I’m voting “NO!”
Here’s how I would like to see it amended
This brief Resolution could have some of the most dramatic implications on the church. As per usual, I feel like some background is important here.
For decades the church had a couple of jurisdictional levels, namely congregations, branches, districts, stakes, and apostolic fields. This model wasn’t super uniform and wasn’t very mindfully designed.
On April 5th, 2000, with W. Grant McMurray as president of the church, we passed new bylaws which mindfully restructured the jurisdictional levels of the church. This is where we came up with the Mission Center structure.
In 2007, with Steve Veazey now the president of the church, the First Presidency proposed Resolution 1288 This resolution switched World Conference from being every other year to being every 3 years, and was passed. This resolution can be read here:
Resolution 1288: World Conference Interval
Adopted March 25, 2007
Whereas, The Bylaws of Community of Christ specify that Conferences meet “as agreed upon by those who constitute their membership.” (Article IV, Section 1); and
Whereas, The issue of the frequency of the World Conference has been discussed from time to time by church leaders, the Conference Organization and Procedures Committee, and the World Conference (WCR 1253); and
Whereas, The church has a history of adjusting the intervals between World Conferences and the formats of these Conferences as the church has grown and the needs for ministry have changed; and
Whereas, It is desirable that the church “meet together often” while still recognizing that the primary focus of church resources should be on ministries in the field; and
Whereas, The costs of attending World Conference are increasing both in terms of actual funds expended and in terms of the opportunities that are lost when leaders around the world are required to devote large amounts of time to Conference planning and when members travel long distances to attend these events on a too frequent basis; and
Whereas, The World Church Leadership Council has given lengthy consideration to alternative ways to schedule World Conference and also accommodate the need for other educational and fellowship events, including those in fields, mission centers, and national settings; now, therefore, be it
Resolved, That beginning with the upcoming inter-Conference period, World Conferences be scheduled to meet every three years; and be it further
Resolved, That WCR 1277 be rescinded.
Not long after this the church began to focus on LGBT rights. An overview of this history can be found here. This came to a boiling point in at the 2010 World Conference, where there were multiple resolutions which proposed full acceptance, partial acceptance, and no acceptance for LGBT folks in the church. The First Presidency ended up issuing what would become D&C 164. This section created even yet another jurisdictional level (national) with verse 7. This new jurisdictional level allowed individual nations to have a say in whether they wanted to recognize the worth and dignity of LGBT folks. This was seen as a compromise for the queer-affirming nations and the queerphobic nations.
D&C 164: 7
A. A worldwide prophetic church must develop cultural awareness and sensitivity to distinguish between issues that should be addressed by the World Conference and those that are best resolved nationally or in other ways.
B. Fundamental principles of ethical behavior and relationships should be addressed by the World Conference. The Conference should not decide specific policies for all nations when those decisions likely will cause serious harm in some of them.
C. However, timely resolution of pressing issues in various nations is necessary for the restoring work of the gospel to move forward with all of its potential. Therefore, let the proper World Church officers act in their callings—as already provided in church law—to create and interpret church policies to meet the needs of the church in different nations in harmony with the principles contained in this counsel.
D. Where possible and appropriate, convene national or field conferences to provide opportunities for broader dialogue, understanding, and consent. In those gatherings, let the spirit of love, justice, and truth prevail.
This amended jurisdictional system came with quite a few challenges. No one knew what National Conferences were supposed to look like, and it took 2 years for guidelines to be produced. It then took another 2 years for the conferences to happen. The interim policies that were approved were supposed to be made official policies in 2015/2016, but that has yet to happen because of miscommunications between the First Presidency and the Council of Twelve. More about this history here.
Additionally, there were mission centers that spanned multiple nations. For example, the Pacific Southwest International Mission Center encompasses areas in the United States and in Mexico. The United States has become queer-affirming, while Mexico has not. This means that a queer person could have the priesthood in their mission center in America, but then lose their priesthood at a different congregation in their mission center. Straight cis people are able to hold and exercise the priesthood anywhere, but queer people are restricted even within their own mission centers. In other words, this creates a “First Class” and “Second Class” status among church members.
Resolution A-4 is a continuation of this history and seeks to amend our bylaws. In full, it says:
PROPOSED AMENDMENT IF ADOPTED WILL READ:
Article VIII. Organization of additional jurisdictional units. As “the leading interpreters and teachers of the laws” (WCR 386), the First Presidency has the authority to organize additional forms of organizational units not currently foreseen. Such units may be based on national, other physical boundaries, or on no such geographical designations.
Rationale: Conditions, circumstances, and opportunities in the world are developing at a rapid rate. Amending the bylaws is a lengthy process that does not allow for timely response to such developments. This additional article would provide for the First Presidency to have the authority, in the best interest of the church, to organize units, jurisdictions, etc., not presently foreseen or anticipated in a timely fashion.
On its face, this seems like the First Presidency trying to come up with a new jurisdictional system even though they haven’t even fully implemented the one that we have. Instead of fixing this system, the First Presidency just wants to create a new one. However, its also important to note that the First Presidency doesn’t actually propose new administrative levels for us; it asks us to give the First Presidency a blank check to create a new system without our approval.
Resolution A-4 references a resolution which was passed on April 12, 1894, which says:
WCR #386: Report of Joint Council
The Joint Council of the First Presidency, Twelve, and High Priests, which has been holding sessions during this conference, made report, reading:
To the Conference: The Joint Council, in compliance with your request, presents the following report, which embraces what has been agreed upon.
1. Office in the Church of Christ is not conferred to distinguish, or glorify, or increase the importance of the person on whom it is conferred.
2. Office in the church is conferred for the purpose of accomplishing certain results designed in the instituting and establishing the church.
3. All offices in the church come properly under the head of the priesthood. Under this general head all the officers are arranged, there being two orders of priesthood; the Melchisedec and the Aaronic.
4. The scope of the present council is confined to an inquiry into the calling, duties, and prerogatives of the First Presidency, Twelve, and the Quorum of High Priests.
5. The President of the church is primarily appointed by revelation.
6. This appointment is confirmed by the vote of the church properly taken.
7. That the Presidency is the leading quorum in the church. That the duty of presiding over the church devolves on that quorum. That it is the prerogative of the President to preside over the whole church, to bear the responsibility of the care and oversight of the work of the church, in all its different departments, and through the constituted officers of the church in their various callings, according to the laws, rules, and regulations in force and recognized by the church.
8. That it is the prerogative of the President to receive revelations from God and give them to the church for the direction and government of the affairs of the church.
9. That the members of the Presidency are leading interpreters and teachers of the laws and revelations of God, and are of right presidents of the General Assemblies of the church.
10. That the members of the Presidency are to Preside over the High Council, and in the exercise of this duty to render decisions on important causes submitted to that council.
11. That it is the prerogative of the Presidency, to receive revelations from God through the President and present them to the church.
12. That the Presidency are the counselors of the Twelve and exercise the right of presidency by direction and council to that quorum.
13. That the calling and duties of the High Priests are those of standing or local presidency of branches, districts, conferences, or stakes, to the presidency of which they may be called, or appointed by the constituted authorities of the church, in accordance to the law.
14. That “the Twelve” are the second quorum in authority and importance in the general work of the church; and is the leading missionary body of laborers, under the direction and counsel of the Presidency, whose duty it is to preach the gospel, win souls to Christ, administer in the rights of the gospel, carry the gospel to this and every other nation, take charge of and direct other missionaries; and to do any work within their calling, which the necessities of the work and general welfare of the church may demand.
JOSEPH SMITH [III]
President of Council.
HEMAN C. SMITH,
HENRY A. STEBBINS,
Secretaries of Council.
WCR #386.9 in particular hits the First Presidency’s point home: THEY are the ones who decide what’s best for the church. This behavior is eerily reminiscent of Supreme Directional Control, which is a controversy that sparked one of the largest exoduses in church history. In this, the First Presidency put forward the idea that THEY knew what was best for the church, and believed that they had supreme directional control of it.
However, I would very much like to bring WCR #861into this discussion. This Resolution explains that the Conference is the chief legislative body of the church, and the First Presidency is at the mercy of it.
WCR #861: Basic Doctrines Affrimed
Whereas, Distress and sorrow have troubled some minds and hearts, due to a misunderstanding and misinterpretations of the Document on Church Government adopted by the General Conference of 1925, and
Whereas, Particularly that portion of the document referring to “supreme directional control” as resting with the First Presidency has by some been represented as implying autocracy, papacy, infallibility, monarchy, an invasion of the legislative rights of the people, etc., and
Whereas, Such implications have been foreign to our understanding and in no way representative of the intentions of those who framed and supported the document and in no way representative of the intentions of those who administer it, and
Whereas, We desire as far as possible to promote a clearer and more unified understanding that wounds may be healed, and all be assisted to find true fellowship and final salvation in the church,
And be it further Resolved, That we reaffirm our bepretation set forth by President Frederick M. Smith and his associates, which interpretation recognizes:
Firstly, the supremacy of God, who so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, and the divine right of that Son as builder of the church militant and the church triumphant to overrule and guide all the affairs of his church through the ministration of his Holy Spirit in testimony to all faithful Saints and through revelation to the one called and ordained to receive revelation for the church;
And which recognizes secondly, the undisputed right of General Conference as the chief legislative body of the church in the legislative arm of the church through which the people may speak and either approve or disapprove or initiate legislation;
And which thirdly sets forth, in the administrative work of the church only, the right of the Presidency as the chief or first executive body of the church to administer the laws and policies of the church as approved by General Conference;
And which fourthly disclaims any and all offensive application of the words “supreme directional control” as hereinbefore mentioned, and claims for the Presidency only the authority and the rights set forth under the law of the church as contained in the Three Standard Books of the church, the Bible, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants;
And Be It Further Resolved, That we reaffirm our unshaken belief in the doctrines, the organization, the authority, and the divine mission of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints as the church in succession to that body organized by divine commandment April 6, 1830; And be it further
Resolved, That we invite all the honest in heart who before time have made covenant with us in the waters of baptism to cherish the ardor of their first love, to remain true and loyal to the church and her Lord, to have their part in her devotional services in the congregations of the Saints, and to gladly continue or renew their portion of service whether spiritual or temporal, under the admonition that all are called according to the gifts and callings of God unto them, and that minister and laborer and man of business shall all work together for the accomplishment of the work intrusted to all; And be it further
Resolved, That we reaffirm our belief in the gathering of God’s people to Zion and the second personal coming of our Lord and Master, and hold ourselves ready with all diligence to build up his kingdom and establish his righteousness, that Zion may be redeemed and a pure people be made ready for his coming.
A-4 goes above and beyond just the First Presidency saying that THEY are the ones who decide what’s best for the church; they say that the legislative process is slow, and they essentially say that they want to circumvent it. This being the same president of the church which proposed Resolution 1288 which made the legislative process slower. If the legislative process takes too long, then we should find ways to expedite it, not circumvent it. Circumventing the legislative process is what dictators and autocrats do; not a church that so enthusiastically describes itself as a “theo-democracy”.
A-4 represents a stark departure away from our normal legislative process as a church, and I felt that it would be wise to illustrate the differences:
How the church legislative process works
How A-4 would affect the church legislative process
We have not fully even implemented the administrative system that we have; we shouldn’t be trying to develop another one. We should see if we can fix the system instead of throwing it away. Additionally, this resolution doesn’t even propose an administrative system – it asks us to agree to a system that we aren’t even fully informed about. It asks us to give up informed consent.
Instead of recognizing that our legislative process needs to fixed to make it function better, this resolution seeks to consolidate power within the First Presidency in order to circumvent the power of the World Conference. This power grab is eerily reminiscent of Supreme Directional Control, which plagued our church for years and nearly bankrupted us.
I light of this, I don’t see any way that this resolution could be redeemed, and I will be voting “NO!”
How I Would Fix It
This was a tough one for me to figure out how I would fix it. This is the best I could come up with:
‘As “the leading interpreters and teachers of the laws” (WCR 386), the First Presidency has the authority to organize additional pro tempore forms of organizational units not currently foreseen. Such units may be based on national, other physical boundaries, or on no such geographical designations. Any pro tempore jurisdiction shall be approved or vetoed at the next World Conference through a delegate vote.“
This allows the First Presidency to experiment a bit over the next 3 years while not giving the Presidency unrestricted ability to fundamentally alter the government of the church with no oversight. I feel this is a decent compromise.