It’s one of the most intriguing concepts, if not contradictions, central to the Community of Christ. It’s referenced in the very front of the “Church Administrator’s Handbook.” It is the reason the church upholds the rule of common consent. It is why church leaders emphasize the importance of consensus. The tension in this idea is why the church feels like a hierarchy, even though it tries to say its not. The idea is central to our polity and how the church functions as a body. The idea is theocratic democracy.
Theocratic democracy makes more sense in the way its lived out. In the church, the “theocratic” portion of the church’s body is its priesthood. Denominationally, the theocratic structure is comprised of the church’s leading quorums: the First Presidency, the Presiding Bishopric, and Quorum of Twelve Apostles. Next is the Seven Quorums of Seventy, the Order of Bishops, Quorum of High Priests, and so on. In congregations, the theocratic structure of the church-body is the local priesthood: the presiding Elder, Elders, and Aaronic Priesthood. The democratic structure of the church is its voting conferences. Conferences operate at the congregational, judicatory (mission center), and International church levels. Every Priesthood call must be supported by these conferences. Church policies, legislative functions, theological issues, all are handled by church conferences. Conferences have tremendous power, if that power is organized and executed well. But, like every democracy, it takes time, effort, and grass roots work.
Why bring this up? Consider a comparison. In American democracy, the government is organized in three branches with specific functions. Of course, these are the executive branch, which consists of the President and the various offices and departments of government. Next, there is the legislative branch. This branch makes the laws of the land and consists of Congress and Senate. Finally, there is the judicial branch. This consists of judges and court systems.
When we do a comparison, it is fairly easy to see some parallels. Community of Christ conferences carry out the legislative function of the church. World Conference, Mission Center Conferences, and congregational conferences all have the power to pass legislation pertaining to that level of church function. And, the impact of these legislative actions can be significant. They can remove a Pastor from office or vote to sell the building. They also can take positions on theological, political, ethical and social issues – provided these actions are not judged to out of order as in conflict with scripture or contradict the good of the order. Denominational Headquarters (World Church or IHQ) recognizably operates as the executive branch of government. The World Church carries out the will of the conference. In addition to its leadership functions, it carries out the collective will of the church on matters of denominational level budget allocations, programs, and initiatives. What is left if the judicial branch.
The judicial function of the church is a little less apparent. But, aspects of judicial function are provided for by church law. According to church law, the First Presidency is the final interpretive authority on scripture. The First Presidency and leading Quorums (now called the World Church Leadership Council) and Standing High Council interpret matters of church policy. My understanding also, though one has not been called for some time, is that church law also provides for a body called “Bishop’s Court.” Bishops Court provides for disciplinary action.
So, why make the comparison? It seems to me that there is fruit in considering how the Community of Christ historically functions. To cut to the chase, in any other democratic organization, it would be a problem that the executive and judicial functions of government are consolidated in the same offices. And, by in large, this seems to be the case with the Community of Christ church. The theocratic structures of the church have supreme responsibility to not only lead and execute the policies and purposes of the church. It also carries far and away the right and responsibility of interpreting scripture, tradition, and the meaning of church law or policies as they are approved by conference. This leads to a “top heavy” organization.
It is also why the church is a theocratic democracy and not a democratic theocracy.
We can look to other denominations to see that there can be other forms of church polity or government. One I would propose for discussion is this:
Other mainline denominations add a another component that adds and balances the important functions of church polity. And, those are theologians. Now, before anyone gets too cynical and blames me for simply making a case for theological-types like myself, simply consider this from a democratic perspective. In the church, theologians function similar to the judicial branch of the American government. Unlike the U.S. government, theologians generally do not finally decide matters of theological dispute or church policies or church law. But, they provide an important interpretive function. It is the responsibility of the church theologians to have a detailed understanding of the church’s scriptures, its history, and theology. In the Community of Christ for the last forty years or so, first historians and later theologians have begun to function in this way – offering interpretations and reinterpretations of church history, scripture, the process of scripture, and meaning of its tradition and identity. In fact, the Community of Christ today would be unthinkable without the important function theologians and historians had provided in the last 40 years of the church.
While I’m not for turning over authority over matters of church theological or scriptural interpretation to theologians (any more than I am to a single prophet), I do think the church must continue to develop this aspect of the church’s life in the future. Seminaries, in particular, provide a powerful balance to the role of church authorities and the legislative power of the church membership. They do so by offering critical educational, exploratory, and interpretive functions in the life of a faith movement. In fact, seminaries and theologians are often the only safe place contentious and volatile issues, vital to the church’s sense of purpose and identity, can be arbitrated and explored. Think of issues such as the function of extra-biblical scripture, such as the Book or Mormon, human sexuality, or positions on war. Without a seminary or theological tradition, these issues get battled from the perspective of denominational leaders, who have a fiduciary responsibility to the future of the organization. Or, they tear at the fabric of the church membership and local priesthood by being battled either from the pulpit or conference floor. When positions become polarized between church leaders and membership, like issues often are in any dualistic system, critical issues can literally halt the church’s sense of movement. Developing a theological tradition and seminary life can provide an important function in providing creative space, as well as buffer, for thinking through specific issues and weighing the influences of contemporary science, theological tradition, historical perspectives, and the like.
Theologians, of course, don’t do alchemy. I don’t pretend that theologians are a silver bullet or simple solution to the church’s current theological and ethical challenges. To be sure, theologians (and historians) were, in part, responsible for creating some of them. Theological inquiry has got the church this far. And, divesting ourselves of theologians or the importance of theological exploration in a rash turn to organizational schemes or management paradigms to “save the church” won’t help the church fall into some sort of sustainable “functionalism” that will solve our dilemmas or ease our concerns for the future.
The Community of Christ is amidst transition. I believe, it is in the throes of death and rebirth. Whether it is successful birth or miscarrage is a matter of present decision-making and ultimately for historians to sort out. On the way, I think theologians, historians, and other disciplined thinkers are critical for the church’s future. Socrates’ model of the philosopher is instructive. The role of the philosopher is midwifery! Theologians, seminaries, and other teachers of critical disciplines (Psychology, Sociology, Peace Studies, Economics) are just the same. They should not rule the church, but bring it balence. They provide basic function…..
….a decisive function basic to any wrothwhile theocratic democracy.
Matt — are there denominations where a council of theologians provides a constitutional role? When theologians wrested control of theology from the monasteries and the secular clergy & papacy in the central Middle Ages, it seems like they did so without recourse to a formal constitutional role. General church councils, the college of cardinals, and the princes of the church weren’t legally obliged to formally submit their canons and decrees to the professors of theology in Paris and Bologna. However, the professors exercised that oversight power informally through their influence writing and teaching. They trained the canon lawyers who went on to become the bishops, cardinals, and popes.
In the Community of Christ, haven’t theologians and historians already seized that informal space? The previous Prophet is a past president (and founding member) of the John Whitmer Historical Association and rose through the World Church ranks from the Church Historians Office. It seems that nearly all the leadership of the leading quorums have theological training — at least a masters in theology and sometimes a doctorate.
Informal roles can sometimes be more powerful than formal ones. My question to you is: haven’t theologians and historians already won this battle in this denomination?
In regard to your opening question, I think the only example that fits would be the Catholic church. In mainline denominations, there might be some parallels in light of the fact that pastors are theologians insofar that they must achieve an MDiv. Therefore, various denominational boards (including boards or ordination) central to church government fulfill a kind of “constitutional” role.
As for your comment overall, our thinking follow the same trajectory. I would never suggest moving back to some sort of medieval arrangement. Politically, later medieval polity organized around two principles, the royal hierarchies and the Church. As you suggest, this was when theologians were powerful and theology was synonymous with law. Such theologians arguably had the constitutional power of lawyers today.
I agree. The CofC does have theologians and historians in informal spaces. (emphasis on the plural) These informal spaces are critically important. We are creating another such space now, I believe. But, these spaces are dispersed, isolated and relatively unorganized. Their only constitutional influence is through the avenues of conferences or at the World Church’s behest (such as a task force). Moreover, the reception of theologians and other intellectuals is impacted by a backlash of anti-intellectualism and sense of classism in the church. Since the 1960’s, the church has gained in in professionalism, upped its educational standards, and income has standardized at the World Church level. Theologians are tacitly associated with a kind of social stratification that has taken place in the church. They are among the “professionals” or “academics.” One lords privilege while the other speaks an incoherent technical language. Both can have the air of arrogance. So, while there is truth in this, I am deeply concerned about this perception and the cultural backlash that threatens further development of the role of theologians in the life of the church. In some ways, it would help if theologians weren’t just professionals, but the discipline of study and faith returned a bit to a sense of the monastics!
The answer to your final question (i.e. Haven’t theologians and historians already won this battle in this denomination?), I believe the answer is yes and no. It depends on your perspective. The influence of church theologians and historians (a relationship, itself, that must be critically considered) is obvious. Their presence has definitely made themselves known. The future of the church cannot be conceived without them.
However, I think the role of theology and theologians, in particular, needs to be revolutionized in the CofC. First, theology must be conceived inter-disciplinarily. (I just made up an adverb, I think). Second, the seminary must be more securely established and infused with a sense of autonomy. The seminary is as much as for the leavening of the membership and lay priesthood, as much as also for creating a third space for intellectual freedom and exploration for an international church. To leap back a minute to the tradition shaping the current situation, this is where I think the prophetic and presidential roles need to be loosened a bit from their fusion in the executive and judiciary functions of our theocratic democracy.
The fulfillment of this third space – what I associate with a seminary – will not come with just establishing it as an institution. We must also more formally establish a diverse sense of theological tradition.
Again, the image of three interrelated spaces of government is a way to think about this in terms of polity. Right now, I think the Community of Christ – like the medieval church – is trapped in various forms of dualism. It is trapping the church. Political duality can be productive, but it lives on compromise and contradiction. A third space for disciplined engagement of future possibilities and interpretation of the church’s basic identity and purpose in history, I think, could help birth what is often getting lost or distorted in the compromises of overlapping responsibilities and ideological tensions.
I think you have identified a gap in the way our church is organized that I never really thought about before. As you say, many conflicts become polarized between leadership and membership. It would be interesting to see what would happen if a set of voices somewhat independent from both began to articulate alternatives. Thanks for this — I will think about it for a while
I’d like also to say that the leadership of the church has way too much control over the history area of the church. The time has come, in my opinion, to tell the whole truth about the Book of Mormon being a nineteenth century document and stop dilly dallying about this issue. We need to de-canonize it.
Every time a historian comes up with new information about it’s development, the church leadership steps in and hushes it up.
That happened time and again to Dick Howard and now it’s happening to Mark Scherer. His regular Saints Herald column has been shushed.
History is history and it should be allowed to be expressed.
Your comment made me think of Paul Edward’s obscure fictional story, “Angel Acronym.” If you like a little satire on the very themes you raised here, I think you’d like it. It’s based on the mysterious death of the church archivist at IHQ and a sleuth who works on the case. Insider-RLDS humor everywhere.
I’m not surprised. Paul has a wry humor anyhow. I have not read the book although others have told me about it.
Well, Margie, you clearly have strong opinions about what the historical truth about the Book of Mormon is, but the community of Book of Mormon scholars is much wider than the ranks of CofChrist historians (and much wider than historians period).
The opinions aren’t even unanimous among those historians, and so the issue is really about how historians are free to operate in a church setting. John Hamer can probably point you to a Restoration Studies article by Roger Launius from the mid-to late 90s, to which church leaders responded very negatively because it was too conservative in pointing out accomodations the leadership chose not to make to keep more conservative members in the church.
John himself has some excellent posts on the controversy on ByCommonConsent.
(NOTE to John: really looking forward to JWHA publication of that Restoration Studies series on disc! I ran out of library space years ago!)
I have all the Restoration Studies volumes myself. I am aware of the variation of opinion on the subject but still believe the book is a nineteenth century document. Ron Dawbarn and I have done an extensive study on the subject and have a book in the making. You have no doubt heard of the voice print studies and the DNA studies.
Ron and I believe there is a connection between Dartmouth College and Hyrum Smith’s time of studies there.
Nice blog. Keep it up.
I am of the opinion that the problem is really that we need a broader perspective than even historians, theologians, and church authorities can provide. I just put up a long post on this point here.
I agree. If I interpret you write, the church needs to be in dialogue with a host of disciplinary discussions: physics, cosmology/astronomy, health/medicine, psychology/spirituality, not just theology, social justice, etc. This is precisely the role a seminary can play, and often does in other institutions.
Our theologians are good, but there are just not enough of them to go around. Of course, it’s better than it used to be. As a teenager I once saved the entire theology department of the church by getting Don Landon out of the way of a line drive while he was watching a reunion softball game. :>)
I believe until we examine our history and deal with it in an intelligent fashion, we are going to be stuck exactly where we are.
My blog, which deals with day to day stuff..kind of like a diary. Nothing too interesting unless you read my occasional political ideas.
Margie…nice blog. ;-)
I am aware of both the wordprint and DNA studies and have been following them in the bloggernacle at MormonMatters and ByCommonConsent. I look forward to seeing your book.
I will particularly be interested in how in the Dartmouth hypothesis, it is Oliver Cowdery’s wordprint that seems most strongly involved when, given the a priori evidence of a lack of connection between Oliver and Joseph, the first reaction would be that a strong wordprint for Oliver tells you that you need a large control group. (That’s the conclusion you’d initially draw in a blind test.)
I expect the issue to go on longer than your or my life span. When you get into this level of statistical sophistication, scientific controversies usually do.
However, that really raises the point that most interests me. If we do come to believe the BofM to be a 19th Century book, what is the point of using THIS denomination as a vehicle for peace and justice rather than simply changing vehicles to another denomination or even to non-religious institutions?
One has to find discriminators to justify the effort to stay instead of devoting resources to where one can be individually most effective. There is no point to having a Starbucks across the street from another Starbucks, except perhaps to those who make a living from the second Starbucks.
And accepting a 19th century book of scripture as the scripture of a people if it is created as your theory suggests, implies as an absolute minimum that we let its UNIQUE message transform us AFTER we know what the book really is and that the “us” remain a people.
I don’t really think that the Community of Christ can fulfill either of those conditions in regard to a 19th Century BofM. One can give up exceptionalism in origin and in operation, but one can not then re-invoke exceptionalism in outcome.
Ironically, we risk becoming a church that willingly asks its people to take up the cross to preserve the church’s institutional role, but will not sacrifice itself to magnify their individual missions. It’s about optimizing a planetary (or greater) civilization, not maximizing the role of our denomination.
Rereading the post above, I proved one should never post after midnight in one’s local time zone. It is, of course, Sidney Rigdon;s wordprint, not Oliver Cowdery’s that the latest wordprint study finds in the BofM despite Rigdom having no known relationship with Joseph prior to the book’s publication. Sorry for the confusion.
Actually I believe this church perceives the mission of Jesus better then others. I do not embrace salvation theology and do not believe that was the mission or message of Jesus either. I think he taught the Kingdom of God on earth…just as this church does. Other churches, good as they are, see salvation theology as their main thrust.
There is some evidence that Sidney Rigdon did meet Joseph Smith prior to his meeting with Parley Pratt. As far as the Dartmouth connection is concerned, Hyrum Smith attended there when all the talk was about View of the Hebrews since Ethan Smith also had attended there. It seems perfectly logical that Hyrum would have shared that excitement with Young Joseph when he sat with him while his leg surgery was healing.
I would be happy to e-mail you a copy of Ron Dawbarn’s and my paper presented last year at the Restoration Studies Symposium…or it may have been John Whitmer Historical Association. It tells of the Dartmouth College connection.
I would love to have a copy of the paper. You can send it to FireTag@aol.com.
“However, that really raises the point that most interests me. If we do come to believe the BofM to be a 19th Century book, what is the point of using THIS denomination as a vehicle for peace and justice rather than simply changing vehicles to another denomination or even to non-religious institutions?”
This notion is not uncommon – if the BoM is a 19th century creation – then what’s the point of the CofC?
Well first – many denominations and many non-religious organizations were founded on dubious footings. We’d hardly be forging new territory to associate with a group who’s founding principals differed greatly from our own.
But more importantly – YES – if this denomination is not a particularly good vehicle for peace and justice or does not invoke a positive spritiual response in you and from you – then you should go to a denomination that does, or even a non-religious group.
One of the big problems of the world is our zealous ownership of “groups” and then our blind following of those groups (countries, political parties, schools, churches, etc. etc. ad nauseum).
It’s a good admonition to the Church too. It may be beneficial now to placate those who would leave if they determined this was no longer the “one true church” – but the younger generation will be, and should be far quicker to leave if the mission of the Church continues to be built on expediency rather than justice.
I guess my question to you, FireTag, is – if there is no point to aligning with the CofC other than the BoM – why would one do so? I mean, if the BoM has not transformed us into a valuable and positive vehicle for peace and justice, to the point that, without the BoM, we are no different than any other denomination or non-religious group – then why continue to uphold the BoM?
Now we get to examining our differences in world view and can perhaps give insights to each other.
In my own world view, God builds COMPLEXITY, not simply COMMUNITY. And He can be brutally harsh about it. (I’m the guy with the website heading that shows God destroying solar systems by the thousands, and the picture didn’t come from any less enlightened OT prophet, but from the most modern telescopes we’ve got.) He works at all scales of existence at once (including some that neither you or I have probably noticed yet), and so saying that our denomination’s focus on building the earthly kingdom is superior to more conservative denominations’ focus on salvation evokes a “Huh?” in me akin to hearing someone say “a plumber is superior to an electrician.”
I figure since God multitasks, I ought to do so as well, so I network and bridge-build wherever I sense the Spirit calling ME because of my individual gifts and responsibilities. My basis for aligning with the CofChrist, when I do so, is entirely done on that basis of calling and resource optimization. Sometimes I even find myself feeling called to oppose, in the pursuit of peace and justice, some actions that church authorities regard as being IN the cause of peace and justice.
It has been that way for me since my church demographic studies (See Theology 14: Religion and Public Life) convinced me as a matter of conscience that the growth of the Kingdom in the world drove the growth of the church — not the other way around — and had done so at least since 1880. Forecasts from those same equations tell me that any revitalization of this denomination will come as a side-effect of things God is doing in the larger world — not from anything we initiate within progressive Christianity. (I guess you can say I have a lot of hope for the “emerging Christian”; not much for the “emerging church”)
So my relationship to the church is largely independent of my belief in the historicity of the Book of Mormon, because I’m fairly convinced that the institution has largely completed its relevancy to its mission as now self-defined. I’ll continue to be transformed by the Book or not based on the evidence presented to me and use it to chart my personal mission. Indeed, a strong testimony by the church leadership that they take the historicity of the Book seriously might be a reason for me to consider the continuing relevance of the church as a higher probability. (Exceptionalism in origin would allow exceptionalism in outcome as a valid argument.)
As to why questions about the Book of Mormon might continue to be important to those who DO think the institution remains important to present or future peace and justice ministries, see the post “Hot Jupiters and Privileged Scriptural Frames” on my site.
FireTag, not sure if you were responding to me or not. Did you read my comment as if “I” were saying “that our denomination’s focus on building the earthly kingdom is superior to more conservative denominations’ focus on salvation”? I certainly didn’t mean to say anything like that.
As for God’s multi-tasking or Hot Jupiter and the like – you are talking over my head. I guess what I was responding to was your statement:
“However, that really raises the point that most interests me. If we do come to believe the BofM to be a 19th Century book, what is the point of using THIS denomination as a vehicle for peace and justice rather than simply changing vehicles to another denomination or even to non-religious institutions?”
I hear you asking the question: If the BoM is a 19th century creation – why use the CofC rather than another denomination. I tried to answer this question – that one should choose a denomination based on its ability to invoke a positive spiritual response and in having a common mission.
I then asked you a question which seemed very germaine to your statement: if you think that there would be no point in being aligned with the CofC BUT FOR an historical BoM – then what’s the point of the BoM? That is – what has the BoM done for the denomination if, without it, we do not provide intrinsic value to individuals or the world?
If you tried to answer that question and I just missed it – sorry.
It may have been my remark that was misunderstood. I did not mean under any circumstances that there is anything wrong with the mission of any other denomination, but I personally would not be interested in working in or even attending a church that bought into salvation theology since I believe that theology was adopted in response to Jesus’ death on the cross. I believe the early followers felt there had to be some reason why he died if he was their messiah. That generally is not the mission of a messiah. So they “borrowed” a theology from Roman Imperial Theology and decided it was to “save” all the sinners on the earth.
Jesus taught almost exclusively the Kingdom of God on earth.
I actually was trying to respond to both Margie and Adam and haven’t quite figured out the idiosyncracies of this blog theme yet. I probably should have put it in two replies or one comment.
I am not seeing the value of the BofM primarily in terms of its transforming power within the CofChrist, because I don’t think this faith community is that central to what God is doing to build the world He seeks. The data I’ve seen on our church demographics, EVEN if I knew nothing about the identity of the church, would be sufficient to forecast its decline to irrelevance compared to the other peace and justice denominations (and non-religious peace and justice institutions) that already exist.
So we can and should deal with all of the issues of peace and justice internal to the church — such as Margie and others have listed — but when that is done, we’ll STILL be playing catchup against the destiny of demographics.
Here’s how bad it is: using data through the 2004 world conference, we would have had to quadruple our baptisms in North America just to stabilize ourselves; by the 2007 world conference, it would have required a quintupling; by world conference in 2010, it will be approasching a need for sextupling.
And overseas growth in the 3rd world will saturate at far less a percentage of the population than what we’ve had in North America in past decades.
So, the real question for this people to consider prophetically is how do we continue with our missions without the infrastructure we’ve built in the past. Isn’t it absurd to plan on funding the transformation of the world using resources of wealth and education in America that could only continue to exist as long as the transformation failed and there were no political or economic consequences to America from the failure?
I find the BofM more than just helpful in answering the question of what is MY mission, because of the DIFFERENT perspective it brings to the historical Jesus portrayed in the NT. NO human culture gets Jesus accurately — he’s too big. There’s always more to learn, and new knowledge can profoundly alter our understanding.
But more importantly, there are several million people on this planet whose lives ARE being transformed by a BofM regarded more historically than our institution now does. The evidence for that belief in historicity will fall wherever it does, but it remains the basis for a coherent belief system whose survival seems more protected by God than that of our denomination.
This church does not even introduce the Book of Mormon to missions abroad in India or Africa and perhaps even more places. It’s a distinctly American document.
We concentrate on the message of Jesus.
But, Margie, aren’t you thereby imposing a distinctly Western 20th Century progressive authority on the cultural understandings of Africa and India (let alone the cultural understandings of conservative Americans)? Doesn’t that vitiate the very notion of the worth of ALL persons? NO culture gets to exclusively interpret Christ; otherwise there could be a “one true church”, and the thrust of your arguments seem to be that we should not claim to be a “one true church”.
No, not at all. It is Christianity that we are charged to share…not the Book of Mormon.
Besides, Joseph Smith seldom used the Book of Mormon when he preached after it’s initial introduction. It didn’t sell well, you know.
But isn’t the issue that has bedeviled (appropriate term) Christianity for 2000 years EXACTLY the question of who gets to determine what Christianity is when we all hear the Spirit so differently?
True story, Margie. I went into physics because I was commanded to do so in a dream as a teenager, one of only two or three such dreams I’ve had in my life. The only way I could respond to that command at the time was to add physics to my curriculum, and the rest, pardon the pun, is history.
So whose sense of the Spirit do I rely on? Whose science do I rely on? Mine? Yours? The Quakers? The Southern Baptists? And what do I say to the militant Orthodox Jews in Israel who are convinced that the NT is an anti-semitic text about an apostate Jew? To the committed European rationalist who believes all religions are signs of magical thinking? To the Muslim who also believes in a divinely declared Scripture delivered to a prophet by an angel? And I’ve still left out more than half the population of the planet at one particular point in its history.
We need multiple perspectives.
By the way, sales of the Book of Mormon have picked up the last few decades. Maybe we should solve our financial problems by asking the LDS for a better cut of the royalties. :>)
Nevertheless, if we are true to the message of Jesus about building the peaceable kingdom, we cannot go wrong.
Personally, I really don’t care if we have conversions or not. The ones we have had the past few years have been costly anyhow. But if we all just do our best at building our communities into what Jesus had in mind, be politically active, and try to love and help our fellowman whenever the opportunity presents itself, I would be perfectly happy with a community church, dedicated to peace and justice.
Matt, I am intrigued by what I think you may have been suggesting: separting the president and the prophet. This was surely meant to play to Joseph’s Smith’s self-felt need to control and manage the building of the church and his concept of Zion. In fact, the a section of the D&C (I belive) call for priesthood to be prophet, priest and king.
In your mind, would separation of responsibilities lead to improved results in both areas?
I had to read this post again to remember what I was saying. I think separating the roles of president and prophet could be productive. Doing so would certainly follow the ‘balance of powers’ motif central to modern political theory. The idea of priesthood as prophet, priest, and king go back to Melchizedek. I think Joseph Smith Jr’s unification of these functions in the priesthood and his installation of himself at its highest office represented both this cult of personality and the signs of his time.
I think the fact is that historically, the unification of the role of prophet and president has caused problems that have been addressed by shifting models of leadership. At times, the President/Prophet role is paternal and pastoral. At other times, it’s been authoritarian and directional. The functions of president and prophet have followed shifts in these kinds of models.
More than separating these roles, I think it would help much more if the church developed a community and tradition of “study and faith.” Theologians and other intellectuals should not be given political power, but autonomy to function in the church in a way that serves both the membership in fostering spiritual reflection and education in the tradition. This would include contributions to Sunday School and Temple School. This group would also engage the theocratic side of church leadership by providing a resource for reflection on complicated and divisive ethical and theological issues. This could help the president/prophet role by offering important third party perspectives when the president and prophet role are put in direct conflict, which is the case when issues are divisive. In the face of a divisive issue like sexuality, the fiduciary responsibility of the Presidential role is to preserve the church and its tradition. The church has followed this function of the Presidency in the last 10 years on sexuality. The prophetic role, on the other hand, is to proclaim God’s judgment on behalf of the poor, imprisoned, blind, and oppressed (according to Isaiah 42, 61; and Luke 4) The prophet’s role follows the unfolding of God’s Kingdom. When the church, itself, is in the way of this process or the issues are so divisive they threaten the unity of the church, the Prophetic and Presidential responsibilities do become in conflict. The separation of these responsibilities would help the church experience the transforming dissonance and difficulties of both these responsibilities of leadership.
I hope this makes some sense.
Thanks for building on that thought. I think I concur with your train of thought.
To my thinking, the same goals can be better accomplished by re-evaluating our paradigm regarding prophetic revelation. Currently, we have a legislative process to determine church policy and even belief, but that legislative policy is overruled by divine decree as brought forth by the prophet (as commonly consented to, but still).
But as the Prophet said in his April 5 address – we do not usually consider scripture to be literal or even authoritative (other than to the extent it reflects the servant nature of Christ). So why should D&C 111 be any more authoritative to Church policy today than is Leviticus? Doesn’t it need to be interpreted responsibly just as all scripture does?
I’m all for continuing to bring forth revelation from an agreed-upon prophet figure, and I’m ok with that figure also being the president – but I think we should treat such scripture the way we’re supposed to treat all scripture, according to the 9 affirmations on scripture: “These books were written in diverse times and places, and reflect the languages, cultures, and conditions under which they were written. God’s revelation through scripture does not come to us apart from the humanity of the writers, but in and through that humanity.”
If revelation and D&C is to be scripture, lets treat it like scripture. If it’s to be an executory or dictatorial tool of the President to shape policy – then let’s call it that. But that’s not scripture. And I don’t think the President should have that power.