The New Conservatives

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

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

PART 1 – CARDINAL CONVICTIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions to Ponder:

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

PART 2 – CONSTRAINING CUSTOMS

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

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

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

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

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

But let’s move on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Questions to Ponder:

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

PART 3 – ARE YOU A FOUNDATIONALIST?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions to Ponder

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

Thank you for reading!

Breaking Deadlock

“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.

3in1While 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:

http://www.cofchrist.org/AustraliaConf/outcomes.asp
https://www.cofchrist.org/CanadaConf/outcomes.asp
https://www.cofchrist.org/usaConf/outcomes.asp
http://www.cofchrist.org/BritishIslesConf/

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:

https://ddonblog.wordpress.com/2013/10/07/the-new-conservatives-part-one/

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:

God’s Changes

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):

https://ddonblog.wordpress.com/2014/02/24/sacramental-truth/

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?
https://ddonblog.wordpress.com/2014/01/05/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?
https://ddonblog.wordpress.com/2013/12/28/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.

A Sacred Purpose

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

groveI have often felt that there is a great deal of confusion among some members of the Restoration movement regarding why the Restoration itself exists.  This is not to say that there isn’t a purpose, but I don’t think that the purpose is what many people believe it to be (this is perhaps especially true in other Restoration factions).  This extends to the church as well.  Both the Restoration, and the Church, have a purpose, a reason for existing.  The church also has, in my opinion, an aim.

What follows is my attempt to outline what I feel these things are.

Purpose of the Restoration

Why did Christ bring about the Restoration?  The traditional response would perhaps be something like “to restore the ancient church, to again bring forth power and authority from God”.  In recent years we have been less likely to describe the Restoration in that manner, and have found new ways to express what it means to be the Restoration.

Some people feel that we have changed the meaning of the Restoration; that we have deviated from what we used to teach.  I disagree.  In my opinion, the church has simply deepened and broadened our understanding of what it means to be the Restoration.

Today, the concept of the Restoration now includes a call to restore mankind to the world, to restore people to each other, and to God, and I see nothing wrong with such notions.

In this sense, the Restoration is understood not as a single event, but as an ongoing process – which makes sense, given that God’s purposes are eternal.  However, this broader, deeper understanding does not, in my view, negate the original understanding, which I am quite comfortable with, as I personally believe in the concept of the one true church (though I submit, we probably don’t really understand just what that means).

There is yet another element of the meaning of the Restoration.  Beyond the original concept of restoring authority, beyond the added dimension of restorative action, there is a third aspect.  One which perhaps binds the other two together.

A few years ago my father was teaching the adult Sunday school class at our congregation.  He asked the question “what is the purpose of the Restoration”?  He explained to the class that in his opinion the true purpose of the Restoration was to declare to the world that God is not dead, that Jesus Christ still speaks to His children even today.

This really resonated with me, and I think its very true.  Our church is one of the few that accepts the notion that there is yet more light and truth to be revealed; and even fewer celebrate it as we do.

At the time of this writing, the most recent revelation added to our Doctrine and Covenants is Section 164.  Furthermore, we have revelations, intended for the benefit of the global church, that exist outside of our Doctrine and Covenants.

This custom began in the presidency of Brother McMurray, who presented Letters of Counsel to the church regarding changes in the councils and quorums and orders of the church.  When asked if these documents, should still be regarded as revelations, it is my recollection that President McMurrray confirmed that they should be so regarded.

Although I have not been tracking them all, I presume that there have now been eight such documents (World Conferences 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2010 & 2013).  In addition, between the 2010 and 2013 World Conferences, President Veazey released documents naming new appointments after some church leaders retired.  I believe there were two such documents, again presented with assurances of the Spirit’s involvement.

We also cannot forget the words that resulted from the “impress of the Spirit” that President Veazey received while preparing his 2009 address, “A Defining Moment”, and which appear near the end of that document.

Naturally, we also must remember the latest “Words of Counsel” presented in April 2013.

These various revelatory experiences that the church has been blessed with since 1998, along with the continued custom of adding new inspired documents to the Doctrine and Covenants, should be clear evidence to anyone that the church is embracing and celebrating Continuing Revelation more so now, than ever before.

This is, to be sure, “Great and Marvellous” – what a blessing it is to live during an era of the church when we are so willing and eager to seek out God’s counsel and guidance.

Of course, even as the prophetic role of the prophet has actually been magnified in recent years, with all of these non D&C revelations, the prophetic role of the general membership has also increased, with God’s call to the whole church to be a prophetic people.  We are all called to discern God’s will.

So, on the one hand we see that the whole membership has a role to play in the revelatory experience, and on the other hand, we see that the prophet also continues to have a very vital role to play in that same experience.

Clearly, we are a church with a prophet, and prophetic people.  Simultaneously.  That balance can only bless us.  Truly, we are a church that values, embraces, and celebrates divine revelation, and in a plurality of ways.

We are blessed with continuing, modern revelation.  We are blessed with an open canon of scripture.  We are blessed with the knowledge that God is indeed not dead, that Christ still lives, and that the Lord still makes his mind and will known to us even in this modern, mostly secular 21st century world.

But are we listening?

Purpose of the Church

Community of Christ has a mission statement, which says:

“We proclaim Jesus Christ and promote communities of Joy, Hope, Love and Peace”

According to the bylaws of the church, the above mission statement is also our purpose statement.

Other resources help expand on this statement:

Our bylaws (Article II) include the following words:

“…The church envisions a time when the promise of God’s kingdom shall be fulfilled. We have a vision of that kingdom where the name of Jesus Christ is truly honored, where God’s will is done on earth, where the hungry are fed, poverty is alleviated, sinners are repentant, and sin is forgiven…

…We believe that love is the proper foundation of our relationship with others, that opportunity to grow in the likeness of Christ should be fostered, and that the resources of the world can be managed to respect and preserve their creation and purpose. We have a vision of a time when all evil is overcome and peace prevails…

…We will be an international community of prophetic vision, faithful to the risen Christ, empowered by hope, spending ourselves courageously in the pursuit of peace and justice.”

Our Basic Belief statement states:

“We offer a community of people where the gospel of Jesus Christ is the focus of worship, learning, caring, and mission” Source: Basic Beliefs (“We offer”)

And also includes:

“The Good News of Jesus Christ is at the center of the faith and beliefs of Community of Christ. We are a worldwide community and are committed to follow Jesus, bring forth the kingdom of God, and seek together the revealing, renewing presence of the Holy Spirit.”  Source: Basic Beliefs (“Preface”)

And further states:

“Being a Christian is more than holding a list of right ideas; it is about radical obedience to Jesus in every part of life…Jesus calls us to follow him and to invite others to experience the transforming power of his grace” Source: Basic Beliefs (“Discipleship”)

Our Enduring Principles offer these words:

“God’s revelation in Jesus Christ and continuing presence through the Holy Spirit, as proclaimed by scripture, is the foundation of our faith, identity, mission, message, and beliefs.” Source: Enduring Principles (“The Foundation”)

and:

“We are called to create communities of Christ’s peace in our families and congregations and across villages, tribes, nations, and throughout creation.” Source: Enduring Principles (Blessings of Community)

Our Mission Initiatives includes this statement:

“We are poised to share the peace of Jesus Christ with those who are waiting to hear the redeeming words of the gospel.   We fulfill God’s ultimate vision as we Baptize/Confirm Many New Members, Open New Congregations, Launch the Church in New Nations” Source: Mission Initiatives (“Invite People to Christ”)

And the Doctrine and Covenants includes this passage:

“Heed the urgent call to become a global family united in the name of the Christ” Source: –161:6b

All of the above wonderful statements help give expression to what our purpose is.  However, in my opinion it all boils down to this statement of my own:

“to encourage appropriate worship of God according to the teachings of Jesus Christ.”

Yet, that is perhaps too brief.  As a foundationalist, I’d be more comfortable with a little more definition:

“to encourage appropriate worship of God according to the teachings of Jesus Christ, and God’s prophets, apostles, and other servants, as recorded in the scriptures of Community of Christ.”

When I came to regard this as my own view of what the purpose of the church is, I then asked myself, “so what is our aim?”

Well, in many ways, many of the statements from the church resources listed above, might be better understood as aim statements, than as purpose statements (and I’m sure there is some overlap).

However, again, I’ve crafted my own:

“to have a positive, transformative impact on the lives of all people.”

Yet this statement is a few years old now, and I’d probably want to tack on part of my congregation’s vision statement, rendering the aim of the church as something like this:

“to have a positive, transformative impact on the lives of all people, by empowering them to Encounter God and Reflect Christ.”

The full vision statement of my congregation is:

“Working with the Holy Spirit, empowering people to Encounter God and Reflect Christ.”

Printed copies of it include the church seal in the middle, and at the very bottom, part of the statement is repeated as a “sound bite”: Encounter God! ~ Reflect Christ!

I’ve come to grow very fond of our vision statement, especially the closing sound bite.  In fact, I’ve always hoped that one day it might move beyond my congregation and perhaps be adopted by the greater church community.  Who knows, maybe one day we will use it as a type of greeting, our own “live long and prosper”  🙂

One of the reasons I like the statement so much is because, in addition to perhaps being useful as part of an aim statement, it’s also a challenge.  It causes one to ponder, just how do we do that?  How do we empower people to encounter God?  How do we reflect Christ?

I’ve come to realize that some of the concepts I’ve talked about in other blogs help provide the means to encounter God.  If we are giving our congregations and visitors opportunities to be engaged in relevant, redemptive, and resonating activities, programs, ministries, etc., then it follows that at least some of these events should bring people into encounters with God.

With regard to reflecting Christ, that depends a great deal on those of us who are already disciples.  Reflecting Christ is the real challenge.  It means that we need to strive to be Christ-like, in how we interact with strangers, or our friends, our spouses, our co-workers, our family members, our congregations, our teammates, our competitors, our colleagues, or with people who have different theologies and/or political alignments.

In short, we must model the ideal Christian image, 24×7. Even in isolation. So how we talk to people, how we treat people, how we speak of people, *even* how we think about people, will impact our success in terms of reflecting Jesus Christ.  This may seem really daunting, but the goal is to strive.

The better at it that we become, the more wholesome and strong our relationships with people will be, which can only have a positive impact on our church communities, which should provide new pathways of invitation; and as we reflect Christ, so will it become easier for others to do so.  That in itself may help empower them to encounter God, and encourage them to want to drive ministries that are relevant, redemptive and resonating.  It’s all connected.

In conclusion, what I want you to take away from this exploration is that we need to keep our focus on the right things.  We need to focus on what matters most, on the true meaning of the church and of the Restoration, and not be mired in false reasons (some of which I’ll explore in a future blog).  We are *not* called to count how often we reference or quote a unique aspect of the Restoration.

If we can help people know that God is not dead, if we help empower them to encounter God, and reflect Christ, if we can provide ministry that is redemptive, that is relevant, which resonates, and if we can be invitational, nurture holistic relationships and build sacred communities, we will prove that yes, we are listening.

Encounter God! ~ Reflect Christ!

The New Conservatives (1 of 3)

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

CARDINAL CONVICTIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jump to Part Two

The New Conservatives (2 of 3)

This blog is part of my ZionBound series.  The full series can be read in post order here.
This blog is also part 2 of an extended blog.  Part 1 can be read here.

CONSTRAINING CUSTOMS

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

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

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

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

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

But let’s move on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Questions to Ponder:

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

Part Three will explore further how, in the opinion of the author, conservatives can move beyond these constraining customs while still embracing the cardinal convictions.

Jump to Part Three

The New Conservatives (3 of 3)

This blog is part of my ZionBound series.  The full series can be read in post order here.
This blog is also part 3 of an extended blog.  Click  here for part 1 or here for part 2.

ARE YOU A FOUNDATIONALIST?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions to Ponder

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