Working in Healthcare in the Era of COVID-19

Recently one of my friends informed me that the COVID crisis is greatly exaggerated. This view conflicts with my opinions about COVID, which is shaped to some degree by what I’ve seen reported as taking place in hospitals, and I wondered if my friend had asked anyone who works in healthcare what it’s like. But I then realized I had not actually done that myself. I was, up to that point, only aware of the situation in our hospitals as reported in the media, and I thought I can hardly ask someone if they have spoken with an actual nurse or doctor or other hospital staff member about what it’s like working in a hospital if I have not done that myself. So, I did. I sent out an email to a friend who works in a hospital, asking for an overview of what the situation is truly like.

I felt that the reply I received was so informative that I asked, and received, permission to post it on my blog site.  Since this blog was originally uploaded, another friend has provided me with another overview, so I’ve added that testimonial to this blog, and would love to add others, so to all of my other friends who work in healthcare, please know I would love to add your thoughts to this blog, so feel free to write something up, and email it to me.  Thank you!

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Testimonial 1: Hey David, not sure what you are expecting but I hope this is helpful. It’s a bit long so I apologize for that.

First and foremost I have to say that I am only working as a casual staff at the hospital, so although I am sporadically on the “front lines”, I am no where near doing the same amount of work or have the same stress levels as my coworkers who are in it every day. I am, however, when I work shifts and usually for about a week after my last shift, staying in my spare bedroom and isolating from my own husband. Perhaps that in itself should answer your friend’s assumption as to whether or not this is a “hoax” and a government conspiracy.

Healthcare workers are always working with life or death. They are also often working with very contagious diseases. Some more than others, depending on where you work, but infection control and PPE is not a new concept to many nurses, doctors, PSW’s, environmental services, etc. What’s different in this situation is that everyone working in the hospital is having to learn how to put on PPE. And when you aren’t wearing PPE in the hospital, you are still wearing a mask. All day long. Even with your seemingly healthy coworkers. We don’t eat lunch together because we have to take them off, and any of us could be carrying the virus unknowingly and pass it to our colleagues.

The reason people are calling healthcare workers “brave” is because healthcare workers are scared. You can’t be brave without fear. Most healthcare workers I know don’t scare very easily, but they are scared. Scared to bring this home to their families, scared to get sick. I know I am not the only nurse who isolates themselves when we get home. Perhaps we have it easier in the sense that we get to go to work and interact with our friends and colleagues, but then we don’t get to go home and hug our loved ones when we have a bad day. Touch is important and many of us don’t get to have that when we need it most.

We are scared to lose patients, of course. This is a regular fear that has been experienced before. But now we are scared we will lose more of them. In a very short period of time. And then fill up again with more patients that we will also lose. The ICU is full of patients, but they all have the same disease. Besides SARS, I don’t know when that has ever happened before. And they’re not just full of older people with underlying diseases or horrible car accidents. They’re full of healthy, younger people, no underlying issues. We don’t have a clear path to heal these people. No medicine that we know of will cure them, only treating their symptoms and hoping for the best. It is also affecting our older population the most, which is not some small thing to scoff at as being unimportant. These are our parents, our grandparents and our loved ones.

What the hospital is not full of is families. There is a no visitors allowed policy unless someone is giving birth or dying. And I don’t believe any in the ICU. The other people not having any physical contact is our patients. Besides the occasional nurse that only comes in when absolutely necessary (to reduce exposure) our positive COVID patients only see eyes, through a visor, on top of a mask. Gloved fingers for a hand squeeze or a rub of the shoulder to say hey I’m here just outside. I’m looking after you,  but I can’t give you a hug, or touch you with my bare hand because that puts me at risk, and adjacently my colleagues and my family. Imagine being sick and not being able to hold your partners hand, or have your mom give you a hug. Thank god for technology today, so we can connect people through FaceTime and Zoom. I have heard stories of the last contact people have with their families before they die is over a video on an iPad to say goodbye. This isn’t made up or done for some conspiracy.

I didn’t vote for our provincial leader, and would be the first to call out bad decisions and fear mongering, but in this case, I am (hesitantly) proud of how this has been handled. Shutting things down and asking people to physically distance is the only reason we are not in a situation like Italy and New York. We don’t have it half as bad as they did and do. The death toll there is staggering, and the toll on healthcare workers mental health is staggering. There has already been a death by suicide in the states by a Doctor who just kept watching people die, unable to do anything more for them.

To your friend who thinks this is isn’t real, I don’t know how to convince them any more than you do. I have already “unfriended” a few people in my life over ignorant views and conspiracy theories on this disease. People like that don’t want to hear truth, they just want to be angry. Maybe that is their way of showing they are afraid, or maybe they truly are just ignorant. But if this is a hoax, it’s one that is tanking the economy, putting everyone’s mental health at risk, and killing people. It is one that the whole world is in on. What would be the point of that hoax? That is a rhetorical question, not one I actually want your friend to answer. I have no interest in hearing from anyone that is essentially calling healthcare workers liars. How dare they.

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Testimonial 2 (part one): Hi David…I really don’t know how to respond to the people who claim that this is all a conspiracy (and the like) other than to say that, now that we are in the thick of it, I believe many are likely looking for someone to blame or perhaps are just in disbelief. When it boils down to it though, why would any government make something like this into a ‘hoax’ when their interest is mainly in boosting the economy, ensuring employment, and growing the GDP… why would they choose or want to issue billions of dollars to Canadians in emergency relief, small business loans, supporting healthcare and new Mental Health resources, housing the homeless in shelters…why would they want to create chaos in the lives of many, see children unable to go to school, and have their parents have to home school them…Indeed, what would be the point of that? So, to respond to your request, I believe I will just tell you about my own experience, first as a Nurse and then my personal thoughts on the COVID crisis (which are many).

I am a Community Health Nurse or Primary Care Nurse working in a Community Health Centre (CHC) and as such may not be considered someone working on the front lines of care mainly because I do not typically see people who are acutely ill. Our focus is on the prevention of disease and promotion of health and helping people to maintain and/or improve their health on their own terms and within their own capabilities. The majority of the people that we serve in our community struggle with mental health issues, drug addiction, homelessness, and extreme poverty. So, when something like a global pandemic occurs, it creates situations that uproot the lives of many who were already struggling to live their lives day to day.

In my work environment itself, I feel safe. Unlike in most healthcare settings, our doors remain locked and people can only be let in if they have a booked appointment. We are wearing PPE with each person that we see (more on that later) and are able, for the most part, to maintain a fairly safe distance from people during our interactions. When I compare myself to my Nursing peers working in the hospital, on the real front lines, honestly I feel like a complete fraud. To think of what they are going through and their day to day challenges I feel very fortunate that I have not been put into that situation, although, as a Nurse, I would be willing to work along side them with pride. Most of us enter into the field of Nursing with the knowledge that something like this could happen, and for the most part are alright with putting ourselves at risk for the benefit of others. But I think that no one ever thought that it would reach the global scale that it has.

We have been forced to change many things as part of our day to day operation in our Centre. As mentioned, our doors remain locked which poses more challenges than you might realize in dealing with the types of people that we serve. For someone who is homeless – looking for a washroom, or some food, or just a friendly chat – this can create a lot of anxiety and add to situations of crisis for many people. We spend years trying to build relationships with community members and have them trust us enough to seek care to have that all taken away simply with a locked door. People are being screened at the door as they come in which also creates many issues which you might not expect – people refusing to wear masks for various reasons (discomfort, making one feel as though you are claiming they are infected, having to talk to someone they do not know, etc). Our “non-essential” staff (that is another story in itself) are working remotely from home in order to limit the amount of staff in the building at the same time, which of course makes them unavailable to our clients who may be desperately in search of their care.

Our Doctors and Nurse Practitioners are also working remotely from home three days a week and are in clinic two days per week. The MDs and NPs have difficulty working remotely without the forms that they need on hand, the ability to fax a prescription to a pharmacy, the resources to be able to refer to specialists (who have all but shut down during this time), the support of their colleagues to consult, etc. I myself was asked to work from home in the same way and had great difficulty with this. I feel I entered into Nursing with the knowledge that something like this could happen. As a healthcare worker you are aware of the possibility that you may have to put your health and safety on the line on any given work day and I had to fight to continue to go into work everyday (and won). Now, not only am I able to support my colleagues working from home each day, I am also there to continue to see clients in the clinic (it’s rather hard to take blood from someone from home anyway). Going into work everyday has it’s own challenges of course and it has also become difficult working in house while adapting to physical distancing. No one can eat lunch together anymore. We cannot share in the same ways that we did previously. We pass each other in the hallways keeping a two metre distance. It has been very impersonal and very isolating even surrounded by others close by.

When seeing people in clinic, we wear PPE (masks, gowns, face shields, gloves) and with this comes even more of a cold and unfamiliar approach. It is hard to convey a smile or a warm touch when you are wearing a mask and gloves. People, including the staff themselves, miss this sense of human connection that we can receive from others just with a warm smile… forget a hug or even a friendly handshake. And, while on the topic of PPE, there is, as has been reported on the news at length, a very serious concern that we will run out of our dwindling PPE supplies and will have to shut down our clinic altogether. As primary care workers, we are the very last on the list to be issued (or rather rationed) any supplies from the Ministry of Health, whose focus tends to remain on the hospitals and now on the Long Term Care (Nursing) homes. We have had to rely on donations from individuals and corporations to be able to maintain any stock.

The use of PPE, while something of common place in the hospitals, is not something that we, working in primary care, are used to on a daily basis. And with this, comes a level of exhaustion that you could not believe possible. I mean we are all trained on the use of PPE in school, the reasons behind wearing it, and when you would need a mask and googles over say a face shield, etc. But when it has not been your day to day routine in the last while it takes a lot of thought in its use and order of how you put it on and take it off. And then there is the constant back and forth of whether or not the virus is transmitted by droplets or it is airborne. This then has everyone questioning whether their choice in PPE is actually keeping them safe and reducing their chance of contracting the illness. With this then also comes the individual opinions of your colleagues and their own beliefs of not only how they should be using their PPE but of what type and how you should be wearing yours (this is just my own personal pet peeve along with the pain that comes in watching my MD colleagues putting on and taking off their PPE, or walking out of a room with their gloves on, touching everything in sight!!!, etc).

The changes and challenges that this very real pandemic have brought to the way in which we are conducting our everyday lives at work are coupled with the varying anxiety levels of each staff member as well as their own personal experiences that they bring to work with them each day…it becomes hard to support [staff] when you are trying to support clients as well as deal with your own anxieties and tribulations that this pandemic has brought on. I have watched MDs and normally very rational people lose themselves over high levels of anxiety (about travelling on public transit, having to continue seeing clients in clinic, what PPE to wear and whether it will be available to them, taking the virus home with them and infecting their young children…) Having to constantly “talk down” your co-workers can be quite challenging and certainly exhausting as well, not to mention unexpected when you work with highly educated health professionals.

As a triage Nurse, I have spent hours on the phone just listening to client’s very real worries about the virus and whether they are doing the right thing. I have had to listen to their experiences of being secluded from friends, weekly groups, interactions with others when they are already very isolated and shunned from society. I have listened to them tell me of their current symptoms and then have had to help them determine whether they should go to a testing centre or not, also informing them that, although they have all the symptoms, it is a very real possibility that they won’t be tested because they “don’t meet the current criteria” for testing (look it up if you don’t believe me). I have had long discussions with parents who cannot decide if it is worth the risk to bring in their young babies for vaccinations for fear of exposure to COVID…The amount of client calls I have made just to check in on them and make sure that their domestic violence situation isn’t getting worse….The people we see who do not have health cards and have been therefore unable to get their COVID test results in the online portal…The level of panic I have seen in people attending in the clinic and the amount of anxiety attacks I have had to help manage just from being out of their house…. The amount of home visits I have done for seniors whose risk of coming into our health centre (a place that should be safe) is far too great a risk that I gladly put myself at risk to lessen their exposure. And, I live in a one-roomed apartment with my husband who I do not have the luxury of self-isolating from in order to protect him. Even more, life has to go on in very real ways for some: people are still being diagnosed with cancer, they are still having miscarriages, and I have had to work with them through this all while dealing with their fears of the coronavirus and attempting to navigate a world that has been almost completely shut down.

The changes that everyone has seen in their daily lives for some have been drastic and physically and mentally exhausting. The changes that I have seen in my own clinic and some of the issues that I have had to face are hard but when I think of some of the things going on in the hospitals I find it mind-boggling. Having to constantly worry about infection, exhaustion from thinking in a different way, the effect of wearing PPE all day, worry about bringing something home with you (on your hair, clothes, shoes), and then there is redeployment. I heard from a friend who works on an orthopaedic surgery (that’s bone surgeries) floor in a hospital that they were being re-deployed to the neuro surgery (that’s brain and spinal cord surgeries) floor because the neuro surgery Nurses had been re-deployed to the ICU which had been strictly turned into a COVID positive unit. None of the Nurses were given the choice to work within a field that they have no specialty in, performing assessments that they had little to no knowledge of; none of them were given the choice to say no to working in a COVID positive unit (of course they had the option to stay at home and not get paid). This is only one example and I am sure that there are many things occurring that would make you wonder the level of care that people would be able to receive (among many other things) when changes like this are implemented.

The other half of my job is working to advocate for social justice because of the type of population that we serve. On a typical day, we serve a lot of people who are homeless and/or living in the shelter system and on a typical day, to witness the struggles that occur in their lives and the treatment they receive is abhorrent. During this pandemic, the government has acted far too late in setting up some of the supports that people experiencing homelessness need (or needed long ago, before the pandemic began). There have been many “tent encampments” erected across the city as the homeless would rather live in a tent than have to deal with the conditions and sleeping one foot away from the cot beside them in a shelter. There is currently an encampment located in the (cement) “park” across the road from our Centre. We have been trying to engage with the people staying there as much as possible. They receive tickets from the police daily for loitering, illegal squatting, having open alcohol, congregating in groups… I say good luck in collecting any of that money as you can’t get blood from a stone and it won’t act to change anyone’s behaviour so it is a rather futile exercise to say the least.

In a reactive fashion, a few hotels have been set up around the city to “house” people who are homeless and have tested positive for COVID in order to allow them to isolate and get better.Some of our staff have been re-deployed to work in these hotels to help de-escalate situations and ensure that people are being treated fairly and given the supplies that they need. At the same time, the city has removed people from shelters and housed them in hotels temporarily in order to separate people and make room in the shelter system. The conditions which these people have been put into are disgusting. My friend (whom you have met) was taken out of his apartment style shelter room in the downtown core and put into a hotel in Rexdale in the middle of no where. There is literally nothing in the vicinity of this shelter… no grocery store, no laundry mat, no corner store… the building is under construction… they are served “catered” food at whatever time of day they decide to deliver it… they are not provided with any cleaning products but are expected to clean their own rooms… etc…etc… etc… What surprises me is that for the past 20+ years the government has stated that there is no money to support housing and the homeless….for years the shelter system has been full…. however, there is all of a sudden millions of dollars to spend to house and feed them currently (along with the billions to hand out emergency funds to everyone else) but it took a pandemic to find these mystery funds. All I can hope for now is that our experience with this pandemic will create positive changes for the better for this group of people.

Testimonial 2 (part two): And now for my own personal thoughts….

My emotional response through all of this has not been about my job itself but what the virus is doing to others, how people are responding to it, and what is being done to solve issues… step by step as they come… money being pulled out of thin air and thrown in whatever direction. When we first went into “lockdown”, I found myself crying suddenly for no reason. Just a wave of emotion would flood over me. I would read what was going on in the hospitals, the death tolls, watching the numbers climb higher and higher, etc. I think my reaction was about the sense of camaraderie, being associated with a professional body, and being labeled a “front line worker”… a “hero”. Some say that reaction is about grief. Unfortunately, over a relative short time things for me have changed and I think I have just become numb to all of it. I do hope though that we all learn some very real lessons from all of this and there are some very drastic changes within society as a whole (although doubtful) that occur.

Overall, my fear is not about the virus itself but that this has now become our daily routine and eventually our norm. And with this comes my fear that people will begin to let their guard down (and it is already starting to happen, especially as the weather begins to improve). People will start to disobey the social distancing guidelines, more stores will open up (happened over the weekend), the public spaces and parks will open up (happened this week), and the list could continue. Eventually we think we will all be right back into life as we knew it and it appears that this is what governments all over the world are rushing into. Loosening restrictions serves only to give people a false sense of hope and will ensure that we experience a second wave of cases (which we have witnessed now in countries like Korea and Italy). It is unfortunate that choices are made by government bodies in the interest of politics and supporting the economy, rather than in the interest in science and the fact that our daily case numbers continue to grow by 300-400 more per day; our death toll continues to be counted daily; people are still being admitted to hospitals everyday; long term care homes are still in lockdown and counting deaths daily. So where then do these considerations come from to open up more stores, to allow certain groups to go back to work, to open parks and public spaces? Maybe it is merely the worry that comes along with people being locked up in their home for extended periods – worried that people will stop obeying the rules, of riots ensuing, lash back, lost votes, the mental health of people over extended periods of time due to being within their own walls and the bills that will accumulate and the money that will need to be spent to treat people now and down the road, etc. But this will be at the expense of a much longer experience with this pandemic so these decisions are obviously counterproductive. And can we really afford something like that? For this to continue and to have people secluded from each other, unable to work and conduct themselves in meaningful ways? Furthermore, opening up retail stores means that low paid workers return to work while the rest of the earners are able to continue to work from home and engage in leisure activities and shop for the things they want. Is this fair to anyone? Coupled with the risk of contracting the virus just to be able to purchase a few (likely unneeded) items?

There has been a lot of comparison to other pandemics in the past, specifically SARS. which occurred in 2003. The reality of it is, it is fine and good to compare to past experiences and try to learn from them and remember what was done, but we are now living in a much different world in terms of global travel, internet reliance, as well as advances in technology and the access to everything that they bring. Since 2003, individual thought and attitudes surrounding our own freedom (and by this I mean entitlement) has likely changed as well. Telling people to limit their trips to the grocery store and shutting down stores makes people feel as though they have lost control in their daily life. And ask a North American born person to go without something they truly feel they need…. good luck. If there is a way to obtain something, they will get it. They will order it online or become very resourceful but they will never think of going without it. We are lucky we are still able to go into a store (despite the conditions when you get there). If they were to truly stop the spread of COVID, they would shut down everything… but they can’t because people would lose their minds. I’d like to see what some other third world countries are doing to manage their current pandemic states. I bet some countries are able to close everything down without any issue. Public Health officials say that it is testing that is needed to get a pandemic under control. I say it is absolute shut down of everything. If people can’t go out and get in contact with others, the virus cannot spread to anyone else. This is extreme of course and would never work in a country like Canada where everyone is so “entitled”.

I have been very overwhelmed with emails regarding webinars, information, teaching us how to use new/unfamiliar technology, daily emails from my professional body with a focus on what needs to be done and the current case numbers, deaths and the like. It makes you just want to shut everything off and ignore it all. I fear that this could lead to the point where I too will have to convince myself that there is nothing going on. Despite this, I would never get to the point where I could say that any of this has been a hoax. For anyone to suggest that the whole world, that is to say all of the country’s leaders, would be in on something that has wreaked havoc in the lives of millions of people WORLD WIDE, killed hundreds of thousands more, made worse the situations of people who were already struggling, and caused economic downturn and recessions GLOBALLY….with all the money that has been spent worldwide on healthcare costs, PPE supplies, emergency funds, relief, food relief, housing…. and all the economic turmoil in lost business, job loss, shut down of tourism, the creation of a true recession! would be ridiculous. And if it was something that was conjured up in a lab, I would like to think that no one would be that evil to purposefully create a virus that has infected the world at this magnitude. People need to think beyond their own walls, beyond their own borders and stop being so self absorbed. Blame is not the answer and it is time that we stop looking for someone to point the finger at and realize that we are in the midst of a global pandemic, something that has never occurred in all history, but something that we (hopefully) can learn from and work together to heal the world in all of the places its needed the most.

 

Hypocrisy – The Bane of Christianity

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Christian hypocrisy, which I feel is a serious issue in today’s world. I’ve always found the idea of Christian hypocrisy extremely disturbing, and also very ironic, because the only thing that I recall ever making Christ angry or contemptuous, was when He had to deal with hypocrites. He spoke out against hypocrisy often. Often enough in fact that I feel we can regard His views on this subject as one of His main themes, and we would therefore do well to familiarize ourselves with what He stated, and digest the deeper meaning of His words. Here are the various verses from the Gospels in which Christ speaks out against hypocrisy/hypocrites, followed by a couple of verses from other authors.
 
“Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.” –Matthew 6:2
 
“And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.” –Matthew 6:5
 
“Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.” –Matthew 6:16
 
“Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” –Matthew 15:5-7
 
“And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowering. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?” –Matthew 16:3
 
“But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?” –Matthew 22:18
 
“But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.” –Matthew 23:13
 
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.” –Matthew 23:14
 
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.” –Matthew 23:15
 
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” –Matthew 23:23
 
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.” –Matthew 23:25
 
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.”
–Matthew 23:27
 
“Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” –Matthew 23:28
 
29 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous,
30 And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.

31 Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets.
32 Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.
33 Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
34 Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city:
35 That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.
36 Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation. –Matthew 23
 
6 He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.
7 Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

8 For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.
9 And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. –Mark 7
 
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them.” –Luke 11:44
 
“In the mean time, when there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people, insomuch that they trode one upon another, he began to say unto his disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” –Luke 12:1
 
“Ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky and of the earth; but how is it that ye do not discern this time? –Luke 12:56
 
“Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron” –1 Timothy 4:1-2
 
“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” –James 3:17

The Non-War on Christmas

Every year now it seems like the beautiful, magical spirit of the Christmas season is diluted somewhat by the constant accusations put forth by some people about the “war on Christmas”.  I hear people talk about it, or see something on TV, or read posts or articles about this war almost every day during the Christmas season, and that has been the case for the last two or three years.

And often, I see accusations that this or that (non-Christian) religious group are trying to take Christmas away from those who enjoy it, because “they” are (allegedly) offended.  The odd thing is, I never see anything from any non-Christian religious group doing that. So, how is it known that they are trying to wage a war on Christmas?  You see, if you find something offensive, and want to see an end put to it, you kinda have to let people know.  And, for something as huge, appealing, established, globally widespread, and massively lucrative as Christmas, you really need do that in a very large way. In a way that will be noticed.  By everyone.  Like politicians, lobbying groups, etc.

Because, otherwise, you would have no hope of ever bringing about the change or partial-ban or total ban that you want.  I’m not seeing any evidence of this being done by members of other religions.  All I’m seeing is these other religions being accused of waging a war. 

So here is my theory.  None of them are actually doing, or want, anything of the sort. In reality (I suspect), some misguided people who have issues with other religions want to generate more false reasons for resenting them, so they start circulating these fake memes, stories, etc. that claim that some group wants to ban this or that aspect of Christmas.  Which, for the record, is not a very Christ-like thing to do.  So, if you’ve done that, you’re actually a hypocrite and not a true Christian at all. 

Once those things are posted, someone else looks at them, takes them at face value, has a knee jerk reaction, and re-posts, or forwards it on, and perpetuates the myth.  Some of these memes, etc. seem to suggest that unless we share this information, and/or do something else to prevent it, “they” will win.   First, Christmas is too big. It’s a vast machine with a life of it’s own that cannot be stopped.  By anyone.  Second, as noted, other world religions are not actually trying to ban anything.  So we don’t need to do anything to prevent our Christmas being taken away by another religion as none of them have any interest in doing that.  In fact, the evidence seems to me that members of other religions feel that if they can celebrate their holidays, Christians should be able to do likewise.

In addition, I also see similar claims made about this or that organization or company, that they also want to ban this or that aspect of Christmas.  Again, I have my doubts.  I see the “look at what they are trying to do!” claims, but I never see the actual efforts on the part of the cited organizations.

Granted, from time to time, a radical fringe group might try something whacky.  A non-mainstream organization or a rogue politician might take up a misguided cause to negatively tinker with Christmas.  But, these efforts are hardly worthy of suggesting that there is an actual war on Christmas, and if we don’t give them the attention that they are seeking, they won’t succeed!

And yes, sure, some songs or cartons or whatever may drop out of circulation, or be deemed, for some reason, to no longer be appropriate.  Absurd?  In many cases (at least the ones I’m aware of), yes.  Totally insane.  Worthy of trying to reverse?  Quite probably.  But that is a whole other issue, and is not at all limited to Christmas.

It is also true that some retailers, etc. may tap in the Christmas season with more general terminology or imagery.  But that is understandable as our demographics change and we, as a civilized society strive to be more inclusive.  I say let everyone feel the magic of the Christmas season, and you know what?  Perhaps in time, as they become more and more comfortable with it, they might just decide that they have no issue with the more blatant Christmas stuff. In fact, I honestly don’t think they do now.  The retailers are just being made to think that some people are; and are therefore being cautious.  But, if we stop making a big deal out of it, these trends we are seeing may just reverse!

The only war on Christmas I see is the one that is constantly being waged by people who continually claim, with fear and resentment, that there is a war on Christmas.  No, there isn’t, other than the one you’re fostering yourself.  Because all the fuss you are creating is what is actually diminishing the spirit and magic of this time of year.  Nobody can take your traditional Christmas experience away from you.  Only you can do that.

And the more I think about it, the more I think of the classic cartoon “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”. I think about it for two reasons.  First, I wonder, who is really stealing Christmas now?  Second, if there is one thing I learned from that show, it is this: the true meaning of Christmas does not come from a store, but perhaps means a little bit more (paraphrased).  So, even if “Christmas” was somehow hijacked from us, if we remember what Christmas is truly all about, it cannot truly ever be taken from us.

Peace On Earth Good Will to Who?

My wife and I went for a nice long brisk early November walk today, and at one point we went into a Christmas store. As I was looking around at all the cheerful items for sale, I saw a plate that said “Joy to the World” and another that said “Peace on Earth”. I was immediately hit by a sense of remorse over the fact that we tend to talk about those things only during the Christmas season.

I remember sharing with some people in the past about how wonderful the world would be if we could somehow keep the Spirit of Christmas, and all the goodwill associated with it, alive all year long. Unfortunately, that often does not seem plausible. But, happily, the Christmas season returns to us each year. So, even if we try, but fail, to keep the Spirit of Christmas going all year long, each Christmas season we have another opportunity to promote “Joy to the World” and “Peace on Earth”.

And wouldn’t it be awesome this year if everyone who celebrates or observes Christmas, *or* anyone who wants the world to have joy and be at peace, would somehow use this upcoming Christmas season to really promote those values – regardless of personal faith and/or convictions? This holiday season, let “Peace on Earth” and “Joy to the World” become more than just rote phrases on decorations and cards that put a warm smile in our hearts but which generally fail to motivate us towards actually striving to bring joy and peace to the world.

Words have meaning. Look behind the words to see the true meaning and purpose of those words. They were not originally written or uttered for the purpose of becoming part of the trappings of the Christmas season, but to push us forward, to be goals, to remind us that we can be a better global family.

The words “Joy to the World” do not mean “Joy for just me and those I care about”. They mean joy for the entire human race – and to have joy, people need to be treated fairly, with dignity, and respect, and with the same opportunities and freedoms as everyone else, with all people viewing everyone else as brotherly neighbors, recognizing the worth of all persons.

Likewise, the words “Peace on Earth” do not mean “Peace just for my own” – whatever our own might be. Nor does “Peace on Earth” mean “Peace through victory”. It means peace for all nations, all societies, all types of people, all over the world through letting go of blame, and of our wounds, our pride, and our fears. But peace does not just happen in a vacuum. We need to actively work towards peace. And that means, among other things, that we must be willing to listen – truly, honestly, sincerely listen to one another – and actually hear what is being said, with an understanding that even in diversity, we can have both harmony and unity.

We live in an era that is full of uncertainty and confusion and misdirection. There is accountability on all sides. People from all spectrums have hidden behind Christian values to promote views, positions, and actions that are contrary to the teachings of the One whose birth Christmas celebrates.

So this year, as we enter into the Christmas season, and we see our political and religious leaders, and others, talk about how special a time of year Christmas is, and as they sing “Joy to the World” or “Peace On Earth Good Will to Men”, really make them mean it. Don’t let it just be warm but empty words concealing hypocrisy. Hold them accountable. Point out the hypocrisy. Ask them to explain what they think “Joy to the World” and “Peace on Earth” truly means. What does it look like? Ask them who those words were meant for. Make them acknowledge the things that they are doing that undermines Joy to the World, and Peace on Earth. And then ask them, on their Christian faith, what they are going to do, to truly live, and personify those words.

And as they passionately enjoy and celebrate Christmas, ask them whose birth Christmas celebrates, and what did He have to say about the various issues that seem to be dividing us.  Because, if we are not really following Him, just why are we celebrating His birth?

How We Know God Can Sanction Church Changes

“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 Nephi 3:29 (LDS 4:15)

I’ve written blogs before on why I think that same-sex marriage is now permissible; I’ve also written blogs that prove that God changes what God has previously established. But, having had some recent conversations with different people, I know that many people are still in tremendous spiritual turmoil regarding the changes that have been made in the church (Community of Christ), not just with regard to same-sex marriage, but with regard to several changes, and their pain and grief is not something I can ignore, because I don’t want to see any of my brothers and sisters be in a spiritual turmoil of any kind (whatever the issue might be). I did not enjoy seeing LGBT members in turmoil prior to the National Conferences and I don’t enjoy seeing conservative/traditional members in turmoil following those conferences.

Often, the reason for opposing these changes derives from the conviction that God does not change. As it breaks my heart that so many people in the church are struggling as much as they are, and as I so very much wish I could take away their pain, and help them get to where I am, and be healed, I’ve decided to tackle both of these issues (same-sex marriage and the question of whether or not God changes things) in one blog (as before, I’ve always done so in separate blogs – but I’ve come to realize that understanding the latter is key to understanding the former).

And I think my conclusions, about the latter, can be applied to other church changes – not just same-sex marriage, though I’ll be using that one as my focus here, since that is the most recent major change, and perhaps the most controversial and, currently, the one that seems to be causing the most turmoil for some of our brothers and sisters in the Church.

Note: when I say “same-sex marriage” I really mean two different things: same-sex marriage and the ordination of people in same-sex relationships. But, to save typing, I’m lumping the latter into the former.

As always, this blog will be written within a Latter Day Restoration context. Meaning, I will make my case by using, not ignoring, scripture from the Standard of Authority of Community of Christ (the Inspired Version, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine & Covenants). Additionally, I will not attempt to dismiss verses like Leviticus 18:22 as being a reference to something else (such as temple prostitution), or suggest that the verse was not of God, or that the Torah is metaphorical, or that Moses did not really exist, etc. On the contrary, I approach scripture with a fairly traditional stance. I believe (for example) that Moses really did exist, and that he wrote the Torah, and that when he indicated that what he wrote was revealed to him by God that it really was. These are my personal beliefs.

However, I have also come to realize, from reading all of our books of scripture, that there are some factors and considerations that have been heretofore overlooked by everyone else; and we cannot claim to truly believe in the Inspired Version, the Doctrine & Covenants, and the Book of Mormon if we do not accept what they say.

Joseph Smith III once wrote a document, known as the “Letter of Instruction” as a series of questions and answers; and I’ve decided, in an effort to be as clear as I can be on why I believe what I believe, to use that same format (as I feel some of my other blogs were hard to follow at times).

Please note, the views, ideas, conclusions, etc. that I express herein are not necessarily those of the Church.

All quotes from the Bible are from the Inspired Version unless otherwise noted.

All quotes from the Book of Mormon are from the 1908 CofC/RLDS Authorized Edition, unless otherwise noted.

 

 

Question 1: “How can you support same-sex marriage when we know that God said in Leviticus 18:22: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind; it is abomination.”

Answer: While it is true that God, through Moses instituted the above prohibition, He has since reversed that position. He changed what He had previously established. I’ll indicate how we know this further below.

Question 2: “But God does not change. Therefore, how can you say that God changed what He has previously established?”

Answer: While I agree that God Himself does not change, God can, and has, made changes to that which God had previously established. I’ll provide examples of some of the changes further below.

Question 3: “If God changes that which God has previously established, does that not prove that God changes, and are we not told that God does not change?”

Answer: No, it does not prove that God changes. When the scriptures tell us that God does not change, that is best understood as God’s divine nature is unchanging. God is always God. God is always without beginning or ending. God is always a god of love. God is always omnipresent, etc. This is what is meant by the fact that God does not change. But God’s unchanging nature does not mean that God cannot bring about change, even to that which He Himself has previously established. I know that this is true because it is the only way to resolve what would otherwise be scriptural contradictions – which I’ll elaborate on further below.

Question 4: “How do you know that God can bring about change and still be an unchangeable God?” (there are two reasons)

Answer (A): First, common sense tells us that all the changes that God made to that which He had previously established were always part of his plan. That is to say, when He first declared one thing that was ultimately changed, He knew then, when He first declared it, that He would one day change it. Therefore, there is simply no logical or rational reason to insist that God cannot change that which He has previously established on the premise that “God does not change” because anything that He might desire to alter was always His intention from the beginning – it was always part of His plan to make the changes that He did. To overlook the possibility that any change made was always part of God’s intentions is to ignore reason, common sense, and logic.

Answer (B): Second, there are multiple examples in the scriptures of God making changes to that which God had previously established. Since these examples exist, we know that God can, and has, made changes to that which He had previously established. Also, because these examples exist, we have to understand all the verses that imply that God does not change in the context that I explained in the answer to question 3. Otherwise, an awkward contradiction exists. If we insist that the “I change not” verses mean that God does not change that which God has already established, then we must reject all scriptural passages that demonstrate God making such a change. This is not a tenable position; therefore, we have to take the examples as what they are – examples of God making changes to that which He had already established, whilst understanding the “I change not” verses as previously explained.

Question 5: “What examples of God changing that which God has previously established can you provide?”

Answer: Please consider the following examples…

Example 1: Baptismal Words Established – and then Changed.

Consider an example of God changing a sacrament. First, we read in Alma 9:

43 And now it came to pass that Alma took Helam, he being one of the first, and went and stood forth in the water, and cried, saying, O Lord, pour out thy Spirit upon thy servant, that he may do this work with holiness of heart.
44 And when he had said these words, the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he said, Helam, I baptize thee, having authority from the Almighty God, as a testimony that ye have entered into a covenant to serve him until you are dead, as to the mortal body; and may the Spirit of the Lord be poured out upon you; and may he grant unto you eternal life, through the redemption of Christ, whom he has prepared from the foundation of the world.
45 And after Alma had said these words, both Alma and Helam were buried in the water; and they arose and came forth out of the water rejoicing, being filled with the Spirit. (LDS 18:12-13)

Pay particular note to the words Alma used in verse 44 when he baptized Helam, keeping in mind that the above passage clearly indicates that Alma was filled with the Holy Spirit. This strongly suggests that what Alma did, and said, was done by the prompting of God. Now compare to:

“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 Nephi 5:25 (LDS 11:24-25)

The baptism of Helam took place long before the words given in Third Nephi. Alma, empowered by the Holy Spirit spoke words to Helam and baptized him. And other people were baptized, and they were called from that time the Church of Christ. Clearly, this passage was recorded in the history of the Nephites to reveal, in part, when the church was first established in the New World. It was a significant moment in the history of the eternal church on Earth.

The fact that Alma was filled with the Spirit before he baptized Helam, and the fact that both he and Helam were filled by the Spirit after they arose from the water, and baptized others, who were then called the church of Christ, and the fact that all of this was recorded, clearly indicates that these baptisms were of course acceptable to God. This cannot be plausibly disputed.

Nor can it be plausibly denied that the baptisms of future generations of this iteration of the church were acceptable to God (excluding reasons other than the wording used).

So, from the time of Alma to Third Nephi, which was a period of several centuries, either the words above were used by all people performing baptisms, or people were free to use other words. The Book of Mormon does not tell us if what Alma said was used by others, or if the officiants were able to use other words. Perhaps each officiant received words imparted by the Spirit. We simply don’t know.

What we do know is that in Third Nephi, the church received a specific baptismal statement. Therefore, the Lord made a change. In truth, we cannot say exactly what that change was. Either the Lord changed words that He gave before (if the words used by Alma were given by the Spirit), or he changed what was required during baptism, despite the fact that what was done before was acceptable to Him, and confirmed by his Spirit.

Example 2: 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 (LDS 15:13)

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” (LDS 20:58)

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 Book of Doctrine & Covenants, they cannot. God changed what the office of teacher was authorized to do. This represents a change made by God to the priesthood. It is important to note that this change was not an addition, but a revocation.

Example 3: 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.” (LDS 101:79)

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.

Example 4: Bishops – Which Order?

In 1993 Herald Publishing House printed a book called “Having Authority”, by Gregory A. Prince, which informs us on page 54 that bishops were originally part of the Melchisedec priesthood, but eventually became part of the Aaronic priesthood (this may be an unfamiliar concept for many readers, however, strictly speaking the office of bishop belongs to the Aaronic priesthood, and is properly filled by descendants of Aaron. However, since proving such descent is problematic, the lord has indicated that high priests can serve in the office of bishop).

Example 5: 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

Example 6: Divorce – Forbidden. Then sanctioned.

We are told by Christ that divorce was not permitted in the days prior to Moses. However, at that 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.

Example 7: Aaronic Priesthood – Nothing Stays the Same!

Fully appreciating the various changes related to the Aaronic priesthood will be easier if some background is provided.

According to scripture, God established two different orders of priesthood. The first, and senior of the two, was the Melchisedec priesthood, named after one of it’s most prominent members, Melchisedec, King of Salem. According to Section 83:4c, this priesthood was removed from the world when Moses died, because the people no longer warranted it. However, before this occurred, God had conferred a second priesthood upon Aaron, the brother of Moses, which became known as the Aaroinc priesthood, and which became the only priesthood of the Israelites after Moses died.

According to the Book of Mormon, a group of Israelites, known as the Nephites, fled Jerusalem (in the Old World) in 600 BC, and traveled, under the direction of God, to the Americas (in the New World). The Aaronic priesthood also existed in their civilization. It is implied that it became dormant, and was therefore established a second time, therefore there were two iterations of the Aaronic priesthood amongst the Nephites.

The New Testament informs us that the Aaronic priesthood in the Old World survived to the time of Christ, and, we see references to priests and deacons and teachers in the New Testament church, so, it was incorporated into the body of the Christian faithful.

In the modern church, the Aaronic priesthood continues, having been conferred upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery (after a long period of dormancy lasting for centuries) on May 15th, 1929.

So, we have five iterations of the Aaronic priesthood. It can be confusing to keep them straight, so here is a cheat sheet:

Aaronic Priesthood Iterations

It might also be helpful to have a quick refresh on just who the Israelites are. In the Bible, in the Old Testament, God promises a man named Abraham that he will be the ancestor of many nations. Abraham’s son is Isaac, and Isaac becomes the father of Jacob. Jacob has 12 sons. Jacob is renamed (by God), Israel (though he never seems to be called this, continuing to be called Jacob). His sons each become the patriarch of a tribe, thus, the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

Ok, so, in ancient scripture, as revealed in the Old Testament, God decided to bless the Twelve Tribes of Israel with a priesthood. He selected a member of the Tribe of Levi to be the first high priest, and that man was Aaron, the brother of Moses. Aaron’s sons became the first priests. The rest of the Levites (those who were not descended from Aaron), were also given religious duties, but the priesthood itself was restricted to Aaron and his descendants only. Therefore, while other Levites had religious responsibilities, only the Aaronites were part of the actual priesthood.

It is important to keep in mind here that to be a Levite, you had to be descended from Levi, and to be part of the priesthood, you had to also be a descendant of Aaron.

The entire Aaronic priesthood would eventually become dormant. However, we know from our history that John the Baptist restored the Aaronic priesthood to the world when he conferred it upon Oliver Cowdery & Joseph Smith Jr.

But what of those ancestry requirements? Clearly, in the Restored church, they have been abolished. Any member of the church in good standing, who is called of God, can be, according to the laws of the church, ordained to any office of the Aaronic priesthood, regardless of heritage. One does not need to be descended from Aaron.

We should also look at the composition of the Aaronic priesthood. In ancient scripture it consisted of priests and a high priest (to avoid confusion with the Melchisedec office of high priest, I’ll term this Aaronic role as “chief priest”).

The chief priest was not simply an exalted role, but an office of priesthood, because he was consecrated to his position, with scripturally defined duties.

It is important to note that in the New Testament and in the Book of Mormon, no such office exists. There are high priests mentioned in both the New Testament and the Book of Mormon, but they are “after the Order of the Son of God” i.e., they are of the Melchisedec priesthood.

Now, we could argue that bishops, first introduced in the New Testament church, are simply chief priests of the Aaronic priesthood with a new designation. Yet, in the entire nation of ancient Israel, all through it’s history, including when it was a kingdom, there was only one chief priest at a time. However, in the early years of the church, which had a vastly smaller population, there were multiple bishops. So, either bishops are a new office, with chief priests being discarded, or they are the same office, re-named, & reflective of a further change (many vs. one).

Then we have to deal with deacons and teachers. No such offices exist in the Old Testament. Teachers are found in the Aaronic priesthood as it existed amongst the Nephites, but deacons are still absent.

We might suggest that deacons and teachers represent the non-Aaronite Levites. However, the non-Aaronite Levities were classified into three groups: the Gershonites, the Kohathites and the Merarites. So, if we go with that theory, then we are forced to acknowledge that something is missing today. Plus, the non-Aaronite Levites were not truly part of the priesthood, but deacons and teachers are.

However, the real meat of this topic pertains to the duties and responsibilities of the Levites and the priesthood (I’m including the non-Aaronite Levites here just to be thorough, in case there is dispute over whether they were, or were not, part of the priesthood).

Each of the three types of non-Aaronite Levites had specific religious duties to perform, as indicated in the following passages from Numbers chapter 3:

25 And the charge of the sons of Gershon in the tabernacle of the congregation shall be the tabernacle, and the tent, the covering thereof, and the hanging for the door of the tabernacle of the congregation,
26 And the hangings of the court, and the curtain for the door of the court, which is by the tabernacle, and by the altar round about, and the cords of it, for all the service thereof.

30 And the chief of the house of the father of the families of the Kohathites shall be Elizaphan the son of Uzziel.
31 And their charge shall be the ark, and the table, and the candlestick, and the altars, and the vessels of the sanctuary wherewith they minister, and the hanging, and all the service thereof.

36 And under the custody and charge of the sons of Merari shall be the boards of the tabernacle, and the bars thereof, and the pillars thereof, and the sockets thereof, and all the vessels thereof, and all that serveth thereto,
37 And the pillars of the court round about, and their sockets, and their pins, and their cords.

The duties of the Aaronite priests were to perform various sacrifices and burnt offerings, each for a specific purpose. The chief priest presided over the day of atonement, and had various other unique duties to perform.

However, when we read Section 17 [LDS 20] of the Doctrine & Covenants (or any other section), we utterly fail to see any harmony of duties between the modern Aaronic priesthood, and those of the ancient Aaronites and Levites (though there are a few commonalities between the modern priesthood and the Aaronic priesthood amongst the Nephites).

Quite simply, none of the duties of the Levites or the priests or the chief priests of the Bible exist in the current Aaronic priesthood, and none of the responsibilities of the latter were held by the former. In fact, the primary duty of the Biblical priests of Aaron was specifically abolished by Christ:

“And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; …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.” –Third Nephi 4:49 (LDS 9:19-20)

Its worth pointing out that not only were the duties of the priests of Aaron changed, the Lord actually stated that he would no longer accept what he previously commanded His people to provide: sacrifices and burnt offerings, the entire tradition having been “done away” with. The core function of the Aaronic priesthood was abolished. Again, this demonstrates God changing something that He had previously established and implemented.

What we see from all of this is that God does indeed alter things to suit his purposes, as circumstances warrant. God may not change, but the world does, and therefore, the needs of the people, and of the church, change, and thus, God changes the priesthood and the church to better support the needs that they have.

Indeed, a comparison of the Israelite and Nephite Aaronic priesthoods sets a precedent for differences to exist at the same time.

The priesthood of Israel had priests and chief priests, and were assisted by the Levites. The priesthood of the Nephites had priests and teachers and lacked Levites. Not just Levitical temple workers, but members of the Tribe of Levi. Of which the Aaronic priesthood had to be part of. This means that in fact, there were two different divine policies operating on the Earth at the same time. In the Old World, you had to be an Aaronite to be part of the Aaronic priesthood. In the New World, you did not. Two different rules, at the same time, depending where you were, to suit God’s purposes.

Here is another example of this:

“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 (LDS 15:13)

During this point in time, the Aaronic priesthood in Israel still existed. Yet, we can be sure that the duties of the Aaronic priesthood in the Old World did not include performing baptisms for the sake of the church of Christ.

We need to remember that from Aaron to Christ, the Aaronic priesthood existed in Israel, with the duties and rules outlined in the Old Testament. Yet, the Aaronic priesthood in the days of Alma, in the New World, existed at the same time as the Aaronic priesthood in the Old World, and the above verse is a clear indication of the two versions of the priesthood having different rules in operation at the same time, by design of God.

The priesthood of Israel operated directly under God. The priesthood of the Nephites operated under the direction of the Melchisedec priesthood.

This last fact is itself a change for another reason. There were no Melchisedec high priests or elders presiding over the Aaronic priesthood of Israel (in Israel). However, the Nephites (who were also Israelites) had such high priests, and they also had elders, and the priests and teachers were subordinate to them.

In other words, the Israelites living in Israel, between Moses and Christ, did not have the Melchisedec priesthood – but the Israelites who were also Nephites living in the New World did! Again, this proves that God may change things not only over time, but for different areas – having different rules for the same thing, as circumstances warrant.

Clearly God does, and has changed things over the ages. This should not really surprise us. It is important to remember that Christ established His church for the sake of mankind. Therefore, we should not be surprised to see God being willing to modify the church to better meet the needs of mankind.

Example 8: Church Iterations – Each is Different!

We tend to regard the church as having been first established in Palestine, directly by Jesus Christ (or at least, by the original twelve apostles under Christ’s direction).

While Christ did establish the church in Palestine, it was not the first time that the church was established. Our Restoration scriptures reveal that prior iterations of the church existed.

As with the Aaroinc priesthood, there have been five iterations of the church, and they closely align to the five iterations of the Aaronic priesthood. Though, there are some differences.

They are as follows:

Church Iterations

The church and the Aaronic priesthood both existed in the Old Testament, but not at the same time. While it is true that the Melchisedec priesthood exited after Noah (the last such priesthood member being Moses), the church seems to have entered into a period of dormancy after the flood. So, by the time of Moses and his brother Aaron, and the establishment of the priesthood conferred upon the latter, the church seems to have been dormant, and therefore, while both the church and the Aaronic priesthood existed in the Old Testament, they did not exist at the same time.

The fact that the Aaronic priesthood did not exist during the first iteration of the church is significant. It is the only iteration of the church that lacked it. When the Aaronic priesthood was conferred upon all future iterations of the church, a change occurred.

The second iteration of the church came into existence quite sometime after the first iteration became dormant. The second iteration was established by God through his servant Alma, in the New World. We know this from what is recorded in the Book of Mormon, 9th chapter of Mosiah (RLDS 1908):

46 And again, Alma took another, and went forth a second time into the water, and baptized him according to the first, only he did not bury himself again in the water.
47 And after this manner he did baptize every one that went forth to the place of Mormon: and they were in number about two hundred and four souls;
48 Yea, and they were baptized in the waters of Mormon, and were filled with the grace of God:
49 And they were called the church of God, or the church of Christ, from that time forward. (LDS 18: 15-17)

The third iteration of the church was what we usually regard as the foundation of the church: Christ’s work as recorded in the New Testament.

The fourth iteration takes us back to the Nephites. Here, in the Third Book of Nephi, Christ, after appearing to the Nephites, seems to re-establish the church amongst the Nephites. Its not quite as explicitly explained as previously, but it seems that the church had “broken up” prior to Christ’s manifestation, resulting in the need for it to be organized once again.

Finally, we come to the fifth, and current iteration of the church, established, as always, by our Lord, but this time, through Joseph Smith Jr. This iteration is now over 180 years old, which is still comparatively young compared to the prior iterations.

What do we learn from all of this? Well, the key question that we need to ask is this: “Do we truly believe that these various iterations of the church were identical to each other?”

The answer is clearly “no”. Let us consider again the various iterations that have existed:

1st – Established by the Lord through Adam (Old Testament church)
2nd – Established by the Lord through Alma (1st Nephite church)
3rd – Established directly by the Lord (New Testament church)
4th – Established directly by the Lord (2nd Nephite church)
5th – Established by the Lord through Joseph Smith Jr. (modern church)

As we consider these various iterations, it becomes clear that many distinctions exist. It is difficult to say just how many there are, but for the purposes of this discussion, we really don’t need an exhaustive list. The following suffice:

1) The very purpose of the first iteration seems distinct from all others. It does not seem to have operated in the open, to publicly proclaim Christ. This logistically makes sense, as doing such prior to the birth of Christ on the same landmass on which he would eventually be born would likely be problematic.

So, what then was the purpose of the 1st iteration? We can speculate all we want, but it does not really matter. The key point here is that the latter iterations were more open and public about proclaiming Jesus Christ than the 1st iteration apparently was.

2) As noted above, the first iteration lacked an Aaronic priesthood. While some might argue that it may not have been needed in that very early era of human history, the fact remains, all future iterations are different from the first iteration of the church for at least this one reason. When the Aaronic priesthood was implemented in future iterations, that represented a transformation from the oldest example of the church.

3) The Aaronic priesthood as it existed in the 3rd and 4th iterations of the church, which for a time existed simultaneously, were not structurally the same. In the New Testament church, there were deacons, priests and bishops. It is not precisely clear if teachers were regarded as an actual office of priesthood.

In the 2nd Nephite church, there were priests, but no deacons, and no bishops. Also, there were indeed ordained teachers. So, different offices operating in the Aaronic priesthood, at the same time, depending in which part of the world you were.

4) According to the Doctrine & Covenants, bishops are properly part of the Aaronic priesthood, not the Melchisedec priesthood. Also, they are to be literal descendants of Aaron. However, as proving such heritage is problematic, the Lord has provided us, in our modern revelations, an escape clause: high priests can function in all other offices, therefore, a high priest can be ordained and serve in the office of bishop.

The key point here though is that bishops are of the Aaronic priesthood. Yet, when we review the New Testament, it seems clear that bishops were very senior members of the church, presiding just below the apostles. Why would members of the Aaronic priesthood be senior to high priests and elders?

Clearly, bishops were operating in the New Testament church with an authority and responsibility distinct from other iterations of the church. Clearly, they were called by God to serve as the needs of the people required at the time.

5) Looking at the priesthood as a whole, the New Testament seems to have had the following offices and roles:

apostles, bishops, deacons, elders, evangelists, high priests, pastors, priests, seventies & teachers (pastors, and possibly teachers, being roles vs. offices).

The Nephite church seems to have had the following offices:

Elders, priests & teachers (high priests seem absent from the 2nd Nephite church, which fact is itself a distinction from the 1st Nephite church).

An additional role is found in the existence of 12 elders set apart to provide something approximating apostolic ministry without being true apostles. This seems to have been a one shot arrangement.

When we compare the two versions of the priesthood (in iterations 3 and 4), including pastors and teachers, we see a total of 12 forms of ministerial leadership in the New Testament church, but only four (including the 12 apostolic elders) in the 2nd Nephite church.

6) When we look at the modern church, we continue to see evolutions:
a. Seven (and as many as ten) quorums of seventy instead of just one.
b. Prophets as an office of priesthood*
c. Presidents as an office of priesthood**
d. Patriarchs as an office of priesthood***
e. A First Presidency.
f. Apostles no longer form the senior administrate & spiritual body.
g. A presiding evangelist.
h. A new office, in the form of high councilor****
i. A Standing High Council
j. Bishops function as financial leaders instead of presiding over the church.

*While there have always been prophets, they were not previously an office of priesthood. This is therefore a new office that exists only in the modern church.

**Prior to the modern church, presidents, as an office of priesthood, did not exist. This is therefore a new priesthood office.

***There is no priesthood office of patriarch in ancient scripture. Patriarchs did exist in the Old Testament, but they were not an office of priesthood. Therefore, it is a new office of priesthood existing only in the modern church. It was also combined with the office of evangelist. There can be little doubt that Old Testament patriarchs and New Testament evangelists, if told that one day their roles would be merged into one office would have found that to be a rather strange change. I suspect many would deem it a very unlikely, implausible and awkward change.

****While the church does not tend to currently use the term high councilor, and inducts people to the standing high council via setting apart instead of ordination, it’s status as an office is based on Doctrine and Covenants 129:7b (No LDS equivalent)

Example 9: Book of Commandments vs. The Doctrine & Covenants

This example is a little different, as it’s not an example of God having said something in one century, and reversing or changing what he said in a subsequent century. But it is still relevant.

For those not familiar with the Book of Commandments, it was the first attempt by the early church in the 1800s to compile the various revelations that Joseph Smith Jr. received from God. Only a small number of copies were printed, and for various reasons, it was not re-printed. The next attempt to publish the revelations of God was the Book of Doctrine & Covenants, which various Latter Day Restoration denominations continue to use to this day (though different versions exist). For further information, check out this Wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Commandments

What is interesting is that a large number of the revelations published in the Book of Commandments were altered when they were published in the Book of Doctrine & Covenants. But of course, at the time that each was originally received, it was accepted as being an accurate representation of what God revealed to Joseph. Some of the changes are very minor (the use of a colon instead of a semi-colon, spelling corrections, other changes in punctuation, etc.) but in other cases, entire sentences are omitted, replaced, revised, etc., in some cases altering the meaning or limitations set forth by the original version.

Since the revelations came from God in the first place, the words, and meaning, purpose, etc. of any given message of course reflects something that was established by God. Since it is understood that the alterations are also of God, clearly God then revised what God Himself has previously established.

A key example and one of the more controversial changes is as follows:

From Book of Commandments chapter 4 verse 2:

“and he has a gift to translate the book, and I have commanded him that he shall pretend to no other gift, for I will grant him no other gift.”

In context, “he” is Joseph Smith Jr., and the “book” is the Book of Mormon. Compare now with how this same revelation (Book of Commandments Chapter 4) is rendered in Section 5 verse 1d of the Doctrine & Covenants (LDS 4:4):

“And you have a gift to translate the plates, and this is the first gift that I bestowed upon you, and I have commanded that you should pretend to no other gift until my purpose is fulfilled in this; for I will grant unto you no other gift until it is finished.” (LDS 4:4; RLDS 5:1d)

Example Ten: The Lord Revokes What He Has Commanded

In the Doctrine & Covenants, Section 56, it states the following in verse 2a: “wherefore I the Lord command and revoke, as it seemeth me good”.  This proves that God can change what He has established.  Some might argue that this interpretation ignores the context, that prior verses point out that if God commands something, and someone fails to obey that commandment, God will, if He deems it appropriate, revoke that command.  These facts are moot, as they do not change the fact that a change is still occurring.  The reason is not relevant.  A command is of course the same thing as a commandment.  And as we know, God has rescinded commandments.  Furthermore, the purpose of a command is to indicate an intention.  If He commands a person, or His people to do something, it is because he wants them to do whatever he is commanding them to do, and there is an expectation that they will do so.   If He revokes the command, then there is a change – while He might still prefer that they would follow the command, the fact that the command has been revoked means God no longer has an expectation that it will be – which is a change.  God’s expectations for the person commanded, or the people commanded, would change.

 


Interestingly, I’ve noticed on occasion when I’ve shared some of the above examples of God making changes, to various people that I’ve been talking to, the person that I’m conversing with will say something like “Well, that (the original situation) had to be the case back then in the Old Testament because of ABC, but it was changed in the New Testament because of XYZ…” or some such thing. It is of course helpful to understand why God made some of the changes that He did.

But, the reasons are, for the purposes of this discussion, not relevant (except in the sense that they prove my point). But I tend to get the impression that some people think that by explaining why God did something, somehow makes the change not a change. This is especially true with God’s model of justice. In the Old Testament, he said “An eye for an eye”, but in the New Testament, he said “You have heard it has been said…but I say to you…” – a friend of mine told me that the Old Testament model of justice was implemented because of how harsh the people were, and it was no doubt scaled back in the New Testament because God felt the people had progressed. All of which is fine, but the point is, God still established a particular thing, and later on, he changed it. The reasons are not relevant (to the point I’m making). The fact is, God changed His own model of justice, to suit His purposes.

 


As a bit of a tangent, it is interesting to note that most of the examples above are based on changes that are observable to us as readers only if we read Latter Day Restoration scriptures (the Inspired Version of the Bible, the Book of Doctrine & Covenants, and the Book of Mormon). People who belong to other Christian denominations only have the Bible. And not the Inspired Version of it. So, for many members of those denominations, it might indeed be very difficult to reconcile themselves with the concept of God making changes.

But, for those of us who do believe in the Restoration scriptures, we have the proof, we have additional principles and knowledge concerning God, which includes, upon careful review, that God has indeed made changes, from time to time, to that which God has previously established.

However, there are some examples that do work for all Christians. God’s model of justice (Example 5) is perhaps the best one. Example 6 also works. But it only takes one. While I do feel it is helpful to list multiple examples, Example 5 is the only one we really need. Because it so clearly was attributed to God, and was then changed by God, and is entirely Biblically based, available in any Bible, it is an example available to all Christians that God can indeed make changes to that which God has Himself previously established.

Question 6: “Accepting that God can change things still requires us, with regard to same-sex marriage to accept that God would sanction something that He previously declared to be sinful. Is this what you are saying?”

Answer: Yes. When we think of the word “sin” we often think of “evil”, “wicked”, “immoral”, etc. So, it is easy to understand why people would say that God cannot transform a sin into a non-sin, and often say “a sin is a sin”. However, these are incorrect understandings of what a sin is (some deeds, which are sinful, are evil, etc., but those words do not define the word sin). Simply put, the actual meaning of sin is to do that which God has prohibited, or to fail to do that which God has commanded.

When God ended the Mosaic Law, everything that was previously sinful ceased to be so, since the people were no longer prohibited by divine law from doing certain things, nor were they commanded by divine law to do certain things (an exception, for both “do this” and “don’t do that” are the Ten Commandments, which were specifically exempted from being withdrawn in Third Nephi). New commandments were given by Christ, which, along with the Ten Commandments, continue to guide us, but the vast majority of sins listed in the 613 commandments of the Mosaic law are no longer sins following that law’s conclusion.

So, to suggest that God cannot de-classify a sin as a non-sin is counter-Christian.

 


The reluctance to acknowledge that God can make something previously regarded as sinful as no longer being sinful is not something that only some members of Community of Christ struggle with.  I have chatted with members of the LDS church who often say “a sin is a sin”.  Again, this usually comes up when the topic in question is gay marriage.

Of course we know, based on the facts presented above, that any given sin is a sin until it is no longer regarded as such by God.

And I think the LDS church is being little hypocritical when they take the stance that something like gay marriage is a sin for ever and ever (which is the implication).  First, yes, a sin is a sin.  Nobody disputes that.  But is only half of the truth.  The other half is that a sin is only a sin if God so deems it, and God can make that which was a sin, or is a sin, no longer a sin. But secondly, the LDS church overlooks that they teach that some things can be sins on some occasions, but not on other occasions.

Shortly after the contents of Handbook One were published on the Internet in November 2015, Elder Todd Christofferson, an LDS apostle, who is a general authority of the church (which, if I understand correctly makes him a prophet in the church), said the following in the interview he gave Nov. 6th on Handbook 1:

“That was the Savior’s pattern. He always was firm in what was right and wrong. He never excused or winked at sin. He never redefined it. He never changed His mind. It was what it was and is what it is “

However, I think the LDS church actually can, and based on their history, should, make a case that God can make a change. Later on in the same interview, he stated:

“this is a parallel with polygamy. Anyone coming out of a polygamous setting who wants to serve a mission, it has to be clear that they understand that it is wrong and it is sin and cannot be followed.”

( https://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/handbook-changes-same-sex-marriages-elder-christofferson?HP_FR_11-6-2015_dPAD_fCNWS_xLIDyL1-A_ )

(if you watch the video of the interview, the remarks are at positions 3:10 and 7:35)

So, according to him, polygamy is a sin (“it is sin”) And, according to him (see the first qutoe), anything that is sinful, cannot (or will not) be rendered by God to be un-sinful.

Yet, in the LDS church, polygamy is deemed a sin except when it is commanded by God. It was a sin in the time of Jacob, the brother of Nephi. It was sin in the Book of Ether. But then, in the 1800s, according to LDS teachings, God commanded it, and so it was no longer a sin. So, a sin became a non-sin. And then it became a sin again. I’m not sure if the LDS church believes there are other points in time when God commanded it. As far as I know, they teach that he has so far only commanded it once. Which means it was a sin for the bulk of human history, and only permitted for about 14 years. Sin, non-sin, back to sin. And if he has commanded it more than once, that just means there are multiple occasions when a sin has been made un-sinful, which reinforces my point.

So, I think that the LDS church *should*, based on their doctrine, theology, and history, *and* (as I understand it), their belief that one day polygamy will be re-instituted, that sin can indeed be made by God, non-sinful.

I’ve pointed this out to some LDS members, and on one occasion I was told in reply, that I was overlooking something, and that Elder Christofferson was not saying that polygamy is sinful (though that is actually what he did say), but rather, being in a polygamous relationship when not commanded by God is what is sinful – and this is what I was overlooking – the sin, with regard to polygamy (at least with regard to it’s existence in the Latter Day Restoration movement) is not of polygamy itself, but engaging in polygamous marriages when God has not sanctioned it.

That would suggest to me that polygamy is therefore, never, in LDS thinking, a sin, and never has been, but that the sin is being polygamous when God has not commanded it.

There is of course a massive flaw here in this type of logic.  What is really being said (and which can be applied to any sin) is that the sin is not the deed, or the action, or the failure to act, or whatever, but doing something that God has not commanded (or, to put it another way, doing something that god has forbidden).

Naturally, you could extend that logic to anything.  I could say that theft is not the actual sin, but rather, stealing without God’s consent is the sin.  Or, to put it another way, the sin is disobeying God.  If God were to tell us one day to steal, then we would not be sinning if we stole things. But if God then again told us not steal, we would be sinning if we did so.

And, to be clear, as we’ve seen above, technically, the meaning of the word sin is doing that which God has forbidden, or failing to do that which God has commanded.  So, in a sense, the LDS church is not wrong to say that polygamy is not the real sin – but rather, being in polygamous relationships when God has prohibited them.

But although the meaning of sin is the failure to do what God has commanded, or doing that which God has prohibited, we normally do think of sin as specific behaviors.  Under the Law of Moses, there were 613 commandments, or 613 ways (through action or inaction) to commit sin. 

And, often, we think of sinful behaviors themselves as “sins” – not simply the disobedience of God.  In Community of Christ we define sin as “the universal condition of separation and alienation from God and one another”.  This is, I feel, a very healthy way to look at sin. 

But if we are talking about different types of behaviors, and asking “is X sinful, is Y a sin, is it a sin to Z”, it would be far more normal (and I believe this is true for all Christians, including Mormons – at least, with regard to anything other than polygamy) to respond with “yes” or “no” and not with “well, the sin is actually doing X during a time when God has commanded us not to”.

Just ask Elder Christofferson. If you were to ask him “is it a sin for a man to have sex with another man?” I suspect his answer would be “yes” – and there would be no conditions, or exemptions, etc.  Just yes.  If you asked him if assault was a sin, I’m quite sure he would again say “yes”, as would be the case I’m sure with adultery, or various other things that are universally regarded by Christians all over the world as sinful.

I doubt very much (and his own words in the above quote seem to support this) that he would say “well sexual relations between two men is only sinful when God has not commanded it”.  In fact, he didn’t even say that with regard to polygamy.  He said that it is a sin. He, like most other people, was thinking of sin in terms of specific behaviors, not simply doing those things when God has not commanded them, he definitely seemed to speak in the context of “a sin is a sin”:

“He never excused or winked at sin.”
“He never redefined it.”
“He never changed His mind.”
“It was what it was and is what it is “

And although he was not the one, at least in the interview, to remind me that polygamy is not the real sin, but rather, practicing it when God has not commanded it, that does seem (as I’ve heard this actually from more than source) to be the actual position of the LDS church.

So, it would seem that, with regard to polygamy, God can indeed change his mind. 

So that is where the hypocrisy comes in.  Its ok to say that one thing (polygamy) can be a sin sometimes, but at other times its not as in – or to view the sin as not the behavior itself, but the disobedience to God, but for other things (everything else) as (if sinful to begin with) being forever sinful, and its not a question at all of God simply not commanding it in the moment.

Such a view of course also ignores the basic premise that if God can sanction polygamy, which, otherwise, is prohibited, God can also sanction gay marriage.  Maybe it was prohibited in the past, but if God can sanction one thing that is prohibited, then he can sanction anything else that was prohibited.

And of course the other element of hypocrisy (and this is not limited to just members of the LDS church) is that, when understand what sin really is – the failure to do that which God has commanded, or doing that which God has prohibited, we have to accept, that when the Law of Moses was ended, many things which were sins, ceased to be sins.

So, yes, in a sense God did redefine things.  And it could be argued that he changed his mind (though that is not what I’m advocating at all). It was a sin to eat pork.  It no longer is.  It was a sin to wear clothing of mixed fabrics.  It no longer is.  So, yes, when we are being honest with our selves, we have to accept that a sin is only a sin so long as God so views it, and that many things previously declared sinful in the Old Testament, under the Law of Moses, no longer are.  After all, how many of us are following all 613 commandments of the Old Testament as found in the Law of Moses, avoiding everything it says to avoid, and doing everything it says to do?

Question 7: “But God said that it was an “abomination” for a man to lie with another man. Are you suggesting that God would sanction something that He declared was an abomination?”

Again, our modern way of using that word tends to distort it’s actual meaning. We tend to understand “abomination” as something that is “disgusting” or “obscene”. However, an abomination is simply a prohibition. Once we understand that, there is no longer a valid objection here. And we need to remember, that various things were described in the Mosaic Law as being abominations, such as eating certain types of food – but once the Law was ended, these things ceased to be abominations – as they ceased to be prohibitions.

Question 8: “But isn’t a same-sex relationship immoral?

Answer: Not by virtue of being a same-sex relationship. If both partners are adults, consenting, committed, loving, respectful, etc., there is no valid reason to regard it as immoral. The only reasons why such a relationship would be immoral are the same reasons that a straight relationship would be considered immoral.

Question 9: “But in order for God to make a change, there should be a revelation indicating that He has done so. Is there such a revelation?”

Answer: Yes. Section 164 empowered the church to hold National Conferences in order to determine if same-sex marriage would be acceptable to the members of the church in a given nation in which the church is established.

Question 10: “But Section 164 does not directly state that God has sanctioned same-sex marriage. It only says that we can have National Conferences, and it puts the choice into the hands of the people. Therefore, how can you say that Section 164 indicates that God has sanctioned same-sex marriage?

Answer: It is important to remember that the Church regards Section 164 as a revelation from God. God is leaving it up to the people to decide if they are willing to accept same-sex marriage in a given nation. The revelation does not however, empower the people to decide for God if God has sanctioned same-sex marriage. Therefore, since God has given the people the means to decide if they will accept same-sex marriage in a particular nation, we know that God Himself (now) sanctions same-sex marriage, because if God did not, He would not empower the people to change church policy on this matter. Therefore, when Section 164 was first presented as Words of Counsel, we, God’s people, knew that God now sanctioned same-sex marriage.

Question 11: “But why did God not provide us with a revelation that clearly states that He is now OK with same-sex marriage?”

Answer: Because of what had gone before. After Section 156 was canonized, the church fragmented. Mistakes, on all sides, were made. And the wounds that were created then are many, are numerous, and are still, in numerous cases, unhealed.

God did not wish to see His Church wound itself again. Consider what happened with the call to women to take their place in the priesthood. For a significant number of members attending World Confernce1984, and many more around the world, they were totally blindsided by Section 156. It is difficult, in a very short period of time, for people to accept something that they had always understood as being for men only. Things would have probably gone much better if they had had a great deal of time to wrestle with it, work through difficult questions, etc. How do you deal with the verses written by Paul that state that women should keep silent in the church? Today, people might have their own explanations for that – and yet – there are still large numbers of “Restorationists” who refuse to look at those verses in any way that would enable them to be OK with female ordination.

The church learned a great deal form the mistakes that it made. And God, in His wisdom, working in partnership with the president-prophet did not present a revelation to the church that said “same-sex marriage is now sanctioned” because, again, that might have caught the church so off guard that many may have left.

So, a different approach was taken. The authority to hold National Conferences was conferred. These would take time to request and organize, and would enable the church to enter a period of serious and prayerful study and discernment, considering all aspects of the questions in hand (support of same-sex marriage and the ordination of people in same-sex relationships).

While it is true that many church members had been wrestling with the rightness or wrongness of same-sex marriage for quite some time before National Conference, many people simply preferred to not talk about it, to avoid it, etc. But, National Conferences resulted in a deadline going into effect, and unlike in the past, the Church was also providing resources and discussion groups to help people consider all aspects of same-sex marriage. It became a church wide, and church promoted, discussion.

This gave people on both sides (and the undecided) time to collect their thoughts, share their views, engage in studies, etc. Some people who might have voted against a “I sanction same-sex marriage” revelation might, through the course of their person study, conclude that they could support it. Other people, who felt that it was still wrong, may have come to realize that did not need to leave the church – but a forced hasty decision at World Conference may have resulted in just that, had the revelation been similar to Section 156.

I very much believe that God worked through this whole process, and for the most part, it largely seems to have been successful. A lot of people who continue to oppose same-sex marriage to this day remained in the Church, because there wasn’t a sudden, intense experience like at World Conference 1984, and I celebrate the fact that we have weathered this storm with much greater success than before.

Question 12: “But how do we know that Section 164 is a real revelation, and that God really does sanction same-sex marriage?

Answer: Considering that we have seen previously that God can change what God has previously established, and that there is no actual theological objection to something that was previously described as sinful or abominable no longer being so viewed by God now, there is no reason to doubt or question Section 164.

In addition, Section 164 was itself subjected to a time period of consideration. It was released prior to World Conference 2010 on January 17th of that same year. It was formally submitted for consideration on April 11th, and it was canonized on April 14th.

This gave the members of the entire church plenty of time to consider it, and to share their views with their mission center delegates. And, as always, each quorum, council, and order of the church presented assessments of the document, along with each World Conference caucus. Following the receiving of these reports, which itself followed the aforementioned three month consideration period, the delegates voted upon it, and approved it.

Through prayerful consideration and Common Consent, the church formally endorsed the 2010 “Words of Counsel”, thus canonizing that document as Section 164, and therefore we can be assured, through virtue of this process, that it is indeed authentic.

Question 13: “God does not change things to suit the whims of the people. And this is what seems to be happening here. Secular society is OK with same-sex marriage, so now the church is following along with that. How do you respond to that?

Answer: Actually, God does sometimes adjust things according to the whims of the people. An example of this is divorce. In Deuteronomy 24:1-4 it states:

1 When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favor in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her; then let him
write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house.
2 And when she is departed, out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife.
3 And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it in her hand, and sendeth her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, which took
her to be his wife;
4 Her former husband which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife…”

In context, this was a law of God given to the people through Moses. Therefore, it is God who has given people permission to divorce.

However, we know from the words of Christ that there was a time, before this law was given, that divorce was not permitted by God:

6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What, therefore, God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.
7 They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?
8 He said unto them, Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, suffered you to put away your wives; but from the beginning it was not so. –Matthew 19 6-8

Note the implication here. Christ reveals that in the beginning, divorce was not sanctioned. But, God eventually did sanction divorce (and we know that it was God that did so, because of the quote above from Deuteronomy) and Christ reveals that God did so because of the desires of the people – they wanted a means to end their marriages, and God gave them that means.

So, we do indeed see that sometimes God makes adjustments based on the desires of His children.

Furthermore, in the case of same-sex marriage, there is no reason to object to it on the basis of it being something that secular society now supports. The example of divorce is a negative thing. It is unfortunate when marriages do not work out. And people should try to resolve their differences. But sometimes, people prefer divorce, and even though that is negative, God permitted it.

But making marriage available to people who want to be married is a positive thing. It fosters and promotes love and commitment and therefore, there is no reason (beyond the theological, which we’ve already dealt with above) to object to something that society wants when what it wants is an affirming thing.

Question 14: “But are we not told that we are to be a peculiar people, standing apart form the world? If we follow along with the world regarding same-sex marriage are we not ‘of the world’ instead of just ‘in the world’?”

All Christians are to be a peculiar people. This is not something unique to the people of the Latter Day Restoration movement. And being a peculiar people and a people in the world but not of the world, does not mean that we have to object to things that arise in secular society if those things are right – though I think sometimes we use this rationalization as an excuse to reject the things that we personally don’t like.

But if we are being honest with ourselves, if there is nothing theologically wrong with something, as is the case with same-sex marriage (as we have seen above), then we ought not to hide behind the old familiar “But we are meant to be a peculiar people” and “we are meant to be in the world but not of the world” verses. If something is not immoral, and same-sex marriage isn’t, there is no reason to object to same-sex marriage on the grounds that the secular world has accepted it. Just because the secular world accepts something, and may have done so before the Church does not automatically render that something, whatever it might be, wrong. And we need to stop using this kind of rallying cry to try to resist accepting changes that we just personally want to be wrong.

Question 15: “Should we not be honoring the labor and sacrifices of all the church men and women who came before us?”

Answer: This is an odd objection to church changes. I’ve encountered it more than once. The idea is, that somehow, if we accept the various changes made in the church over the years, we have somehow abandoned or betrayed or forgotten or ignored, etc., the various prior leaders and members of the church who gave so much to the church in their day.

I *think* the rationalization is this…all the changes we have made to the church have caused (from a certain point of view), the church to be unrecognizable to those who came before (i.e., if they were alive today, or came back to the world, or looked down from Heaven, they would not recognize the church as being the same church that existed when they walked the Earth – and of course, since those people who have this view don’t support the changes made to the church, they consider the fact that the prior generations of the church would not recognize it today to be a negative thing – this is not a “and thank goodness scenario”, but a “to our shame” scenario).

I definitely *do* think that we should honor the labors and sacrifices of those who went before us. I don’t want to ever see Kirtland Temple, or the Auditorium, or the Independence Temple sold, because I want to honor the men and women, who worked together to build those buildings. Likewise, I don’t want to see the Chapel at Camp Norotno where I’ve attended numerous reunions and youth camps to be torn down, or the camp itself sold off. Many great members of the church, both men and women, worked tirelessly for years, sacrificing much, to build those amazing camp grounds and the buildings on it. So, yes, I do wish to honor them, and the work and sacrifices they made.

But making changes to the church does not dishonor them. And the claim that the church would be unrecognizable today to those who came before us is of course a personal opinion. And, even if such a view is correct that does not make the church wrong or somehow an act of betrayal to our prior members, if the changes made are reflective of the mind and will of God, which with regard to same-sex marriage, open communion, female ordination, acceptance of other baptisms, etc., is indeed the case. See also the next question.

Question 16: “The church is not the same church as when I was a child or joined. Does that not mean that the church has lost its way?”

Answer: This question is similar to Question 15. The answer is no. I tend to think that everyone wants the church to be just as it was when they were children. I also tend to think that every generation has seen the church change in their own lifetime. The church has never remained static. It has always changed.

Question 17: The LDS church continues to grow in size, converting large numbers of people every year. They do not change their policies and positions, so does this not prove that we would also be stronger, etc., if we also did not change?

Answer: No. The LDS membership numbers are misleading. Yes, they do convert people, but a large number of their new converts don’t “stick” and they are also losing members each year – many of whom are joining Community of Christ.

Question 18: Attendance and conversions all over the world is way down, and has been for many years. Does that not prove that the church is off track with all the changes that have taken place over the last several years?

Answer: No. It is a simple fact that the issues being faced by Community of Christ are being faced by Christian denominations everywhere.


As we wrestle with important issues of doctrine, theology, policies, positions, etc., we need to strive to ensure that if we are objecting to something, like gay marriage, or female ordination etc., that our reasons for doing so are honest and truly reflective of the mind and will of God, and not simply because we want things to be a certain way.

If we claim that God objects to gay marriage, or female ordination, or the Temple being built across the street, or whatever, we need to ask ourselves, “Does God truly object, or is it the case that we simply want these things to be wrong?” Do we want, do we desire God to want them to be wrong? Those are questions that we honestly need to ask ourselves. If God Himself were to say to us “I have no objections to gay marriage” would there be a part of us that would be disappointed? And this is not one of those questions where an honest response might be “Well I know God would never have that position” – that is not an honest response (even if it were to turn out to be the case that God does object to gay marriage) because it is avoiding the point, or intent, of the question.

This is hypothetical. If God Himself were to say to us that He does not have any objection to gay marriage, or another change that we might struggle with, and it was not a trick, or a test, or a deception, etc., but God’s true, honest stance, and we knew all this to be so, would we be disappointed? Do we want gay marriage, or female ordination, or whatever, to be wrong? And if that is the case, I think we need to seriously explore why that is the case. When I gradually came to understand, and accept, that God no longer objected to gay marriage, do you know what I felt? Among other things, a bit of resentment.

Why? Because I had objected to gay marriage for a long time, and was convinced for a long time that God also objected to gay marriage. So, when I came to understand and accept that God didn’t object to it, part of me felt resentful of the fact that I now had to admit to myself – and to others – that I was wrong. And that was perhaps the hardest part. I don’t enjoy being wrong, and nobody does. And I don’t like admitting that I’m wrong, and sadly, that is true for many of us. But, not wanting to admit that I’m wrong is not something I’m proud of. That is an aspect of my personality that I think is best to overcome. I consider it a character flaw. So, I need to overcome that, and not let my own preferences, or distaste for being wrong and admitting such, etc., not actually be a barrier to me accepting the changes that God has brought about in His Church.

Some years ago, for some other purpose, I was trying to get an understanding of what made Jesus angry, or even if he did become angry. I can’t really remember why. But, this is what I discovered. Yes, Jesus did become angry. And, there are multiple examples of him becoming angry in the scriptures. But here is the part that I found incredibly significant and profound. It was always over the same thing. Oh, the circumstances or situation changed from incident to incident. He was angry how people treated each other. He was angry about the market set up in the temple etc. But, in each case, the thing that he was actually angered by, was this: hypocrisy. That, so far as I could find, was the only thing that ever made Christ angry.

And that is a very important lesson for us. When we object to church changes, we need to ensure that our reasons are not simply because we don’t like the changes, etc. We need to be honest with ourselves. Because, if we are not, then, we are being hypocritical and putting our own positions, our own comfort level, our own desire to never see things change, to keep the church just as it was in our youth, etc., ahead of our discipleship. When we do that, we fail to maximize our potential as disciples of our Lord, Savior and Redeemer, Jesus the Christ.

Manuscript Sale


Last night, Sept. 20th, 2017, Stephen M. Veazey, Prophet-President of Community of Christ announced that the church had, just a few days earlier, sold the Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon.  What follows are some of my own preliminary thoughts.

In 2007, the Lord blessed Community of Christ with a new revelation.  That revelation concluded with these words:

“There are many issues that could easily consume the time and energy of the church. However, the challenge before a prophetic people is to discern and pursue what matters most for the journey ahead.” –Doctrine & Covenants Section 163:11b

How did we do on discerning and/or pursuing what matters most?  I cannot answer that.  But eventually, the next revelation stated what the answer is.  This might have been a confirmation of what the faithful had discerned. 

Or, perhaps, we continued to be distracted by things that did not simply warrant the focus we were giving them.  Perhaps some of us were too fixated on our history, on our “Restorationness”, or on various other things that we did not need to be consumed with.  Or perhaps it was a combination.  Perhaps we had correctly discerned what it is that matters most, but perhaps we were still too preoccupied on that which does not matter most.  And/or perhaps these distractions prevented us from pursuing (because that was the other task given to us), to our fullest potential, what we correctly discerned what matters most.

Whatever the reason, in 2010, the Lord’s revelation to the Church ended with these words:

“The mission of Jesus Christ is what matters most for the journey ahead.”
Doctrine & Covenants Section 164:9f

These words have been resounding throughout the Church ever since.  They are powerful words that remind us of who we are, what our mission is, what we are called to do.   They ground us.  They are a sharp, bold and powerful reminder that we were not restored to promote Joseph Smith, or the Book of Mormon, etc., but to be the Church of Jesus Christ, and His mission comes first.  And His mission is our mission.  Everything else, regardless of how important, or significant, or deeply cherished they may be, are not primary. 

This does not mean that I’m eager to see things sold.  This does not mean I am happy that we sold the manuscript.  I wish our situation did not require us to do that.  My heart is very heavy today.  My soul weeps. I feel crushed, and I’m still trying to come to terms with this news, and to sort out my own thoughts and feelings.  And I truly hope nothing else will be sold.  And some of the things that we do still own do, in my opinion, serve our mission.  So I don’t expect us to sell the other things that are floating around out there in social media speculation land. 

But the manuscript did not further the mission of Jesus Christ.  Kirtland Temple does.  Our properties in Navuoo do. But the manuscript did not.  So, given our current situation and given what the real purpose of the Church is (to proclaim Jesus Christ, and promote communities of joy, hope, love, and peace, and to further the mission of Christ Himself), I understand it.  I don’t like it.  I don’t like being in the situation we are in. But we are called to not only be aware of what matters most, but to pursue it.  And that means we are to pursue furthering the mission of Christ, which we have taken on as our own mission. 

The sale of the manuscript helps with that.  Some might say “but the money is going to pay for pensions”.  But that still helps us with furthering the mission of Jesus Christ.   Because, we have an obligation to pay those pensions.  By having more money now from which to do so, we don’t need to take away as much money from elsewhere, that could more directly serve our mission.  And as we achieve our goals for those pensions, then more money from future income can go directly towards mission.  Furthermore, our retired staff members are also part of our mission.  If they don’t get their pensions, they quite possibly would find themselves impoverished, and possibly even marginalized.  Such conditions are contrary to our mission and God’s will.

We are taking steps to move forward.  Many of these steps are very hard steps to take.  The steps we took about 18 months ago were extremely difficult, causing a great deal of sorrow.  And the step that we just took this week also gives us sorrow.  But we are a determined people.  We know what our calling is, and the action we take now, no matter how sad it may be, helps position us to move forward tomorrow with continuing on with our generations old calling to pursue the Cause of Zion.

“The Spirit of the One you follow is the spirit of love and peace. That Spirit seeks to abide in the hearts of those who would embrace its call and live its message. The path will not always be easy, the choices will not always be clear, but the cause is sure and the Spirit will bear witness to the truth, and those who live the truth will know the hope and the joy of discipleship in the community of Christ. Amen.” –Doctrine & Covenants Section 161:7

***

Addendum

 Some random thoughts I’ve had as I’ve been working through my own feelings:

“There had to have been another way!” –But I don’t know that.  I don’t know the full extent of our financial situation.  I don’t know what other viable options might exist, if any.

“It was wrong for the LDS church to buy something they know is sacred to us when they also know that the only reason we are selling it is because we have no choice.  They are taking advantage of our own misfortune!” –But the church had already made the decision to sell the manuscript.  As unfortunate as our current situation is, we have to face the reality that we are in this situation.  We need income to sustain our retirees, and to move forward.  We needed a buyer.  Of all possible options, I tend to think the LDS church is the best choice.

“Some people might gloat that we no longer have it” –Perhaps.  But that is on them.

***

President Veazey disclosed the sale of the Printer’s Manuscript during an address he delivered to the church in the evening of Sept. 20th, 2017.  The text of his address can be read on this web page.

A Q&A on the sale can be reviewed on this web page.

Here is a press statement:

“On September 18, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints purchased the Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon from Community of Christ in Independence, Missouri. The sale price of $35 million was provided by generous donors.  The manuscript has been owned by Community of Christ since 1903.

The manuscript now will be housed in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ international headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah. Plans are underway to display the manuscript to the public at the Church History Library in the coming months.” -Announcements (Sept. 20th 2017).

 

Return to Zion: Reunion 2017

Photo credit: Adeliade M.

Hey check out my blogs on Reunion 2014, Reunion 2015 and Reunion 2016

I honestly wasn’t planning on writing a blog about this year’s Reunion. Since I started going back to Reunion in 2014, I’ve written a blog about each one, and three reunion-related blogs seemed sufficient. But I always leave Reunion with a desire to share something about it.

This year I noticed a couple of recurring themes. First, there was an increased interest, partially driven by my myself, in learning more about the history of the campgrounds, and preserving the stories about them. This was in fact something that began last year. During the 2016 opening service, our camp director asked me to read an excerpt from a long overview of how the camp was built. And, later that week, I interviewed one of the people who was there on the first work day, Oct. 10th, 1959.

This year, I interviewed someone else about the history of the camp, and when we reached the end of our time, I heard the audience collectively groan over the fact that the interview had to come to an end – they were so interested in the stories being told, that they wanted to keep listening.

Later in the week, I was talking to the person I interviewed last year (Clair), and came up with the idea of doing a more in-depth interview, and having it video-recorded. And we did that. One down, and several more to record next year. We really want to get as many of these first-hand accounts of how the camp was located, and cleared, and built, recorded so that future generations can understand what was involved, and have a greater appreciation for the campgrounds.

Part of this exploration of our history also included some references to our reunion experience being like a glimpse of Zion. One person, in his testimony during the closing service, used the term “City of Enoch”. We have something truly awesome and miraculous, and it really does generate within our hearts a sense of being caught up in Zion for one week each year.

After the closing service, I felt moved to talk to one of the kids who attended this year’s reunion, and I asked her “what did you learn during the closing service today?” I don’t think she quite knew what response I was looking for, so I told her “You learned that this camp is extremely important to a lot of people” and I continued by saying that while I don’t know if she can yet understand why that is the case, it was my hope that she will always remember just how deeply important this camp is to people – and not just a few, but a great number of individuals. I hope that she, and the other kids, are already, even if they don’t really get why, are coming to realize that there is something very special about the campgrounds, and the camps that take place there.

The second recurring theme I noticed was the tendency for so many people to talk about how special Reunion is to them, and how the week is rejuvenating. Reunion is a time for spiritual healing and renewal, and people perceive that, and keep coming back for more. Some of these people are not members of the church, but they come back every year, and now bring others with them.

But it is the core values of Community of Christ, and our way of approaching doctrine, theology, along with our culture, calling, outlook, gentleness, compassion, etc., that empower Reunion to be the experience that it is. I honestly don’t know if any other organization could have such an experience, and sustain it year-after-year.

I believe the total number of people attending reunion this year was higher than last year, and it always amazing to see that happen. And I saw some new faces, and some familiar faces that I had not seen there for many years. This is of course what we want to see. It is so awesome to have new people join us, and to see people who have been away for so many years, as I was before 2014 (which was my first in 12 years).

I had the privilege of being the camp photographer, and the pictures I most enjoyed taking were of people visiting with each other. It is such a joy to see hugs, laugher, deep conversations, and fellowship in all of it’s various forms.

I was troubled by a couple of things this past week. As I wandered about the camp on my continual quest to snap pictures of the campers and the grounds, I noticed that, although attendance was up for the camp itself, the number of people showing up for the various events seemed down. I totally understand and appreciate that not every event throughout the day will be appealing to every person.

And I’m no exception. There were some things that I was only mildly interested in. But as I was driving home, I felt that I want to challenge myself to be more involved next year. It can be a bit too easy to hide behind my camera, and use it as an excuse to stay behind the scenes. Sometimes, I’ll have to do that in order to get all the pictures I want to take, but I need to find the right balance between taking pictures, and being directly involved in the daily activities.

And I’m hoping other people will do so the same, and join me in my challenge, applying it to themselves. The various programs throughout the day, the evening worship services, the electives, recreation, etc., all of these events become more powerful as the number of people attending them increase.

Maybe a particular class or event or activity is not something you would normally be inclined to attend, but I want to ask that you do so anyhow – as many as possible. For two reasons. First, even though the event might not be something that excites you, your own presence might be significant to someone else. For example, a lot of our events involve group discussions. What you say in such a discussion might be a message that someone else desperately needs to hear. If you don’t attend, that opportunity is lost.

Even things like campfire are important to attend. Maybe campfires are not really your thing, but your willingness to be there, to be seen by kids, to participate in a song or skit, might have a great impact on them, or the youth, or even the other adults.

This all might seem far-fetched to you, but I’m very serious. You don’t know the amazing impact you might have on someone by being present in the right place, at the right moment. Do not diminish such opportunities by dismissing them before they occur.

The other reason why I think it is important that we attend as many of the events as we can each day is that if, over time, participation continues to drop, events will start being cancelled. And the infrastructure of the reunion week will begin to fall apart. People will feel like they have nothing to do, and will leave feeling less fulfilled. Once this starts to happen, if left unchecked, Reunion will become a thing of the past. We cannot allow that to happen. So, it is imperative that we strive to attend as much as we can. And who knows…maybe some of the things that we might not expect to get much out of will turn out be great.

I noticed something else this week that is somewhat related to the above. A lot of people did not arrive on the first day, and left before the last day. This is often unavoidable, and I fully understand that many people have to make choices with how they use their time, and this is not at all a rebuke or criticism on anyone for arriving late or leaving early.

But I do want to put out another challenge. I would like to encourage people to attempt to attend 2018 (and beyond) for the entire week. Saturday to Saturday. Reunion is such a positive and powerful experience that it is worth it. Whether you live close or far from Camp Noronto, try to be fully present at each future Reunion, from start to finish. It realty is worth it. The dates for 2018 are already set: August 11th to the 18th. Book that week now. Plan now to be there for the whole week.

The reason I feel so strongly about this is similar to what I said before: you don’t know how your presence could be profoundly important to someone else. Its not just the events, or the campfires, but the conversations at meals, the walks with old and new friends, the late-night chats, the trailer visits, the joining together on some project, etc.

You can’t be part of these things when you are not on the grounds. And of course, the more days you are on the grounds, the more people we will have each day to support the various planned activities throughout the day.

Again, related to what I said earlier, if a trend develops where people are just not showing up and always leaving early, etc., an undesirable impact on the viability of Reunion itself will be unavoidable. I’ve seen it happen before with Toronto Reunion. That reunion became extinct. It once was a major reunion, with 500 people attending each year at Camp Noronto. It shrank, and eventually shifted to Campbellville, continued to shrink and was eventually cancelled, never to be resumed again. I’m not being dramatic. This is simply what transpired. We cannot let that happen with Northern Ontario Reunion. But Reunion will not “always be there” if people do not support it as much as possible. There will not “always be next year” if “this year” becomes, every year, smaller and smaller.

So, my second challenge to everyone is to really strive to commit to attending as much of Reunion as you can, ideally from Saturday to Saturday. We have a great kickoff each year on the first Saturday, and a beautiful closing worship service on the second Saturday. And these can only improve with more people, as will all the days in-between. And each day that you are there, please support, as much as you can, the various activates and events scheduled throughout the day and night.

And if you can’t make it for the whole week, if you have to arrive late, or leave early, or both; if you can only be there for half a week, or even a day or a few hours, whatever you can manage, please come anyhow! Everyone is welcome, regardless of when you arrive, need to leave, etc. If you think that everything I wrote above means that you won’t be welcome or shouldn’t come if you can’t attend for the whole week, nice try! You’re wrong! You can’t get out of attending that easily! Life happens. We all know that. So, if you can’t be there for the whole week, please know that you are still very welcome, and your presence is greatly desired. And everyone who is not able to attend for the whole week, or at all, please know that you are missed when you are not there.

And please know that I miss you throughout the year. And I miss the people who attend Reunion because they dwell in my heart forever. My friends from camp are among my closest, most cherished, deepest, and oldest friends in my life. As one of my friends said at Reunion last year, camp friends are forever friends. And my camp friends are part of who I am, and I love you all so much. I can talk to you, I can trust you. You make me laugh. You listen to me, and you challenge me. There is so much that I get from you that I don’t get from anyone else. That is probably why I married one of you. And while I love my wife most of all, I love you as well, and want to have as much time with you at each camp as possible. Our friendships to me are sacred.

Some highlights this year for me included: the morning interviews that I had the privilege of doing (thank you to everyone who agreed to participate), a longer, hour+ long interview I got to do with Clair Thursday night on the history of Camp Noronto (which was video recorded – more details on that will be shared as soon as the video is posted on YouTube), the campfire on the rock, catching up with my closet friends, getting better acquainted with some of the kids of some of my longtime friends, late night chats, Pat’s awesome snacks at her nightly trailer parties, the salads (I actually enjoyed them this year), the surprise engagement (congratulations!), the pig roast (wait, that is something I hope to see next year), the support for World Accord, the way everyone extended unconditional love and welcome to three teenage Syrian refugees that joined us for the entire week, and everything else that made Reunion 2017 awesome (including all the people who volunteered to what had to be done); and finally, learning (once again) that it is ok to tell people “I love you”, and realizing that some people need to hear that.

Some Specific Things About the 2017 Reunion That I Am Grateful For
Having a wife that “gets it”
Having a wife that was willing to attend Reunion with me (even though she couldn’t make it this year)
The director, admin. team, and cooks! Thank you!
Our guest minsters: David Lloyd & John Hamer and, for one day only, extra special guest minister Dar Shepherdson
Interviewing David, Nadine, Mark, Lou and Alfredo
Video 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
Exploring the Book of Mormon
Canteen
All the people who support and take care of the grounds
Late night talks
Not being judged
Trusting & Being Trusted
Cherished friends
Higher attendance
Willingness of many people who could not attend the entire week still making the drive for part of it
Hearing Clair talk about the City of Enoch
Seeing the potential of Zion
All the people I need to see each year

Artist: Natasha B.

Rules and Policies: Administer with Grace

Rules.  Resolutions.  Policies.   Positions.  Whatever the term, they exist to help provide cohesiveness, unity, organization, direction, and leadership to the church.  At their core, they exist to empower and enable the church to move forward with promoting the mission of the Church, which partners with Jesus Christ in striving to progress His divine mission; and they endeavor to do so in the most efficient and effective means possible.

For most of my life I have been a policy/rules centric or mindful person.  The rules (etc.) of the church have always been something that I have been drawn to have a better understanding of.  I actually enjoy (on *rare* occasion) to review the resolutions of the Church.  I have a familiarity with Robert’s Rules of Order.  I have explored the concept of Common Consent.  Once in a blue moon someone will ask my opinion about church policy.  I might even say that on occasion, I may even consider reviewing all of this kind of stuff to be a way to relax.  To each his own indeed.  :)

The rules (etc.) are of great value to the church, for all the reasons I mentioned above. They exist for very good reasons, very necessary and important reasons.  Without “the rules”, the church would not be able to even come close to functioning as a relevant, redemptive and resonating faith group, and we would have no hope of approaching our potential of driving our mission forward.

So, I both see the value of, and truly appreciate the rules.  At least in terms of the concept of them, and their intended purpose (as stated in the first paragraph).  In the past, I might have viewed myself as a champion of the rules.    I have tended to advocate the stance that the rules *must* be adhered to, so long as they remain enforce.

I may have even tended to have seen the rules as things that we must submit to for their sake alone. After all, the rules are the rules.  The policies are church policies.  We cannot simply disregard them, or seek to circumvent them, or find loopholes in them, etc. 

But in more recent years, I have come to understand that the rules do not exist for their sake alone.  They don’t even exist to be followed.  They exist for the reasons I stated before.  And following them is simply the natural (and only) means of enabling them to accomplish their very worthwhile and needed purpose.

Yet, I have been troubled in recent years by a persistent dawning awareness that sometime the rules actually undermine the mission of the Church and by extension, the divine mission of Jesus Christ.  The enforcement of the rules can sometimes result in outcomes arising that are in direct opposition to the mission of the Church, thereby clashing with the reason for their very own existence.

Elsewhere I have written about my belief that all leaders must lead with grace.  I’ll add to that.  All administration must be administered with grace.  If this does not happen, then the church continues to be at risk of furthering the undermining of it’s own mission.

The rules do not exist for the sake of themselves.  I know more than one person who, when they become aware that a rule seems to not be taken into consideration, or acknowledged, react in a way that would suggest that the person is offended.  Yes, some people, in my experience, seem to be actually personally offended that a rule (which is simply a written or unwritten statement or position) is not being followed. 

I have seen people visibly shake, even tremble, with barely controlled rage over the awareness that a rule is not, for whatever reason (which might include ignorance of it’s existence) not being followed.  Some of these same people (but perhaps not all), seem perfectly fine to see a rule rescinded or radically updated.  So, for them, the particular aspect of church life that the rule presided over may not have been something that they personally aligned with to any strong degree.  But God forbid if such a rule appeared to be ignored while it was still on the books.

As I’ve been pondering this, I have found myself more and more frequently asking myself “but what if the enforcement of a given rule in a particular circumstance is spiritually harmful to the Church, or a Church member or a seeker?

What if such enforcement actually diminishes our potential to further the divine mission of Jesus Christ?  What if they fail to do what they were intended to do?  What if they fail to promote cohesiveness and unity?  What if they become a wall preventing leadership and direction from being heard and intentionally implemented? 

What if they result in a person turning away from Jesus Christ?

And when I talk about the rules doing any of these sad things, I am of course not actually speaking of the rules themselves.  The rules do not do anything.  They are not alive.  I am of course speaking about how we use them.  Do we use them as they were intended, in the proper context, or do we abuse them?  Do we use them responsibly, or do we hide behind them?   Do we use them to promote unity, as intended, or to be a convenient excuse to rid ourselves of “the other?” (whatever threatens our own personal idealized vision of what and how the church ought, should or “needs” to be).

In 2007 the Church canonized a revelation from God, and added it to our Book of Doctrine and Covenants as Section 163.  Part of that revelation states the following:

163:7b. 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.
163:7c. 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.
163:7d. 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.

We made the above words about scripture into scripture.  In terms of authority, scripture trumps all other aspects of the church.  Consider this text from World Conference Resolution #215:

“That this body…recognize the Holy Scriptures, the Book of Mormon, the revelations of God contained in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants…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”

Again, nothing trumps scripture.  It is canon.  It is sacred. It is authoritative.  And yet, we are willing to acknowledge, as seen in Section 163, that we sometimes have abused scripture, and we are willing to acknowledge that we must strive to ensure that we are seeking the true will of God in it’s use.

Why would we not so view the lesser authorities in the life of the church?  Imagine if the above passage said the following (with a tiny addition):

“Rules are not to be worshiped or idolized. Only God, the Eternal One of whom our positions testify, 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 policy should be interpreted and applied.  It is not pleasing to God when any resolution is used to diminish or oppress races, genders, or classes of human beings, nor when given circumstances are not considered. Much physical and emotional violence has been done to some of God’s beloved children through the misuse of positions. The church is called to confess and repent of such attitudes and practices.  Policies, prophetic guidance, knowledge, and discernment in the faith community must walk hand in hand to reveal the true will of God.”

I am *not* trying to suggest that it is ok to just simply ignore or throw out the rules.  If that is what you think, we have clearly never met.

But, it is my conviction that we must administer the rules with grace.  We must be open to considering the precise circumstances of any given situation.  We must not turn the rules into an idol.  We are not called to throw burnt offerings upon the pyre of policy.  We are not tasked to worship the rules.  Only God is worthy of worship.

Let me repeat that.  Only God is worthy of worship.  We are not to worship, or venerate the rules, or the laws & commandments, or scriptures, or Joseph Smith Jr., or our own distinctiveness, or what we offer to the world, etc.  We are not to be prideful, or arrogant, or conceited. 

We have been reminded twice in recent revelation that:

“this community was divinely called into being” –Doctrine & Covenants Section 162:2e
“…the church, which was divinely established…” –Doctrine & Covenants Section 164:3b

The fact that we were divinely called into being is not something that should foster hubris.  No person is called to protect the church from itself, and we are wandering astray from the rod of iron if we believe that we are so called.  Therefore, no one gets to take upon his or herself the role of rules police.

So where does all of this leave us?  Well, in my view, we need to find balance in how we administer the rules of the church.  We need to ensure that we give the rules the respect and authority that are their due – for the sake of enabling them to do what they were implemented to do: foster all the things I laid out at the start.  We need to consider the rules.  Truly.  Deliberately.  Sincerely.  Soberly.  Carefully.  Ministerially.  Prayerfully.  Without haste.

But we must also consider the purpose of the rules.  All of them.  Not just the specific aspect of the church that the rules in question pertain to, but the general purpose for having rules at all, as I outlined above.  We need to consider particular circumstances.  We need to give serious consideration to what harm may be done if a particular rule is administered without grace. 

And, I can speak from experience, as a witness and participant in church proceedings; such harm never impacts just one person. Failure to administer the rules without grace *always* creates ripples. It leaves a wake of demoralized, marginalized, and disaffected members.  It can cause congregational ministry and leadership to collapse.  It undermines the mission of the church, and therefore the divine mission of Jesus Christ.

So when we give consideration to the rules, we must model Jesus Christ.  The priesthood in particular must do this, because the priesthood is called to stand in the stead of Christ.  And the more senior role a person has in the church, the more vital it is to model Jesus Christ, and administer with grace. 

And if we fail to model Jesus Christ, then we are being hypocritical.  And if you consider the text of the Gospels carefully, while it is true that Christ spoke out against all manner of unwholesome conduct, the only occasions in which it is recorded that Christ became angry, or contemptuous, was when he had to deal with hypocrisy.

But again, the task here is not to abandon the rules.  That would also make us hypocrites.  They key, again, is balance, consideration, and administration with grace.

What we can abandon is rules police.  We are not a community that should take delight in calling out a rules infraction.  Drawing attention to the rules must itself be done with grace, and without judgment or malice or personal agenda.  The rules police do not build up the church.  While they may believe they are doing the right thing, and may indeed have the right intention, more often than not the rules police fail to act with grace, and therefore, instead of building up the church, they risk undermining the cause of Zion.

And it would also be helpful for as many rules and positions as possible to be written down.   I know that can’t be done for every single circumstance.  But, I have to believe that it can be anticipated which unwritten positions are most likely to present some challenges.  We don’t need to write down “priesthood should not be arsonists”.  Like I said, I get that we can’t write them all down, and some, like the extreme example I just provided, hopefully never need to be written down.  But, certain other unwritten positions come into play from time to time, and part of the reason they do come into play is because they re not written down.  What are the more common positions that fall into this category?  It is time to get them written down, or to discard them.  If they are not helpful, then we need to set them aside.  If they continue to have value, then writing them down will make them more authoritative, and less likely to be inadvertently overlooked or misunderstood.

“Be respectful of tradition and sensitive to one another, but do not be unduly bound by interpretations and procedures that no longer fit the needs of a worldwide church. In such matters direction will come from those called to lead.” –Doctrine & Covenants Section 162:2d

Pondering Reunion 2016

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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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