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 Some have formally rescinded church affiliation.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.

Female Ordination – Did We Make the Right Choice? (Part 1 of 4)

Pondering Paul

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

3marysSince the reorganization took place, I think its probably unlikely that any issue has created more division in the church than female ordination.  Section 156, the revelation that made female ordination possible, was presented to the church in 1984, by Prophet-President Wallace B. Smith, great-grandson of our founding prophet, Joseph Smith Jr.

April 2014 marks the 30th anniversary of the World Conference that sanctioned female ordination.  After thirty years, people are still divided.  New denominations have been organized, and many people have been born and raised in factions of the Restoration that claim descent from Joseph Smith III, but which reject the ordination of women. So the division continues.

Did we make the right choice?  The answer to that question is of course “yes”.  Yet, given the resistance to it exhibited by so many people, I have often wondered why so many members and former members of the church reject it.

A common objection I’ve been given for female ordination are two verses from the writings of Paul.  These passages are as follows:

“Let your women keep silence in the churches; for it is not permitted unto them to rule; but to be under obedience, as also saith the law.”  -1 Corinthians 14:34 (Inspired Version)

11 Let the women learn in silence with all subjection.
12 For I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. -1 Timothy 2:11, 12 (Inspired Version)

Let us explore each of the above passages, and as we do so, we would do well to remember the words of Nephi:

“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 Book of Nephi, 3:19 (CofC 1908).

So, let us ponder, as Nephi counsels, the scriptures.  In First Corinthians, Paul states that women should keep silent in the churches, and further elaborates that it is not permitted for them to rule, but to be under obedience, as stipulated in the law.

In my opinion, using this scripture to justify the non-ordination of women is a violation of the principle of “sacramental truth”. If we do so, we are not being fully honest with ourselves.

You see, we do not enforce this scripture in an absolute sense.  If we did so, we would not permit women to speak or sing.  Now, it could be said that the directive to be silent is understood to mean “do not preside”, or something like that.

It is interesting to compare the verse as found in the KJV with that found in the Inspired Version:

“Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law.” (KJV)

In both versions, there are essentially four components.

From the King James Version:

1) Let your women keep silence in the churches:
2) for it is not permitted unto them to speak;
3) but they are commanded to be under obedience
4) as also saith the law.

From the Inspired Version:

1) Let your women keep silence in the churches;
2) for it is not permitted unto them to rule;
3) but to be under obedience,
4) as also saith the law.”

It could be argued that the change of the last word in component 2 of the KJV rendition, from “speak” to “rule” (as it appears in the IV), is a clear indication that what Paul was really talking about was a restriction of a woman’s role in the church, and not a prohibition of her talking or singing.

And yet, the colon in the KJV was changed to a semi-colon.  This suggests that the verse is meant to be understood as a directive to women to not speak, re-enforced by a further directive to not be in positions of leadership.

This of course than means that if we do wish to use this verse to prevent women from being ordained, we are, as noted above, not being honest with ourselves, since we are not fully enforcing it, since we are not choosing to compel women to remain silent in church.

However, we are still left with either a prohibition from speaking to rule, or from speaking whatsoever.

What is the motivation of this counsel?  Why does Paul tell us to let our women keep silent?

Another interesting change is the drop of the words “they are commanded” from the third component.  The KJV seems to suggest that the directive to keep silent is a divine commandment, yet the Inspired Version removes this portion of the verse.

The fourth component talks about “the law”.  What law?  Presumably, the law of Moses.  This is, normally, what is meant when someone in the ancient scriptures talks about the law.

However, the Law of Moses is made up of 613 individual laws, or commandments.  Not one of these states that women are to obey men.  Therefore, the law that Paul was speaking of must have been a secular law, rather than part of the Law of Moses.  This is reasonable, as, in order to properly manage an entire nation, it would seem needful that the elders of Israel would have to devise additional laws for their civilization, as it grew from 12 tribes wandering in a desert to an entire nation.  Furthermore, as Judah transformed into the Roman-conquered realm of Judea, it of course would have found itself subject to Imperial laws.

Here is something else to consider.  Who was Paul speaking to when he gave this counsel?  The members of the church in Corinth.  In Greece.  It seems clear that most of our books of scripture were intended to be read by as many people as possible, however, can we say the same for the epistles that Paul wrote?  I’m sure Paul does not object to other people reading his epistles, beyond the intended audience of each, but the fact remains, he wrote specific messages to different clusters of the church.

Some of the things that Paul wrote were spiritual truths.  Consider the following:

For ye are all the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ.  For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put  on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. –Galatians 3:26-28 (Inspired Version).

This is a spiritual truth that would be applicable to all members of the church.  This is not something that we would say is only true for the Galatians.

However, 1st Corinthians 14:34 is not a spiritual principle but administrative guidance, and it is entirely possible, given that it appears in an epistle directed to a specific church community, that it was provided because of a local Corinthian law, violation of which may have been problematic for the church in that area.

paulIt seems most likely that Paul’s intent was to ensure that female members of the church were not in violation of a Roman law, or of a Jewish secular law, or a Corinthian law.  I’m sure that Paul was motivated by the following reasons: genuine desire to keep female members of the church from getting into trouble, and a desire to ensure that the authorities did not have an additional cause to take action against the church.

The real point of course is that the modern church is not subject to imperial law, Jewish law, Corinthian law, or, for that matter, the Law of Moses, which Christ rescinded when he visited the Nephites.

Therefore, the words of Paul to the Corinthians is a flawed means to oppose female ordination.

The second verse is, once again, as follows:

11 Let the women learn in silence with all subjection.
12 For I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. -1 Timothy 2:11,12 (Inspired Version)

First Timothy was written by Paul to provide counsel and guidance to Timothy while he labored in Ephesus, which is, interestingly, also in Greece.  Therefore, once again, the motivation behind Paul’s words may have been the result of local law and/or custom, along with a desire to keep both the women of the church, and the church community in Ephesus, as safe as possible.

However, it does look like Paul had another motive for saying what he said, for the chapter continues with these words:

13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve.
14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.

This strikes me as Paul’s personal position, and not the result of divine revelation.  It seems it is his way of rationalizing his prior statement.

Note that he states in verse 12, “For I suffer not a woman to teach…” He does not state “the Lord has said…” or some such statement.  This is Paul’s own view, based on his own convictions.

It is also worth noting that his own basis, the order of creation, etc., for saying what he did, seems a little muddled (which further suggests that this portion of his letter was entirely of himself).

To begin with, he says that because Adam was formed before Eve, women should learn in silence, and not rule, etc.  However, this seems like a rather flawed and petty reason to permanently suppress women, and as I outlined in a prior blog, God is not petty.  For every man who excels in leadership, there is also a woman who does likewise.  And if in a given community or organization, there is a woman who is a better leader than all available men, is it reasonable that she should be overlooked because Eve was created after Adam?

To be honest, that just seems absurd, and I doubt Paul was moved by God to write what he wrote.

We also have to acknowledge that Deborah ruled, as the fourth judge of Israel.  Therefore, Paul’s opinion actually clashes with a precedent already set.

Paul also says that Eve, but not Adam, was deceived.  This makes no sense.  Adam, not yet having tasted of the fruit, was innocent, therefore, he had no motivation to disobey God.  Therefore, he must have been deceived.  It is utterly implausible to suggest that Adam knew what he was doing, and just decided to disobey God simply for the fun of it.

Furthermore, the Bible states that Adam was with Eve when she was herself deceived:

“And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it became pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make her wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat; and gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat.” –Genesis 3:11 (Inspired Version)

The ramifications of all the above are clear.  1st Timothy cannot be used as a reasonable and plausible method of opposing female ordination.

I can almost hear one particular objection to my perspectives: “Does the Bible not state that all scripture is of God?”

Yes and no.  Here is the verse you might be thinking of, as found in the King James Version:

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness”  -2 Timothy 3:17 (KJV)

However, here is the same verse as found in the Inspired Version:

“And all scripture given by inspiration of God, is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (Inspired Version)

The changes made between the KJV and the IV are very significant, and, given the nature and authority of the Inspired Version in the church, the simple fact is this: we cannot claim that all scripture is given by God.

Therefore, when we acknowledge this fact, and ponder Paul’s words as we’ve done above, we can clearly see that using them to oppose female ordination is flawed.

Jump to Part 2

Female Ordination – Did We Make the Right Choice? (Part 2 of 4)

Scriptural Basis

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

EmmaSmithSince the verses from Paul cannot be used to oppose female ordination, what other reasons might someone use to do so?

Well, I have often been told that there is no scriptural basis for female ordination.  However, the lack of a scriptural basis in no way invalidates the validity of female ordination.  At least, not within the Restoration movement, which teaches us that God still reveals his will to the world.

Come to think of it, we do not need a scriptural basis, given that there is no scripture that states that women cannot be ordained.  Previously, we reviewed the two verses of Paul often quoted to defend a male only priesthood.  However, as we have seen, using these two verses is flawed, and problematic.  They do not, as some seem to believe, authoritatively invalidate female priesthood.  When we take the time to explore them both, and apply reason to each, we see that they do not support male only priesthood in the modern church whatsoever.

We must add to that the fact that there isn’t any verse in ancient scripture which states that women cannot be ordained.  All we seem to have are personal opinions based on rather sketchy interpretations of scripture, rooted in rather dubious views of scriptural context of the verses in question.

So, we don’t actually need a scriptural basis, and we don’t need modern revelation to sanction female ordination.  However, we have the latter (which of course becomes the former).

Granted, opponents of Section 156 reject it as a scriptural basis whilst maintaining that there is no scriptural support in ancient scripture.  Yet, I’m not sure it is accurate to say that there is no scriptural basis or precedent for female priesthood in our ancient scriptures.

Deborah was the fourth judge of Israel.  While that does not mean she was a member of the priesthood, it does prove that women did have positions of leadership and authority.  There were also several female prophets.  It seems totally implausible to me that God would permanently forbid women to be ordained, but would be willing to deliver prophetic messages to his people through various women.

And what did the female prophets do with their messages?  The whole point of a prophet is to share with the community what God had revealed.  Some prophets did so by writing down their words.  But, it seems that many, including some of the female prophets listed in scripture, did not do so.  How than did they share with the people what God had revealed to them?  Quite probably, by talking to some sort of gathering of people.  In other words, they very likely engaged in a form of preaching.

So, while it may be true that there are no clear, indisputable examples of women serving in the priesthood of Israel or of the church, in ancient scripture, we can say that there is a basis for the eventual ordination of women, as we know that women did, on occasion, have positions of leadership, and also were blessed with spiritual gifts, and very likely preached.

Paul himself delves into this.  Consider the following:

1 I commend unto you Phoebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea;
2 That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you; for she hath been a succorer of many, and of myself also.
3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my helpers in Christ Jesus;
4 Who have for my life laid down their own necks; unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.
7 Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.
12 Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labor in the Lord. Salute the beloved Persis, which labored much in the Lord.
13 Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.
14 Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren that are with them.
15 Salute Philologus, and Julia, Nereus, and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints which are with them.
16 Salute one another with a holy salutation. The churches of Christ salute you.

Phoebe is described as a “servant of the church”.

Priscilla is described, along with her husband Aquila, as a helper “in Christ Jesus” She is generally viewed as a missionary, and some scholars feel that she was one of the Seventy.  Her name is mentioned six times, always with her husband, and on three occasions, her name is listed first.

Given the culture and era in which the books of the New Testament were written, it would have been quite easy for the authors to have simply ignored Priscilla.  However, her inclusion in the work of the Lord was deliberate and noted multiple times.

One such verse regarding Priscilla is particularly interesting:

“And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue; whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.” –Romans 18:26 (Inspired Version)

Again, the author could have simply ignored Priscilla.  In fact, he probably would have, had she not contributed anything.  Yet, it seems clear that she did, and the author was moved to make note of it.

This is not some sort of trivial reference.  Priscilla was engaged in a form of preaching; and she was teaching.  In fact, it states here, in the Inspired Version, that she was expounding (about God).

Section 17 of the Doctrine and Covenants states repeatedly that one of the duties of the priesthood is to expound.  They are also called to teach and preach.

Therefore, it seems clear that Priscilla was performing some of the duties of the priesthood, exhibiting leadership and providing instruction.

Instead of having a problem with this, Paul seems perfectly OK with her conduct, which further suggests that his counsel in First Corinthians and First Timothy was intended to have a limited scope.

Also of interest is Section 42, which offers the following:

“Again I say unto you that it shall not be given to anyone to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up my church, except he be ordained by some one who has authority”

Here we see that preaching and building up the church are the domain of priesthood only.  Yet, Priscilla functioned as a missionary.  This implies that she was in fact a member of the priesthood.

Verse 7 states that Junia was “of note among the apostles”.  While I personally don’t interpret this as “prominent among” but rather as “well known to”, the praise is significant.  Again, we see a woman who Paul (and, if we accept his words), the other apostles deemed to be, in a positive manner, a noteworthy member of the church.

Verse 12 introduces us to Tryphena, who is listed before her male associate, and we are told that she labors “in the Lord”.

Verse 15 has Paul asking his audience to “salute” several people, including two women, Julia and the sister of Nereus.

From all of these references, it should be clear that women served in the ancient church in vital roles including as preachers and missionaries, performing functions assigned to, and even reserved for, members of the priesthood.  It is therefore a denial of God’s truth to cling to a position that ancient scripture does not, to any degree support the possibility of female priesthood members.

We can also find a scriptural basis in Section 24 of the Doctrine & Covenants.  Although this revelation does not mention priesthood, and while we have no record of an ordination having taking place, this revelation strongly suggests that Emma Smith was called to the priesthood.

Jump to Part 3

Female Ordination – Did We Make the Right Choice? (Part 3 of 4)

The Role of Women

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

femaledoctorA third common objection to female priesthood members in the church is the role of women.  In other words, some people feel that women should not be ordained because serving in the priesthood would run contrary to, or somehow conflict with, their roles that they inherently have, simply by virtue of being female.

This objection is, quite simply, insane.

While it is true that first world societies once greatly limited what women could do, those day are mostly long gone.  Women can vote.  They can drive.  They can be doctors, lawyers, etc.  How can we possibly let women do all these things, despite their inherent female roles, but then use the latter as a reason to say that they can’t be members of the priesthood?

Think of it this way.  If we can support a woman being a family doctor, would we object to a woman being a dentist?  If we support a woman being a police officer, would we object to a female pro golfer?

We cannot say that it is ok for a woman to have a career, and then pull the rug out from under her and say “you can’t be in the priesthood – that would take away from your duties and/or responsibilities as a woman.”

We also need to ask, just what are these duties and/or responsibilities that women have that priesthood would impair?  The answer is always the same: raising children.

Women, according to some, should not be in the priesthood because being in the priesthood would interfere with them raising their children properly.  But they can have jobs and careers.

Of course, my position might be countered by saying that a career is ok, because that is one role, in addition to motherhood, which is therefore manageable.  But, add priesthood on top of a career, and the woman has even less time to provide to her children.

But what about fathers?  Aren’t fathers expected to be good fathers?  Are they not also expected to do their part in raising children?  They are out there working every day, and they are serving in the priesthood, attending meetings at night, visiting the sick, traveling to stake conferences, etc.  If its ok for fathers to do so, why not mothers?

What about mothers who don’t have a career?  Would they not then have ample time to be mothers and priesthood at the same time?  What of women who can’t have children? What of mothers who have already performed their sacred duties with distinction, and now have an empty nest?  What about couples who decide not to have children?

How can we possibly have a blanket statement that says women cannot be ordained because they are supposed to be mothers, when we consider all of the above factors?

Another consideration is Paul’s perspective on marriage.  Paul seems to suggest that unmarried people both male and female, will be able to devote themselves more fully to the Lord, than those who marry.  His stance implies that for those who are able to resist temptation, it is more desirable to remain unattached, and devote oneself more fully to the Lord.

Obviously, Paul would not regard childbirth outside of marriage as an appropriate objective, therefore, since he seems to advocate remaining single and devoted more fully to God as preferable to getting married, it would seem that the former is a higher calling and more sacred function than motherhood.

I can hear the rebuttal: “But, if a woman does fall in love, and decides to get married and have children, then her motherhood should not be distracted by ministry”.  But you cannot forbid all women from joining the priesthood for the sake of those women who opt to have children, especially considering that remaining childless & unmarried, devoted to God, seems to be a higher calling.

The real factor in this area is of course that the objection is simply an opinion: “You can’t be ordained as that would take away from your role as a mother”.

There is no scripture that states that a woman cannot be ordained because such would diminish her role as a mother.    Again, as noted above, there are so many cases where this would not apply and be ridiculously unfair (infertile women, empty nesters, etc.) – but, even more important, the objection is just an opinion, which is not a very sound basis for establishing a doctrinal position, especially when such an opinion casts God as unjust.

The opinion is of course flawed.  When we take the time to consider, and ponder (as Nephi counsels us), the scriptures, and note the aforementioned female missionaries, who are we to object?  If women in the Bible could travel from place to place, be missionaries, be church leaders, etc. etc., how can we possibly object to female priesthood on the basis that ordaining them would somehow clash with their femalehood?

Jump to Part 4

Female Ordination – Did We Make the Right Choice? (Part 4 of 4)

“Disjunctive Revelation”

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

scritpurereadingAnother objection I have sometimes come across, regarding female ordination, is something called “disjunctive revelation”.  This is a fancy term that has apparently been invented by those who left the church in the wake of Section 156, in an attempt to give their positions some sort of credibility.

(using Google, I did a search on this term, for the exact phrase, and found that there were only three pages of results, all of which were tied to the Restoration movement – but I digress)

So what is meant by the term disjunctive revelation? Well, simply put, it is a revelation viewed as being in contradiction with a prior revelation, which renders the more recent revelation false (not of God).  Another way to look at it would be to say that each new revelation must be in complete harmony with all previously accepted revelations in order to be regarded as authentic (divine).  The “new” cannot contradict with any of the “old”.

The problem with this concept is that there is no basis for it, and it defies reason, logic, common sense and is just not plausible.  The Lord is perfectly free to make adjustments to “the rules” as He deems fit.

Objectors tend to feel “but you can’t have two revelations say opposing things about a given issue, with both being true…one must be false”.

However, this totally ignores the most basic fundamental principle of creation: things change.  It also ignores the fact that God does thing according to his own purposes.

In the Book of Mormon, God directed Lehi, his wife, his children, his friend Ishmael, and Ishmael’s family to leave Jerusalem, and to flee into the wilderness. This was not a popular choice with some of them, and no doubt it required some prep. work, and some effort to actually accomplish.

But, eventually, the group found themselves camping out in the wilderness, beyond the comforts and familiarity of their city.  Why did they go?  Why did they undertake this ordeal?  Because God revealed to them that this was His will.

Later, God revealed more of his will to them.  He directed some of them to return to the city.  Did Lehi and his companions regard this instruction as a disjunctive revelation?  Did Nephi say to his father Lehi “but you told us that God directed us to leave the city – therefore, this new revelation, calling for some of us to go back to the city, must be false”.  Naturally, he said no such thing.

What was God’s will?  In the first case, God’s revelation to Lehi indicated that God’s will was for all of them to leave the city.  Then, it would seem that it was His will for some of them to return.  A contradiction.  How can both revelations that Lehi received be true?

They are both true because they represent different divine purposes.  Clearly, God had a reason for taking Lehi and Ismael and their combined families out of the city, and of course he had a reason for sending some of them back.

The contradiction only exists if we read scripture in an isolated format, without context.  For example, if we read scripture in this manner:

Verse 1: And God told Lehi and his family to flee the city.
Verse 2 And God told Lehi to send his sons back to the city.

We might scratch our heads and say “well that does not seem to make a lot of sense”

But, when we explore the context of seemingly contradictory scriptures, and understand the purpose of why the original scripture was provided, and honestly seek to do the same with latter revelations, we may just come to recognize hat there really is no issue.

The reality is, God has made many changes, as we can see in my prior blogs “Can God Change?” and “Why does the Church Have to change?” – we accept these changes, therefore, we can accept other changes – especially when there really is no prior scripture that legitimately opposes female ordination.

On this latter point, some people might cite some of the “revelations” circulated by people other than the prophet-president of the church.  However, church law has, since the era of Joseph Smith Jr., indicated that revelations to the church can only be received through the prophet-president.  An individual may receive a personal revelation, providing guidance for the wellbeing of his family, but any revelation that seems intended to offer commentary on church doctrine, and/or with the intent of being shared with others, must be rejected as false.

Regretfully, it seems that the only real reason that people have to object to female ordination is simply the fact that they don’t want it to be, for what are most likely chauvinistic reasons, valid; and this quite simply violates the principle of “sacramental truth”.

 

Sacramental Truth

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

For a few years now I have viewed truth as something that should be regarded as a type of pseudo sacrament.  As I understand the sacraments, they are rites or rituals that bring us closer to God – they bring us, in a spiritual sense, into God’s presence.

Truth is similar to a sacrament in this manner.  Obviously, we cannot regard truth as an actual sacrament, because truth is a concept, not a ritual or ceremony.  Yet, like a sacrament, when we are honest with ourselves, and with each other, and with God, we move closer into God’s presence.  We become more aligned with what Christ wants us to be, as a people, and as individuals.

Conversely, if we are dishonest – in any way – we must expect that we drift further from God’s hopes for us.  We cannot expect to be more reflective of what God wants us to be if we are not truthful.

We also have to consider the fact that as Christians, as members of the Later Day Restoration movement, and as members of Community of Christ, we have a duty to be truthful.  I will even say that we have a duty to seek the truth – but let me put that in context.  We must, when we are exploring a particular issue of doctrine or theology, seek the truth. I don’t mean that we are otherwise obligated to keep hunting for truth, as that would become a full time vocation.

When we consider that Christians are called to follow Christ, to be His disciples, it than of course automatically follows that we need to embrace his teachings, and follow his examples.  This means that we need to promote truth.  How can we be regarded as model examples of Christian disciples if we do otherwise?

There is an even more important reason why we should ensure we are reflecting truth in our lives, in particular in our religious experiences.  Pontius Pilot asked Christ “what is truth?”,  however, before Christ could answer, Pilot turned away to address the multitudes.  Therefore, whatever Christ’s response may have been was not revealed.

I have often wondered what Christ’s response would have been, had Pilot not walked away (perhaps out of fear of hearing the answer).  A couple of years ago, I concluded that Christ would have indicated that truth, ultimate truth, is the mind and will of God.  Its just that simple, and it does not need to be any more complex than that.  Whatever is the mind and will of God is truth.

Being honest and truthful is, quite simply, our responsibility.  Meaning, that in our efforts to understand our doctrine and theology as fully as possible, we must ensure that we are being honest in our conclusions, and always fully truthful in all things.  Including our motives.

This is, however, perhaps not always easy.  As religious people, we each approach any doctrinal issue encumbered with our own beliefs.  Beliefs about scriptural interpretation, beliefs about scriptural authority, beliefs about the sacredness of tradition, beliefs about the church, beliefs about our history, beliefs about God, beliefs about how we think things ought to be.

The more controversial the doctrinal topic being explored, the greater the potential exists that we may compromise our own honesty, and our duty to the truth.

I’d like to use female ordination as an example of this.  A while back, I was engaged in a dialog with a person about the validity of the call of women to the priesthood.  He presented his reasons why he felt female ordination was wrong. I refuted them each.  This went on for a while, until he was no longer able to offer any further reasons for opposing female ordination.  He was unable to defeat my responses to his reasons for his opposition.

However, he still was against it.  It occurred to me that, ultimately, he just did not want female ordination to be valid.  He just didn’t want it to be right.  He preferred, and was quite comfortable, with viewing it as wrong.  Even when he realized there was no actual doctrinal basis to do so.

Of course, this was just my own conclusion and I had no way of knowing for sure if I was right.  So, I asked him.  Or, to be honest, I told him.  I said that I suspected that the real, ultimate, true reason why he was against female ordination was simply the fact that he did not like it.  He didn’t want to see things change.

He acknowledge that I was correct.  That actually surprised me.  However, it also impressed me.  He was being truthful with me.  Which of course, is commendable.

However, the fact that I was right is also troubling, because it proved to me that many people, in fact, probably all of us, are prone to behave like this from time to time.

He may have been truthful with me, but he was not being truthful with the doctrine in question.   To oppose a doctrinal change, simply because you don’t want it, is not an honest approach to God’s church – even if you are being honest with the reason for opposing something.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  It is perfectly fine to oppose doctrinal changes. I have done so on many occasions; and I have gone to great lengths to do so.  I’d almost say that I like it, however, that would suggest that I oppose doctrinal changes simply for the sake of doing so – for fun, and that is not at all the case.    However, when I do, sincerely feel in my heart that something is not right, I confess I do enjoy laying out my reasons for why I feel that way.  I like to explore and wrestle with doctrinal issues.  Pondering the scriptures, as Nephi counsels us, is something that helps me to relax.

Therefore, please be assured that I do not object to objecting.  However, I would hope that if we do so, if we object to something, that we have doctrinal reasons for doing so, so that we have something more substantial and legitimate than merely not caring for something.

The real test for all of us is this: how do we respond when we run out of doctrinal reasons?  Since opposing a doctrinal change without a doctrinal reason is not an honest approach to opposing such a change, than we had better find a doctrinal reason to object.

Often, the doctrinal reason is there first.  We oppose the change because we already believe that the change would conflict with our understanding of existing church doctrine, of our understanding of theology, of scripture, etc.

However, we have to ponder, what if all of the reasons that we have are soundly refuted? What do we do then?  Do we, like the person I spoke with, acknowledge that we still can’t support the change simply because we don’t like it?  Again, we already know that doing such is not an honest approach to rejecting a doctrinal change.

Or do we go hunting for additional doctrinal reasons to resist the change?  Doing that to some degree is probably acceptable. However, there has to come a point when, if we keep having our reasons refuted, yet we continue to keep hunting for more and more doctrinal reasons to object to a change, that we are equally guilty of not being honest since clearly our basis for doing so, if the first and even second wave of doctrinal reasons are refuted, is so that we can avoid accepting the change.

If we have to keep looking for more and more objections to try to defend our point-of-view, what than is the true, honest reason or our objection in the first place?  It would seem obvious that when it comes right down to it, we just don’t like it.

And that is not honest.  That is not valid.  That is not Christ-like.

As I suggested previously, I think we probably all fall into this custom, from time to time.  I’m sure I have.   However, I have to recognize that as a disciple of Jesus Christ, I have a duty to the truth.  Jesus Christ is God, and God is the source of all light and all truth.  Therefore, those of us who take upon the name of Christ must be upfront with ourselves, and with God, and with each other.  How we approach doctrine and theology and scripture, and any church issue must reflect our duty to the truth.  Truth is sacred, and if we obstruct truth, even our own personal truth, than we are undermining our own relationship with our Heavenly Father.

We are called to be perfect, to strive to be Christ-like; and if Christ ever said that he was against something, I’m quite sure, if he were asked why, his answer would not be “I just don’t like it”.

Questions to Ponder

1) How do you view the relationship between truth and discipleship?
2) What gets in the way of personal honesty?
3) How can we ensure that our motives are honest?

Dare We Ask?

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

askgod“Its not our place to question God”

Have you ever heard someone say that, or something like that?  Have you said it yourself?  It comes up a fair bit when we dig deep into issues of doctrine or theology.   Why did God do that?  Why did God say this?

In my experience, replying to questions about why God said or did something with the response of “its not our place to question God” is the great cop-out.  It means “I don’t want to answer” or “I don’t have an answer” or (perhaps most likely of all) “I don’t want this question to be explored” – and that means the question is perceived as a threat.

However, I believe that it is our place to question God.  When I say that, I don’t mean in some sort of defiant or clinical sense of just making lists of questions to bombard God with, as perhaps a symptom of our own restlessness.  We are not called to sit in judgment of God.  However, that in no way means that if we are truly curious about something, that we can’t ask God for clarity.

The way I look at it, God is our parent.  He loves us as a parent loves his or her children. Yet more so.  He wants us to evolve, and learn.  Therefore, I truly believe that he wants us to ponder things, reason through things, and, when we are unsure of something, to ask.  Yes, this even pertains to the scriptures.  In fact, especially so.

When you think about it, the only shared experience we have with God is what is revealed in our sacred canon.  Therefore, it seems unlikely that God would take offense to his children asking God about what God has deemed fit to reveal to us through his prophets.

We also need to remember that God is not petty (click here for a discussion on that). What kind of supreme being would cling to the position that we should not ask him questions?  What is God afraid of?  Its my conviction that God fears nothing.  Nothing threatens God, therefore, he has no reason to dread our questions.

If we look to the scriptures, we see that there is actually a precedent for asking questions.  Time and time again, prophets and other disciples of our Lord have asked questions.  We find these stories in the Bible and the Book of Mormon.  Therefore, if we follow the model and pattern of scripture, we should not be resistant to asking God questions.

We may not get an answer.  Perhaps it is enough that we discuss our questions amongst ourselves.  When we engage in dialog about various issues, we may find ourselves asking various questions.  God may not respond, but we can perhaps ponder the questions together, and strive to reach a plausible understanding together.

Questions to Ponder

1. Do you believe it is appropriate to ask God questions?  Why?
2. Why do we ask God questions?

3. How might our questions be answered?

Why Does the Church Have to Change?

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

Also, this blog is sort of a sequel to my prior blog “Can God Change?” which you may want to read first.

twosticksAs I’m sure most people are aware, change does not always come easily.  Or, it is not always easily accepted.  This is particularly obvious within the context of the church.

When I look at my own willingness to accept changes in the church, I find examples of occasions when I was reluctant to do so.  I’m particularly resistant to changes that can be construed as doctrinal in nature.  I tend to have conservative or foundationalist perspectives regarding church doctrine.  I cherish the grove experience, the need for a restoration, the Book of Mormon, the Inspired Version, the sacredness of our revelations, etc.

Consequently, changes in the church have not always been easy for me to accept; and I know that I am not alone.  There are numerous church members who struggle with church changes because, just like me, the traditional teachings of the church strongly resonate with them.

I know that there are some people who are really annoyed that the church has scheduled it’s next World Conference for June instead of April.  I’ve conversed with a couple of people about this, and I was surprised how annoyed they are over this latest change.  For myself, the dates of World Conference don’t really mean a great deal aside from personal preference.  The dates are not reflective of church doctrine.  They do not concern church theology.  They are purely administrative.

However, I came to realize that for those people who were bothered by the change of month, that the real issue was the fact that the church was, yet again, making another change.

Tampering, once more, with tradition.  It is very true that the church has seen a lot of changes back-to-back in what is, actually, a short period of time.  We might think its been over a long period of time, but when we consider the entire history of the church, it really has been a lot of changes, often dramatic, in a condensed period of time.

Consequently, some people ask “why does the church have to change?”  or “what was so wrong with the way things were?”

The ironic thing is, the more conservative a person is (in a church context), the more they ought to realize that the church has always experienced change.  We just aren’t really conscious of it, because we only see and experience the church, in a direct sense, through the filter of our own personal association with the church.

In other words, we can only directly experience the church in the context of our own lifetime.  I don’t truly know what church was like when my parents were kids, because I myself was not yet alive.  Young adults living right now cannot truly understand what church was like when I was a kid because at that point, they were not alive.

However, a large number of us have fond memories of church as we experienced it in our youth.  Perhaps it is simply in our nature to yearn for the days when church was like it was when we were teenagers.  Yet, the reality is, the church has never been the same, it has never been static.  The “way” church was when I was a teenager was not the same as it was for my parents.   However, the church as it was when they were teenagers would have not been the same as the church existed when my grandparents were teenagers.

The church is always in flux, and a foundationalist approach to our history reveals that this has always been the case.

You see, the revelations contained in our Standard of Authority (not just the Doctrine & Covenants, but also those found within the Book of Mormon and the Inspired Version – both of which are also revelations), reveal to us that the church has existed in multiple iterations.

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 scripture reveals that prior iterations of the church existed.

The first such iteration was in the era of Adam.  We are told in Genesis Chapter 6 (Inspired Version):

52 And he called upon our father Adam, by his own voice, saying, I am God; I made the world, and men before they were in the flesh.
53 And he also said unto him, If thou wilt, turn unto me and hearken unto my voice, and believe, and repent of all thy transgressions, and be baptized, even in water, in the name of mine Only Begotten Son, who is full of grace and truth, which is Jesus Christ, the only name which shall be given under heaven, whereby salvation shall come unto the children of men; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, asking all things in his name, and whatsoever ye shall ask it shall be given you.

Further down the chapter, we read the following:

67 And it came to pass, when the Lord had spoken with Adam our father, that Adam cried unto the Lord, and he was caught away by the Spirit of the Lord, and was carried down into the water, and was laid under the water, and was brought forth out of the water; and thus he was baptized.
68 And the Spirit of God descended upon him, and thus he was born of the Spirit, and became quickened in the inner man.
69 And he heard a voice out of heaven, saying, Thou art baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost; this is the record of the Father and the Son, from henceforth and forever;

Based on the above, we see that the church existed among humanity in the earliest generation of our sacred history.

When did this iteration come to an end?  We don’t know for sure.  The above verses were referenced by the prophet Enoch, so presumably the church existed in Enoch’s lifetime.    Though we can only speculate, it seems that the first iteration did not exist beyond the flood.

The second iteration of the church came into existence quite sometime after the first iteration became dormant (I estimate around 16 centuries later).  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.

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) 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.   Enoch might have said “Hmmm…there was no need for a second priesthood when I was a kid…why do we need one now?”

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 Melchisidec 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 a role vs. an office).

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:
00000a. Seven (and then ten) quorums of seventy instead of just one.
00000b. Prophets as an office of priesthood*
00000c. Presidents as an office of priesthood**
00000d. Patriarchs as an office of priesthood***
00000e. A First Presidency.
00000f. Apostles no longer form the senior administrate & spiritual body.
00000g. A presiding evangelist.
00000h. A new office, in the form of high councillor****
00000i. A Standing High Council
00000j. 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.

***

What do we learn from all of these examples of how the various iterations of the church were different from some or all of the other iterations? Well, quite simply, we learn that the church has never existed in one static form.  The church has always experienced divinely guided change.

As we have seen here (and especially in my prior blog Can God Change?) such alterations are not limited to just new additions to the church, but, as we have seen, sometimes something already established by God is changed by God in the future, or changed by God in another part of the world (divinely implemented regional distinctions).

So, can we, especially those of us with foundational church beliefs, truly claim that the church cannot or should not change, given that, based on our three books of scripture, it is clear that the church has always changed?

In fact, it would seem that if we don’t experience change, that would be inconsistent with our own history.

Change is not our enemy.  Change is not counter to God`s will.  However, perpetuating a delusion or clinging to such a falsehood (that the church cannot be changed by God) is clearly in alignment with the designs of the adversary, and in opposition to God`s revelations.

Questions to Ponder

1. Why do we sometimes fear change?
2. What do we learn from comparing the Aaronic priesthood in the Bible with the same priesthood in the Book of Mormon?
3. What positive changes have you witnessed in the church?

Related blog: Can God Change?

Can God Change? – Part 1 of 4

To Change, or not to Change”

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

olivetreeFor many years now I have observed that one of the most common objections to changes in the church, including changes to the priesthood, is that God does not change his mind about things.

This objection is frequently used by members of Community of Christ, as well as by members of various other Restoration factions.  Having encountered it so many times, I decided some time ago to explore this objection, and as a result, I have come to believe that it is flawed.  If you stick with me, I’ll endeavor to explain why.

The objection (that God does not change) is of course based on various verses of scripture, which do indeed state, in one form or another, that God does not change. We find some of these verses in the Bible and some in the Book of Mormon.  Here are some examples:

“For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.” -Malachi 3:6 (IV)

“But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end.”
-Psalm 102:27 (IV)

“Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.”
-Hebrews 13:8 (IV)

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”  –James 1:17 (IV)

81 And if there were miracles wrought, then why has God ceased to be a God of miracles, and yet be an unchangeable being.
82 And behold I say unto you, He changeth not; if so, he would cease to be God; and he ceaseth not to be God, and is a God of miracles.
–Mormon 4 (CofC 1908)

“For I know that God is not a partial God, neither a changeable being; but he is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity.”
–Moroni 8:19 (CofC 1908)

These verses, read in isolation, do indeed seem to suggest that God cannot change his mind.  The question then becomes “are there any verses that state that God can change His mind?”  As far as I know, the answer to that question is “no”.  I have yet to find a verse in our Standard of Authority that states that God can change.

Yet, if we are being honest with ourselves, we have to acknowledge that sometimes there are statements in scripture that seem to say different things. This means there is another factor to consider.

You see, an honest, in-depth exploration of this question, “can God change his mind?” must not be limited to simply looking for verses that inform us if God can change.  If we form our conclusions simply on the existence, or lack of, verses that say “God can change”, then we are ignoring the bulk of our sacred canon, for probably very self-serving reasons.

We need to look for a verse that, while perhaps not saying that God can change his mind, nevertheless serves as an example of God doing just that; and the reality is, there is such a verse:

109 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard said unto the servant, Let us go to, and hew down the trees of the vineyard, and cast them into the fire, that they shall not cumber the ground of my vineyard: for I have done all; what could I have done more for my vineyard?
110 But behold, the servant said unto the Lord of the vineyard, Spare it a little longer.
111 And the Lord said, Yea, I will spare it a little longer: for it grieveth me that I should lose the trees of my vineyard.
-Jacob chapter 3 (CofC 1908)

The above passage is part of a message from God given to the prophet Zenos, in which God reveals to Zenos his interactions with the nation of Israel, which he compares to an olive tree in a vineyard (v30, 31).  Therefore, the “lord of the vineyard” is God, who as we see above, has changed his mind.

Some people may not accept this scripture as a valid example of God changing his mind based on the fact that God’s plan is “likened” to a tame olive tree.  God reveals his plan for the House of Israel through an elaborate metaphor.

However, the key point here is that the metaphor is given to Zenos by God himself, for the purpose of simplifying (for the sake of Zenos’ understanding), God’s interactions with Israel.  With this in mind, it is not plausible that the character of the Lord of the Vineyard, made up by God to be representative of God, would say or do something that God himself would not.

There is however an even more important reason why the “god cannot change” objection is flawed.

It is actually not necessary to prove that God can change his mind.  We don’t need to advocate that position whatsoever.

All that is required is that we can demonstrate that God can bring about change.  That he can change various aspects of his creation, including the rules of his church & priesthood, to suit his purposes, as he deems needful.

Doing such does not need to mean that God has changed his mind, as it is very plausible that such changes were always part of God’s plan from the beginning.

God may be unchanging, but we must understand that this is in reference to his nature.  He is divine, he is eternal, he is loving, he is all powerful, he is wise, and he is just.  These aspects do not change.

Yet, these unchanging aspects of God’s nature do not prevent God from bringing about change, from making alterations, from causing transformation.

I would also submit that change is itself a divine trait.  Again, God does not, in my opinion, change in regard to his immortality, power, wisdom, perfect justice, etc; but change must be something that is itself reflective of God, because change is a key characteristic of every aspect of creation.

You see, God is a god of transformation, and transformation is simply another word for change.

Questions to Ponder

1. How does the question “Does God change?” relate to the belief that we are created in God’s image?
2. Does God need to change to bring about change?
3. Accept for the moment that God can change things.  What would be a good reason to do so?

Jump to Part 2

 

Can God Change? – Part 2 of 4

The Consistency of Change

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

transfigurationGod transforms people for the better.  When you consider what transpires in the scriptures, or when you consider the history of our own church, you can see that what is happening, all the time, over and over, is God working in the hearts of people to transform them, by giving them hope.

God’s prophets, forged in the wilderness by encounters with the divine, were transformed.  It was the transformation that these people experienced that enabled them to do what they did, to become what they became.  Moses was not simply sent back to Egypt.  First, he was forged by God in the wilderness.  Joseph Smith Jr. was not simply told one day to go dig up the buried plates.  He was spiritually prepared over many years via angelic visitations, and his experience in the grove.  Both men were transformed by God.

Here is another thought.  Transformation is what we offer to the world.  Our goal as disciples of Jesus Christ is to help bring people into a closer relationship with God.  Sometimes that means to help establish a relationship where none previously existed.

That is a transformation.  We talk, all the time, about how people have had their lives transformed in wonderful ways by the church.

When people are baptized, or confirmed, they are transformed.  So you see, we are in the business of transforming people.

Even Jesus Christ experienced transformation.  We call it the Transfiguration; and let us not forget, like Moses, he also had his time in the wilderness.

Transformation is what John the Baptist offered.  He preached repentance and baptized people for the remission of sins.  That is one form of transformation.  Through this remission, people learned to forgive themselves, to release themselves from their own guilt.  That is a second transformation and no doubt such transformations would result in developing new outlooks regarding how a person should live, treat one another, worship God, and so forth.

After John, Jesus Christ also preached repentance.  He preached about the Kingdom of God.  He challenged how people understood the Law and the Prophets; he encouraged people to totally transform their lives.

He sought to turn people away from wickedness, replacing it with peace, mercy, love, compassion, and charity, once again, just to name a few.

What we learn from all of this is that transformation is at the heart of our purpose.  It is at the heart of responding to God’s call.

It is at the heart of every aspect of existence.  The world continually transforms itself with the passing of each season.

The people called into the wilderness were transformed by God’s guidance.  The messiah himself was transformed through the Transfiguration.  Transformation is everywhere.  It permeates everything, and everyone throughout all creation.

The people who enter into a covenant with Jesus Christ are transformed; and like I said a few moments ago, we are, essentially, in the business of transforming lives.

And we do this, because the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.   Its all about Transformation.  That is the message of Hope that John the Baptist brought to a nation, and the message of Hope that Jesus Christ brings to the world.

Understanding this, is it not folly to suggest that God does not change from time to time?  Not himself, but what he made, including his priesthood.  If God does not change things from time to time, he would not be consistent with his own creation.

Questions to Ponder

1. In what way was Christ changed in the wilderness & during the Transfiguration?
2. What positive impact might there be in our attempts to bring about positive transformation if we understand that God himself is open to change?
3. What is the purpose of change?

Jump to Part 3