Responsible Revelation


Community of Christ practices what I like to call “Responsible Revelation”. This means that the president of the church, even in his capacity as prophet, is accountable to the church. Or, in other words, revelations to be canonized or which impact the presiding councils, quorums and orders of the church must be approved by the church.

Community of Christ has never professed that the prophet receives revelation from God daily, or even frequently. The church does not consider every word, article, action, address, sermon, etc., provided or undertaken by the prophet to be revelatory in nature. The day-to-day operation of the church has been entrusted by Christ to those called to serve in leadership positions. Policy changes, budget approval, missionary efforts, property management and acquisition, etc., are not viewed (automatically at least) as being the result of divine revelation (though we trust that God rests with us in our decision making activities).

From time to time, the prophet-president does receive revelation from God. It may come in response to prayer, or it may come unbidden. The prophet attempts to articulate in written form what the Holy Spirit has revealed to him, and the church takes action upon it. An overview of this process, and why we have, and how we benefit from continuing revelation, follows.

Why is Continuing Revelation part of the church?

We have declared Continuing Revelation to be one of our Enduring Principles. In discussing the development of those principles, President Veazey stated:

“One Enduring Principle that rose up quickly was continuing revelation. The principle is so ingrained in who we are that we cannot describe our faith without giving ample attention to it. Revelatory experience is a key part of our church’s beginning. It has functioned in transforming ways through-out our history. It will play a vital role in the future.”

He also stated in the same article:

“I believe one calling of Community of Christ is to keep the tradition, principle, and practice of continuing revelation alive.”

In his 2009 annual address to the church (“A Defining Moment“), while speaking about scripture, President Veazey made this statement:

“Community of Christ also stresses that all scripture must be interpreted through the lens of God’s most-decisive revelation in Jesus Christ. So if portions of scripture don’t agree with our fullest understanding of the meaning of the revelation of God in Christ, as illuminated by the Holy Spirit and discerned by the faith community, the teachings and vision of Christ take precedence. This principle applies to all of our books of scripture, especially any passage used by some to assign God’s disfavor, negative characteristics, or secondary roles to others.

This is why our belief in “continuing revelation” is so important. This belief keeps us open to “yet more light and truth” so we can grow in understanding of God’s supreme will as revealed in Christ.”

Clearly, revelation is tremendously important to the church. Our church leaders have spoken of it’s significance and role in our church. It is not a belief or conviction that just sits in the background, or is interpreted as taking the form of sermons and such, but manifests as specific documents that have blessed us tremendously over the years, and which continue to do so (note: while we commonly regard these documents to be revelations, Community of Christ understands that in fact, they are records of encounter with the divine. This is an often overlooked, but important distinction. The actual revelation is an even that took place in a moment in time, between the prophet and God. We do tend to call the resulting inspired documents revelations, but they are merely the written record of the revelatory experience). Revelation in Community of Christ is alive and well, and is in fact on the rise and we are a better people because of it.

How are revelations shared with the church?

Only those individuals who have actually held the position of prophet-president of the church could truly describe just how they receive revelations from God; and I suspect that trying to articulate such an encounter is very difficult. However, at some point, they put those experiences into written form.

These written revelations are then presented to the church for consideration. With a few exceptions (noted below), they are subjected to a formal approval process. These written items are known as “inspired documents” or (in more recent years) as “Words of Counsel”.

Let me make a point of clarity here. In Community of Christ, a presented revelation takes the form of a document that is specifically presented as a revelation. Letters, sermons, conference talks, addresses, magazine articles, etc., are not regarded as being revelations from God simply by virtue of having been provided by the prophet-president of the church. While these may indeed be inspired, they are not regarded as formal revelations.

Revelations also clearly state that they are the result of God’s efforts to work through the prophet (some might say that it could be understood that the prophet seeks to discern the mind and will of God – I view it as a partnership, a two-way process).

Therefore, only those words presented as a revelation are regarded (or considered) as such. Think of the many revelations in the Doctrine & Covenants that Joseph Smith Jr. provided. Same idea.

Here is a very brief example:

How are revelations approved?

For the most part, a revelation is presented for the first time during our World Conference, held every three years. However, on occasion, a revelation will be presented outside of World Conference.

Normally, it is our custom for all revelations to be subjected to the delegates of World Conference for consideration and approval. This means that a revelation is not deemed authoritative or binding simply because the president of the church has issued it. It must be considered, and voted upon by the people in order to be regarded as officially authoritative.

This is, as I understand it, a process that gradually came to exist in the early church.

During the approval process, the delegates study, ponder, pray and discuss the Words of Counsel. They meet in various caucuses or priesthood orders, quorums, and councils to review the document and openly discus and question it.

So, all the evangelists meet as the Order of Evangelists, the bishops meet as the Order of Bishops, the high priests meet as members of the Quorum of High Priests, the seventies meet as members of the Quorums of Seventy (I can’t quite recall if they meet as individual quorums or all together under the leadership of the presidents of seventy), the apostles meet as the Council of Twelve apostles.

Elders meet in a “mass meeting of elders” and deacons, teachers and priests meet as a “mass meeting of the Aaronic priesthood”.

In addition, there is a caucus for non-priesthood members, a non-delegate caucus, a couple of non-English speaking caucuses, and a youth caucus.

On the day that the inspired document is to be voted on (and when consideration is to commence), the president may make a few remarks, but quickly turns the chair over to someone else, and leaves the conference chamber. This further empowers people to speak and act as they wish.

The revelation is usually read one more time, and the various bodies mentioned above, along with the other two members of the First Presidency, present reports on how each body views the revelation. If I recall correctly, there is normally time for some further discussion, asking of questions, etc.

Eventually the chair calls for the vote. In the past, I have seen each paragraph voted on individually, and then a vote on the document as a whole, though I don’t know if that is always the case. Only delegates and ex-officio staff can vote (so even though I mentioned above that there is a non-delegate caucus, they meet to discuss and share their views but they don’t actually vote – likewise, members who attended the youth caucus or the non-English caucuses don’t get to vote unless they also happen to be delegates)

The purpose of the vote is to accept or reject the revelation as representing the mind and will of God. If the vote supports the revelation, it is added to our Doctrine & Covenants, becoming a new Section, and it therefore becomes authoritative, and part of our standard of authority, and canon of scripture.

After the vote is taken, the chair then calls for a courtesy vote, open to all members in attendance, including non-delegates (this is the only time that non-delegates get to vote).

So far, no revelation has ever been rejected, but this is not, as some people think, a rubber stamp process, nor a simple formality. It is a very serious process, and there has often been some difficult questions asked, some deep concerns expressed, and outright (and very vocal) opposition. There have even been occasions where members of the leading church bodies questioned a revelation.

Votes are not generally unanimous. People can, and many do, vote against a revelation. And they do so free of risk.

If the vote supports the revelation, a contingent of church leaders fetch the prophet-president, and they march back into the conference chamber, from the back, walking down the center aisle, as the attendees sing “We Thank Thee O God for a Prophet”. Its very moving.

Then the chairperson officially informs the prophet that the revelation has been accepted, and turns the chair back over to the prophet, who may make some final comments before moving onto other business. The entire process ensures that a responsible check-&-balance system exists.

Are all revelations added to the Doctrine & Covenants?

A change arose during the presidency of W. Grant McMurray. Prior to his tenure, many revelations combined spiritual counsel with administrative counsel (i.e., changes in senior church leadership). Or, sometimes a revelation would contain only the latter.

This resulted in the Doctrine & Covenants becoming cluttered with a great deal of content that largely dealt with just changes in senior church leadership.

Under President McMurray, changes in church leadership would no longer be combined with spiritual counsel, and would be presented in documents for just that purpose.

Such documents are termed “Letters of Counsel”. So, a Letter of Counsel provides administrative counsel (changes in church leadership), and the documents known as Words of Counsel provide spiritual counsel (encouragement, admonishments, direction, guidance, etcetera).

Sometimes a Letter of Counsel will be the only revelation presented at World Conference (as God does not provide spiritual counsel every single time).

Generally, the same process of consideration is utilized. The delegates consider the changes, the various bodies present reports, and there is a vote to approve the changes.

However, the outcome is not the same. Letters of Counsel do not become new Sections in the book of Doctrine & Covenants. For this reason, when President McMurray first made this alteration, and presented the first Letter of Counsel, explaining how things were now going to work, he was asked if such documents are to still be regarded as revelations, and he replied “yes”.

Are all revelations subjected to the approval process?

On rare occasion, a revelation containing spiritual counsel has been presented to the church and *not* subjected to a vote. The first time this happened (that I’m aware of) was in 1996. President McMurray presented a document to the church, but felt that God had more to impress upon him, and therefore, he did not permit the World Conference to take any action on it. Nor was that permitted in 1998. However, in 2000, an expanded version of the document was formally submitted for consideration, and became Section 161.

More recently, during the 2013 World Conference, a new inspired document (“Words of Counsel”) was presented, which President Veazey, from the start, said would not be voted on at that time, as he wanted to let it rest with us during the three years between that conference and our next World Conference in 2016. This was highly unusual, but represents I feel a very sober and mature approach to revelation: let the people really study it and ponder it and explore it before taking action on it.

Another more recent development is for Letters of Counsel to be shared outside of World Conference. Between World Conference 2010 and World Conference 2013, some key church leaders had to resign for personal reasons. Therefore, two different Letters of Counsel were issued naming interim leaders, with the understanding that they would officially fill the vacancies if accepted by the delegates at the 2013 World Conference.

During that conference a new Letter of Counsel was released summarizing the prior two and announcing some additional changes, and so that single document was actioned during that conference.

Note that, while in the above examples, immediate action was not taken on various items presented, everything that was (or is), intended to be canonized, was eventually (or will be), subjected to a vote. Likewise, before changes are made to the presiding leadership bodies, a vote is eventually taken, *before* the new leaders are installed. So, in all cases, if it is intended for an inspired document to be canonized, or for leadership changes to go into effect, the Words of Counsel and Letters of Counsel are subjected to the formal approval process. The point of this section was simply to show that, sometimes the church has provided the membership with more deliberation time than in previous eras of the church’s history.

However, if there is a revelation that is not intended to be canonized, and which does not impact leadership changes, it does not have to be voted on.

The only example of this that I’m aware of pertains to a short revelation that was presented to the church in 2009, towards the end of President Veazey’s first ever annual address to the church (and first ever annual address ever made). He shared, at the end of his talk a beautiful revelation which took the form of God providing encouragement.

It reads as follows:

(with a short introduction)

As I was preparing this address, I prayerfully asked God many times, “What more does the church need to hear?” On several occasions, I sensed the impress of the Spirit. In response, I want to give voice to what I sensed through the following words to the church:

Fear not! Do not be afraid to become who God is calling you to become. God, the Eternal One, has been with you in your past, continues with you in the present, and already is waiting patiently for you in the future. Through your lives the sacred story of the Restoration still is being written.

Engage the current challenges and opportunities before you with commitment and hope worthy of the dedication and sacrifices of those who went before you. Creatively build on the faith foundations they laid. Open windows and doors to the future.

Beloved community, God has chosen you to assist in accomplishing divine purposes if you will choose to live out of your better natures and potential. Deepen your faith. Refine your sensitivity to the guidance of the Spirit so that you are not distracted by other influences. Explore your scriptures with openness to new insights that will come. Increase your compassion and generosity. Strengthen your relationships so the peace of Christ may be magnified through you.

Have courage and hope. Gather in the gifts of all ages and cultures so the ministries of the body can become whole and fully alive. Others are being prepared around the world to join their efforts with yours, if you will move ahead according to the direction offered to you by the Spirit. Amen.

Being Responsible

I really love the way Community of Christ handles revelation in our church. I love that throughout our entire history, we have added new counsel from God to our book of Doctrine & Covenants, and I love that we practice responsible revelation: we don’t just treat everything that the the prophet says, writes, or does as being the result of Revelation. We don’t just accept all impacting revelations as authoritative simply because the prophet has said that he’s received a revelation. I love that the revelations are written, circulated, deliberated upon, prayed over, and finally voted on, as moved by the Holy Spirit.

And I love that we have grown in corporate church maturity to understand that if you’re going to claim that God has blessed the world with new scripture, its best to let the people voting on it have more than just a few days to delve through it, if the issues or themes are complex. This change, is perhaps the clearest example of how Community of Christ practices responsible revelation. Not only does the prophet’s revelation have to be written down, circulated, studied by whoever wishes to, and ultimately voted on; but he has given us three years to study it, before asking us to take the critical step of affirming to the greater church and the word that what has been presented warrants being upheld as scripture, and becoming part of our threefold standard of authority.

I also love how we ceased adding administrative changes to our scriptures, and I love how we have continued to embrace revelation in new ways, by seeing the revelatory process take place outside of World Conferences; and I love that the members of the church, are part of the ongoing prophetic process. We are, as others have said before, not just a people with a prophet, but a prophetic people. It is not one or the other, but a partnership.

I am so thankful to belong to a church that not only believes in continuing revelation, but celebrates it, finding new ways to incorporate it into the life of our church. And its on the rise! As near as I can determine, we have been blessed with approximately 15 revelations since they year 2000. Continuing revelation is truly a blessing to us all, and I am grateful to God for His never failing love and patience for His people, and His eternal patience for a flock that does not always listen, or which often fails to understand His purposes. Thank you Lord for never giving up on us, and for continuing, even now, to speak to us. It is my hope and prayer that we will become better at hearing you.

Responsible revelation. What a concept!

Where I can find the most recent revelations?

Examples of our most recent additions to the Doctrine & Covenants can be found here:

The 2013 Words of Counsel can be found here:

An example of a letter of counsel can be found here:

A Personal Testimony

If you’ve read this far, I thank you. The rest is bonus content.

I want to add that being part of the process of approving a Revelation is hugely rewarding. There is something really exciting about holding in your hands a copy of a new revelation from God, and there is something exhilarating about getting to be at World Conference where a new revelation is considered, voted on, and ordered for inclusion in our Doctrine & Covenants.

I’ll never forget how I felt during a conference several years ago. I was not able to attend, but I heard there was a rumor that there was a new revelation. But I was not sure if that was true, or if the document was perhaps something else (like a pastoral letter).

When I found the document, I was still not sure what it was being presented as. Then I felt a chill, when I noticed that the paragraphs had been versified. This was not just a pastoral letter, but a revelation.

And then I saw these words:

“To the Councils, Quorums, and Orders, to the World Conference, and to the church”

I should mention, that a large number of our revelations begin with those words. I don’t think they are used in any other way. At least, not that I’m aware of.

And they are just words. Not even part of the actual revelation. Nothing special about them. Pretty boring right? Pretty non-significant. And yet, when I began to read those words that day, I started to cry. For you see, as soon as I read those words, I knew it was official. I knew that I was reading God’s most recent counsel to the church, and it connected me to an experience, a sacred experience, taking place far away from my home, that I could not be at.

I’m getting choked up right now as I write this, as I think back on that experience. They are, for me, despite otherwise being meaningless, among the most powerful words I have ever read.

No matter how many revelations they commence. Its funny how something so minor can resonate with me so much, and draw me closer to God. I noticed that they were not used for the 2013 Words of Counsel, but I hope that if that document is one day formally submitted to be considered for inclusion in the Doctrine & Covenants, that they will be added, and I hope to be sitting in the conference chamber, to hear someone speaking into a mic, reading those words, calling us into the presence of the divine, as God’s guidance and counsel are shared with His people.

Lead with Grace

shepherdTwo weeks ago I was talking to some people about different leadership styles in the church, and how leaders handle various situations differently. At one point I was trying to express how I felt leaders should deal with all issues, especially those that, if mishandled, could cause resentment.

I’m not sure where it came from, but suddenly I said “they need to lead with grace”. I kinda liked that. Even impressed myself :) I liked it so much that I mentioned it several times today in a meeting I attended with several church members from across our mission center.

All church leaders, all ministers, all disciples, all members, when making decisions, when weighing options, when enforcing policies and positions, when dealing with both paid staff as well as volunteers, when dealing with issues of doctrine and theology, and in particular, when working through any controversial issue, *must* lead with grace.

In other words, we should not be cold, or heavy-handed, or callous in how we handle any matter that we are working through.

We are a church, and that means we are a community of people. And, as in all communities, there are differences of opinion, and sometimes, that requires people in positions of authority to invoke “the official stuff” (policies, positions, principles, church law, doctrine, theology, scripture, etc. etc.), and that is perfectly fine (especially if you’re making a reference to scripture).

However, how we deliver the message is of paramount importance. This is why it is imperative that when we do so, when we deliver that message, whatever it might be, we must lead with grace.

In fact, if we truly lead with grace, we might find an alternative solution that we would not otherwise have considered. As Stephen Covey discusses in his book “The 3rd Alternative”, there are always more than two courses of action. However, if we are unwilling to lead with grace, we might be blind to other possibilities.

Sometimes, we might feel that there are no options, because we do have policies that, if strayed from, may seem to warrant enforcement.

I’m in favor of supporting church policies. But we still need to lead with grace.

In 2007 President Veazey presented an inspired document to the church that was approved for inclusion in the Doctrine & Covenants as Section 163. That revelation includes the following words:

“Scripture is not to be worshiped or idolized. Only God, the Eternal One of whom scripture testifies, is worthy of worship….” -7b

This counsel was given to the church because, throughout history, mankind has had a tendency to worship scripture instead of God, to the detriment of many.

The Latter Day Restoration Movement, including Community of Christ, has not been an exception. We must not be so narrow minded and short sighted, that we, through our use of scripture, to justify our actions, or positions, etc., ultimately worship scripture instead of God.

The above counsel is not just guidance, but an admonishment, perhaps even a rebuke. And because of this guidance, the church is rightly moving away from worshiping scripture.

Yet, there are those who seem to worship policies. I have had conversations with people in the past who have almost become outraged to learn that, inadvertently, a particular policy was not adhered to. This has happened even when the policy was a minor one. I’ve actually been taken aback on these occasions at how annoyed people can be when this happens. It also has struck me as likely that if the policy in question were to be changed, or dropped from our books, they would not have cared. I sensed no loyalty to the particular policies in question, just an overzealous need to respond with sharp criticism over the fact that a policy had been strayed from.

Policies are not canonized, so if we can take the position that we should not worship scripture (even making that stance itself a verse of scripture), we would do well to not worship policies. Instead, we should lead with grace.

Section 163 also included this deeply profound statement:

“There are many issues that could easily consume the time and energy of the church. However, the challenge before a prophetic people is to discern and pursue what matters most for the journey ahead.”

In his 2009 “A Defining Moment” address to the church, President Veazey took the above, and transformed it into a question that he posed to the church.

“So, after all that is said, what matters most?”

The concept of what matters most was also referenced in Section 164, when we were told that the mission of Jesus Christ matters most.

As a question, “what matters most?” is a brilliant thing to ask. When we deal with anything, including church policies, we need to ask that question. Again, I’m not advocating that policies be ignored, but we should still take a moment to pause, and ask ourselves, “OK, truly, sincere, honestly, what really matters most here?”

Lead with grace.

I also love how that verse in Section 163 starts: “There are many issues that could easily consume the time and energy of the church.” Yes indeed. And that is why “the challenge before a prophetic people is to discern and pursue what matters most for the journey ahead.”

Lead with grace.

We are called to be disciples of Jesus Christ. We are not called to be Pharisees. But we run the risk of becoming just that if we fail to lead with grace, if we fail to consider what matter most. So, just keep it simple. Consider what matters most, and lead with grace. Always.

Lead with grace! ~ Lead with grace! ~ Lead with grace!

Where Jesus Appears: Interpreting the Post-Resurrection Narratives

Resurrection. Rising from the dead? Empowerment? Continuing presence? Mythology? I’ve grown rather bored as of late with the historical quests for who Jesus really was. It’s tiring, really. One scholar says this, the other says that-next thing you know, Jesus hasn’t been deconstructed but shattered. Of course, that is somewhat exaggerated. I’ve definitely gained some valuable insights into who Jesus was and what he stood for. What I want to do now is move away from the historical criticism dimension and towards the metaphorical/literary approach. I would like to study the texts not for historical truth but for the value beyond the reductionists’ snare. As a start, I want to return to the Resurrection, not in terms of whether or not it was bodily, but what it tells us about the meaning of Jesus.

Jesus’ death should have ended his movement. That’s what happened, that’s what happens. Revolutionaries from the marginalized realms of society almost always contain the lifeblood of the movement. They are the standard, the incarnation of hope, the essence of the resistance. Yet in decapitating the head of the Jesus movement, Roman authorities unleashed a hydra that spread and grew in strength. Something was amiss. This is both a theological and historical question: Why did Jesus’ followers continue and grow, in contrast to the many other marginalized groups who have clashed with authority in the history of the world? I don’t intend to deal with this question directly in this post. Instead, I will focus on how Jesus’ life and message was internalized by his followers. Perhaps this will clarify future examinations of that question.

dawnLet’s now turn to the post-Resurrection narratives, starting with Matthew. Matthew is quite terse.

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:16-20).

I find this anecdote to be the most illuminating in Matthew’s recounting. Think in a Jewish context of the imagery of the mountain. Moses spoke with God on top of the mountain.

Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites…” Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, in order that the people may hear when I speak with you and so trust you ever after” (Exodus 19:3-6, 9).

I emphasize the Moses connection because from the start of Matthew’s Gospel, he compares Jesus to Moses. Take, for example, the accounts the Israelites’ flight from Egypt and Jesus’ flight from Herod. In the former, the Israelites escape the Pharaoh in Egypt and go to Canaan. In the latter, Joseph and Mary take Jesus to Egypt to avoid tyranny in Palestine. Jesus, then, is to be a liberator. But there’s a problem. Unlike Moses, Jesus wasn’t able to lead the Israelites on a long journey into the wilderness, away from bondage. Instead, he is killed. Matthew, then, is not so much concerned with the Resurrection as a triumph over death as he is with developing a profound truth: Moses never left. The Jews are always waiting for either divine or prophetic intervention but then don’t recognize it. They have a defeatist attitude, a sense of saying “no” to life. The Pharisees and Sadducees don’t deconstruct the system that oppresses them, but long for a future day when some powerful figure will. Those are the doubters mention in Matthew’s verse above-not doubters in his Resurrection (in the ancient world, the realms of earth and death were intimately connected), but in whether they have the ability. Matthew is turning this on its head. Jesus was the spark, but now is followers realize they have the ability to tend the flame of this new kingdom of freedom and community. And just as God does when speaking with Moses, he reminds them that he is always there, to the “end of the age,” the end of the age of oppression, when a new type of world will come forth.

Luke’s account uses a different angle. His narrative of the road to Emmaus is, for me, the most profound account of Jesus after the Resurrection. It is an account of communal mourning and compassion, breaking bread even in sorrow. According to Luke, the two disciples encounter a stranger whom they are unable to recognize in their despair. They allude to prior hopes that he was the redeemer-notice how the onus is on Jesus just as traditional Jewish thought placed the responsibility on some great intervening person or force. They discuss some other matters as the day progresses.

“As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.  They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:28-35).

These verses reveals how Jesus’ followers saw him, how he continued to be among them. Jesus is found in hospitality and welcoming the stranger. But, even more important, it is the breaking of bread, the sharing of the meal where Jesus is most pronounced. In the meal, life is nourished and friendship may be cultivated. The meal is about community, loving your neighbor, participating in something more than oneself. The focus should not be on the figure of the stranger as Jesus rather, Jesus is to be found in the act itself. That is where the realization occurs.

The cross leaves us, as it did with the original disciples, with a feeling of loss. It is a moment of total deconstruction. Everything that gives comfort appears to fall away. Yet the Resurrection tells a different story. It reveals how the evils that Jesus stood against are the ones that crumble. For in the crucifixion, we are left with uncertainty and anxiety, but also new freedom. The Resurrection is our encounter with this freedom, showing us how we can turn what we thought was lost into a call for action, a call to dismantle that which stands against love, courage, and freedom. It is not about beating death, but embracing life.

Thoughts on Suffering and Peace

Well a lot has happened since my last post. Unfortunately, I can’t use blogging as an excuse to not do homework or study for the SATs… Anyways, I’m back, and since Easter was just last weekend, I figured it was as good a time as any to discuss suffering (and peace).

Before continuing, I want to stress that I don’t intend for my posts to (necessarily) have any rhyme or reason. If I contradict myself or appear to evolve, it’s because I’m simply discussing new insights. For me, guides to “truth” are no longer static entities.


As I have discussed before, Christianity has a suffering problem. Many atheist writers have come up with sound logical arguments against God’s existence using the problem of evil. The larger theological problem, as I see it, is that Christian theologians have boxed themselves into a corner with God. Karen Armstrong, author of A History of God, described this issue in depth. In the west, God became a deity of philosophers. The ability to redefine God paved the way for Protestant theologians to proffer new images. The many denominations of Christianity today attest to the often unacknowledged malleability of God.

Perhaps, in an effort to solve this theological conundrum, Christianity could find value in two unlikely sources: Buddhism and Lacanian psychoanalysis. Buddhism is dedicated to overcoming suffering within a non-theistic framework. Achieving a state of peace and bliss, nirvana, involves release from ideas. The Christian God, as it is usually discussed, is an unsystematic medley of ideas and concepts. In discussing nirvana, Zen monk, Thich Nhat Hanh said:

And that is why Nirvana is not something that you get in the future. Nirvana is the capacity of removing the wrong notions, wrong perceptions, which is the practice of freedom. Nirvana can be translated as freedom: freedom from views. And in Buddhism, all views are wrong views. When you get in touch with reality, you no longer have views. You have wisdom. You have a direct encounter with reality, and that is no longer called views.”

In a Christian context, FORGET EVERYTHING YOU WERE EVER TOLD ABOUT GOD! Or at the very least, don’t take symbolic language literally. Applying this Buddhist framework is truly radical, but it’s sound advice. Think about views and notions. They are individual and self-based, based in the ego. Our individual views are the foundations for our prejudices and biases, and thus cause our suffering. They prevent us from seeing in a pure light. And as Hanh has repeatedly emphasized, they serve as the justification for religious wars and deaths of countless people. Removing our views would open up our eyes and allow for us to interrelate in a less judgmental and selfish manner.

Now how can Jacques Lacan, a heterodox Freudian psychoanalyst, offer any help in solving Christianity’s theological problems? Lacan spoke of a three-part framework: the Real, the Symbolic, and the Imaginary. Contemporary theologian, Peter Rollins, has discussed this framework’s relation to God in some detail:

“We treat someone at the imaginary level when we see him or her as fundamentally like us. In other words, they are someone who we can admire, love, hate, be jealous of etc. This is relatively easy to understand as we’re broadly aware of the way we exist in competition, or solidarity, with those around us….

In traditional theological circles God operates more on the Symbolic level. Here God is not named as such, it is claimed that what we say about God reflects ourselves and that we must speak of God as “beyond being,” “ground of being,” or in some other way that avoids the idea of us “speaking of ourselves in a loud voice” (Karl Barth). It is claimed that there is an ineffable reality to God that cannot be penetrated; yet this impenetrable God exposes us to ourselves.”

In other words, the Imaginary is narcissistic and egotistical, while the Symbolic relates more to the customs and rules of a culture. At the Symbolic level, for Lacan, God is the Other, an illusory structure of existence that pervades our consciousness. Thus, as a societal structure, it is subject to change.

Yet similar to the Buddhist concept of nirvana, and release from ideas:

“The Real is a rupture. The Real cannot be imagined or symbolized, it does not occupy a place, and yet it takes place. The Real is a crack within our existing political, religious and cultural configurations, a resistance that prevents systems from claiming absolute knowledge. It is a destabilizing event that threatens to disrupt the balance maintained by our ideological commitments.”

Perhaps understood in this way, the experience of Christianity could be freeing and able to reduce suffering.

Thirty Years of Lessons: Women and Gays in the Community of Christ

Recently I was invited by the moderators of the liberal Mormon blog Wheat & Tares to be a guest contributor on issues related to Community of Christ. This post, published earlier today, is my first contribution for them.

By Rich Brown

Thirty years to the week after approving priesthood ordination for women, the Community of Christ is extending the sacraments of ordination and marriage to gays and lesbians in the United States. A two-year interim period begins on Monday, March 31, after which it will be reviewed and considered for permanent status. This follows similar action resulting from national conferences in Australia and Canada.

Lessons learned from what turned out to be a tumultuous (many might say disastrous) beginning for the 1984 landmark event have been put into place by CofC leaders today. Although a few church members in recent months have either turned in their priesthood cards or left the church, it’s nothing like the major exodus that took place three decades ago.

Aspen-TreesFor starters, this time there was a three-year preparation period leading up to a special USA National Conference held right after World Conference in Independence, Missouri, last April. The 2,000 USA delegates spent several days listening, testifying, and worshiping together before overwhelmingly recommending that the First Presidency and the USA Team of Apostles issue the changes. The official conference report is here.

Here’s the specifics: The marriage sacrament is authorized for individuals in a same-gender relationship wherever such civil marriage is legal. Elsewhere CofC congregations may celebrate a special covenant/blessing worship experience. And ordination can be extended to individuals with same-gender orientation who are either in a committed, long-term relationship or who are celibate. For those wondering, the same rules apply to straight folks.

Thirty years ago World Conference delegates were caught off guard when RLDS President Wallace B. Smith presented an inspired document to priesthood quorums and orders on April 3. Two days later the document was approved by the conference as a whole and it became Section 156 of the Doctrine and Covenants. The document was mostly about a proposed temple to be built in Independence. But the last few paragraphs brought general counsel regarding priesthood, including the following:

I have heard the prayers of many, including my servant the prophet, as they have sought to know my will in regard to the question of who shall be called to share the burdens and responsibilities of priesthood in my church. I say to you now, as I have said in the past, that all are called according to the gifts which have been given them. This applies to priesthood as well as to any other aspects of the work. Therefore, do not wonder that some women of the church are being called to priesthood responsibilities. –Doctrine and Covenants 156:9

“Wonder” wasn’t exactly the operative word for traditionalists and conservatives. Already suspicious of what they viewed as dangerous liberalizing tendencies in the church for at least two decades, they were incensed and vowed to fight the move every way possible. Business meetings in congregations, districts, and stakes where priesthood calls for women were presented often turned into angry shouting matches. People made sure every one of their baptized children was on hand to vote yes or no depending on the parents’ direction.

My own stake (Blue Valley, which included a portion of Independence and eastern Jackson County) had its rules of operation suspended because people simply couldn’t get along. It was a sad, ugly, and unfortunate time even while marking a new era of broadened ministry in the church. Today women and men serve alongside one another. If you didn’t know what happened decades ago, you’d probably never suspect there was anything unusual about the way priesthood functions now.

Numerous resolutions on same-gender issues were submitted to the past few World Conferences but were ruled out of order by the First Presidency, mainly because they were considered important to church members in a select few nations rather than as something critical for the international church. The CofC has an official presence in more than 60 nations.

In 2010 inspired counsel to the church called for creation of national conferences, specifically to consider issues related to same-gender orientation. With somewhere around half of all CofC members living outside the Western, industrialized countries in North America, Australia, and Europe, this was believed to be the only way same-gender issues could be dealt with in the church.

Delegates at the USA National Conference engaged in a unique process aimed at reaching “common consent.” This meant that a significant majority (at least 66 percent) would have to make a recommendation for top church leaders to act.

In mid-March of this year, the five apostles responsible for USA mission centers sent a copy of President Stephen Veazey’s “Statement to the Church: National Conference Recommendations and Interim Policies” to priesthood members. It was mailed to all USA pastors and high priests, evangelists (referred to as patriarchs before women were ordained), bishops, and seventy. They presented the president’s statement as “inspired by the Holy Spirit.” A DVD titled “President’s Reflections” will be available in April to church members and include four sections: Let Me Be Clear, What Does the Lord Require of Us, My Personal Testimony, and Room for Everyone.

President Veazey’s statement, which spills over onto a fourth page, is essentially a point-by-point counter to criticisms of the new same-gender policies.

To those who argued that these new policies were in opposition to previous revelation given to the church, President Veazey had this to say:

Doctrine and Covenants 111 provides instruction regarding marriage in the church. It is a statement written in the mid-1830s to counter rumors about adultery and polygamy in the church. Same-gender marriage was not conceivable, much less a question, in early 19th-century thought. To conclude that Doctrine and Covenants 111 definitely resolves the question of same-gender marriage ignores its historical context and stated purpose. Also, although Section 111 was included in the Doctrine and Covenants, its historical preface clearly states it was not a revelation.

To those who have pointed to certain Bible verses used to condemn same-gender orientation and relationships, he offered this:

Let me be clear. Continuing Revelation approved by the World Conference means those particular Bible verses are not the final word on these matters. Such verses now are understood through insights offered in Continuing Revelation approved by the church…. However, the real issue was not just several Bible verses, but how we understand and apply scripture.

He identified Doctrine and Covenants Section 163 as important counsel in these matters:

Scripture is an indispensable witness to the Eternal Source of light and truth, which cannot be fully contained in any finite vessel or language…. Scripture has been written and shaped by human authors through experiences of revelation and ongoing inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the midst of time and culture. Scripture is not to be worshiped or idolized…. It is not pleasing to God when any passage of scripture is used to diminish or oppress races, genders, or classes of human beings. Much physical and emotional violence has been done to some of God’s beloved children through the misuse of scripture. The church is called to confess and repent of such attitudes and practices. –D. and C. 163:7 (excerpted)

President Veazey concluded that Section 163:7

applies to the verses used to deny persons of same-gender orientation access to all sacraments. It also applies to situations where scripture verses are used by some to dominate, oppress, or exclude others who are different from them. Because the World Conference approved Section 163:7 as an expression of God’s will, the Bible verses most often used to categorically denounce same-gender orientation and relationships no longer should be presented as the final word on these matters.

He said it “is clear that God is maturing us as a `prophetic people’ who discern divine will by responsibly engaging scripture, tradition, Continuing Revelation, knowledge and reason, personal and community experience, and Spirit-led consent…. I believe more-than-sufficient revelation has been received to resolve issues about same-gender relationships in nations where those issues are pressing matters.”

Near the end of his official statement, President Veazey wrote: “As I have continued to seek direction on behalf of the church, the Spirit has brought assurance that questions about same-gender orientation and marriage are primarily related to life on Earth. They do not have necessary bearing on salvation, the divinity of the church and the sacraments, or the ultimate fulfillment of God’s purposes.”

No doubt people both inside the CofC and outside it will be examining these words and trying to read between the lines. For me, it’s clear that “Continuing Revelation” is the most important consideration for the church as it deals with these and other critical issues.

It reminds me of an essay by theologian David Ford who described religion as God speaking to us from the past. Think of that as the accumulation of scripture, church tradition, and wise people who’ve used reason and intelligence to bring the church to where it is today. Ford identified revelation as God speaking to us from the future.

If God is free to open history from the future then the future need not mirror the past. In the Church this combines with the message of the cross to allow for discontinuities and innovations. –David F. Ford, `Faith in the Cities: Corinth and the Modern City’ in “On Being the Church” (1989)

Ford cited the example of the apostle Paul who claimed authority as an apostle through direct revelation from the risen Christ rather than an institutional authority handed on to him from Peter and the other apostles in Jerusalem. To that I would add the experience of Joseph Smith Jr. in the early 19th century, who served as God’s instrument in bringing forth a “great and marvelous” new work.

We are all caught somewhere in between religion and revelation, and every church/denomination finds its own point on the continuum. With this “Statement to the Church” President Stephen Veazey is not only prompting the Community of Christ in an obvious direction but in a curious way he mirrors the examples of Apostle Paul and Joseph Smith in challenging the church to understand more fully what it means to be a prophetic people.

Sacramental Truth

This blog is part of my ZionBound series.  The full series can be read on my blog site 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?

Lost and Found in the Wilderness

LostintheWildernessI’m still playing catch-up this week as our reading takes us through the end of the Book of Mosiah (11-13 CofC/23-19 LDS). Having left the people of Limhi reunited with the main body of Nephites in Zarahemla last week, we turn from the “the Record of Zeniff” to a new subset of the text introduced by the header “An account of Alma and the people of the Lord, which was driven into the wilderness by the people of king Noah.”

However, relatively little time is spent on the separate existence of the people of Alma. Very quickly they are found by the Lamanites and decide to flee to Zarahemla where the bulk of our reading is set. Thus, the seemingly complex structure that we saw established last week — where the people of Alma, the people of Limhi, and the priests of Noah all existed separately in lands divided by the wilderness — quickly reduces with the first two groups merging back into the main body of the Nephites at Zarahemla, and the last group uniting with the Lamanites.

To sketch out the narrative: the people of Alma are living in the newly settled Land of Helam. They are righteously devoted to their new church and are said to “multiply and prosper exceedingly,” but we are told “the Lord seeth fit to chasten his people; yea, he trieth their patience and their faith” (Mosiah 11:22-23 CofC/ 23:20-21 LDS). This is a somewhat unexpected twist on the Deuteronomic history. Apparently the rule is sometimes if you’re righteous and therefore prosperous, you fall into sin and the Lord sends the Lamanites to chastise you and bring about repentance. However, at other times, if you’re prosperous and stay righteous, the Lord sends the Lamanites merely to test your faith. Either way, it seems, you get the Lamanites. (It’s a little like because the Lord has a hammer, every situation looks like a nail.)

In a kind of ongoing “lost in the wilderness” comedy of errors,[1] the Lamanite army chasing Limhi’s people into the wilderness instead finds the wicked priests and their stolen Lamanite wives. Through the intercession of these wives, the Lamanites forgive the priests and they all attempt to find their way back to the Land of Nephi. Instead, they stumble upon Alma’s people in the Land of Helam. (These lost in the wilderness snafus are a sequel to the experience of the Zeniff’s scouts who found gold plates at the Land of Desolation, imagining that they were in Zarahemla.) King Laman of the Lamanites appoints Amulon, leader of the wicked priests, to be a sub-king over the Land of Helam. Amulon proceeds to enslave Alma’s people who ultimately respond by fleeing into the wilderness (not forgetting their flocks!) and rejoining the main body of Nephites at Zarahemla.


The Acts of the Almas

The bulk of the narrative now focuses on the combined group at Zarahemla, still led by King Benjamin’s son, King Mosiah. Although called “Nephites” in shorthand, we’re now told that the majority of the people were actually descendants of a figure alternatively known as “Muloch” in the original manuscript, “Mulok” in the CofC edition, and “Mulek” in the LDS edition (Mosiah 11:78 CofC/ 25:2 LDS). Presumably Muloch’s story, the founding of Zarahemla, and the original migration of the Nephites to Zarahemla (including the establishment of a Nephite kingly dynasty) were stories lost with the 116 pages.

In arriving at Zarahemla with his people, Alma has brought something new: the church he has previously established in the wilderness. With the authorization of King Mosiah, Alma now begins to “establish churches throughout all the land of Zarahemla” led by priests and teachers. Alma himself is the “high priest,” which appears to be the title of the head of the church (unlike the way the term has been used in the Restoration tradition since 1835).

As the narrative tells the story of the establishment and growth of the Nephite church, it draws inspiration from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles — with one major twist.[2] The opponents of early Christians in the eastern half of the Roman Empire are, by and large, pagans, Jews, and false prophets and magicians. Essentially no one in the ancient world was an “unbeliever” — everyone, including most philosophers, held some idea of higher powers, God, or gods, even if they rejected mythology and/or cultic practices as superstition. The church in Acts, therefore, is built up as a result of victory over groups and individuals from these groups of rival believers who conspire to persecute the early Christians.

In Joseph Smith’s day, the Christians of the Second Great Awakening squared off, not against Greco-Roman paganism, but against the new kind of skepticism that had been born in the wake of the Enlightenment. Like them, the rivals of Alma’s church are not practitioners of some earlier Nephite or Mulekite religion that predated Benjamin and Abinadi’s prophesies of Jesus Christ, they are “unbelievers.”[3] And it seems that although Alma, as high priest, enjoys religious and political ascendance (including active sponsorship by the king), the unbelievers are still able to inflict great “persecutions” on his church (Mosiah 11:150 CofC/ 27:1 LDS).


Alma Jr on the Road to Damascus

Among the most prominent unbelievers, initially, is Alma’s own son Alma (“Alma Jr”), along with Alma Jr’s friends, the sons of King Mosiah. However, like the most famous episode in the Book of Acts, where the persecuting Saul is confronted by a vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus and is converted and becomes the great missionary apostle “Paul” (Acts 9), Alma Jr and the sons of Mosiah are likewise visited by an angel of the Lord.

In Paul’s vision, Jesus asks “Saul, Saul, why persecutist thou me?” (Acts 9:4). The angel appearing to Alma Jr asks “Alma, arise and stand forth. For why persecutist thou the church of God?” (Mosiah 11:165 CofC/ 27:13 LDS). For Saul, the experience was so astonishing that he fell to the earth, and afterward was struck blind and speechless for three days. Then, after his site and speech were restored, he was fully converted to the cause of building up the church, ultimately becoming its greatest missionary.

Alma Jr shares Saul’s experience, falling to the ground in astonishment and losing the power of speech and movement for two days and two nights (Mosiah 11:179-185 CofC/ 27:18-23 LDS). Arising from the experience, Alma announces that he has been “born of the Spirit” and that it is necessary for everyone to become “born again, yea, born of God” (Mosiah 11:186-187 CofC/ 27:24-25 LDS).[4] At this point he and the sons of Mosiah become, like Paul became for the early Christian church, the Nephite church’s greatest missionaries. We’ll have more of their stories inspired by Acts in future weeks.


On Kingship: Sermons of Alma and King Mosiah

The pattern we’ve observed to date in the text are a series of stories told largely by an anonymous narrator[5] interspersed with sermons spoken directly by figures within the stories. At the beginning and end of our reading this week, we have sermons on the topic of kingship. The idea of functional monarchy is rather dated from our 21st-century perspective. The issue was largely decided in the Great War (whose centennial we’re commemorating this year) and its sequel; but the question of monarchy vs. republicanism and democracy was very much open in the early 19th-century.

The first sermon on the topic is given by Alma, who is addressing his people while they were still an isolated group in the Land of Helam. His words “if it were possible that ye could always have just men to be your kings, it would be well for you to have a king” (Mosiah 11:8 CofC/ 23:8 LDS) are sometimes cited in support of divine-led monarchy as the best form of government. In fact, Alma’s arguing the opposite, i.e., since it’s impossible for the king to always be a just man, “it is not expedient that we should have a king” (Mosiah 11:7 CofC/ 23:7 LDS). Moreover, Alma quotes the Lord’s opposition “Ye shall not esteem one flesh above another, or one man shall not think himself above another” (Mosiah 11:7 CofC/ 23:7 LDS). Rather, Alma desires that his people:

Ye should stand fast in this liberty wherewith ye have been made free and that ye trust no man to be a king over you… (Mosiah 11:14 CofC/ 23:13 LDS)

Nevertheless, when Alma and his people relocate to Zarahemla, they do end up trusting a man to be king over them: King Mosiah. But King Mosiah himself ultimately agrees with Alma as he explains in a much longer sermon at the end of our reading this week.

As Mosiah approaches old age, following the pattern we’ve seen with his father King Benjamin and with King Limhi’s grandfather Zeniff, he would normally retire and confer the kingship on his son. However, all of Mosiah’s sons have become uber-missionaries following their “road to Damascus” experience. None of them wish the kingship, and even if they did, they are currently away from Zarahemla, evangelizing the Lamanites. Mosiah argues that it’s too dangerous to appoint someone else to the kingship, lest one of his sons change his mind, return and spark a civil war (Mosiah 13:11-12 CofC/ 29:6-9 LDS). Also, if the king proves wicked, it’s extremely costly to depose him (Mosiah 13:28-31 CofC/ 29:21-23 LDS).

Instead, Mosiah proposes that after he dies the people will transfer their governance to a set of “judges” chosen “by the voice of this people” (Mosiah 13:34 CofC/ 29:25 LDS). Rule will be by the majority, since Mosiah believes “it is not common that the voice of the people desireth any thing contrary to that which is not right, but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right” (Mosiah 13:35 CofC/ 29:26 LDS). As such he has much more faith in direct democracy than America’s founding fathers. Even so, Mosiah perceives the need for some checks and balances:

If ye have judges and they do not judge you according to the law which has been given, ye can cause that he may be judged of a higher judge. If your higher judges doth not judge righteous judgments, ye shall cause a small number of your lower judges should be gathered together and they shall judge your higher judges according to the voice of the people. (Mosiah 13:39-40 CofC/ 29:28-29 LDS)

Mosiah then retires and Alma Jr, who had inherited the position of high priest from his father Alma Sr, was appointed “chief judge,” thus apparently ending the brief Nephite experiment with the partial separation of state and church.


Stray Observations

• When Amulon and the priests of Noah join the Lamanites, we are given the impression that the Lamanites and Nephites have come to speak different languages as the Lamanites are now taught “the language of Nephi” (Mosiah 11:49 CofC/ 24:4 LDS).

• We are once again reminded of the extreme importance of text in the view of the Book of Mormon’s author. When all the Nephite groups are reunited, King Mosiah gathers them together and reads them the various records he’s acquired: the Record of Zeniff and the story of Alma’s church (Mosiah 11:81-82 CofC/ 25:5-6 LDS). This act of devotion is reminiscent of Ezra’s reading of the book of the Law of Moses to all the people assembled in Jerusalem (Nehemiah 8). Mosiah also translates the gold plates found by Limhi’s people (Mosiah 12:16-26 CofC/ 28:13-19 LDS) and discovers to his sorrow that it contains the record of a people who emerged from the Tower of Babel and were ultimately destroyed. Our narrator promises “this account shall be written hereafter; for behold it is expedient that all people should know the things which are written in this account” (Mosiah 12:26 CofC/ 28:19 LDS). Finally, Mosiah confers all the records and the interpreters on Alma Jr., who is destined to be both high priest and chief judge (Mosiah 13:1 CofC/ 28:20 LDS).

• Although we learn that King Limhi gets baptized into Alma’s church (Mosiah 11:94 CofC/ 25:27 LDS), it isn’t clear what his status is now that he’s in King Mosiah’s land. Limhi falls out of the narrative and is not considered by Mosiah, when the latter is searching for a possible successor.

• The churches of Zarahemla founded by Alma Sr. are seven in number (Mosiah 11:102 CofC/ 25:23 LDS) which is reminiscent of the seven churches in Asia who are the recipients of John’s letter in the Book of Revelation (Rev. 1:4).

• Pretty much the first thing Alma is faced with after founding a church is the perceived need for church discipline. This is resolved at considerable length by setting up a system of excommunication: if members “would not confess their sins and repent of their iniquity, the same were not numbered among the people of the church; and their names were blotted out” (Mosiah 11:145 CofC/ 26:36 LDS). Unhappily this prefigures the early Restoration experience. Anyone reading early church records can’t help but be amazed at the amount of time early members spent excommunicating each other.

• In the wrap-up of the Book of Mosiah, we’re treated to some chronological reckonings for the year both Mosiah and Alma Sr die, which is 82 years since Alma Sr was born, the 33rd year of King Mosiah’s reign, 63 years since Mosiah was born, and 509 years “from the time Lehi left Jerusalem” (Mosiah 13:66-68 CofC/ 29:45-46). Next week we’ll begin numbering “the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi”.

• The concept of reverting to rule by “judges” draws on the Biblical precedent in the Deuteronomic history, especially the Book of Judges and the First Book of Samuel. In these stories, the early Israelites are led by a series of “judges,” the last of whom, Samuel, only reluctantly accedes to the desire of the people to appoint a king. However, the word “judge” here in Mosiah describes the 19th century American use of the term (a public magistrate who deals with legal matters), as opposed to the use of word in the Book of Judges, where “judges” fill the role of tribal heroes. (The most famous judge in the Bible, Samson, isn’t much of a lawyer.)


Next week we begin the Book of Alma (the son of Alma) with Alma 1-2 CofC/1-4 LDS.


[1] I tend to read the imagery here as a kind of memory or imagination of early colonial New England, New York, and Pennsylvania, prior to the vast clearances of forests by European Americans for plow agriculture. My picture of the various “lands” are cleared areas with farms set in the imagined virgin woodland “wildernesses”. Once you’re in the woods, the Book of Mormon assumes there’s very little hope of knowing which land you’ll find when you come back out. We’ll have occasion to talk more about Book of Mormon geography in future weeks.

[2] Regarding parallels with Acts, we already saw how Abinadi’s speech and martyrdom at the hands of Noah’s priests mirrored Stephen’s speech and martyrdom at the hands of the Sanhedrin. Both Stephen and Abinadi explicitly quote the same passage from Isaiah (53:7-8) as predictive of Jesus (see Acts 8:32-33 and Mosiah 8:33-34 CofC/ 15:6 LDS). Both speeches are lengthy summaries. While the author of Acts puts a summary of the Hebrew Bible into Stephen’s mouth, the Book of Mormon’s author summarizes the Christian gospel in Abinadi’s speech. Finally, Abinadi’s speech led to the conversion of Alma, who had previously been one of the wicked priests of Noah. Similarly, Saul of Tarsis is among the Pharisees who hear Stephen’s speech. As we observe this week, Saul’s subsequent conversion is paralleled with the conversion of Alma’s son Alma.

[3] Prior to his conversion, as leader of the “unbelievers,” Alma Jr is described briefly as a “very wicked and an idolatrous man” (Mosiah 11:159 CofC/ 27:8 LDS). While it could be argued that this implies he is literally worshiping idols, there’s no description of such idols in the text thus far. I read this as “idolatrous” in the figurative sense of a Second Great Awakening sermon, e.g., putting worldly concerns above faith in God.

[4] Although the need to be “born again” of the Spirit through a dramatic spiritual experience was a huge part of Second Great Awakening religious revivals, the terminology in the Restoration tradition today receives less emphasis, having been subsumed into the ordinance (LDS) or sacrament (CofC) of confirmation.

[5] The main exception, thus far, was the narration by Zeniff at the beginning of the Record of Zeniff.