saith the law.”  -1 Corinthians 14:34 (Inspired Version)

11 Let the women learn in silence with all subjection.
12 For I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. -1 Timothy 2:11, 12 (Inspired Version)

Let us explore each of the above passages, and as we do so, we would do well to remember the words of Nephi:

“For my soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them, and writeth them for the learning and the profit of my children.”  –Second Book of Nephi, 3:19 (CofC 1908).

So, let us ponder, as Nephi counsels, the scriptures.  In First Corinthians, Paul states that women should keep silent in the churches, and further elaborates that it is not permitted for them to rule, but to be under obedience, as stipulated in the law.

In my opinion, using this scripture to justify the non-ordination of women is a violation of the principle of “sacramental truth”. If we do so, we are not being fully honest with ourselves.

You see, we do not enforce this scripture in an absolute sense.  If we did so, we would not permit women to speak or sing.  Now, it could be said that the directive to be silent is understood to mean “do not preside”, or something like that.

It is interesting to compare the verse as found in the KJV with that found in the Inspired Version:

“Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law.” (KJV)

In both versions, there are essentially four components.

From the King James Version:

1) Let your women keep silence in the churches:
2) for it is not permitted unto them to speak;
3) but they are commanded to be under obedience
4) as also saith the law.

From the Inspired Version:

1) Let your women keep silence in the churches;
2) for it is not permitted unto them to rule;
3) but to be under obedience,
4) as also saith the law.”

It could be argued that the change of the last word in component 2 of the KJV rendition, from “speak” to “rule” (as it appears in the IV), is a clear indication that what Paul was really talking about was a restriction of a woman’s role in the church, and not a prohibition of her talking or singing.

And yet, the colon in the KJV was changed to a semi-colon.  This suggests that the verse is meant to be understood as a directive to women to not speak, re-enforced by a further directive to not be in positions of leadership.

This of course than means that if we do wish to use this verse to prevent women from being ordained, we are, as noted above, not being honest with ourselves, since we are not fully enforcing it, since we are not choosing to compel women to remain silent in church.

However, we are still left with either a prohibition from speaking to rule, or from speaking whatsoever.

What is the motivation of this counsel?  Why does Paul tell us to let our women keep silent?

Another interesting change is the drop of the words “they are commanded” from the third component.  The KJV seems to suggest that the directive to keep silent is a divine commandment, yet the Inspired Version removes this portion of the verse.

The fourth component talks about “the law”.  What law?  Presumably, the law of Moses.  This is, normally, what is meant when someone in the ancient scriptures talks about the law.

However, the Law of Moses is made up of 613 individual laws, or commandments.  Not one of these states that women are to obey men.  Therefore, the law that Paul was speaking of must have been a secular law, rather than part of the Law of Moses.  This is reasonable, as, in order to properly manage an entire nation, it would seem needful that the elders of Israel would have to devise additional laws for their civilization, as it grew from 12 tribes wandering in a desert to an entire nation.  Furthermore, as Judah transformed into the Roman-conquered realm of Judea, it of course would have found itself subject to Imperial laws.

Here is something else to consider.  Who was Paul speaking to when he gave this counsel?  The members of the church in Corinth.  In Greece.  It seems clear that most of our books of scripture were intended to be read by as many people as possible, however, can we say the same for the epistles that Paul wrote?  I’m sure Paul does not object to other people reading his epistles, beyond the intended audience of each, but the fact remains, he wrote specific messages to different clusters of the church.

Some of the things that Paul wrote were spiritual truths.  Consider the following:

For ye are all the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ.  For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put  on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. –Galatians 3:26-28 (Inspired Version).

This is a spiritual truth that would be applicable to all members of the church.  This is not something that we would say is only true for the Galatians.

However, 1st Corinthians 14:34 is not a spiritual principle but administrative guidance, and it is entirely possible, given that it appears in an epistle directed to a specific church community, that it was provided because of a local Corinthian law, violation of which may have been problematic for the church in that area.

paulIt seems most likely that Paul’s intent was to ensure that female members of the church were not in violation of a Roman law, or of a Jewish secular law, or a Corinthian law.  I’m sure that Paul was motivated by the following reasons: genuine desire to keep female members of the church from getting into trouble, and a desire to ensure that the authorities did not have an additional cause to take action against the church.

The real point of course is that the modern church is not subject to imperial law, Jewish law, Corinthian law, or, for that matter, the Law of Moses, which Christ rescinded when he visited the Nephites.

Therefore, the words of Paul to the Corinthians is a flawed means to oppose female ordination.

The second verse is, once again, as follows:

11 Let the women learn in silence with all subjection.
12 For I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. -1 Timothy 2:11,12 (Inspired Version)

First Timothy was written by Paul to provide counsel and guidance to Timothy while he labored in Ephesus, which is, interestingly, also in Greece.  Therefore, once again, the motivation behind Paul’s words may have been the result of local law and/or custom, along with a desire to keep both the women of the church, and the church community in Ephesus, as safe as possible.

However, it does look like Paul had another motive for saying what he said, for the chapter continues with these words:

13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve.
14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.

This strikes me as Paul’s personal position, and not the result of divine revelation.  It seems it is his way of rationalizing his prior statement.

Note that he states in verse 12, “For I suffer not a woman to teach…” He does not state “the Lord has said…” or some such statement.  This is Paul’s own view, based on his own convictions.

It is also worth noting that his own basis, the order of creation, etc., for saying what he did, seems a little muddled (which further suggests that this portion of his letter was entirely of himself).

To begin with, he says that because Adam was formed before Eve, women should learn in silence, and not rule, etc.  However, this seems like a rather flawed and petty reason to permanently suppress women, and as I outlined in a prior blog, God is not petty.  For every man who excels in leadership, there is also a woman who does likewise.  And if in a given community or organization, there is a woman who is a better leader than all available men, is it reasonable that she should be overlooked because Eve was created after Adam?

To be honest, that just seems absurd, and I doubt Paul was moved by God to write what he wrote.

We also have to acknowledge that Deborah ruled, as the fourth judge of Israel.  Therefore, Paul’s opinion actually clashes with a precedent already set.

Paul also says that Eve, but not Adam, was deceived.  This makes no sense.  Adam, not yet having tasted of the fruit, was innocent, therefore, he had no motivation to disobey God.  Therefore, he must have been deceived.  It is utterly implausible to suggest that Adam knew what he was doing, and just decided to disobey God simply for the fun of it.

Furthermore, the Bible states that Adam was with Eve when she was herself deceived:

“And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it became pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make her wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat; and gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat.” –Genesis 3:11 (Inspired Version)

The ramifications of all the above are clear.  1st Timothy cannot be used as a reasonable and plausible method of opposing female ordination.

I can almost hear one particular objection to my perspectives: “Does the Bible not state that all scripture is of God?”

Yes and no.  Here is the verse you might be thinking of, as found in the King James Version:

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness”  -2 Timothy 3:17 (KJV)

However, here is the same verse as found in the Inspired Version:

“And all scripture given by inspiration of God, is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (Inspired Version)

The changes made between the KJV and the IV are very significant, and, given the nature and authority of the Inspired Version in the church, the simple fact is this: we cannot claim that all scripture is given by God.

Therefore, when we acknowledge this fact, and ponder Paul’s words as we’ve done above, we can clearly see that using them to oppose female ordination is flawed.

Part 2 – Scriptural Basis

EmmaSmithSince the verses from Paul cannot be used to oppose female ordination, what other reasons might someone use to do so?

Well, I have often been told that there is no scriptural basis for female ordination.  However, the lack of a scriptural basis in no way invalidates the validity of female ordination.  At least, not within the Restoration movement, which teaches us that God still reveals his will to the world.

Come to think of it, we do not need a scriptural basis, given that there is no scripture that states that women cannot be ordained.  Previously, we reviewed the two verses of Paul often quoted to defend a male only priesthood.  However, as we have seen, using these two verses is flawed, and problematic.  They do not, as some seem to believe, authoritatively invalidate female priesthood.  When we take the time to explore them both, and apply reason to each, we see that they do not support male only priesthood in the modern church whatsoever.

We must add to that the fact that there isn’t any verse in ancient scripture which states that women cannot be ordained.  All we seem to have are personal opinions based on rather sketchy interpretations of scripture, rooted in rather dubious views of scriptural context of the verses in question.

So, we don’t actually need a scriptural basis, and we don’t need modern revelation to sanction female ordination.  However, we have the latter (which of course becomes the former).

Granted, opponents of Section 156 reject it as a scriptural basis whilst maintaining that there is no scriptural support in ancient scripture.  Yet, I’m not sure it is accurate to say that there is no scriptural basis or precedent for female priesthood in our ancient scriptures.

Deborah was the fourth judge of Israel.  While that does not mean she was a member of the priesthood, it does prove that women did have positions of leadership and authority.  There were also several female prophets.  It seems totally implausible to me that God would permanently forbid women to be ordained, but would be willing to deliver prophetic messages to his people through various women.

And what did the female prophets do with their messages?  The whole point of a prophet is to share with the community what God had revealed.  Some prophets did so by writing down their words.  But, it seems that many, including some of the female prophets listed in scripture, did not do so.  How than did they share with the people what God had revealed to them?  Quite probably, by talking to some sort of gathering of people.  In other words, they very likely engaged in a form of preaching.

So, while it may be true that there are no clear, indisputable examples of women serving in the priesthood of Israel or of the church, in ancient scripture, we can say that there is a basis for the eventual ordination of women, as we know that women did, on occasion, have positions of leadership, and also were blessed with spiritual gifts, and very likely preached.

Paul himself delves into this.  Consider the following:

1 I commend unto you Phoebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea;
2 That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you; for she hath been a succorer of many, and of myself also.
3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my helpers in Christ Jesus;
4 Who have for my life laid down their own necks; unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.
7 Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.
12 Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labor in the Lord. Salute the beloved Persis, which labored much in the Lord.
13 Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.
14 Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren that are with them.
15 Salute Philologus, and Julia, Nereus, and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints which are with them.
16 Salute one another with a holy salutation. The churches of Christ salute you.

Phoebe is described as a “servant of the church”.

Priscilla is described, along with her husband Aquila, as a helper “in Christ Jesus” She is generally viewed as a missionary, and some scholars feel that she was one of the Seventy.  Her name is mentioned six times, always with her husband, and on three occasions, her name is listed first.

Given the culture and era in which the books of the New Testament were written, it would have been quite easy for the authors to have simply ignored Priscilla.  However, her inclusion in the work of the Lord was deliberate and noted multiple times.

One such verse regarding Priscilla is particularly interesting:

“And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue; whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.” –Romans 18:26 (Inspired Version)

Again, the author could have simply ignored Priscilla.  In fact, he probably would have, had she not contributed anything.  Yet, it seems clear that she did, and the author was moved to make note of it.

This is not some sort of trivial reference.  Priscilla was engaged in a form of preaching; and she was teaching.  In fact, it states here, in the Inspired Version, that she was expounding (about God).

Section 17 of the Doctrine and Covenants states repeatedly that one of the duties of the priesthood is to expound.  They are also called to teach and preach.

Therefore, it seems clear that Priscilla was performing some of the duties of the priesthood, exhibiting leadership and providing instruction.

Instead of having a problem with this, Paul seems perfectly OK with her conduct, which further suggests that his counsel in First Corinthians and First Timothy was intended to have a limited scope.

Also of interest is Section 42, which offers the following:

“Again I say unto you that it shall not be given to anyone to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up my church, except he be ordained by some one who has authority”

Here we see that preaching and building up the church are the domain of priesthood only.  Yet, Priscilla functioned as a missionary.  This implies that she was in fact a member of the priesthood.

Verse 7 states that Junia was “of note among the apostles”.  While I personally don’t interpret this as “prominent among” but rather as “well known to”, the praise is significant.  Again, we see a woman who Paul (and, if we accept his words), the other apostles deemed to be, in a positive manner, a noteworthy member of the church.

Verse 12 introduces us to Tryphena, who is listed before her male associate, and we are told that she labors “in the Lord”.

Verse 15 has Paul asking his audience to “salute” several people, including two women, Julia and the sister of Nereus.

From all of these references, it should be clear that women served in the ancient church in vital roles including as preachers and missionaries, performing functions assigned to, and even reserved for, members of the priesthood.  It is therefore a denial of God’s truth to cling to a position that ancient scripture does not, to any degree support the possibility of female priesthood members.

We can also find a scriptural basis in Section 24 of the Doctrine & Covenants.  Although this revelation does not mention priesthood, and while we have no record of an ordination having taking place, this revelation strongly suggests that Emma Smith was called to the priesthood.

Part 3 – The Role of Women

femaledoctorA third common objection to female priesthood members in the church is the role of women.  In other words, some people feel that women should not be ordained because serving in the priesthood would run contrary to, or somehow conflict with, their roles that they inherently have, simply by virtue of being female.

This objection is, quite simply, insane.

While it is true that first world societies once greatly limited what women could do, those day are mostly long gone.  Women can vote.  They can drive.  They can be doctors, lawyers, etc.  How can we possibly let women do all these things, despite their inherent female roles, but then use the latter as a reason to say that they can’t be members of the priesthood?

Think of it this way.  If we can support a woman being a family doctor, would we object to a woman being a dentist?  If we support a woman being a police officer, would we object to a female pro golfer?

We cannot say that it is ok for a woman to have a career, and then pull the rug out from under her and say “you can’t be in the priesthood – that would take away from your duties and/or responsibilities as a woman.”

We also need to ask, just what are these duties and/or responsibilities that women have that priesthood would impair?  The answer is always the same: raising children.

Women, according to some, should not be in the priesthood because being in the priesthood would interfere with them raising their children properly.  But they can have jobs and careers.

Of course, my position might be countered by saying that a career is ok, because that is one role, in addition to motherhood, which is therefore manageable.  But, add priesthood on top of a career, and the woman has even less time to provide to her children.

But what about fathers?  Aren’t fathers expected to be good fathers?  Are they not also expected to do their part in raising children?  They are out there working every day, and they are serving in the priesthood, attending meetings at night, visiting the sick, traveling to stake conferences, etc.  If its ok for fathers to do so, why not mothers?

What about mothers who don’t have a career?  Would they not then have ample time to be mothers and priesthood at the same time?  What of women who can’t have children? What of mothers who have already performed their sacred duties with distinction, and now have an empty nest?  What about couples who decide not to have children?

How can we possibly have a blanket statement that says women cannot be ordained because they are supposed to be mothers, when we consider all of the above factors?

Another consideration is Paul’s perspective on marriage.  Paul seems to suggest that unmarried people both male and female, will be able to devote themselves more fully to the Lord, than those who marry.  His stance implies that for those who are able to resist temptation, it is more desirable to remain unattached, and devote oneself more fully to the Lord.

Obviously, Paul would not regard childbirth outside of marriage as an appropriate objective, therefore, since he seems to advocate remaining single and devoted more fully to God as preferable to getting married, it would seem that the former is a higher calling and more sacred function than motherhood.

I can hear the rebuttal: “But, if a woman does fall in love, and decides to get married and have children, then her motherhood should not be distracted by ministry”.  But you cannot forbid all women from joining the priesthood for the sake of those women who opt to have children, especially considering that remaining childless & unmarried, devoted to God, seems to be a higher calling.

The real factor in this area is of course that the objection is simply an opinion: “You can’t be ordained as that would take away from your role as a mother”.

There is no scripture that states that a woman cannot be ordained because such would diminish her role as a mother.    Again, as noted above, there are so many cases where this would not apply and be ridiculously unfair (infertile women, empty nesters, etc.) – but, even more important, the objection is just an opinion, which is not a very sound basis for establishing a doctrinal position, especially when such an opinion casts God as unjust.

The opinion is of course flawed.  When we take the time to consider, and ponder (as Nephi counsels us), the scriptures, and note the aforementioned female missionaries, who are we to object?  If women in the Bible could travel from place to place, be missionaries, be church leaders, etc. etc., how can we possibly object to female priesthood on the basis that ordaining them would somehow clash with their femalehood?

Part 4 – “Disjunctive Revelation”

scritpurereadingAnother objection I have sometimes come across, regarding female ordination, is something called “disjunctive revelation”.  This is a fancy term that has apparently been invented by those who left the church in the wake of Section 156, in an attempt to give their positions some sort of credibility.

(using Google, I did a search on this term, for the exact phrase, and found that there were only three pages of results, all of which were tied to the Restoration movement – but I digress)

So what is meant by the term disjunctive revelation? Well, simply put, it is a revelation viewed as being in contradiction with a prior revelation, which renders the more recent revelation false (not of God).  Another way to look at it would be to say that each new revelation must be in complete harmony with all previously accepted revelations in order to be regarded as authentic (divine).  The “new” cannot contradict with any of the “old”.

The problem with this concept is that there is no basis for it, and it defies reason, logic, common sense and is just not plausible.  The Lord is perfectly free to make adjustments to “the rules” as He deems fit.

Objectors tend to feel “but you can’t have two revelations say opposing things about a given issue, with both being true…one must be false”.

However, this totally ignores the most basic fundamental principle of creation: things change.  It also ignores the fact that God does thing according to his own purposes.

In the Book of Mormon, God directed Lehi, his wife, his children, his friend Ishmael, and Ishmael’s family to leave Jerusalem, and to flee into the wilderness. This was not a popular choice with some of them, and no doubt it required some prep. work, and some effort to actually accomplish.

But, eventually, the group found themselves camping out in the wilderness, beyond the comforts and familiarity of their city.  Why did they go?  Why did they undertake this ordeal?  Because God revealed to them that this was His will.

Later, God revealed more of his will to them.  He directed some of them to return to the city.  Did Lehi and his companions regard this instruction as a disjunctive revelation?  Did Nephi say to his father Lehi “but you told us that God directed us to leave the city – therefore, this new revelation, calling for some of us to go back to the city, must be false”.  Naturally, he said no such thing.

What was God’s will?  In the first case, God’s revelation to Lehi indicated that God’s will was for all of them to leave the city.  Then, it would seem that it was His will for some of them to return.  A contradiction.  How can both revelations that Lehi received be true?

They are both true because they represent different divine purposes.  Clearly, God had a reason for taking Lehi and Ismael and their combined families out of the city, and of course he had a reason for sending some of them back.

The contradiction only exists if we read scripture in an isolated format, without context.  For example, if we read scripture in this manner:

Verse 1: And God told Lehi and his family to flee the city.
Verse 2 And God told Lehi to send his sons back to the city.

We might scratch our heads and say “well that does not seem to make a lot of sense”

But, when we explore the context of seemingly contradictory scriptures, and understand the purpose of why the original scripture was provided, and honestly seek to do the same with latter revelations, we may just come to recognize hat there really is no issue.

The reality is, God has made many changes, as we can see in my prior blogs Can God Change? and Why does the Church Have to change?– we accept these changes, therefore, we can accept other changes – especially when there really is no prior scripture that legitimately opposes female ordination.

On this latter point, some people might cite some of the “revelations” circulated by people other than the prophet-president of the church.  However, church law has, since the era of Joseph Smith Jr., indicated that revelations to the church can only be received through the prophet-president.  An individual may receive a personal revelation, providing guidance for the wellbeing of his family, but any revelation that seems intended to offer commentary on church doctrine, and/or with the intent of being shared with others, must be rejected as false.

Regretfully, it seems that the only real reason that people have to object to female ordination is simply the fact that they don’t want it to be, for what are most likely chauvinistic reasons, valid; and this quite simply violates the principle of “sacramental truth”.

Community of Christ: A Revealed Church

stonechurchwindow2The other day, as I was pondering some church related issue, I found myself thinking of the church as a “revealed church”.  What I mean by that term is that we are a church that claims to have come into existence as a result of divine initiative, and which has an open canon of scripture, and believes in continuing revelation.

While I suspect that most Christian denominations feel that God’s inspiration blesses them in one form or another, I don’t know of too many others that truly claim, in quite the way that we do, that God moved the people involved to establish a church.  In my view, we are the only church that can legitimately be said to be a revealed church, and this an aspect that is both a blessing to us, and can be a blessing to others.

We are not a self-made church, but a revealed church.  We were established for divine purposes.  And moving away from our Restoration heritage by getting rid of this scripture, or that scripture, or this aspect of our sacred story, etc.  would, in my view, greatly undermine our very reason for being.

We were not organized to be another street corner church.  We were not organized to be yet another Protestant denomination.  The world has plenty of such denominations already.  We are the church of the Restoration.  What makes the church the amazing church that it is, is the summation of all of our unique characteristics: our sacred story, our journey as a people, being a revealed church, our open canon, ongoing revelation, etc.  If we reject any of these things, we risk undermining what makes us so loved by so many people.

In 2010, President Veazey asked “what kind of church do you want to be?”

My answer to that is this: I want us to be a 21st century church, that puts the mission of Jesus Christ first, that grounds itself in enduring principles, mission initiatives, history principles, and scripture affirmations.  But I also want us to continue to be a Latter Day Restoration denomination, as I feel only through such, can we truly have voice in this world that will not be drowned out by all the other voices.

President Veazey asked a further question: “what kind of church does God want us to be?”

I believe God wants us to be everything I described above, but also a church that is true to itself.  We claim to be a church of the Restoration, divinely established.  This is evident by the following Sections from the Doctrine & Covenants:

“Claim your unique and sacred place within the circle of those who call upon the name of Jesus Christ. Be faithful to the spirit of the Restoration…” –Section 161:1b. (Grant McMurray, 2000)

“For many months I have struggled with a persistent conviction that God is calling the church to a clearer understanding of what it means to be a prophetic people. I have sensed as never before that we are uniquely called to be faithful witnesses to Jesus Christ and to claim again the principles of Restoration in our own time.” -Preamble, Section 162 (Grant McMurray, 2004)

“Listen, O people of the Restoration…” –Section 162:1a (Grant McMurray, 2004)

“Again you are reminded that this community was divinely called into being. The spirit of the Restoration is not locked in one moment of time, but is instead the call to every generation to witness to essential truths in its own language and form. Let the Spirit breathe.” –Section 162:2e (Grant McMurray, 2004)

“…Those values, deeply rooted in the Restoration faith…” –Section 162:7c. (Grant McMurray, 2004)

“Continue your journey, O people of the Restoration. You have been blessed thus far but there is so much yet to see, so much yet to do. Go forth with confidence and live prophetically as a people who have been loved, and who now courageously choose to love others in the name of the One you serve. Amen.” –Section 162:8c (Grant McMurray, 2004)

“Despite the challenges involved, it is my pleasure to be able to serve you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, who have been claimed by the adventurous vision and spirit of the Restoration movement.” -Afterword of Section 163 (Stephen Veazey, 2007)

“Beloved children of the Restoration, your continuing faith adventure with God has been divinely-led…” –Section 164:9a (Stephen Veazey, 2010)

“Actively and generously support the ministries of the church, which was divinely established” -Section 164:3b (Stephen Veazey, 2010)

“While preparing the final document, I stayed open to more divine direction that might enhance the church’s understanding now or in the future. Guidance refined some sentences. In several instances, it also added content for reasons known to God.” –2013 Words of Counsel {2016 preamble} (Stephen Veazey, 2013/2016)

“The testimony I offer is assurance that God, the eternal One, lovingly and patiently guides the church according to divine purposes.” –2013 Words of Counsel {2016 preamble} (Stephen Veazey, 2013/2016)

Other statements that also remind us of who we are come from our Bylaws, adopted by World Conference delegates in 2002, and revised in 2010:

“The church, as defined by President Joseph Smith III, is a theocratic democracy. It was brought into being by divine initiative, is guided and administered by divine authority, is sustained by the light of the Holy Spirit, and exists for divine purposes. In response to divine initiative, members share responsibility for governing the church.” –Article III Section 1

“The government of the church is by divine authority through priesthood. It should be noted that the government of the church is through priesthood, not by priesthood. The distinction is important. Ministers must first of all be disciples. Disciples are those who seek to transform this world into the kingdom of God and Christ. In no other way can their claim to divine authority become rich and meaningful.” –Article III Section 2

The 2005 edition of the Church Administrators Handbook states:

“Calls to the priesthood are initiated by jurisdictional officers in response to the spirit of discernment, wisdom, and divine direction and are authorized by a vote of the members in a conference of the appropriate church jurisdiction.” –B. Calls to the Priesthood, page 27

“From the inception of this faith movement, we have valued the interaction of the Divine with us. From that initial experience when God spoke in a grove until today in settings much different, we still anticipate God calling us to new visions and new understandings.”
–E. Sense of Prophetic Vision, page 65

We are a church that has made decisions about what we believe, in, what we consider to be scripture, what scripture is, what is upheld as authoritative, etc.

We are a religious organization.  We are a Christian church.  We believe that God has, and continues, to reveal God’s mind and will to us.

There are some things that we can change on our own.  Certain policies, positions, procedures, etc. which are not derived from God’s revealed will in scripture, as found in the standard of authority, can be, according to church law, changed or rescinded.

However, there are other things that only God can change.  And sometimes God does make changes.  But those changes are to further God’s purposes.  Whatever God does not change, we are not free to change.

Note: Some people believe that God never changes that which God has already established.  I’ve had a lot of pushback from people who find fault with the church because it has made changes.  However, God does make changes.  To review the proof of this, as revealed in our Latter Day Restoration scriptures, please read this blog: God’s Changes.

We cannot simply disregard explicit divine direction or positions to suit our own preferences.  We cannot disregard the standard of authority, and all that we uphold as being of God.

We can seek changes, even in matters of doctrine.  But we cannot rescind on our own what God has established.  Therefore, if changes are sought, we must wait for them to be come to pass. And, in some areas, we should perhaps be prepared for the possibility that the changes that any of us may individually seek, may never occur.

But we cannot just disregard explicitly divine direction and positions. To do so would make us hypocritical.  And hypocrisy was the one thing that Christ had very little tolerance of.  It was one of the very few things (perhaps the only thing) that caused him to truly become angry.

If we claim to follow Jesus Christ, to be Christ’s disciples, and his church, and a community of Christ, we need to understand what he said, and what he taught, and how he responded to situations, and, as best we can, his character.  And when we do this, it is clear that Christ took issue with hypocrisy.  So, we must strive, as best we can, as his disciples, to not be hypocrites ourselves.

Individually, most of us we will falter in this, and always will.  But the church must strive to ensure that it does not blatantly become hypocritical with what it claims, and what it does.  If these two aspects of the church are not in harmony with each other, to the best of our ability to make them so, we cannot claim to be in alignment with God’s purposes.

Please also read the related blog: “The Nature & Role of Scripture”

Please also read the linked blog: “21st Century Restoration”

Please also read the linked blog: “God’s Changes”