Community of Christ President Steve Veazey presented his “Counsel to the Church” today in advance of the church’s World Conference in April. It deals with such hot topics as church membership, communion and human sexuality. Read the document here.
He also presented a “Letter of Counsel about the Presiding Quorums” regarding changes in the Council of Twelve.
Post your reactions in the comments below.
I was particularly taken by surprise in the discussion of the Seventy. I’m not sure I really understand what the document is intending to convey there. What I took was that our current organization of 7 quorums can (or will?) be altered as situations dictate, based on the decisions of the Presidents of Seventy and others. My initial response in listening as it was being read was to expand the quorums beyond 7, greatly expanding the Seventy, but others understood it to mean a reduction in the Seventy, hence why no replacement for James was called.
I will be interested to see how that, and other things, pan out with time and understanding as we learn more about this.
Twelve divided by six does work better than twelve divided by seven, and seven was chosen as a symbolic number to tie us to ancient Israel rather than an icon of corporate evangelistic efficiency.
I wish Steve had been willing to share “what” he saw instead of “that” he saw an expanding vision of the new creation, but that is not his style and I just have to accept that about his ministry.
For me the key was at the end: mission matters most.
Now we’ll see whether we will live that principle (recognizing that may mean different things individually and in different cultures), or whether institutional protection takes precedence in practice.
There is some truth in your statement. However, the Seven Quorums of Seventy exists, historically, in another capacity, ie, balance of power. It is a third presidency in the event of such a need.
I was a quorum officer for most of my 25 years in the Seventy Quorums and historically, this is not new, ie, reduce the quorums or eliminate them completely.
With the WLCC, formerly SHC getting more and more power and field officers (self sustaining) having less and less, it might be good to look at this part of the document a little more.
With all the needs of the church before us, I can understand why President Veazey included it. This could have been handled easily, administratively, unless there are other reasons.
On the replacement for Richard James, I don’t think they normally include the Presidents of Seventy in these documents. I suspect that will be revealed closer to conference.
The recommendations for who should be set apart as a president of seventy typically come from the Council of Presidents of Seventy rather than the prophet-president thus I don’t think the absence of such a call in the document indicates anything
Thanks for the clarification, I was not aware of that.
As Steve stood to take the podium, two thoughts ran through my mind.
The first was how much I trust him, and that whatever it was that was shared, I would understand that he was conveying his clearest sense of the direction of the Holy Spirit.
The second thought was that there must be many times when he must think back to, and almost wish for, those simpler days as a seventy when he would stop by our home (or, the homes of many, many others) for a chat, do some planning, and have a laugh. That may be one of the reasons it seems that the church also trusts him.
I was personally looking more for counsel on how we work together as a church than for specific direction, and I was not disappointed. The elevation of issues and of reviewing our own response to Jesus Christ prior to trying to set the world straight was liberating, to a degree. It was also reflective of the Jesus that said that we need to make choices, and that those choices will be difficult (I get tired of the lovey-dovey Jesus many believe in, or those that say that Jesus didn’t say “this” was wrong, so it must be okay).
While I personally will be making time to re-read, study, and reflect on the counsel, my take was that it was timely, it was pastoral, it was inviting, and it was a direct challenge. In that view, to me, it was of the Spirit, and I am grateful he had the courage to share it.
Matt Frizzell has written a blog posting about the document:
Rich Brown’s thoughts:
My thanks, as well, Matt. It’s amazing what a link posted on this site does to the number of views registered on another. It’s obvious to me that this site is functioning well and providing a valuable function within the membership of the church.
Let me just be clear – Communion can now only be served to “committed” Christians? I’ll resist making a joke about whether or not any of us should be committed (or will I?) but does this retract from the rest of the point – ie. open communion? It seems like this could be interpreted as going back to assessing whether the person taking is worthy or not.
I think it would have been better without this word.
I read that as meaning that (assuming the document is approved at Conference) it will be up to the person reaching for the Communion emblems to decide whether to receive them, rather than the person holding the tray or the presiding officer in the worship service (or ultimately, the congregational pastor or MC president).
As an aside: perhaps it’s just the copy of the text on the church Web site, rather than Steve’s actual choice of words, but I thought the document could have benefited in a few places from a little more selective copy editing and attention to accepted style for publications. But then, old editors like me just can’t stop noticing stuff that’s probably perfectly okay with the general public.
It’s not your reading I’m worried about, however.
It has always been the policy that only committed Christians should receive the emblems. From the Administrator’s handbook:
“All committed Christians are free to participate in the sacrament as offered in the Community of Christ. The serving ministers should not attempt to determine who should or who should not partake. The decision is left to the participant. Children of family members within the Community of Christ should not partake until such time as they are baptized and confirmed.”
Probably what concerns me most about the Words of Counsel is what has concerned me about open communion: a de-emphasizing of the sacrament.
When we used to have to explain that only members could take the emblems, it meant at least spending that time on the significance of the actual sacrament, as well as the importance of making a commitment to Christ.
Often today the sacrament gets all-but ignored by the presider or speaker until it happens, and then it is done.
I am certainly not saying that I am against open communion, or the potential new policy on baptism, but the old way had its strengths too.
I would hate to see this document lead to congregations emphasizing baptism even less. As it is, for many congregations, that will barely be possible.
My hope is that this document will instead inspire people to turn to the sacraments and emphasize them more than ever. It does seem an unlikely hope, no matter how good the policy itself may be.
Concerning “commited Christians:”
Take a look at the prayer of blessing for the bread.
O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it, that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him, and keep his commandments which he hath given them, that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.
Look at all those THEY’s and THEM’s. There is something about me that doesn’t like all those third person plural pronouns. THEY are someone else, maybe I don’t even know them. (Using CAPS because I don’t see how to use bold or italics in a comment)
I have been in this church long enough to have participated in over 500 communion services – the vast majority of times that was as a member of the congregation, not officiating or serving, but receiving and listening to the words of the communion prayers. About a decade ago I was looking at the prayers and realized that I was THEY – and everyone around me was THEY. I wondered if I could use that thought as a way to be more intimately involved in the communion service.
Let’s replace all those THEY’s and THEM’s with WE and US:
O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all of US who receive it, that WE may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that WE are willing to take upon US the name of thy Son, and always remember him, and keep his commandments which he has given US, that WE may always have his Spirit to be with US. Amen.
These words emphasize our part in the Christian community — the communion part of the Lord’s Supper.
Now let’s replace the THEY’s and THEM’s with I and ME:
O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to my soul as I receive it, that I may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that I am willing to take upon ME the name of thy Son, and always remember him, and keep his commandments which he has given ME, that I may always have his Spirit to be with ME. Amen.
This prayer emphasizes my personal covenant renewal with God.
Some may object to the loss of community here, but if I do not do these things – take his name, remember him, and keep his commandments – if each one of us does not do them – WE do not do them. And similarly when we have his spirit with us – the community does and each of us does personally.
To reiterate, I am not proposing changing the words that we speak, but changing the words that we in the congregation hear to bring us more intimately in touch with Jesus and with each other.
Anyone who thinks these prayers before taking the bread and wine is a committed Christian.
I & WE instead of THEY & THEM.
This is a prayer offered by the priesthood for those of the congregation who are about to partake. Just as the ancient Priests went into the Holy of Holies to offer sacrafices for the people, the prayers of blessing are similar. The prayers are calling the people the THEY and THEM’s to reflect upon what they are about to do. These prayers are prayers of rememberance and challange to the people of God who have taken upon them His name and they are calling the people to remember what this means and the sacrafice of the Son for their behalf because; if Christ is ours, then we are His.
As individuals there is too much focus on I and ME already. I believe that if the focus was more on THEY and THEM then we would be more successful in outreach. I think the prayers are fine.
I’m a little leery of some of it’s vagueness. But it was what I expected. My impression of Steve from his being our apostle at one time, is that he is extremely conservative..after all he came out of Tennessee.
The decision about whom of our gay members will be ordained will be up to the leadership from the sound of it…but it was so vague there in that place that it was hard to know what he was getting at. I expect the 21 resolutions on the subject to be ruled out of order or referred to the First Presidency.
Can anyone here tell me how the Standing High Council got so much power? In reading my Administrator’s Handbook, I do not see where they have the authority to make policy. They are supposed to be strictly an advisory council, to consider questions of moral and ethical significance and to provide advice and council to the Firsh Presidency, and to consider appeals from courts of field jurisdictions..
Some interesting thoughts here Margie, but I don’t think it is appropriate to cast aspersions on someone based on where they come from (a la “after all he came out of Tennessee”). It seems to me to be contrary to the spirit of “no longer Jew or Greek, … slave or free, … male and female.” Perhaps I should add ‘no longer North or South, California or Tennessee’?
We are reminded to be understanding of cultural context. I think Margie was less making a generalization based on his state of origin, but looking at this ideology and theology in the context of his upbringning.
While Steve, may be a prophet, he is likely still a product of his cultural surroundings.
Thank you, chicken That’s exactly what I meant. You just expressed it better.
I think we can each safely say the same thing about our own selves, that we are “a product of (our) cultural surroundings. He is human, after all, as are we all.
I was looking for wisdom to supercede our human emotion and cultures, and I personally found that revealed in this counsel.
If we can look at this from outside of our own agendas and perspectives, I think there is much for us to gain from this statement. This took a sea level argument in the church, and suggested that we look at it from 30,000 feet – or through God’s eyes instead of our own.
I would like to respond to Rich’s and Doug’s comments together. The 30,000 foot argument is correct, but, unlike Doug seems to assume, Steve still hasn’t jumped out of the airplane.
Notice, Steve didn’t say that the document is coming to THIS conference for inclusion in the D&C. IF there is an explosion of opposition from traditionalists, the option is still there to extend the discernment process, or to approve sections independently as “consensus” develops.
(I do not input any motive to this other than prudence, but simply note that until Steve puts a motion on the conference floor for inclusion in the canon, the guidance is only advisory. The practrical effect of the counsel is to freeze legislation and debate at either field or world church levels until the process of D&C acceptance is scheduled.)
The first e-mail on my computer this morning was from a relative of one of the Twelve opposing the document, so I know that there will be conservative opposition. And when the World Church does “jump out of the airplane” people who didn’t get the 30,000 foot worldview can make field conferences “interesting”.
We need to be helping people see from the 30,000 foot view.
The Q&A from the church’s website says it will be put to the 2010 World Conference for inclusion in the D&C.
Never said Steve was jumping out of a plane. If we are to become a discerning, prophetic people, we need to participate in the process of understanding the direction of the Spirit instead of hoping Moses comes down off the mountain with an 11th commandment.
To me, part of the message is that we need to focus on larger and broader issues, not just one issue. If prophetic voice is to speak to all of God’s creation, and not just those of us in western culture, then we may be being called beyond our own perspectives and agendas into modeling the worth of persons as Christ sees them, out of which may flow a more natural perspective on all the diversity of the human race.
We (I) still have so far to go to see my neighbor as God sees them, to give all of myself to what is most important.
Doud, I think the last section of the document about overcoming our fears WAS telling us we’ve got to trust enough to jump out of the plane, even if we don’t know whether God’s ultimate purposes for the establishing of the church involve a parachute opening or not.
I haven’t read all the responses, here. But, I want to share that I am struck by the ethnocentrism and U.S.-centric mindset of some of the comments. I’m victim of my own prejudices. I just assumed some of our church’s most open thinkers would understand that questions of sexuality internationally are complicated. I said complicated, not stalemated. Theological and missional issues do not stop at the crossroads of cultural difference. Therefore, sexuality and many other issues of the Gospel’s witness goes well beyond a simple question of yielding to culture. Complication simply means patience, courage, and time at the level of institutions. I think this document creates the conditions for the kind of paradigm shift in our own polity.
I, for one, am not willing to yield to the idea that because issues such as sexuality are complicated, the U.S. church must wait or eat crow and remain cemented liberal or conservative positions. (These perspectives distort the deeper questions of revelation and witness, anyway.) I don’t think at all that is where this document leads. I see this document creating the conditions for the U.S. church to actually see itself as a church among churches. Secondly, I see it prophetically creating the conditions for you and me to take responsibility for the Church’s prophetic witness in our own context, one with another.
This is the wonder and difficulty of our theocratic democracy. Despite personal opinions, it is working.
I, for one, look with some disappointment and frustration on the attitude our American political context creates. I see it all around me and in the church in liberal and conservative stripes. Namely, that attitude is that our government (whether church or federal) has the real (executive, monetary, or symbolic) power and it must come down on our view of things or we are cynical. Faith, I’d say, is a full participation and high contact sport in which spectators never fully understand the game. I’m talking in cliches…but I hope my point is clear. I see this document setting the conditions for the U.S./Canadian church to begin to take responsibility for its witness in moral (i.e. sexual, at this point in time) and evangelical (i.e. building community with others) dimensions.
Let the church come to grips with the fact that what is said can be as prophetic as the silences….
Why infantilize ourselves or the Church waiting for the President determine the church’s witness by facets of this or that national church perspective and tell us all what to do? The “democratic” side of a theocratic democracy requires participation. I testify that the theocratic side is doing its function.
Is it your view that the guidance in proposed Section 164 points the way toward separate national churches, more on the Anglican model, than on a single planet-wide organization?
I’ve wondered, and even written about, the possibility that God is trying to create the Kingdom in a way that will be centered around nations (not necessarily nation-states) that already exist rather than around a religious society yet to be created.
The church would be the leaven, and would never seek to again become the bread, as in post-Roman Christendom.
I must have read different comments than you Matt. I didn’t see ethnocentrism or indications that matters of sexuality are complicated. I understand from the Inspired Counsel that the church considers matters of sexuality complicated and requiring respect of cultures.
This is a good thing, and long overdue. The current policies of the church regarding homosexuality are a result of the US culture. Period. When the SHC put forth its statement in 1982, there was no consideration of Africa, or Haiti or any international body. It was written by Americans, for Americans.
In 1984 when women were allowed into the priesthood, it was because of US and Western culture. Steve often says how those in Africa and Haiti struggle with submission of women and the Church is working with them to educate and bring them along on this matter. But this surely did not stop the Church from adopting a policy based on where the US was culturally.
When cultures in Europe and Canada evolved to be more open to homosexuals, these cultures were not considered and respected, rather the Church selected to continue the same ethnocentric US policy. Sure, there is a legitimate threat of significant members leaving the church in Haiti, Latin America and Africa if the policy is changed, but this is ancillary. The policy was not created with them in mind.
Steve cited numerous examples of contentious issues in his Counsel. All of these provide good examples of how the Church “should” respond to these tensions. Take genitilia mutilation. What is the Church policy on such action? Any idea? Of course there is no official policy – because there is no such action in the US. Cultures that endorse this activity have no need to bring resolutions in support of it, because there is no movement against it. Those in the US don’t rebuff it, because they don’t see it and don’t know that it’s going on.
The same could have been done with homosexuality. There could have been no policy stance. Like genital mutilation, the Church could have permitted ordination and marriage where acceptable but it did not. Because those in the US found it deplorable.
It is the hight of ethnocentrism to continue affirmative homosexual descrimination. The Church prides itself on having no creed that all must believe in. But by policy, the Church believes homosexuality to be a sin and moreover, that this sin must be punished with descrimination. These are just facts. And they are solely based on US culture. If US culture (and South/Midwest culture more specifically) were not adamantly opposed to homosexuality, there would be no descriminatory policy.
I’m not sure where our comments are really at odds. I may have conflated a few comments here with ones I’ve heard as a church administrator in many other settings. But, I’m not sure your own read of the Church’s position on homosexuality escapes ethnocentric views any more than mine. I understand that acknowledging homosexuality, itself, as a legitimate sexual identity (for or against) equates to divulging a First World mindset – which I think you imply. Perhaps, you see the Church from the privilege of an outside perspective, whether outside the Church or U.S. culture. I cannot. My criticisms come from the inside of both.
I think one’s orientation on this issue is decisive. I understand the facts you outline and have before. I don’t think I even contest them. I think your view is shrewd and right. But, I don’t rest my faith in those facts or decide my participation or hope on them. I guess, for me, the essence of my participation in the life of the church falls elsewhere.
I do think, academically, pitting a 1982 document against the current state of affairs has fatal flaws. Theologically and ethically, the very relationship of “universal principles” and “cultural particulars” that Steve refers to in the current document undermines the position of the 1982 statement in the very terms you state. Of course, some argue otherwise. Like law, some argue that what is needed is a plain revocation of the 1982 statement. On the side of plain and simple justice, I would agree…from my First World, U.S. perspective.
I just want to note, in tension with this, that part of the burden people like me have to bear as World Church ministers is that I have a duty to uphold the current church’s policies. I will not go into the details of how I reason or respond to that challenge in my current role as MCP, except to say that I recognize the Church’s overall position, especially in light of this document, in its clarifications and ambiguities. I think the case can be made that the church has always upheld a contradictory position on sexuality, and several other moral/ethical issues. Focusing on those contradictions and ambiguities is part of the work forward. Thanks for the reply.
I agree that pitting the 1982 document against the current state of affairs has fatal flaws. Sadly, until Sunday, this is what the Church leadership has done, in my opinion, in the cowardly abdication of its own responsibilities.
I respect your willingness to continue to be faithful to a denomination that, from a policies and practices standpoint, differ from your own beliefs in such fundamental ways. You can find the beauty and worth in a movement despite its flaws and this is truly what the Gospel is all about.
As a priesthood member for more than 20 years, I could no longer continue to subject my little children to the contradiction between what they were learning and seeing at church, and what I was saying at home. While it was and is difficult to do what some see as running away from my problems, that challenge has been alleviated to some degree by seeing my children interact with homosexuals on Sunday morning with no understanding as to why they are different, because they are not treated differently. When the preacher speaks of equality, love, and worth of all persons, they do not have any internal conflict over what that means, because it is not contradicted by outward action.
I’ll admit – in some ways it makes my job easier, and maybe that’s a cop out. But I continue to work for change in the Community of Christ. I just couldn’t allow my children to see me so closely aligned with such open discrimination.
Thanks for all you do.
More discussion of the document in the blogosphere:
” do think, academically, pitting a 1982 document against the current state of affairs has flaws. Theologically and ethically, very relationship of “universal principles” and “cultural particulars” that Steve refers to in the current document undermines the position of the 1982 statement in the very terms you state. Of course, some could argue otherwise. Like law, some could perfectly argue that what is needed is a plain revocation of the 1982 statement. On the side of plain and simple justice, I would agree…from my First World, U.S. perspective.”
So would I. The statement is out of date with current science and even with this part of the culture.
I’ll go further and say the church has lagged behind on every major issue. When the civil rights movement was in full swing, the church advised members to stay out of it. The members practiced their own form of prejudice.
And it wasn’t until the culture began to recognize the gifts of women that the church finally decided to either allow them full participation of see an exodus of women. (then they saw an exodus anyhow)
I have always recommended that the church be in the forefront in doing the right thing..the just thing..in every situation…and let the cards fall where they may. That’s the only way we will ever have the communities for which we hope.
I am still waiting for that day.
Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” We continue to debate that question to this day, for it is different for you than it is for me. Unless you or I are the accepted and sole arbiter of truth, there will always be some disagreement on just what it is.
To escape to another church? Sigh… There was a time when Jesus moved beyond the nicities of the gospel into the hard parts of following him. What happened? Everyone left. He turns to his disciples and asks them if they too will leave. Their response is one that speaks to me every day of my life – “Where will we go? You have the words of eternal life.” I hope any church you go to or start offers your children the largest portion of truth possible in this life. If it is not larger, if that truth is only based on one issue…
I know of no other denomination that can speak to my heart and my spirit in fuller and richer ways than Community of Christ, even with all of its flaws and shortcomings. If you do, please let me know. It is not perfect, largely because it is made up of people. At times in the past I have considered whether or not to remain in the church of my ancestors, but the answer always comes back – where would you go?
It is a single issue. Justice. In my mind, that is the only issue that matters.
On this issue, I am with chicken. Justice is the most important issue. I am not leaving though. I am staying for the fray. My children are raised and my daughter is also a delegate to the conference.
I intend to ask all my questions in those forums. And I want answers. I have given 61 years to this church and before I leave this world I either want them to step up to the plate or get out of the ballgame.
Go get ’em Margie!
As a a traditional RLDS member (Restorationist) who feels betrayed over the years with the changes in doctrine/beliefs, I’m not at all surprised with the message. I have no other place to go than remain faithful to my convictions as RLDS & not Community of Christ.
Hopefully membership records will allow me to place my record in the ‘Non-affiliate’ Catagory….If not I am removing my membership completely from the Community of Christ. I don’t want to be associated with these departures. The COC really has little resemblence to the church & Restored Gospel I’m so passionate about.
Brad, I like you have also struggled with these changes in the church but continue to fellowship and share within the body. There are a few traditional congregations remaining within the body. I have been told numerous times by church officials that the church needs congregations that are more traditional to keep the church in balance and so we stay. Yes, there are many issues in Steve’s ‘Council to the Church’ which concern me.
In the mid 80’s when many congregations were going through conflict with the church and many formed Independent Branches, we stayed intact even though many people from our congregation would not stomach the church direction any more and left. Since then we have 80-100 attending and as more changes take place we continue to grow. Personally my family and most of those who attend do so because we know this is The Church of God restored. The Holy Spirit has not ‘moved us’ to fellowship elsewhere even though we have attended other congregations and branches. We have not been ‘forced’ to fellowship elsewhere and the Lord has blessed us with the ability to worship as we do within the body, so we continue to do so, waiting upon the Lord and His strange act to be made manifest. All these things that are happening within the church are known to God and in His time He will correct any unrighteous actions and honor any acts of righteousness.
I know of your struggles, but you must listen to the Spirit of God and allow it to guide and direct your actions. Do not let fear or anger remove your family from a field of fellowship where you have been placed if that is the will of God for you to be where you are.
Zion will be my friend.
We’ll miss you, Bradley. Whatever your decision, we hope to still call you “brother”.
Bradley, we can take this offline at email@example.com, if you wish, but I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on the founding principle of continuing revelation, and what your expectations are in that area.
The most important issue is…
Listening for God’s direction.
That is, after all why this was not presented during conference – so we have time to pray about it, setting aside our preconceived notions and listening to God.
Jumping to a decision is the last thing the First Presidency are asking for.
So let’s make this a matter of prayer, and continually seek God’s guidance on this. We may even be surprised by His answers!
“Jumping to a decision is the last thing the First Presidency are asking for.”
Rick, perhaps you are too young to know how long this has been an issue. I seriously doubt that anyone is jumping to a decision. We are waiting for a very truant leadership to finally act with justice for the rest of the glbt church.
Fear is a terrible thing. It paralyzes doing justice.
In Rick’s defense, Margie – I think he was referring to the Words of Counsel, and not the substance of the issues.
Of all my cynicism toward the church generally and leadership specifically, the change to trying to give time to people to read, discerne and think about words of counsel for a sufficient time and outside the euphoria of World Conference, is, in my opinion, a great idea.
Oh I agree with that. In our Church School class at church we are discussing these issues and so far it has been productive.
That’s exactly what I meant. I am sure that section 163 was originally intended to be given more time for reflection. Rightly or wrongly, people got excited and the Presidency moved forward with putting it to the conference.
Given the emotions attached to the issues stated in this document, I am sure they don’t want that to be the case this time.
Unfortunately it probably will be anyhow. What was the issue with 163?
I dont have any problems with section 163. However, I believe the leaders of the church had initially planned on having more reflection. Given the content and the leadings of the spirit, it was put to the vote at that conference.
However, given this current document will mean significant changes to policy, it is good that they are giving time to pray and reflect.
We all have the time, why not set aside our opinions and seek God’s will?
I sure hope that the issue of LGBT people in the priesthood and same-sex marriage is honestly and lovingly debated at this World Conference.
As you may know, I am a teenage, walk-in convert to church (1975). I found a group of people who accepted me with love and offered me shelter from an abusive family. I left the church in 1981, however, because I discovered I was gay and also because women could not be ordained. I returned to the church in 1988 because women were being ordained and the temple was being built.
Unfortunately, I had to leave again in 1991, because my congregation (San Francisco) was uncomfortable about me being openly gay and attending church with my partner. Then my partner died of AIDS, I lost my job in SF and I moved to the Netherlands.
It was rough going for the first six years, but then I met my second partner in 1999. It was then I first began to understand what the scriptures meant about sacrifice, love and forgiveness. As our relationship grew, I was able to forgive my family and reestablish contact with them. I also became interested in the church again due to recovering my old books, papers and letters from my family’s attic which rekindled my love of historical research and religious studies. I attended and then gave presentations at the Sunstone and the John Whitmer Historical Association conferences. I reestablished contact with good, inspiring people in the church such as the Romigs and the Howards who supported me in my historical research.
However, during the same period, the international church (not my congregation in Rotterdam) has shown itself to still be less than comfortable with me and my partner of eleven years when we have gone to church or attended conferences during our summer holidays. One church official got into a heated argument with my partner the first time she had a chance to talk with him at any length. Another wrote us in response to my request for a ceremony at my congregation in Rotterdam, that my partner and I couldn’t light candles with each other, exchange rings or use any of the commitment phrases from D&C 111 during this ceremony even though same-sex marriage is legal here in the Netherlands. This has put my partner off going to CofC events, so, if we ever do have a religious ceremony to celebrate our relationship, it probably won’t be at a CofC church.
I would really like the world church to come to some sort of understanding about its LGBT members and how some of us feel out in the cold. Presently, I have stopped making any financial contributions to the Community of Christ because I cannot justify financially supporting an organization which institutionally discriminates against its LGBT members and which punishes those who marry them even if it is legal in the place where the ceremony is performed.
At the moment, I am attending Quaker meeting in Amsterdam and giving my tithe monies to good causes and organizations which promote peace and reconciliation. It’s very quiet for me on Sunday. Quakers only speak in service when they feel moved by the Holy Spirit. It can be 20, 30 or 40 minutes before the first person gets up and speaks and then usually only for a minute or two. I was also surprised to discover the Quakers also believe in modern revelation and that George Fox their founder believed in “The Great Apostasy” almost 170 years before Joseph Smith had his theophany.
It’s very quiet on Sunday. I have more than enough time to silently pray, sort through my thoughts and to wait for inspiration about what I should for the next week or so. I don’t mind the silence but I do miss the hymns which I still find myself humming on my bike on my way to the railway station to go to work or meeting. At 8 PM as I come home from work, I wonder which country they’re praying for at the temple and I add my own. And I miss the preaching which seemed to speak to me every Sunday, no matter who, friend or foe to the LGBT community, was in the pulpit. Three times a week I work for an hour or two writing up my notes on Harvest Hills for a book or a doctoral thesis. I realize how much I have invested in the CofC the last ten years. And I wonder what will happen next.
It was George Fox who said one of my favorite sayings – “If God ever spoke, he still does.”
Amen to that.
As long as young people like you leave the church because of your personal experiences with it instead of staying with it and attempting to encourage or even demand change, nothing will change. The church has a great mission in peace and justice issues. In my opinion, unfortunately it just hasn’t quite learned yet what that entails.
What I see it entails is doing the right thing..regardless of the fallout. Justice is worth it.
But I won’t be around to fight these battles forever and if the younger generation continues to bail out, this will be the last generation of the church.
Personally, I think it’s worth saving. It’s mission of building communities of joy, hope, love and peace is a worthy goal but our people have to get busy in their communities and do their part. Too many are pew sitters.
I haven’t left the church, the church left me … and I certainly have not bailed out. Whilst in Independence on my sabbatical and working five days a week as a Temple guide from November 2007 to February 2008, I spoke to every church official at IHQ who would listen to me about LGBT issues including President Veazey. In addition, I am a member of GALA and I have given presentations on the church at Sunstone in Utah.
Unfortunately, I haven’t had one person from my congregation call me since I stopped attending church three months ago. I’m also not physically able to make it to church very often because it takes a 15-minute bicycle ride, three trains and a bus to get to the Rotterdam congregation and I have a medical condition for which I was hospitalized for 10 days in October 2008. None of the Rotterdam church members have offered me a ride to church since then.
I go to Quaker meeting in Amsterdam because it takes only one train to get there in addition to a 15 minute bike ride and a 10 minute tram ride. People there also don’t hassle me about who I am. They are concerned about me, my partner and my health.
I will continue to try to stay in contact with the CofC church, but I don’t know how long I will be able to do that. I’m planning on attending a day-long conference in Friesland lead by David Anderson and Richard James next month. Richard met my partner in Cardiff when we visited there last summer and showed us around town with his wife and son. They were very kind to us. I wish I could say the same for all the people in the church with whom we have had contact as a gay couple.
I hope the day conference is a great experience for you. I know Dave Anderson quite well as he was our mission center president before being assigned to Europe. Richard James visited me as well. I’m looking forward to his ministry as an apostle.
Thanks for your post.
As an openly gay man in a loving committed relationship, I feel very supported by this message. I think World Church leadership is being very responsive, loving and respectful.
I think they are doing as much as they can. I am continually torn between needing support as a gay man and being committed to poor people around the world where the church is serving. I was at one of the young adult visioning retreats with Steve Veazey and someone asked him what the most important issue is for the church today. He responded that half of our church members live in abject poverty. I agree. I obviously realize the need for GLBT acceptance. However, I am not willing to push for that if it means we lose most of the poorest members of the church. I hope this counsel provides a solution that can lead to GLBT acceptance in countries that are ready for that step and keeps the people in countries that aren’t ready for that step in the Community of Christ.
I think the church can address the issues of poverty and LGBT acceptance without sacrificing one or the other. In fact, some of the LGBT members might be more able/willing to contribute money to help fight poverty. The potential of what LGBT people can do for the church has barely been tapped because they are presently being marginalized.
I think the answer may be doing that support on a congregation by congregation basis. That way congregations that are accepting can offer a choice to those looking for a home congregation that is accepting. The countries and congregations that cannot handle that solution could then just not address it at all.
Church policy should ideally be consistent. It shouldn’t be that it’s OK to do something or be someone in one congregation and not in another. If this approach, in your opinion, is the best way forward for the church, why wasn’t it used for women in the priesthood?
In some cases it is. For example, In the Iola, Kansas congregation there are no female priesthood members and none will be called there. That is tolerated by the World Church. I understand there are others too but I can’t cite which ones they are.
“I haven’t left the church, the church left me … and I certainly have not bailed out.”
I consider that a real tragedy. Someone from your congregation surely could give you a ride to church.
Have you asked anyone for a ride?
Many of the people in our congregation of about 12 on a Sunday are too old, ill, or poor to give me a lift from my apartment which is about 40 miles from church. In the past I have asked for a ride two or three times from the nearest train station which is about a mile or two from church, but that can still hold up people for church if one of my trains is delayed underway and that happens frequently.
Amsterdam is easier for me to reach. I only need to take one train and there are three trams which go past the street where the Quakers meet or I can even take a cab since I’m at the main station in Amsterdam. Rotterdam, where the CofC meets, only has a local train station (it’s out in the suburbs) and there are only cabs waiting if there’s a football match.
I hope you’ll find blogs such as this another source of continued connection.
Perhaps we’re being told that consistency is NOT ideal, and that we learned too slowly to allow diversity in understanding and institutional forms of ministry.
I remember running across a volume, I think in Restoration Studies, in which one of our historians made the point that the division of the church had been materially worsened because the church HAD allowed separate congregations for women to be ordained, but NOT allowed situations like Iola described above.
The First Presidency’s response, also written in the same volume, was to question the man’s qualifications, not theologically, but as a professional historian. Big mistake, because the man had better qualifications as an historain outside the small world of Mormon studies than most. He STILL has those qualifications as a historian, but no longer is involved in the church.
It does not follow from the fact that the church has a mission that people within its current membership should sacrifice their personal missions — let alone their personal identity, let alone their lives — for that corporate mission. Doing so makes of the church an idol in the place of Christ, and applies whether we’re talking about GLBT Saints in the West or poverty-suffering Saints in the third world.
Justice may mean letting people be where they serve Cjhrist best, not where they serve US best.
My spirit groans from the weight of being human, but rejoices from the freedom of housing God’s Spirit.