This blog is part of my ZionBound series. The full series can be read in post order here.
There have been many occasions over the years when my traditional church views have made me feel very alone, even isolated in the church. The fact that I have felt this way at times also became it’s own source of resentment, frustration, and even irony.
The irony derived from the fact that, in my mind, I felt that what separated me from most members of the church was the fact that I had the nerve, or the audacity, to actually believe in, well, our beliefs.
In my opinion, members of churches are supposed to believe in their church’s beliefs. It sort of goes together, and it’s circular: believe…beliefs – beliefs…believe; and it has always struck me as strange that many church members, at least, in my own experience, do not believe in some of our beliefs.
However, I have come to understand that I am far from alone, and that numerous church members share several, if not all, of my major church convictions.
I have also come to understand that many non-traditionalists don’t know what makes a church traditionalist what he or she is; and in fact, that may be true of some traditionalists as well.
It has been my observation that non-traditionalists sometimes misunderstand what motivates a church conservative, or, to put it another way, many people don’t understand why traditionalists have the viewpoints that they do, or what those viewpoints are based upon, and why it’s sometimes not possible to accept certain things.
Therefore, I want to share a little list I’ve made of what I feel are some common convictions that conservative church members have. When we resist some of the changes that have occurred in the church, it is often because of these convictions, and these convictions alone, and not for the many other speculative reasons that some people might presume.
But before I go any further into this area, let me make a comment on the use of labels. When I converse with church members, I often use terms like “liberal”, “conservative”, “traditionalist”, “moderate”, etc (within a church context – not political).
On occasion, some people have responded directly to my use of such terms. They have cautioned me, quite appropriately, that such terminology, such labelling, such classification can sometimes be negative.
I truly appreciate and respect that point-of-view. And there are many cases when I agree that labelling can be negative. So I want to explain why I use these terms, within a church context.
There are a couple of reasons. The first is, I’m a lazy writer. It is, quite honestly, just very convenient to say “conservative” vs:
“people who have a tendency to be comfortable with the former customs and would prefer that you avoid tampering with anything that could be construed as doctrinal or theological in nature.” 🙂
The second reason is, using such terminology helps me better understand who I am, again, in a church context. It helps me better identify with my own spiritual growth. It gives me a base, or foundation. And it even pushes me to new understandings, as we shall soon see.
It also, I feel, helps people have a shared identity. It provides a sense of comfort, and connection, and that in turn, especially when conversing with people with opposite points-of-view, makes our interactions less intimidating.
In short, it helps eliminate that sense of loneliness and isolation that I spoke of earlier. It provides a sense commonality, even community. And of course, no one has to feel that they must align with any church demographic.
Returning to the question of “what is a conservative?” (within the context of Community of Christ), I of course have to acknowledge that I can only present things as I see them, but I do feel it is worth exploring just what it means to be a conservative or traditional church member, and I am confidant that what I outline below does cover a lot of the conservative membership of the church.
In essence, there are (in my opinion) several “cardinal convictions” that we traditionalists are very likely to share. What I feel are the most common are presented here. We believe in…
1) God: This may seem obvious, but it is still worth highlighting. I should also point out that most conservatives understand God in the traditional Christian sense (save perhaps where tweaked by Restoration scripture) – that of some sort of supreme, divine personage with purpose, intelligence, personality, memory, identity, etc. This is very important, because a person’s view of God will shape his or her theology *and* how they approach scripture.
2) Jesus Christ: Traditionalists tend to believe that Jesus was a historical figure, and that he was truly God incarnated, rose from the dead, etc.
3) Apostasy: The ancient church & priesthood became corrupt and had to be restored by God.
4) Joseph Smith Junior: A true prophet of God called to restore the priesthood and the church; whose sections in the Doctrine and Covenants (along with those of his true successors) presented as divine revelations, truly are.
5) Joseph Smith III: The true legitimate successor to Joseph Smith Jr.
6) Authority: We are the one true church & our priesthood alone has power and authority from God. But what this truly means is likely not well understood.
7) Book of Mormon: Is both inspired scripture, and a historical account of a lost civilization.
8) Inspired Version: Is the result of divine revelation, for the purpose of correcting some errors and restoring some lost content.
9) The Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants are the only true examples of scripture, which is spiritually inerrant.
10) Scripture trumps World Conference resolutions, which trump the Bylaws, which trump various statements and policies, procedures, parliamentary rules, etc., including the Enduring Principles, History Principles, Statements on Scripture, Basic Beliefs, the Church Administrator’s Handbook, theology statements, individual policy statements, etc. The further revealed will of God, by definition, becomes (if accepted), scripture. Therefore, *nothing* trumps scripture.
Questions to Ponder:
What are your thoughts regarding the above list? What are you comfortable with, and what do you struggle with?
Had you considered these items before, and do you feel that this list is at least a somewhat accurate summary of what conservative church members believe?
Part Two will explore further how, in the opinion of the author, these convictions influence conservatives as they form opinions regarding church doctrine.