I gave a sermon in Beyond the Walls on January 16th, 2022. Originally I wanted to talk about “Faithful Disagreement” and “Community of Christ’s Next Steps for LGBT Inclusion”, but I found I wasn’t able to talk about everything I wanted to in one sermon. I decided to focus on faithful disagreement, and so cut the following out of that sermon.
The Mesleian Tragedy
C. George Mesley was born in 1900 in Australia, and moved to Iowa in 1924 to attend Graceland. In 1927 he married his wife, Blanche Edwards. George was very active in the church and joined the priesthood in 1929 and eventually became an apostle in 1938.
George was known for being passionate about the church, his affinity for poetry and music, and his great capacity to love others. However, in 1947 accusations began to swirl that George was bisexual or gay. These accusations followed him until they came to a head in 1954 shortly before Conference. There was a strong possibility that his personal life would be exposed and ridiculed at Conference through discussions about his ability to remain an apostle. Instead of enduring this, he decided to take his reputation into his own hands and resigned as an apostle.
In those days it was tradition to honor outgoing apostles in the next D&C section, which would have been section 143 in this case. However, George Mesley, who had been an apostle for 20 years, received no such honors after he stepped down. After his days as an apostle were over he continued to be stigmatized and silenced because of these accusations, despite being an active and beloved member of the church.
Steps Towards Equal Rights
Luckily, we as a church have tried to move forward since the 1950s. In 1992 we as a church adopted Resolution #1226, the “Affirmation of Human Diversity”, and encouraged its use in educational materials, worship resources, and leadership training. I’d like to read that affirmation:
“The gospel of Jesus Christ reveals the unqualified love of God and the inestimable worth of all people. An awareness of God’s love and of the love of others is essential to human fulfillment. For these reasons, we celebrate the rich diversity of human life.
However, human beings often fear, hate, and abuse each other because of ignorance about such factors as socioeconomic status, culture, race, gender, age, size, sexual orientation, and mental or physical disability. Such prejudicial behavior undermines the personal and spiritual development of both abuser and abused and denies the mutual benefits of shared giftedness.
As people of faith, we confess our own imperfections in attitude and action. Nevertheless, we accept the responsibility to resist fear and hate in all forms and to strive continuously to eliminate expressions of prejudice and discrimination.
We declare our belief that “all are called according to the gifts of God to them.” We therefore acknowledge and affirm human diversity by creating a spirit of openness and peace within our congregations where all people may find acceptance and the opportunity to share their giftedness.
We commit ourselves to work with all people of goodwill to promote mutual respect, appreciation, and peace in all relationships.”
Further progress was made in 2010 when we canonized D&C 164. This section theologically innovated to create national conferences. These conferences would allow individual nations the opportunity to determine if it was culturally acceptable to ordain LGBT ministers and solemnize LGBT marriages. Many nations began to prepare for these conferences almost immediately.
In 2012 there was a Q&A which outlined what the procedure would look like for formalizing official national policies. The conferences would meet to determine if they wanted to revise national policies regarding LGBT folks, and give a recommendation. The First Presidency and the field apostle would draft an interim policy based on those recommendations, which would then go into effect within one year of the conference. This interim policy would be in place for two years, during which time it would be reevaluated and refined in preparation for it to become an official national policy. After any needed refinements, official national policies would be approved by the First Presidency and the Council of Twelve.
Canada had its National Conference and recommended a revision in national policy to ordain LGBT ministers and solemnize LGBT marriages, and its interim policy went into effect in 2013. You can read the full interim policy here. USA had a similar national conference, recommendation, and interim policy which went into effect in 2014. You can read that interim policy in full here. At this point many other nations or Mission Centers have also had similar conferences, recommendations, and interim policies go into effect.
These interim policies should have undergone refinement between 2013 and 2016, and then been implemented as official national policies no later than 2016. During this time, the LGBT advocacy group, Harmony, has worked with multiple Apostles to get status reports concerning the two-year commitment to review each national policy as well as clarification regarding the process by which these policies are reviewed, revised, and amended. Unfortunately, the Apostles were ultimately at a loss as to how to move forward.
Since the First Presidency has been the ecclesiastical polity which has the final say on policy, Harmony sought a meeting with the First Presidency to talk about this process. However, this meeting was declined with a comment that this should be handled with the Apostles. This began to feel very much like when you were a kid and you asked your mom for something, and she told you to go ask your dad, and when you asked him he told you to go ask your mom.
These policies are the ones which enable LGBT people to have access to the priesthood and to have our marriages solemnized and recognized in the church. They are wonderful! However, the delay in making these official policies has caused a significant amount of anxiety among LGBT members of Community of Christ.
In the wider world, LGBT folks have a history of having their rights systematically recognized and then voided. In Community of Christ, we decided and were told nearly 10 years ago that we had certain rights within our church and our rights were supposed to be officially recognized in several nations 6 years ago. The fact that this hasn’t happened yet gives us flashbacks to when our rights were taken away before. It doesn’t help that our rights are determined by a policy which is called “interim”, which is synonymous with “temporary”, “short-term”, and “provisional”.
A recent survey found that one in six adults in Generation Z consider themselves LGBT. One in six! 17 percent! How confident are we that taking an “interim” step is enough as we move forward?
This process of developing national policies is new for all of us, and we are not quite sure how to move forward. This is not the fault of the First Presidency. This is not the fault of the Council of Twelve. Harmony also bears no fault for pointing out the lack of progress. This is simply a failure to communicate, and placing blame and finding fault does nothing to help us move forward. In times of trouble I seek guidance from the scriptures, and today it comes to me in the form of Doctrine and Covenants section 117, verse 13, which says:
“Let contentions and quarrelings among you cease. Sustain each other in peace, and ye shall be blessed with my Spirit, in comforting and strengthening you for my work.”
I seek the blessings and strength of the Spirit as I pursue the rights of LGBT folks to be officially recognized in their nations. In seeking guidance in how to do this, I again sought solace in the D&C, particularly section 138, verse 3:
“A. Let the church again be admonished that the task of establishing Zion presses heavily upon us.
B. Barriers and hindrances to the achievement of this goal should be removed as speedily as possible and practicable.
C. To lay securely the foundations for Zion and her buildings, the work should be accomplished in peace and harmony. Unity should prevail.
D. To this end all the Saints should work together in the rich fraternity which can and will prevail among them when they keep faithfully the commandments.
E. Great blessings are in store for the church if it will in faith and saintly devotion go forward in its tasks.”
We as a people have to live with the fact that we possibly bullied our first LGBT apostle into stepping down because he was LGBT. However, we have the choice to put away our old prejudices and move closer toward Zion. We have already taken many steps, but we are now called to take another. We should be eager to trust that all involved only have good intentions and then work together to quickly clarify the process by which we could make these interim policies official national policies.
In closing, I would like to leave you with a final selection from the D&C, specifically section 162, verse 6:
“A. From the earliest days you have been given a sacred principle that declares the inestimable worth of all persons. Do not forget.
B. The One who created all humankind grieves at the shameful divisions within the human family. A prophetic people must work tirelessly to tear down walls of separation and to build bridges of understanding.
C. You hold precious lives in your hands. Be gentle and gracious with one another. A community is no stronger than the weakest within it. Even as the One you follow reached out to those who were rejected and marginalized, so must the community that bears his name.”