The cohabitation policy of Community of Christ is certainly one of the most controversial ones. I want to give a brief history of how it came to become such a hot topic.
Old World Conference Resolutions
A lot of the controversy regarding the cohabitation policy begins with WCR #1182 and #1192. These are those resolution in full:
Whereas, The church affirms that marriage is ordained of God (Doctrine and Covenants 49:3a; 150:10; Genesis 2:27–30); and
Whereas, “Monogamy is the basic principle on which Christian married life is built” (Doctrine and Covenants 150:10a); and
Whereas, The church believes that God intends that husband and wife remain married to each other for as long as they both shall live (Doctrine and Covenants 111:2b, 4b); and
Whereas, The church encourages people contemplating marriage to obtain premarital instruction and make adequate preparation (GCR 972); and
Whereas, Voluntary termination of marriage has become an increasingly common occurrence in many cultures; therefore, be it
Resolved, That the church reaffirms marriage as an institution, a covenant, a sacrament ordained of God, and a legal contract; and be it further
Resolved, That the church supports the following principles for guidance to all people:
- Marriage is a vital institution in all cultures of the world. It helps provide opportunities for healthy, constructive development of people. Monogamous marriage provides a setting for a relationship of enduring love and mutual companionship, thus nurturing a social environment in which the couple support and strengthen each other as people of worth.
- Marriage is a sacred covenant between husband and wife in which God participates with sanction, blessing, and guidance. The church is committed to providing premarital preparation and other caring ministries to strengthen and nurture faithful marriage relationships.
- Marriage is sacred when it expresses the nature of God through the relationship of husband and wife. The marriage ceremony, when performed by the authority of the church, is intended to be a solemnization and public witness of the covenanting couple with God, and is thus considered a sacrament. The marriage partners, the officiating minister, and all others participating in the ceremony should approach it with mature consideration and adequate preparation. They should expect that God will bless them in the fulfillment of their various responsibilities.
- The church upholds the validity of a legal marriage authorized by civil and religious authorities and affirms the potential for sacred relationships which can result. However, the church recognizes that authorized ceremonies, whether in the church or by other authorities, do not guarantee the development of a sacramental relationship. In a marriage where the sacred aspect of covenant is felt to be lacking, the couple is encouraged to resolve before God to strengthen their relationship. The preparation, the ceremony, and the continuing marriage can testify of the sacredness of the marriage covenant.
- As a legal contract, marriage imparts to both parties certain legal rights and duties which are generally enforceable in the various states and nations of the world. In addition to legal enforceability, such rights and duties impose ethical and moral responsibilities on the parties. This contractual nature of marriage is an important consideration prior to and throughout the marriage relationship.
- The church recognizes that in some cases either or both partners may have legal and/or moral grounds for termination of the marriage. Termination of marriage by divorce or other legal dissolution formalizes the termination of the marriage covenant. The church affirms that its primary function in these situations is to provide ministry rather than to render judgment. It should respond in the spirit of Christian caring to the needs of people for support and understanding. The church should facilitate and mediate a ministry of healing to people as they explore all avenues for reasonable reconciliation. If either or both partners decide to terminate the marriage, the church should continue to provide caring ministry for all people involved.
- In cases of the termination of marriage where priesthood status or possibility of charges related to unchristian conduct are involved, the church has a legitimate concern in conducting a review of the circumstances. In these cases, special attention of the administrative officers of the church will be required with healing and reconciling ministry as the primary goals.
- The remarriage of a person whose previous marriage has been terminated should be approached with the same careful consideration and preparation as that appropriate for every marriage. In cases where the previous marriage was terminated by legal action the officiating minister should ensure that marital preparation will include an exploration of the factors that characterized the marital history; and be it further
Resolved, That this resolution supersedes WCR 1034.
Involuntary Priesthood Releases and Appeals
Adopted April 11, 1986
Supersedes WCR 1158
Whereas, People are called of God to function as ordained ministers of the gospel; and
Whereas, The call to priesthood is subject to recognized administrative procedures of the church; and
Whereas, The church is charged with maintaining the highest standards of conduct of the ministers who represent it; and
Whereas, There continues to be a need to clearly outline the reasons for which a minister may be involuntarily released and to outline the procedure to be followed in these releases; and
Whereas, The interests of Christian justice would be best served if supervising administrative officers had available to them a concise description of causes for involuntary release and the procedures to be followed; and
Whereas, The minister involved has the right to adequate notice, the right to present a defense, and the right to be informed of the procedure involved; therefore, be it
Resolved, That the following standards and principles be adopted to govern the involuntary release of priesthood.
- Ministers are charged with the personal responsibility of maintaining the highest standards of Christian conduct.
- Grounds for involuntary release may include but not be limited to any one or more of the following:
A. Conviction of a felony or other serious crime.
B. Conduct constituting moral turpitude.
C. Willful disregard of church law, administration, or the properly exercised authority of a supervising administrative officer.
D. Willful failure to preserve or maintain a shared confidence.
E. Misuse or abuse of priesthood privileges.
F. Such other disregard for the standards of Christian conduct as may result in loss of power to minister effectively.
- Involuntary release is an administrative action which does not affect membership status and is not within the jurisdiction of the civil or church courts.
- The minister to be involuntarily released shall be given written notice of the release, including a concise statement describing one or more grounds for release and the facts supporting each ground, written description of the appeal process, the right to be heard at the appellate level, the right to present relevant evidence at the appellate level to support the appeal, and the right to appeal on grounds that a substantial error was committed.
- A minister may function in priesthood office and calling until the right to function is involuntarily released by excommunication or by termination of membership in the church.
- Upon receiving notice of the involuntary release, the minister shall refrain from functioning in that priesthood office until the involuntary release has been terminated. The pendency of an appeal shall not suspend the operation of the release, unless so ordered by the appellate officer.
- It is the obligation of the supervising administrative officer to attempt redemptive ministry with the minister to be involuntarily released. The release is not invalidated, however, by failure to achieve redemptive ministry, and it cannot be considered a prerequisite to involuntary release.
- A minister who is involuntarily released has the right to appeal the decision to the next-higher supervising administrative officer within sixty days after receiving notice of the involuntary release or notice of the denial of an appeal. The appellate officer shall, without unreasonable delay, review the decision to see that it is both procedurally and substantively correct. The minister who was involuntarily released may—by letter, in person, or through an appropriately appointed church representative—present evidence to the appellate officer. After hearing and reviewing all of the evidence, the appellate officer shall, without unreasonable delay, notify both the involuntarily released minister and the supervising administrative officer who imposed release whether or not the release is upheld and the specific reasons therefore.
- Either the minister who is released involuntarily or supervising administrative officer may appeal an adverse ruling until all levels of appeal are exhausted. The decision of the highest supervisory administrative officer shall be final. In the event the original involuntary release is imposed by the First Presidency, the released minister’s right to appeal is governed by Doctrine and Covenants 104 and 122.
- An involuntary release shall not be barred by lapse of time except as follows:
A. Failure of the administrative officer to act within a reasonable time after gaining knowledge of the grounds for involuntary release may be procedural grounds on appeal for dismissal of the release.
B. In no event shall an involuntary release be commenced later than five years after the commission of a actionable offense; and be it further Resolved, That the First Presidency shall continue to publish descriptive guidelines for implementation of this resolution, including definitions of the terms used herein; and be it further Resolved, That this resolution shall supersede WCR 1158 and shall govern all future involuntary releases; however, the validity of any involuntary release (silencing) procedure heretofore taken shall not be affected.
The Call for Modernity
In the mid 2010s there was a well-respected queer member of the church who was extended the call to Elder. They were elated to be able to continue their ministry through priesthood and accepted the calling.
However, the church realized that they were living with their same-sex partner. Church authorities tried to compel them to get married, but they weren’t ready and refused. The church had a secret policy (not in the 2004 Priesthood Manual or the 2005 Church Administrator’s Handbook) of not extending priesthood callings to people in committed relationships who are living together but not married, and so they retracted this priesthood calling.
Marriage had been systemically denied to queer folks for most of recorded history. There had been times that we had been given the right, only to have it taken from us. It wasn’t until just a couple of years before this that the USA recognized the federal right to marriage equality.
The church failed to recognize the complex history and relationship that queer folks have with marriage. Matters were complicated even further by the fact that the church had not publicly formalized this policy anywhere. This injustice sparked a number of outcries, both in favor and opposition to abolishing this policy, which in turn have led to many World Conference Resolutions.
The 2016 Resolutions
At the World Conference of 2016 there were 3 resolutions which touched on the cohabitation policy. They were:
“G-1 Issues of (Priesthood) Morality” submitted by the Canada East Mission Centre
Summary: This resolution would recommend the First Presidency consider revising World Church policy by allowing questions about the appropriateness of applying administrative sanctions to priesthood members involved in alleged immoral behavior to be resolved on an individual basis by local church officers in consultation with mission center or World Church representatives. It recommends the “values” expressed in Doctrine and Covenants 164:6a–b be considered when making such decisions.
Resolved, This World Church Conference recommends to the First Presidency that they consider changes to policy regarding administrative action toward priesthood members, keeping the following in mind:
When questions arise involving morality (personal behaviors, interpersonal relationships, or corporate practices), they be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. In cases where no harm is known and the values expressed in Doctrine and Covenants 164:6a–b are revered in word and in action, local church officers, in consultation with the appropriate mission or World Church representatives, be given the ability to determine in each case what administrative action or actions will uphold the worth and giftedness of all people and protect the most vulnerable. The First Presidency will review administrative handbooks and policies, providing revisions and clarifications of past and present statements to uphold this “values based” administrative model.
“G-3 Review of Policy Concerning Priesthood Members Living with Partners prior to Marriage” submitted by the Canada West Mission Centre
Summary: This resolution would request the First Presidency review all pertinent statements, policies, and scriptures pertaining to priesthood member cohabitation. (Cohabitation refers to living in a marriage-like relationship and the same household without being married.) After the review, clarifications or policy revision recommendations would be brought to the next World Conference.
Whereas, Significant concern has been expressed in various areas about sanctioning priesthood members who have chosen to live with their partners before marriage; and
Whereas, Much of that concern results from a lack of understanding of the church’s position on such a lifestyle when it generally is accepted in Western society at-large today; and
Whereas, There is a long history in Community of Christ specifically and in Christendom generally of considering premarital cohabitation to be “living in sin;” therefore, be it
Resolved, That the First Presidency be asked to review the current statements, resolutions, policies, and scriptural bases of Community of Christ toward cohabitation by priesthood members; and be it further
Resolved, That recommendations for revisions or clarifications of the church’s positions be brought to the next World Conference for consideration.
“G-4 Cultural Considerations and Issues of Priesthood Morality” submitted by Canada West Mission Centre
Summary: This resolution would state that applying administrative sanctions specified in World Church policies in matters of priesthood morality would be determined on an individual basis. Such determination would be made by local church officers in consultation with the First Presidency. If “no harm is known” by local church officers, priesthood members might continue to serve in priesthood ministry.
Resolved, That when questions arise involving priesthood morality they be evaluated on a case-by-case basis; and, be it further
Resolved, That in cases where no harm is known, local church officers, in consultation with the First Presidency, be permitted to allow ministers to continue in priesthood service.
I found that the 2019 A-4 Priesthood Release for Cause Background Statement explains what happened to these three resolutions very well:
“Three resolutions, G-1, G-2, and G-4, approved by the Canada East and Canada West mission centres were submitted to the 2016 World Conference. The resolutions were about priesthood morality and related church policies.
During the 2016 World Conference the First Presidency ruled G-4 out of order because it conflicted with church bylaws (Article III, Section 6B) and WCR 1192 Priesthood Silences and Appeals. Then the Presidency ruled that G-1 and G-3 were almost identical in their approaches, and whatever the Conference decided about G-1 would apply to G-3.
G-1 Issues of (Priesthood) Morality was considered by the World Conference. After discussion a motion to refer to the First Presidency was approved. The motion to refer placed the matter in the hands of the Presidency to act as determined best for the church.
The Presidency already was addressing the issue before the 2016 World Conference. The President’s Address of October 2015 included comments on moral behavior and relationships related to priesthood calling and ministry. It listed areas of concern: sexual conduct, cohabiting before or instead of marriage, and drinking intoxicants.
The president’s 2016 World Conference sermon included comments on social trends and then commentary on Doctrine and Covenants 164:6a. The church was assured that the principles of moral behavior and relationships identified in Doctrine and Covenants 164:6a have certain meanings and related behavioral boundaries.
Following the 2016 World Conference the Presidency developed a “Commentary on Principles” to interpret principles of moral behavior and relationships identified in Doctrine and Covenants 164:6. This commentary was developed with the assistance of the World Church Leadership Council and the Standing High Council. It was published through the Herald and the World Church website in French, Spanish, and English for study and discussion. The document said the commentary would be used by church officers to inform their consideration of various issues, including questions of priesthood morality raised at the 2016 World Conference.
Before the 2016 World Conference the Presidency and Standing High Council discussed the adequacy of WCR 1192 Ministerial Silences and Appeals in relation to the concerns raised by the resolutions from Canada. Conversations continued after the 2016 World Conference. Subsequently, it was determined that WCR 1192 was not adequate because of outdated content. …”
The Priesthood Status Categories of 2017
In response to these resolutions the First Presidency updated a document which clarified the different status of priesthood. This document can be read in full here.
The 2019 Resolution and Statement
Continuing with the 2019 A-4 Priesthood Release for Cause Background Statement:
“…The Presidency drafted legislation for the 2019 World Conference to rescind and replace WCR 1192. The proposed replacement resolution is A-4 Priesthood Release for Cause.
A-4 uses terminology that coincides with the current “Priesthood Status Categories” document (effective 1 July 2017). Please note that the administrative action titled “Silence” in WCR 1192 was changed to “Involuntary Release” in the “Priesthood Status Categories” document. In response to questions and feedback from the fields, the category of “Involuntary Release” is being changed to “Release for Cause.” All documents will be updated to reflect this change.
If approved A-4 will rescind WCR 1192 and replace it with a resolution that identifies foundational “Principles” related to priesthood ministry and expectations for moral and holistic lifestyles. It proposes “Mutual Understandings” that provide additional direction for the development of policies and procedures. The “Mutual Understandings” section includes a list of provisions that ensure related administrative processes are fair. A-4 also identifies general causes (reasons) that result in the administrative action, Release for Cause. Finally, A-4 acknowledges the First Presidency will develop detailed administrative policies and procedures in harmony with the resolution.
If A-4 is approved the Presidency will work with the World Church Leadership Council and others to develop detailed administrative procedures, including culturally sensitive adaptations if needed. The Presidency plans to develop administrative procedures that include opportunities for reconciling ministry prior to administrative action when possible and options for involving several authorized people in decision-making about releases and appeals if desired.”
This is the resolution that the First Presidency put forward and was then discussed on April 6th, 2019 from 9AM-10:30AM:
“A-4 Priesthood Release for Cause” from the First Presidency
Summary: Upon passage this would rescind World Church Resolution 1192 and present key principles and mutual understandings of ministry by priesthood members. It also would detail reasons for releasing priesthood members for cause and acknowledge the responsibility of the First Presidency for developing and maintaining policies and procedures related to such release.
Whereas, “The demands of a growing church require that [instruction given in former years] shall be evaluated and subjected to further interpretation” (Doctrine and Covenants 147:7); and
Whereas, WCR 1192, Ministerial Silences and Appeals (adopted 1986) needs to be updated to reflect current terminology and understandings; and
Whereas, The church has been given additional understanding into God’s vision for priesthood ministry; therefore, be it
Resolved, That WCR 1192 be rescinded; and, be it further
Resolved, That the World Conference affirms the following provisions for the development of policies and procedures regarding priesthood release for cause:
a. All disciples “are called according to the gifts of God unto them” (Doctrine and Covenants 119:8b). Some are called to priesthood ministry as a focus of their call as disciples.
b. The priesthood should “be made up of those who have an abiding faith and desire to serve [God] with all their hearts, in humility and with great devotion” (Doctrine and Covenants 156:8a).
c. “Priesthood is a sacred covenant involving the highest form of stewardship of body, mind, spirit, and relationships. The priesthood shall be composed of people of humility and integrity who are willing to extend themselves in service for others and for the well-being of the faith community” (Doctrine and Covenants 163:6a).
d. Priesthood members are expected “to continually magnify their callings through spiritual growth, study, exemplary generosity, ethical choices, and fully accountable ministry” (Doctrine and Covenants 163:6c).
e. God “ultimately is concerned about behaviors and relationships that uphold the worth and giftedness of all people and that protect the most vulnerable. Such relationships are to be rooted in…Christ-like love, mutual respect, responsibility, justice, covenant, and faithfulness” (Doctrine and Covenants 164:6a).
f. Church policies “provide a clear way for disciples to respond to [priesthood] calling. They also define the difference between a sense of call as potential and the need to align one’s life with principles of moral behavior and relationships that promote the well-being of the church community” (Doctrine and Covenants 165:4b).
g. All presiding administrative church officers should uphold the “worth and giftedness” of all persons impacted by administrative actions and “protect the most vulnerable” (Doctrine and Covenants 164:6).
II. Mutual Understandings
a. Priesthood members agree to serve according to the church’s expectations for Christian and ministerial conduct and to uphold the current version of “Covenant Principles for Faithful Priesthood Ministry” as found at www.CofChrist.org/common/cms/resources/Documents/priesthood/CovenantPrinciples-English.pdf.
b. Priesthood members provide affirmative ministry consistent with current versions of the church’s official documents such as the current version of Sharing in Community of Christ. When there is personal disagreement with a position, priesthood members are guided by “Faithful Disagreement: Definition and Principles” at www.CofChrist.org/common/cms/resources/Documents/FAITHFULDISAGREEMENT-PRINCIPLES.pdf.
c. A priesthood member can be released from priesthood by presiding administrative church officers for established causes outlined below in Section III.
d. Releasing a priesthood member for cause is an administrative action that does not affect church membership.
e. Administrative policies and procedures should assure that a priesthood member subject to release:
i. Is informed of the allegations in writing. Where possible, personal contact by the presiding administrative church officer is encouraged.
ii. Has reasonable time to consider the allegations.
iii. Has opportunity to resolve the relevant issues, if possible and appropriate, before administrative action is taken.
iv. Has opportunity to appeal the decision to release for cause to the nexthigher presiding administrative church officer.
f. All priesthood status changes will be reported to the World Church secretary through established procedures.
- Causes for release include, but are not limited to:
a. Conviction of a serious crime as defined by applicable laws.
b. Deliberate disregard of church law as expressed through church bylaws, relevant World Conference Resolutions, First Presidency official rulings, and current World Church policies and established practices.
c. Deliberate disregard of the properly exercised authority, action, or direction of a presiding administrative church officer.
d. Public and private statements that attempt deliberately to undermine the wellbeing of the church. This includes print, broadcast, and social media (electronic) communications.
e. Deliberate failure to preserve confidential information given with the expectation of ministerial confidentiality, with the understanding that reporting mandated by law or when physical harm of self or others is likely are exceptions.
f. Such other disregard for the principles of Christian conduct as may result in the loss of power and standing to minister effectively.
- An additional cause is priesthood inactive status for at least three years. And, be it further
Resolved, That the First Presidency is responsible for developing and maintaining administrative policies and procedures related to priesthood release for cause and appeal in harmony with this resolution.
On April 10th, 2019 the First Presidency then explained the procedure that they foresaw if A-4 was passed. This is that procedure:
A-4 Procedures for Priesthood Release for Cause (Draft Example)
These procedures apply to priesthood release for cause. Effort should be made, if appropriate and possible, to resolve a concern before official action is taken. A supervising administrative officer may involve other priesthood members in efforts to resolve situations. However, inability to resolve an issue should not cause an unwise delay in acting or invalidate the action taken.
If a priesthood member is convicted of a serious crime as legally define where the crime occurred, then release for cause is required immediately. If a priesthood member formally is charged with a serious crime, but a legal verdict regarding innocence or guilt has not occured, the appropriate action is priesthood suspension until the matter is decided.
When the supervigins administrative officer decides that relase for cause should occur, the following procedures apply:
- The supervising administrative officer sends written notice of release for cause to the priesthood member with a copy to the next-level supervising administrative officer also is encouraged, when possible.
- The written notice should include an explanation of:
a. The reason(s) for release for cause and general supporting evidence.
b. The opportunity to appeal the decision to the next level supervising administrative officer within sixty (60) days from the effective date of the action.
C. How to initiate an appeal and present evidence relevant to the appeal.
- The priesthood member must cease to function in his or her priesthood office when notified of release for cause regardless of intent to appeal.
- A person may appeal the action by sending written notice to the next-level supervising administrative officer, who will serve as the appellate officer. The written notice should indicate whether the released priesthood member requests a personal hearing with the appellate officer. The written appeal may be sent through the mail (post) or email. A receipt indicating the letter or message was received should be requested, when possible.
- The appellate officer will arrange to hear the appeal within ninety (90) days. If a personal hearing is requested, the appeal may be heard in person or through video conference. The released priesthood member may provide evidence to support the appeal. The released priesthood member may be represented in the appeal process by another church member invited to participate by the released priesthood member.
- When requested by the released priesthood member, the appeal may be heard by the appellate officer and a panel of two high priests (including bishops) selected by the appellate officer. If high priests are not available, elders may be selected.
- After hearing the appeal, the appellate officer or panel will decide the matter within sixty (60) days. The appellate officer or panel will decide if the release is procedurally and materially correct based on available evidence. If a panel is involved, a majority of panel members must agree on the decision.
- The appellate officer will provide written notification to the released priesthood member and the supervising administrative officer who enacted the release. The written notification will indicate if the appeal is upheld and the reasons why or why not.
- There is no further right of appeal unless the released priesthood member believes the appeal process was fundamentally unjust or administratively improper. If that is the case, the matter may be appealed in writing to the next-level supervisory administrative officer for review and a final decision within sixty (60) days.
- If the First Presidency releases a priesthood member, the appellate body is the Standing High Council.
- The decision of a supervising administrative officer, appellate officer, or appellate body is final unless significant evidence is discovered that could change the decision. Additional evidence can be submitted by the released priesthood member, supervising administrative officer, or appellate officer. The last officer or appellate body to consider the matter determines if the additional evidence is significant enough to warrant reconsideration. If a priesthood member has been released without cause and later a supervising administrative officer obtains information that establishes cause for release, the supervising administrative officer must follow the procedures for release for cause.
- All changes in priesthood status should be recorded with the World Church through established procedures when they occur. All relevant information about the status change should be sent to the World Church secretary for inclusion in World Church confidential files for future reference.
Glossary of Terms
Appeal: A formal request to the next-level supervising administrative officer to have a decision reversed.
Appellate Officer: The supervising administrative officer who receives, hears, and decides an appeal.
Cause: Official reason(s) for removing priesthood authority as defined by WCR_________.
Next-level Supervising Administrative Officer: The super visor of the officer who made the original decision.
Panel: The supervising administrative officer and two high priests (including bishops) who hear and decide an appeal. If high priests are not available, elders may be used.
Materially Correct: The release was based on the proper cause(s) as defined by WCR _ with supporting evidence.
Personal Hearing: A meeting to hear an appeal in person (face-to-face) or through video conference. Priesthood Status: The category of the priesthood member, such as active, inactive, suspension, leave, release without cause, release for cause, etc. See “Priesthood Status Categories” at www.CofChrist.org/common/cms/resources/Priesthood-Status-Categories.pdf.
Procedurally Correct: A release for cause occurred accord ing to the administrative procedures described in this document.
Release for Cause: A supervising administrative officer removes priesthood authority from a member for a stated reason (cause).
Status Change: A supervising administrative officer moves a priesthood member into a different priesthood-status category. All priesthood-status changes should be recorded in World Church Membership Records through established procedures. Any relevant documentation should be forwarded to the World Church secretary to be placed in World Church confidential files for future reference.
Supervising Administrative Officer: The person who super vises priesthood in a church jurisdiction such as pastor, mission center president, apostle, or official designees.
Written Notice: A letter or email that announces and documents an official action or response.
The Conferences wanted even more clarity from the First Presidency, and they gave this clarification on April 11th, 2019:
Marriage and Cohabitation: Statement by First Presidency during 2019 World Conference
While the Presidency did not intend to make a public statement about cohabitation at this World Conference, we were aware that the question might arise and prepared a response. In a discussion session about A-4 Priesthood Release for Cause during the Wednesday-afternoon legislative session the Presidency was asked if priesthood members who are cohabiting still are being released from priesthood. The Presidency responded with the following:
First, it is important to understand that the term cohabit includes a variety of alternative arrangements to marriage:
- Engaged and co-habiting prior to a scheduled marriage date
- Engaged and co-habiting without a scheduled marriage date
- Not engaged and co-habiting as a “test” of the relationship to see if partners eventually want to get married
- Co-habiting as an alternative to marriage (no civil or sacramental marriage intended)
- Serial co-habitation as a lifestyle (different partners at different times)
- Co-habiting while still legally married but separated from a spouse
- Co-habiting as a financial decision to save on expenses or to circumvent laws that would reduce individual financial benefits if legally married
- Co-habiting as part of a polyamorous (more than two persons) arrangement
The church’s current policy is that priesthood who are cohabiting should be removed from active priesthood ministry. Priesthood authority may be reinstated when the situation is resolved. The policy about priesthood member cohabitation fundamentally is meant to promote marriage as a divinely intended source of blessing for people, the church community, and society. In Community of Christ marriage is a sacrament that initiates and blesses a covenant relationship. World Conference Resolution (WCR) 1182 Marriage and Termination of Marriage states in the first “resolved:”
“That the church reaffirms marriage as an institution, a covenant, a sacrament ordained of God, and a legal contract…”
Any discussion of cohabitation should include the intent of WCR 1182 and the question, “Does a form of co-habitation “reaffirm” (uphold) the church’s understanding of the nature and importance of marriage as an “institution, a covenant, a sacrament ordained of God, and a legal contract”? Community of Christ is for marriage, especially the sacrament of marriage. We promote marriage as a sacred covenant of love, trust, fidelity, and life-long commitment.
The sacraments are central to the church’s life and mission. Priesthood members are expected to promote the value and meaning of all the sacraments, including the sacrament of marriage. The integrity of the sacraments and the well-being of the whole church community must be primary concerns to church officers in these situations.
Some governments legally recognize marriage-like relationships such as “common law” marriages or
“de facto marriages.” However, church policy stresses embracing marriage or the most equivalent form of commitment and covenant available.
It is important to understand that there are strongly held differences of opinion regarding the appropriateness of cohabitation throughout the worldwide church.
The First Presidency has been asked to review policy about priesthood and cohabitation, which we are doing in concert with the Standing High Council and World Church Leadership Council. However, we have learned from our history that it is important for church officers to uphold current church policies, even when policies are being reviewed, or when they personally disagree with the policy. We have established processes for reviewing policies and updating them as needed and when supported by the common consent of the people. If church officers ignore policies, this leads to a breakdown of the processes, as well as confusion and distrust in the body.
The following paragraph was included in the statement written ahead of time, but not in the spoken response because of time constraints. It is included here for the information of delegates: Doctrine and Covenants 164:6(a) lists covenant as one of the principles of moral behavior and relationships. Covenant, in this context, is not just a commitment between two people. Covenant is a spiritual principle that acknowledges God’s initiative in covenant-making and that asks God’s blessing on the relationship. While cohabitation may involve a level of intent and commitment by a couple and have legal rights associated with it in some nations, it does not meet the understanding of marriage as a covenant as defined in WCR 1182.
A-4 was voted upon and was voted in favor of and was implemented as World Conference Resolution #1316. The Priesthood Status Categories was updated on September 1, 2019 as a result.
The 2023 Resolution
On August 16th, 2022 the 2023 Resolutions became publicly available. Of particular interest was Resolution G-7. This is that resolution:
“G-7 Resolution on Marriage” from the Council of Twelve Apostles
Whereas, Marriage is a sacrament and sacred covenant relationship of love and equality between two people and recognized as a valued institution in the cultures of the world; and
Whereas, Understandings, definitions, practices, traditions, and laws regarding marriage and marriage-like relationships vary throughout the nations and cultures of the world; and
Whereas, The World Conference is counseled through Doctrine and Covenants 164:7b to address “principles of behavior and relationships” but “not decide specific policies for all nations when those decisions likely will cause serious harm in some of them.”; now, therefore, be it
Resolved, That WCR 1182 be rescinded; and, be it further
Resolved, That apostles have responsibility for establishing and upholding definitions, guidelines, practices, and policies regarding marriage and marriage-like relationships within nations or other geographic groupings where the laws, cultures, and traditions for marriage are similar; and
Resolved, That all definitions, guidelines, practices, and be it further policies developed by apostles be reviewed and approved by the Council of Twelve Apostles and First Presidency prior to implementation; and be it further
Resolved, That all definitions, guidelines, practices, and policies are developed in harmony with the principle of monogamy (Doctrine and Covenants 150:10a), our Enduring Principles, and the behavior and relationship principles of Christ-like love, mutual respect, responsibility, justice, covenant, and faithfulness identified in Doctrine and Covenants 164:6 and further explored in the Commentary on Principles; and be it further
Resolved, All definitions, guidelines, practices, and policies seek to uphold the Worth of All Persons, foster mutuality and equality, and protect the most vulnerable; and be it further
Resolved, That basic resources be recommended to assist in education before and after the sacrament of marriage that support marriage as lived relationship and model the principles identified above.
In practice, this would enable the Apostles to create the policies for their specific apostolic fields regarding the co-habitation policy. This would, in essence, shift administrative power from the First Presidency to the Apostles.
This shift of power would allow the Apostles to, in effect, do away with the co-habitation policy in many areas of the church.