How We Know God Can Sanction Church Changes

“For my soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them, and writeth them for the learning and the profit of my children.” –Second Nephi 3:29 (LDS 4:15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Answer: Please consider the following examples…

Example 1: Baptismal Words Established – and then Changed.

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

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

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

“And now behold, these are the words which ye shall say, calling them by name, saying: Having authority given me of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.” –Third Nephi 5:25 (LDS 11:24-25)

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

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

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

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

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

Example 2: Teachers Can Baptize – And then Cannot.

“And Alma established a church in the land of Sidom, and consecrated priests and teachers in the land, to baptize unto the Lord whosoever were desirous to be baptized.” –Alma 10:103 (LDS 15:13)

Compare the above passage with Doctrine & Covenants Section 17:11e:

“but neither teachers nor deacons have authority to baptize, administer the sacrament, or lay on hands” (LDS 20:58)

So, we see that in the ancient church, according to the Book of Mormon, teachers could baptize. Yet, in the restored church, as indicated by the Book of Doctrine & Covenants, they cannot. God changed what the office of teacher was authorized to do. This represents a change made by God to the priesthood. It is important to note that this change was not an addition, but a revocation.

Example 3: Slavery Endorsed, Commanded, and then Condemned.

Another very important change pertains to slavery. In the Old Testament, slavery was tolerated and even commanded by God:

44 Both thy bond-men, and thy bond-maids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bond-men and bond-maids.
45 Moreover, of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land; and they shall be your possession.
46 And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession; they shall be your bond-men for ever; but over your brethren the children of Israel, ye shall not rule one over another with rigor. -Leviticus 25 (Inspired Version)

However, we read the following in Section 98:10g:

“Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another.” (LDS 101:79)

This demonstrates God reversing a prior divine position. This would be, in my own opinion, an example of something that was not previously viewed by God as a sin, becoming so.

Regardless of that question, the point here is that God, for whatever reason, openly tolerated, and seemed to even command, or at least encourage slavery – the treatment of some people being regarded as property by other people; only to then reverse that position in 1833 – several centuries after the Torah was recorded.

Example 4: Bishops – Which Order?

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

Example 5: An Eye for An Eye – Or Not!

In Leviticus 24:20 we see a reference to God’s Old Testament version of justice: “eye for eye”. The verse states:

“Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him again.”

According to verse 13, this was the word of God spoken to Moses. So, this custom was God’s will. However, this policy was reversed in the Gospel of Matthew:

40 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.
41 But I say unto you that ye resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. -chapter 5

Example 6: Divorce – Forbidden. Then sanctioned.

We are told by Christ that divorce was not permitted in the days prior to Moses. However, at that point, because of the hardness of their hearts, divorce was sanctioned.

This change is significant. I’ve often had people tell me that God does not make changes to suit humanity. This clearly teaches us that such is not the case.

Example 7: Aaronic Priesthood – Nothing Stays the Same!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aaronic Priesthood Iterations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; …your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings; and ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit.” –Third Nephi 4:49 (LDS 9:19-20)

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

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

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

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

Here is another example of this:

“And Alma established a church in the land of Sidom, and consecrated priests and teachers in the land, to baptize unto the Lord whosoever were desirous to be baptized.” -Alma 10:103 (LDS 15:13)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Example 8: Church Iterations – Each is Different!

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

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

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

They are as follows:

Church Iterations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Nephite church seems to have had the following offices:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Book of Commandments chapter 4 verse 2:

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

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

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

 


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

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

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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What Did We Gain from National Conference?

desertIn August 2015 I attended Northern Ontario Reunion at Camp Noronto, and I had the pleasure of teaching a class on God’s Changes.

The participants of this session were a very diverse group, representing a variety of theological viewpoints.  Towards the end of our session, the conversation meandered a bit, and one person began to question the wisdom of the changes made by our church in some nations resulting from the American, Australian, British & Canadian National Conferences.

This person felt that as a result of our changes, we’ve continued to lose members, our tithing contributions have continued to drop, we’re selling property, we’re not converting anyone, and we’ve put the church in jeopardy.  I was then directly asked “what did we gain from accepting homosexuals?”

In response to this question, I replied: “We gained redemption”.

Another person then asked me “What do you mean by that?” Fair question.  I offered a short explanation, which I can’t at all recall, and the conversation moved on.

But, while I don’t actually remember what I said, I do know exactly what I meant, what I was trying to say; and I feel its worth exploring in this format.

So let me begin by repeating my initial response.  By permitting people in same-sex relationships to be married by our priesthood, and to be ordained, we gained redemption.

I don’t actually mean that we the church gained redemption.  We gained the means to increase our capacity to help people around the world gain redemption.  People who might otherwise never obtain any.

When I speak of redemption, I’m not speaking of redemption in the sense of salvation and eternal life through Jesus Christ.  That type of redemption, which is very real, and very important, is granted by God’s grace through Jesus Christ.

The type of redemption I’m speaking of is personal redemption that occurs when people who are wrongfully marginalized or victimized or persecuted, to such an extent that they are dying inside, are empowered to feel alive once again.

There have been numerous gay people over the years, some of them young, who have been traumatized to such an extent by the experiences they have endured, as gay people, at the hands of church, state and society, that they have committed suicide.  This tragic trend has sadly not stopped.  But it cannot be ignored.

There are, now, everywhere, uncounted gay people who have been made to feel, by Christian churches, sinful, evil, unworthy, inferior, diseased, broken, defective, unaccepted, unwanted, unloved.  This cannot be ignored.

Not only have they felt unworthy of enjoying some of the same things that straight people do, but through regretful and undesirable circumstances, they have been made to feel that they are unworthy of God’s love.

Imagine feeling that you do not deserve to be loved by God.  We are told all the time that God loves everyone.  Imagine being forced, by the message that you are continually receiving from everyone around you (family, church, friends, government, etc.) that you, somehow, are the exception.  That in your case, God does not love *you*.  He loves everyone. Except for you.  How lonely would that feel?  Imagine being made to feel that not only does God not love you, but God cannot love you.  Because of “what you are”.

Imagine being made to feel that somehow you are being punished by God for your sins, or the sins of your parents.  Imagine being made to feel that you may be denied God’s grace, that you may not be permitted to be reunited with your friends, family and loved ones in the afterlife. Imagine being told that you’ll be in a lower glory, or, denied salvation entirely.  Imagine being conditioned to believe, by all that has happened to you, after suffering through this wearisome life, full of unrelenting tribulations, that your ultimate fate will be to be cast into Hell, where you will suffer and burn in incomprehensible agony for eternity.  Because you were born, through chance, gay.

And we wonder why Christian churches are losing members.  We wonder why churches are becoming less and less relevant, why they fail to resonate.  Where do I sign up for all of that?  Never mind.  Nobody wants to sign up for that.

But, we are signing up people for that all the time, by either directly causing gay people to feel this way, or be ignoring the fact that this happens.

It’s easy to say that “well, whoever told them that God does not love them was wrong”.  It’s easy to say “we love the person and hate the sin”.  It’s easy to say “we don’t actually teach that gay people are automatically condemned to Hell, and we don’t teach that Hell is an eternal pit of torment”, or whatever.

However, I’m not talking only about how gay people have been marginalized by the church, but by other denominations, by other religions, by society, by government policies around the world.  What should or should not have been done in the past is not the issue.  The reality is, there are plenty of people (far too many of them) out there right now who are undermining the humanness and sense of self-worth of gay people all the time.

Our call as a church is not simply to ensure that our own members are behaving appropriately, but to also do what we can to help reduce or eliminate the suffering of people everywhere, most of whom have never even heard of the church, and never will.

By making the changes that we have, Community of Christ is providing some people with a small measure of peace, healing of the spirit, reconciliation, and justice.   Combined, these result in the person experiencing, to some degree, personal redemption.

We can become, and already are, a refuge, a safe haven for many people who have felt spiritually wounded.  Some have been so spiritually wounded that they had given up all hope of ever finding what they need.

Community of Christ is striving to be this safe haven.  This ties directly into our call to make Christ’s mission our mission.  In his 2011 address to the church (The Mission Matters Most!), President Veazey talked about the mission of Jesus Christ, as stated in Luke 4:18-19.

Regarding the words “let the oppressed go free” President Veazey noted that the Greek text more directly translates into English as:

“to send away in freedom those who have been crushed.”

The power of this interpretation really hit me when he said it.

The word “crushed” in this usage is NOT in the sense of “I was so crushed that we couldn’t get into the movie theater”. This is not “we were absolutely crushed to hear about your divorce”.  This is not “I was crushed when I found out that my vacation plans fell through”.  This is in reference to people who have been personally persecuted and oppressed to such a degree that they enter into a spiritual crisis.  They are they who feel isolated from God, who feel alone, who feel desperate.  They are they who are made by external forces to hate themselves.   They are they who resent ever having been born.

There are many reasons why people would feel spiritually crushed.  But in the 21st century, in first world nations, I think that gay people are probably among the most numerous people who have been spiritually crushed under the religious, societal and state oppression and judgment that for many of them has been unrelenting.

This is inexcusable.

However, fortunately, some of these individuals who have been oppressively crushed by church, state, and society, have learned that there is a church out there that will love them for who they are, and accept them for who they are, but not in some limited or third class manner, but as equal to everyone else, fully able to participate in the life of the church.

In Community of Christ, they are no longer told “you’re an abomination”, or “your sex life is sinful”.  Instead, they are able to respond to God’s call; they are able to receive the sacrament of marriage, and their hearts are able to sing again; they can feel worthy of God’s love, and feel that they are acceptable to God (including their relationships with their partners).

They can feel loved again.  They can, as they recognize that God loves them, and always has, start to love themselves again, or perhaps for the very first time.  They will come to know that they are not rejected (by anyone that matters), and that they are not unworthy, wrong, defective, etc.

Human beings need to eat, and we need to drink.  We need food and beverages to sustain our physical bodies.  But we also need to drink of the living waters of Christ’s grace to be spiritually nourished.  For far too long, Christianity has forced gay people to wander in the desert, in the wilderness, in the wastelands, denied of provisions.  Parched, dehydrated, in some cases, reduced spiritually to dry husks, (for what can you be without hope), they have toiled under the lash of society and the scourge of the church.

Now, they can drink fully of the rivers of living water, and be rejuvenated, and made to feel alive once again.

This is what I mean by redemption.  This is what we’re bringing to people who suffer as described above.  This is why the church made the changes that it did.

Are we a small church?  Yes.  Are we struggling financially?  Yes.  Are we growing quickly?  No.  Are the results of National Conference to blame? Not at all.

And while we might not be growing quickly, we *are* growing, and we have been told:

“Do not be unduly concerned with numbers. Be fervent in your witness, passionate in your
discipleship, and vigorous in your labor on behalf of peace and justice. Where two or three such
disciples form community, there will the Spirit be. Many will come to see.” –Doctrine & Covenants 162:8b

And they are.

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.

Three Dimensions of Church

3d

What is church?  What is the purpose, or aim of the church?  Why was the church restored?  Every person who attempts to answer such questions may very well give a different answer.  Some answers will be almost identical.  Some will be similar.  Some will be quite diverse.

However, I suspect that the bulk of the responses would fall under one or more of three broad umbrella concepts, or dimensions of what we might view as church life.

Those dimensions are as follows: doctrine, fellowship, and mission.

Community of Christ, as the Restored Church, is, in it’s entirety, the sum of all three of these dimensions.

Some people regard Community of Christ as the true church.  If that view is correct, then it is correct because the church is the sum of doctrine, fellowship, and mission.

Some people regard Community of Christ as a church that is true.  Again, if that view is correct, then it is correct because the church is the sum of doctrine, fellowship, and mission.

All three dimensions of church life are important.  All three dimensions of church life are vital.  And all three dimensions of church life experience struggles of one form or another.

Right now, there are many members of the church who are very concerned about doctrinal matters.  I share those concerns, and I find my thoughts pondering such matters with great frequency.

Sadly, some people have felt that the only proper response to doctrinal concerns is to withdraw from the church, perhaps joining with non-Restoration denominations, or affiliating with dissident groups, or simply becoming inactive.

This response greatly troubles me, because the church is not *just* about doctrine.  The fellowship and mission of the church are just as vital in the life of the church as our doctrine.  Perhaps even more so.

I can almost hear some of my fellow conservative church members gasping at that last remark.  Surely, noting can be more important than the doctrine of the church?  How can I compare fellowship and mission with our doctrine?

Our doctrine is very important, there is no doubt about that.  As we are told in recent revelations to the church, we were divinely established.  And we must never forget that.

Our doctrine is vital for the church as a whole.  But in order for the church to flourish it must generate true meaning in the lives of both it’s members, and those to whom we are called to minister (both as individual disciples, and collectively).

This means that the church must be redemptive, it must be relevant, and it must resonate with people.  This is the key to being the Restored Church in the 21st century.

And this is why our fellowship and our mission are so vitally important, and why I dare to put them on par with our doctrine.

Our doctrine does not put food into the bellies of starving children on the far side of the planet.  Our doctrine does not provide after school programs in inner city communities.  Our doctrine does not provide clean drinking water for villages in India, or support shelters or provide opportunities to share in pot lucks, talent shows, singing and laughing and crying and praying.

At least, not in a direct sense.  Indirectly, yes, our doctrine supports these things.  If it were not for our doctrine, we would not be the people that we have become.

But it is our opportunities to engage in fellowship, and our opportunities to engage in mission, that are truly relevant in the lives of Christ’s sheep.  We are called to be shepherds of His flock.  To bring real ministry to all those with broken hearts and contrite spirits.  It is what we do together, as sacred community, but first and foremost as the church of Jesus Christ, that will determine if our ministry will resonate with people.

This is why, even when I oppose changes in church doctrine, I continually remind myself that our doctrine is just one dimension of our church life.  It is only one aspect of our church identity.

The fellowship must take place – the support of our ministries must take place.

And mission must take place. Personally, I don’t think our mission has ever been quite so clear, and quite so in tune with Christ’s purposes as it has become in very recent years.  And there is still much work to do.

But I have always loved the fellowship, and it’s resonating power; and now I’m excited, in fact, I’ll say that I’m  *passionate* about the direction the church is moving towards – aligning it’s mission with the purposes of Jesus Christ, because I know that what we are doing has true relevance in the lives of people all over the world.  People I will most likely never meet; whose names I will never know.  People who I must never forsake.

So when changes in church doctrine trouble you, please remember that our doctrine (which is exceedingly extensive and quite capable of surviving our ongoing growing pains), is just one dimension of church life.

Always remember, fellowship and mission are of paramount importance, and every disciple is called by Jesus Christ to remain true to His purposes of rendering honest ministry to God’s children, both near and far.

April 2013