“For my soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them”
–Second Nephi 3:29
This blog is part of my ZionBound series. The full series can be read in post order here. It may be helpful to read the entire series in order for this entry to be fully understood.
While female ordination may have caused the most division in the church (Community of Christ), I tend to think the most controversial issue the church has dealt with since the reorganization of 1860 is that of same-sex marriage and the ordination of people in same-sex relationships.
Consideration of, and action taken in regard to, the above same-sex issues has caused a considerable amount of turmoil for many individuals for several years now. Most recently, several conservative members have questioned their ongoing involvement in the life of the church, and many have resigned from the priesthood or ceased active membership. Some have formally rescinded church affiliation.
Before going further, I want to offer an overview, as I understand things, of where the church is today regarding these issues, which the church had been wrestling with in some manner for probably at least 30 years. I certainly can’t claim to have any idea when such an exploration truly first began, and I doubt anyone can.
However, eventually, there was enough support for same-sex marriage and the ordination of people in same-sex relationships that some areas of the church began submitting legislative motions for consideration of the delegates attending the church’s bi-annual (now tri-annual) World Conference. The intent of such motions being to sanction same-sex marriage, and/or the ordination of people with same-sex partners.
None of these motions were passed, being ruled, for one reason or another, out-of-order, or referred to a committee for further study. Yet the interest in both issues never faded, and as World Conference 2010 approached, multiple motions were submitted seeking to change our policies on these issues.
It was quite clear, and had been for a very long period of time, that the issues were not going to go away. Motions could be ruled out-of-order at every World Conference, but more would be submitted, and the potential for division was on the rise.
During World Conference 2010, Prophet-President Stephen M. Veazey presented a new revelation that was accepted as authentic by the delegates in attendance, and which therefore became Section 164 of the Doctrine & Covenants.
This new revelation provided instruction on how to handle these extremely controversial topics, which are, incidentally, topics that cannot even be openly discussed in some nations that our church is established in. The very issue of individual safety of church leaders and members in those nations became a serious cause for concern.
Section 164 provided the church with authority to hold national conferences, so that the membership of those nations in which the church is established, could, if there was sufficient interest, vote on accepting the ordination of people with same-sex partners, as well as same-sex marriage (if legal in the nation in question, or an appropriate substitute if not) for that nation only.
Therefore, the World Church would not have a single policy, but national policies, on a nation-by-nation basis, again only for those nations that had enough interest to hold a national conference (strictly speaking, the national conferences do not change policy, they vote on whether or not they wish to make a recommendation to the church leadership to change policy).
In June 2012 Australia became the first nation to hold a national conference, followed later on that month by Canada. In April and October 2013, the United States and the United Kingdom also held national conferences. All have recommended that the church leadership modify existing church policy on these issues, for the nations concerned.
Statements pertaining to the outcome of these national conferences can be read here:
At the time of this writing, the results of the most recent conference, held in the UK, are still being reviewed by church leadership, but they have supported policy changes in Australia, Canada and the US, and all three of those nations have had interim polices go into effect, permitting people with same-sex partners to be ordained, and permitting the church priesthood to solemnize marriage for same-sex couples where legal (and to perform an alternate ceremony otherwise).
The journey has been a very long one, and is not yet over. There have been celebrations and crushing defeats, for members of both perspectives.
I know that my own journey has not been in any way nearly as painful as I know it has been for many other members of the church. But it has been frustrating at times. I’ve explored the issue over many years, and have written several documents voicing my objections to policy changes, and I have responded to the claims made by many other people why they feel it is ok, pointing out the various flaws in their arguments (which even now, still exist).
In opposing these issues, I know that I have, from time to time, hurt some individuals, and I sincerely regret that, and I apologize, once again, for having caused people pain. The awareness that I had contributed to someone’s turmoil forced me to ensure that my perspectives, methods, and general opposition were presented diplomatically, in what I hope was motivated not by anger but by love.
This was, I have to confess, not always easy. But, it became very clear to me that when people respond to one another, over doctrinal issues, in a hostile manner, no one’s perspective will ever be taken seriously (also, there is just no need for it). Consequently, I became very determined to do my best to try to keep the peace with, and between, as many people as possible.
As the national conferences approached, it became very clear to myself as well as I’m sure most members of the church, that, regardless of how the voting went, there would be some very unhappy members, who would feel a tremendous amount of anger, frustration, sadness and a sense of both broken trust and of betrayal.
Throughout this whole process, of moving forward with (and now beyond), these initial national conferences, a primary concern for me has been church unity; and, being a foundationalist, I’ve been concerned, in the wake of the national conferences, for the well being of those church members who were disappointed by the results. The results have had a negative impact on church unity, which would have been the case no matter what.
And that just plain sucks.
I don’t want to see anyone leave the church. I don’t want to see people lose faith. I don’t want people to be thrust into a spiritual crisis. But that is what has happened, and we always knew that it would, again, regardless of how the vote went.
Had each National Conference voted to not make policy changes, a lot of our church members who have fought for many years to sanction same-sex marriage and the ordination of people with same-sex partners would themselves now be in a state of some sort of spiritual agony. Some would have left the church. And again, that would have been tragic.
But, even with full knowledge that people were going to get bruised along the way, the church had to take action, and it has done so. Now the challenge before us is to help heal those who have been spiritually wounded by the outcome of the National Conferences. As before, my desire is church unity. I don’t want anyone to leave or become inactive over what has transpired, but that is happening, congregations are closing, and many people who have been lifelong members of the church feel abandoned by it; and that is not just.
For well over a year now I have been pondering over and over the fact that there does not seem to be a middle ground where these issues are concerned. Obviously, those who support policy changes are unlikely to be satisfied with anything less than the policies being changed.
However, those who reject policy changes also seem unlikely to change, because these people tend to be, like myself, conservative in terms of our positions regarding church doctrine, history, and approach to scripture.
I have noticed that there is some confusion regarding just what makes someone, in the context of church, conservative. And I feel that it is helpful in discussions like this to have an understanding of just what that means, and therefore, I encourage you to read the following blog:
In that blog, I outlined what I believe to be some of the more common “cardinal convictions” that conservative church members have – as well as what I personally view to be some of the “constraining customs” that conservative church members have, along with a hope for how we can move forward in our approach to church life.
As a traditionalist or conservative church member myself, the beliefs outlined in the above blog are not just what I feel to be shared by other conservative church members, but they also of course happen to be my own beliefs; and I do not apologize for them.
Prior to the US National conference, I saw some discussion on the internet about these issues, and the concern that conservative church members would likely vote against the motions. One person responded “well, then we need to spend more money on education”.
This troubled me, because it occurred to me that, in all likelihood, the vast majority of liberal church members do not truly understand why conservative church members cannot support policy changes.
This is what prompted me to write the “New Conservatives” blog posted above, to help show the world, as I see it, what some of our positions are, and why those views present difficulties with accepting policy changes.
Let me try to give you an example. Leviticus 18:22 states:
“Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind; it is abomination.”
Because of my convictions, I believe that Moses was a real person, and that he wrote the Torah, and that the things he presented as having come from the mind and will of God really did come from God. Therefore, I believe that God, in some manner, moved Moses to write the above words.
Because of what I believe about Moses, scriptural authority, etc., no amount of scriptural acrobatics will be effective in making me view the above words in a different manner.
This is bolstered of course by the fact that, again, as a foundationalist, I believe in the authority and divine initiative behind the Inspired Version of the Bible, which the above verse is in fact taken from. In other words, not only are these words found in other Bibles, but they were preserved in the Inspired Version.
It is for reasons such as these that I think for a large number of conservative church members, making a policy change is not possible, because it clashes with what we believe God revealed to Moses as reflective of God’s mind and will and which were confirmed as such by their inclusion in Inspired Version, which we uphold as having been the result of divine revelation, the purpose being to restore lost content *and* to correct mistakes.
So we are once again left with no middle ground. We have deadlock, and, sadly, some conservative church members have or are becoming inactive and leaving the church, as they feel that there is no alternative.
Yet, I still believe in the sacred story of our church, and I believe that God is with us, and continues to reveal his will to us, and that a solution must exist, and that if we take the time to ponder, pray, and study; that solution will be revealed to us, and we can remain united, and those of us who are conservative can continue to be active, and yes, even passionate members of the church – without sacrificing our belief in scriptural authority, etc.
And I want to be clear about something else here for a moment. I’m an active, and passionate member of Community of Christ! When I talk about my faith in our sacred story, and my belief that we remain fully that church that God established through Joseph Smith Jr., I am talking about Community of Christ!
Even though I’m traditional and conservative in many ways, when people ask me what church I belong to, I *do not* say “The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” – I’m not one of those people who refuses to accept the name change, or who believes that in some way, we are not the same church. I love the old name, it has a lot of meaning for me, but I don’t need to use that name. We are Community of Christ, and we are the same church, organized in 1830, reorganized in 1860 and renamed in 2001.
Returning to the deadlock, I believe that I may have found that solution that I knew God was guiding someone to discover. The solution that allows for the church to remain united, but does not negate my foundationalist convictions.
Like I said above, I truly believe that God did move Moses to write the above words, as found in Leviticus 18:22. That has not changed. And, what those words mean, has not, in my opinion, changed.
However, it is my opinion that God has changed. Or rather, God changed his mind.
Or perhaps (to prevent people from having heart attacks or brain aneurysms), I believe that God has made a change to the rules, or what we are to regard as sinful. Essentially, I believe that it is no longer an abomination for a man to lie with another man. That was once true, according to what we regard as the mind and will of God, but it is no longer true!
Given that we tend to think of God as being unchanging, I know the above will require an explanation. The best way for me to present that explanation is to direct you to one of my other blogs:
Once you’ve had a chance to digest the above blog, I hope you will understand that God does in fact make changes as he deems appropriate.
I also think that now might be the ideal time to direct people to the following blog regarding the principle of “sacramental” truth (which includes the call to be honest with ourselves):
If conservative church members are being fully honest and truthful with themselves, as the above blog challenges us to be, then we *must*, based on the blogs about God changing, accept that, if we are being true to our Restoration scriptures and doctrine, accept the fact that God does indeed make changes.
But of course, the obvious objection would be “even though we now understand and accept that God can change things, we have to hold to the position that anything that God indicated as sinful will always remain sinful.”
However, that view is also not correct, as outlined in:
What is Sin?
So, we have seen that it is possible for God to change things, and that it is possible for God to remove something from his list of what is sinful.
However, I suspect that some people would suggest that in the case of same-sex relations, God would not render them un-sinful because it is disgusting and obscene. However, these are human perceptions.
God, however, is a divine being who is infinite in scope and I suspect does not flinch or cringe when people of the same gender fool around. I do not believe that such conduct offends God. What offends God is when we choose hatred over love.
Yes, God has a divine plan. And I do believe that the heterosexual sex drive is part of that divine plan. But the plan is for the benefit of mankind, not for God. People who are born with a homosexual orientation are born that way through no fault of their own. If they decide, based on that no fault aspect of their identify, to pursue relations with people of the same gender, they are exercising free agency, which is of course a foundational principle of the Restoration, for which I cannot see God rejecting or condemning them for, just as I can’t see God rejecting or condemning someone who decides not to have children.
And if we feel that God does become offended, and that he hates those who have relations with people of the same sex, then we make God petty, and, as discussed in this blog, God is not petty:
Is God Petty?
This approach to the same-sex issues enables those of us who have struggled with the results of National Conference to accept the policy changes without having to reject our Restoration heritage and convictions. I can still believe that Moses was real, and that God was the source of what is recorded in Leviticus 18:22, I can still accept that it was, for a period of time, deemed by God to be an abomination for a man to lie with another man. I can still accept the divine authority of the Inspired Version, I can still accept the Book of Mormon, etc.
In fact, by accepting that God can change, we become more aligned with our Restoration theology, because accepting what I’ve outlined in the blogs I wrote about God changing requires a deeper acceptance of various concepts found only within our Restoration scriptures.
However, there are other questions that I’m sure some people will ask. For example, if God wanted us to regard same-sex relations as abominable in the past, what was his reason for wanting us to have that view, and why does he no longer require us to have that view now?
Such questions take us into the realm of speculation. I have some ideas, some theories, but they will have to wait for a future exploration, or perhaps I’ll leave that discussion to people who are wiser than I am. But, I do think God had his reasons for what he did in the past, just as I believe he has his reasons for steering us in a new direction today (just as he had his reasons for establishing other things, only to change them later).
The other obvious question I’m sure people will ask is “but how do we actually know that God has made the change that you suggest?” After all, just because we can accept that God can make a change, and that such a change can even involve something previously regarded as sinful to no longer be so viewed today (something previously stated as being abominable no longer being required to be so viewed today), how do we know that this is in fact what God is moving us to understand?
We can be assured that he has done so by virtue of Section 164 and the Words of Counsel received in April 2013. Clearly, if God did not wish us to change our views, no such counsel would have been received.
Of course, many conservatives will respond “but I reject those revelations as authentic” – and you would, if you believed, as I did that, God could not change things; but now we know that he can. Now we know that there is no scriptural hindrance.
When Section 164 was first presented, I struggled with it for a very long time. But I felt duty bound to do what the church asked: to read it, study it, pray upon it, discuss it, etc. So I did. A great deal. After doing all of that for sometime, I decided to take out my highlighter, and underline everything in it that I objected to.
Then I had another idea. If I was going to be fair to this document, I felt that I should not start my highlighting exercise by focusing on the negative. So, instead, I forced myself to begin the process of looking for anything that I felt I liked.
To my surprise, there was some stuff that I liked – some stuff that I really liked. And yes, there was a lot I did not like. But, I continued to pray, and to study, and found, after my deliberate exercise of looking for the positive stuff, that I could not reject the document as false. I became convinced, and remain so, that it is an authentic revelation from God.
This did not mean I accepted same-sex marriage, etc. Nope. Not at all. I felt God had his purpose in what was given to us, but that we who are conservative, had a duty to still fight against policy changes.
In April 2013, I attended World Conference, and was present in the conference chamber when the Prophet-President shared the April 2013 Words of Counsel. Again, I felt, after letting those words rest with me for a while, that they really are of God.
Then it call came together. We have two revelations that demonstrate God making a change, and we have Restoration scripture that revels to us, when we take the time to study it and ponder it deeply, as Nephi counsels us to do, that such revelations are not problematic, God can make changes, and he can even change what we are to consider sinful.
What I did struggle with in 2010, when Section 164 was first presented, was why the revelation was not more direct. Why did it not simply say that we no longer had to view same-sex relations as abominable?
I believe that the answer to that lies within our own humanity. It is easy to imagine the knee jerk reactions that such a declaration would have caused. There would have been no study, no praying, no pondering, etc., by a huge chunk of our membership, myself included. We would have been dealing with another Section 156 exodus.
The brilliance behind Section 164 and the April 2013 Words of Counsel is that they force us to ponder things on our own. They force us to study, pray, consider, digest, and explore. Not just the documents themselves, but scripture in general, along with our Restoration theology, and our own personal positions and biases and even our own desire to be honest with ourselves.
This is what I’ve striven to do, and what has enabled me (with God’s help) to find a solution in a conservative Restoration context where none previously seemed plausible or even logistically possible.
It is my hope that other conservative church members will, after reading this document, along with the rest of my ZionBound series, come to understand that we do have a place in the church still, a very important place, and we can continue to have our foundational beliefs and convictions, we can continue to celebrate and sing of Zion and of the Restoration features that we love and cherish so deeply, and most importantly, we can remain active and passionate and generous members of Community of Christ, assured of it’s divine leadership, its divine mission, and it’s divine call for this church to be a spiritual home for all people, where everyone is treated equally, and with love, charity, mercy, and compassion.
I know that many conservative church members will still struggle with this issue. Being able to accept same-sex marriage, etc., requires a significant shift in our understanding of God, scripture, the church, etc. It also requires us to take a sharp view of our own reasons for why we struggle with these issues in the first place.
If, after reading this blog, you feel that you cannot, at the very least, accept same-sex marriage and the ordination of people with same-sex partners as acceptable to God, then I would like to challenge you to read my entire ZionBound series.
But don’t just read it on the web. Print the whole series. Read the series carefully. Read it more than once. Highlight stuff. Look up the verses quoted. Pray about the issues. Talk about it.
If, after doing that, you still cannot accept my conclusions as valid, then I have another challenge for you. Ask yourself what the real issue is for you. Why do you truly object to such things? Because, having eliminated scriptural roadblocks, if we still refuse to accept that God can be ok with people being in same-sex relationships, then we need to seriously explore why we can’t accept it. Have we been honest with our real reasons; were we just using scripture as an excuse? Do we have personal biases and prejudices?
The fact remains, as Christians, as members of the Restoration, as members of Community of Christ, as disciples of Jesus Christ, our primary concern should be to be in alignment with his will, and we should strive to ensure that our principles reflect his, without inventing them for him, nor striving to force them to match our own views.
In my exploration of female ordination, I made the point that some people, no matter how many times you counter their objections to it, will continue to oppose it, ultimately, for no other reason than the simple fact that they just don’t like it. They just don’t want it.
This unfortunate reality will, I have no doubt, have it’s counterpart with regard to same-sex relationships. If we still oppose same-sex marriage when there is no plausible, logical, *or* scriptural reason to do so, then our objections cease to have merit, and are revealed as being irrational. When that happens, we fail to reflect God’s unconditional love; we undermine the principle of sacramental truth, become subject to fear and hysteria, and cling to views fostered by the adversary, moving not closer to, but further away from, our Restoration heritage, that teaches us that God can, and indeed has (often), changed things up.
We need to ask ourselves, in the spirit of full truth and honesty, do we want this to be wrong? And if the answer is “yes”, we need to seriously re-think what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
So where does all of this leave me? Well, I’ve spoken a lot about truth and honesty, so, I need to be honest and truthful now. I’m not ready to perform a same-sex marriage myself. I’m not sure I’ll ever be willing to do so.
I’ve come to believe and accept that God now fully supports same-sex marriage, and this entire blog, and, to some degree, much of this ZionBound series has been my exercise in making a case for showing how this is not only possible, but exactly what I believe to have happened (God making a change on how we are to view same-sex relationships). Yet, it feels like uncharted territory for me.
I’ve opposed the same-sex issues for so long, that it just sort of runs counter to my mindset to want to perform a same-sex wedding or march in a pride parade. That is just not who and I am, and I don’t feel the need to apologize for that.
I think for me (and this may be, as I think about it, an obstacle for many people), I just hate having to acknowledge the fact that I was wrong. In a sense – not in actual truth – but in a sense, it sort of feels like everything I held to be sacred truth has turned out to be totally wrong – and indeed, many of my beliefs, my deeply held convictions, on this particular subject, which I was so completely sure of, really were wrong. You don’t really come to terms with that, or feel at peace with that, over night.
Nevertheless, I’m of course willing to listen and talk to anyone who is also struggling with these changes, and their own responses to them. It is my hope and prayer that this exploration will be helpful to many people around the world, because, as I stated earlier on, one of my primary concerns is to help conservative church members remain active, and regain their passion. In the end, it’s all about unity. We are all brothers and sisters, we are all part of this sacred family, we are all called to be more compassionate and loving, to be disciple of Jesus Christ, and we need to start acting like we are.
To close out, I offer the following two scriptures.
“Wherefore, brethren, seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand.” –Jacob 3:14
“Let contention cease.”
–Doctrine & Covenants Section 134:7
PS: No one got to me.