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