The following is a resolution that I plan on presenting to my congregation, mission center, and eventually the World Conference.
LGBTQIA+ Reconciliation Resolution
WHEREAS, in the past Community of Christ openly advocated for the oppression and engaged in the marginalization of the LGBTQIA+ community 1; and
WHEREAS, in the past Community of Christ weaponized scripture to marginalize the LGBTQIA+ community 1 ; and
WHEREAS, Community of Christ once advocated for “Conversion therapy” , which today is described as torture 2, by promoting content from Exodus International 3 which has since closed because it recognized that they were inflicting harm due to their incorrect teachings 4; and
WHEREAS, Community of Christ’s past statements, policies, and actions have contributed to the spiritual, emotional, and mental harm inflicted upon the LGBTQIA+ community; and
WHEREAS, Doctrine and Covenants 163: 7C tells the church to “confess and repent of such attitudes and practices.”; and
RESOLVED, that Community of Christ formally recognizes its actions as having contributed to the oppression of the LGBTQIA+ community; and be it further
RESOLVED, that Community of Christ extends an apology for its past behaviors; and be it further
RESOLVED, that Community of Christ will continue to strive towards recognizing the worth, dignity, and equality of our family and friends in the LGBTQIA+ community;
C. George Mesley’s Story
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.
Standing High Council’s Statement (October 18, 1962)
Pastors and other church administrative officers occasionally will be rewuired to deal with problems arising from the practices of sexual perversion, the most comon of which are reffered to under various names, such as homosexuality, sodomy, or lesbianism. Medical terms for some of these practices are fellatio, pederasty, and cunnilingus. In order that one may minister effectively in these cases, he should not approach them with an attitude of predjudice, adverse emotions, embarrassment or social taboo, but rather he should attempt to handle them objectively, with a background of knowledge and understanding and with a sincere desire to help the individuals who are concerned in these matters.
The practice of vert homosexuality dates back to early antiquity. It was common among the cultures and civilizations with which the early Hebrews came in contact as they develeoped into a nation and is referred to with disapproval several times in the Old Testament. For example, there was the experience of Lot and the people of Sodom as reported in Genesis 19: 1-25. A similar incident was recorded in Judges 19: 22, 23. It was reported several times in the books of Kings that there were “sodomites” in the land (See I Kings 14:24; 15:12; 22: 46; II Kings 23: 7.) The laws of Moses contained specific prohibitions of this practice. (See leviticus 18: 22; 20: 13 and Deuteronomy 23: 17, 18.) Similarly, it was part of the Greek culture with church the early Christian church came in contact as it extended its missionary program, and the Apostle Paul makes several references condemning the practice, among which are Romans 1: 24-28 and I Corinthians 6: 9, 10, 13. There seem to be no specific references to this subject in either the Book of Mormon or the Doctrine and COvenants.
A parallell situation exists in the modern world and in the culture with which the church young people are thrown in contact during their adolescent and youthful years. While accurate statistics are not available in this matter, several research studies have been made on a sampling basis which indicate that the problem is much more wisespread than most people realize. This purpose of this memorandum is not to argue about or vouch for the accuracy of such figures but to use them as illustrations of the nature and extent of the problem. For example, these studies show that among adolescent boys and young men (which are the age periods dueing which most homosexuals start these practices) as high as thrity-five percent of those included in some of the samplings had at some time engaged in homosexual activities. This is in harmony with the common knowledge that a large amount of sex play and experiementation is carried on in these age groups, which is not discovered because it is done clandestinely, and does not have the outside consequences which follow from intimate relations with the opposite sex.
On the other hand, it is significant to note that even in the samplings with the highest percentage of homosexuality before age 21, a large number of persons later made the adjustment to normal hetersexual (man-woman) relations. There was, however, a residue of approximately four percent who had become so conditioned or habituated or were so susceptible to these pracitces that they were exclusively homosexual during adulthood.
The percentages among women homosexuals in the samples studied were about one half of those among men.
In recent years the problem of homosexuality has been studied very thoroughly by psychologists, psychiatrists, and social scientists and there is a large amount of information available.
It is recommended that anyone who has need of dealing with any of the aspects of the problems of homosexuality should read the most up-to-date reports and references available.
Inasmuch as the young people if the church may come in contact with these influences in the society surrounging them, it is to be expected that some of them will have engaged in homosexual practices and that some of them may have contined these pracices into their adult life. The pastor should be prepared to give ministry to young people in making adjustments from these experiences to a normal way of life, and also be able to counsel adults who may come to him for help in seeking to overcome such habits which may have become imbedded in their personality. The pastor cannot be expected to be a psychiatrist of psychotherapost, but he should know enough about the problem to discuss it intelligently and give suggestions as to where remedial treatment may be obtained, either from a private psychiatrist or from the psychiatric division of some general hospital or mental health clinic.
Attention should also be called to the very real need for ministry to parents and leaders of young people, in order that they might be advised on how to counsel their children or young people in their charge, at appropriate times, on the dangers of continued homosexual practices and the possibility that one may become so habituated to the homosexual pattern that in later adult years he may not be able to enjoy normal family relations. To give effective counsel at this time is an application of the old proverb: “An ounce of prevation is worth a pound of cure.”
The concern of the church in connection with the practice of homosexuality is to set up safeguards against it, to protect the innocent and unsuspecting against enticements to it, and to reclaim those who engage in it.
In discharging responsibilities in the area of homosexuality the church should support those teachings and relationships which promote normal and healthy Christian associations, and should provide guidance for local leaders who must perform our chief preventative and remedial ministries in the field. It should be remembered that the essential requirement in effecting a cure is that the individual shall himself have a strong desire to be cured. It is in this area that ministry can be most helpful.
Any person found to be practicing homosexuality should be removed from any position as leader or teacher which may provide opportunities for this practice or teaching but should thereafter be given ministry, or referred to those who can give ministry, with a view of rehabilitation.
Members of the priesthood found to be practicing homosexuality, and persisting therein, should be placed under silence until the responsible administrative officers have all reasonable assurance that the practice has been abandoned.
When individuals molest children or young people or refuse to refrain from their solicitation of others, they should be reported to the civil authorities. Where such persons deny the practice complained of, administrative officers should take the greatest possible care that the available evidence supports the charges before they identify themselves with these charges.
To practice, solicit, teach, or incite others to indulge in the practice of homosexualism is a sin and all ministry in situations incolving this sin, including any court action which may be taken should be directed toward repentance and reformation. In harmony with these principles, offenders should be labored with kindly and privately. If they do not repent, charges based on the facts may be preferred agains them in the church courts. SHould excommunication be decreed, the member involved shall not be readmitted to fellowship except upon evidence of repentance and stable readjustment. Any person excommunicated for this cause and later remitted to the church, who is again found guilty of homosexual behavior as listed above, after appropriate court action, may be expelled from the church.
It is hoped that the above information will be helpful in assisting church administrators in dealing with the various aspects of this problem and minister in these situations in harmony with the general ideals of the church for the development of higher Christian life and better family relationships.
“Individual Permissiveness” by Charles F. Grabske, Sr., M.D. and Arthur B. Taylor (Saints’ Herald, March 1971, Pages 8-9)
Two letters on homosexuality appeared in the December Herald. One was written by an admitted homosexual and the other by a sympathizer. The one begs for understanding, and the other would favor the removal of all social and religious objections to homosexuality.
The statement is made that the Standing High Council (1962) dealt with this complex individual and social problem in an altogether simplistic manner. It might be well to know that those of us on that council researched the authorities and debated the question for almost two years before approving the document. It was passed unanimously by the twelve councilmen – and with the approval of the First Presidency who presides over the council. …
As is the case with every other rule of law, this was not expected to please everybody. If it had, there would have been no reason to bring up the question of homosexuality. The matter was brought to the attention of the Standing High Council because the administrative arm of the church had a problem and needed help. True, the homosexual is a complex person. The council realized the gravity of the problem of the homosexual and studued the nature and effoect of homosexuality in today;s society.
The homosexual act is a byproduct of an adulterous act. The church, however, has never except in a few iolated cases, made a case out of such social problem except when it has become a public probelm. If the church wrongfully permits adulterous persons in its midst, there must be a failure of proper administration. It is not the fault of the law. The church does not excommunicate or expel a person duly charged fir first offense of adultery or homosexuality. The individual has the right and duty to abide by the law or to refuse. If he ceases the act for which he was charged, he is accepted back in full fellowship. If he refuses t oobey the law and continues the act for which eh was charged, he then makes himself eligible for excommunication or expulsion. After the council considered the various aspects of homosexuality, it adopted guidelines believed to be in accordance with the Three Standard Books of the church. As members of the Standing High Council at the time, we still believe those guidelines to be true. If this be legalism, we believe in it. Our position is supported by the writers of the Old and New Testaments (Leviticus 18: 14-22, and I corinthians 3: 16-17, 6: 9, and Romans 1: 24-28).
We know of no new medical science or social techique since 1962 that has thrown any new light on homosexuals. The only change of which we are aware is that, like a number of other groups, they are coming out into the open and are more coval.
Charles F. Grabske, Sr., M.D.
Arthur B. Taylor
Standing High Council Statement on Homosexuality (March 18th, 1982) (see below)
The article in the November Herald by Leona Barwise expresses her very real compassion for the terminally ill of AIDS. Unfortunately, she mentioned some invalidated studies to suggest that some people are born homosexual. The implicationn was that if a person is born with homosexual tendancies, this places him irrevocably into that lifestyle. Therefore we should accept any “sexual preference” as simply another “human diversity.”
That is like saying, “I was born with alcoholic tendencies, so God must have intended for me to live the life of a drunk.” Or, “I was born with a terrible temper, so its not my fault that I beat my wife.”
Lifestyle is ultimately the product of choices. Jesus told the woman taken in adultery, “Neither do I accuse you. Go and sin no more.” He did not accuse her, but he let her know that her lifestyle was now her own choice. We are called to love one another as Jesus loves us. That is: neither to accuse nor condone. Our call is to love one another enough to share the good news that there is indeed a choice.
The message of Godly compassion is not, “Since you think you have homosexual tendancies, we will accept your actions as an ‘alternate lifestyle.'”
The message of true godly compassion is, “Good news! Jesus came to set the captives free! Once you are born into the kingdom of light, your inheritance is from God, not man. Whatever part of your lifestyle that you honestly choose to completely yield to your Savior, he will work with you to heal, transform, and make sacred.”
Rather than accusing people on the one hand or accepting destructuve behavior on the other, our response should be compassion. Love like Jesus loved. Yes, minister to the sick of AIDS, etc., but also care enough to share that there is a choice.
The national organization of EXODUS has helped many people out of the bondage of misdirected sexuality. EXODUS is an organization of ex-homosexual and ex-lesbian Christians who desire to live according to the will and wisdom of the heavenly Father rather than to twist or delete scriptures to suit their former lifestyles.
Because of EXODUS many people are living in peace, joy, and victory today.
“AL 365 Homosexuality and the Church” by The Human Sexuality Task Force
“God Healed My Marraige” by Beth Babb
“Transformed into Interdependent Friends” by Elaine Sinnard
“A Testimony” by Anonymous
“Just the Facts about Sexual Orientation & Youth: A Primer for Principals, Educators and School Personnel, Chapter 7: Transformational Ministries”
“Statement on Torture” by the Human Rights Committee in consultation with the World Church Leadership Council (May 2006)
The Community of Christ affirms that:
- All of life is important to God and therefore sacred.
- God is concerned about every aspect of life—society, culture, economics, politics, law, education, the environment, etc.—and calls us to participate in it as Jesus himself did.
- People have great worth to God.
- God calls us to be in the forefront of organizations and movements that recognize the worth of persons.
- We stand in the shadow of the cross and the suffering of Jesus with Christians of all denominations, and strive for a just and peaceful world in which people may achieve their full potential as human beings and children of God.
- In view of our own history of persecution, we should become aware of and oppose human rights abuses in all places and circumstances.
Human rights abuses such as torture and human degradation are ungodly, undermine life before God, destroy the worth of persons, and devastate a just and peaceful world. Such abuses perpetuate violence and suffering, which Jesus not only struggled against but also endured on the cross.
The Community of Christ is founded on the belief in the worth of all persons (Doctrine and Covenants 16:3c). Therefore, we are opposed to torture and all acts that constitute degrading treatment of any person. We support standards established by all international conventions, treaties and laws upholding the worth of persons, including the Geneva Conventions, the United Nations Convention Against Torture, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Furthermore, we reject the premise that certain conditions of national or regional emergency provide moral or legal justification to override the rights of every person to be treated with respect and dignity.
We join all faith communities that affirm these standards, and we urge church members and jurisdictions of the Community of Christ to take appropriate actions that uphold this position.
The response to the question of the church’s tand on homosexuality in the September Herald deals with this complex individual and social problem in an altogether simplistic manner. While appropriately pointing out the role of the church in safe guarding members and children from the damaging personal effects of homosexuality, the response does not real with the redemptive role of the church in belaf of the individual homosexual and the society in which he becomes homosexual.
To Excommunicate or expel homosexuals from church fellowship while permitting members with a variety of deviate behaviors (alcoholism, adultery, child beating, mental illness, etc.) to remain in fellowship demonstrates a gross inconsistency and a misunderstanding both of the nature of the church as servant and the problem of homosexuality.
Could not these issues frequently raised by writers be reffered to experts within the church to present a viewpoint other than the legalistic one? The classification of homosexuals as “sinners” to be expelled provides a conveinient but unchristian method of dealing with the problem.
I fear that legalism is still too much for us. Surely our understanding of this problem has been enlightened since the 1962 statement by the Standing High Council. While the response is addressed to the question submitted, it presents a restrictive approach to the problem for and by the church.
Joe A. Serig.
Standing High Council Statement on Homosexuality (March 18th, 1982)
Since the adoption by the Standing High Council of the memorandum entitled “Homosexuality and Other Sexual Perversions: (October 18, 1961), there has been a profusion of social, psychological, and medical studies pertaining to the issue of homosexuality, and with it has come debate, reflection, and confrontation, both within and outside the church. Other denominational bodies, through special task forces and in their legislative assemblies, have in recent years attempted to address this pressing problem which exists among many of their members, families, and friends. The church feels under obligation today to restate its position on homosexuality for the guidance of administrative officials, and out of a genuine concern that a responsible, reconciling ministry be developed in relation to this difficult problem.
I June 1978, the First Presidency appointed a Human Sexuality Committee composed of representatives of professional disciplines and World Church divisions and quorums. This committee was charged with the task of exploring the area of human sexuality and recommending to the First Presidency ways in which the church can be ministerially responsible and responsive in this aspect of human life. Two years later the Human Sexuality Committee forwarded its final comprehensive report to the First Presidency. It contained formal papers which explored a wide range of issues and problems in the vital area of human sexuality, and concluded with affirmations and recommendations which it hoped would aid the church in developing an ethical and theological framework to strengthen the teaching of the church in matters of sexual behavior. Subsequently, the church convened a task force to continue the process of developing and sharing insights in this area.
One of the aspects of human sexuality which the task force studied with a view to making recommendations to the church was the subject of homosexuality. The concern of the church is to provide ministries and develop the kinds of values that will lead to better understanding concerning homosexuality and encourage a regard for justice and a respect for dignity which both the church and society owe to all human beings.
While we seek always to keep faith with the moral perceptions of the restored gospel, we recognize that theology is dynamic and needs to be interpreted in light of changing cultures and times. Nevertheless, a position statement on this issue will likely produce tension and controversy on several bases – strongly held traditional attitudes, varying interpretations of scripture, insufficiency of our present knowledge, and the present varying inadequacies of the church’s ministries in helping members understand the meaning of sexuality in human relationships. These, among others, are reasons why judgments about homosexuality are, of necessity, open to further review.
We call attention to the statement on homosexuality printed in the Leader’s Handbook, copyright 1980, 1981. “The church leadership continues to explore ways and means of ministering to homosexuals. The emphasis should be placed upon Christian values in all sexual behavior. An Attitude of love and understanding should affirm the worth of every person.”
The purpose of the present document is to update our understanding of current scientific data, address ethical implications, and make recommendations which will be helpful in assisting church administrators in dealing with the condition and activity of homosexuality.
Current Scientific Data
Although there are many theories, there is still little agreement as to the roles which genetic, glandular, cultural, or psychological facots play in the cause or origin of sexual orientation. In regard to homosexual orientation, all available evidence points to this being an extremely complicated phenomenon for which there seem to be multiple causative factors. Among these may be an inherited predisposition, or an inappropriate identification with the parent of the opposite sex. Cultural overemphasis on the stereotypes of “masculinity” and “femininity” producing feelings of inadequacy in those not able to fulfill these expectations, and a rigid dichotomy of male and female social roles with no allowance for any variations in personality development also are cited as possible contributing factors.
Scriptural and Ethical Considerations
While the sacred writings of the scriptures provide us with insights into the pattern of God’s redemptive and reconciling activity in all ages, they rarely provide final or complete answers. Effective preaching and teaching must always include interpretation relative to changing times and cultures. While the basic witness of scripture holds true for all time, virtually all aspects of humankind’s relationship with God, including sexuality, are related to the cultural norms and traditions of the times. For example, it is not possible to interpret correctly the Leviticus Holiness Code without taking into account its historically conditioned context; many scholars suggest that the specific sexual prohibitions are related more to idolatry and other practices of the pagan populations around the Hebrews, rather than to intrinsic deviations.
Any adequate Christian position on homosexuality must regard the authority of scripture. The biblical passages primarily cited in relation to this issue are Genesis 19, Leviticus 18: 22 and 20: 13, Roman 1: 18-32, I Corinthians 6: 9, and I Timothy 1: 10. All of these indicate that heterosexual relationships are part of God’s plan for humankind. Nowhere do any scriptures offer support for or condone homosexual relationships. Our understanding of scriptures affirms that heterosexual marriage is God’s will for men and for women. The teachings of Jesus also are clear with respect for marriage – he affirmed heterosexual marriage to be God’s original and enduring will for men and women. Specific references are lacking in either the Book of Mormon or the Doctrine and Covenants.
The principles of the gospel apply equally to heterosexuals and homosexuals. Repentance implies the act of being personally responsible for choices; Christian freedom never allows one to live as he or she selfishly pleases. The love of God and the evidence of Christ’s earthly ministry always make a distinction between the sin and the sinner. The power of the Holy Spirit constantly seeks to free each individual from acts of disobedience and alienation.
In summary, the issue of homosexuality is demanding increased attention in Western society today. Though the church is faced with changing attitudes about the existence and expression of homosexuality, it continues to hold to the norm of heterosexuality and exclusively sanctions that homosexual Christians and heterosexual Christians are all brothers and sisters and share in common the love and grace of God.
In addition, the church is aware that anti-homosexual bias has long existed in Western cultures in general, and tath homosexuals have been and still are denied social justice.
In light of the preceding, the following guidelines should be noted by administrative officials in carrying out the teachings of the church and performing ministry involving cases of homosexuality.
- The church recognizes that there is a difference between homosexual orientation and homosexual activity (defines as sexual acts between persons of the same sex). The former is accepted as a condition over which a person may have little or no control; the latter is considered immoral and cannot be condoned by the church.
- The church affirms that Christian marriages is a sacred covenant relationship, ordained of God between a man and a woman. The sacrament of marriage has a long theological and ecclesiastical history, and the symbolism is exclusively heterosexual. Homosexual unions are not and should not be considered marriages in the sacramental sense.
- The church affirms the worth of all persons. Homosexuals as well as heterosexuals are children of God and have full claim upon the acceptance and reconciling ministry and care of the church. That is, individuals with a homosexual orientation who refrain from homosexual acts should be fully accepted into the ongoing life of the congregation. Those persons who engage in homosexual acts should be dealt with in terms of redemptive ministry and/or church law procedures in the same way as those who engage in heterosexual acts outside of marriage.
- In the critical matter of ordination, the church should not admit a practicing homosexual to the priesthood. It cannot sanction homosexual acts as morally acceptable behavior any more than it can endorse heterosexual promiscuity. If a member of the priesthood admits to, or is found to be engaged in homosexual behavior, the administrative officer having jurisdiction should institute procedures for silencing according to church law.
- There will be instances in which those in leadership positions will become aware of individuals who are non-practicing homosexuals and who are seeking help in the area of sublimating their sexual impulses. For such persons, the possibility and opportunity for ordination should be kept open.
The concern of the church with the practice of homosexuality is to provide ministries which encourage the development of wholesome heterosexual attitudes.
When the practice of homosexuality comes to the attention of the church officials, advice as to appropriate ministries should be sought from the First Presidency. Counseling resources which are available in community agencies should be used when possible.
The church leadership continues to explore ways and means of ministering to homosexuals. The emphasis should be placed upon Christian values in all sexual behavior. An attitude of love and understanding should affirm the worth of every person.
World Conference Resolution #1226 (April 10th, 1992)
WHEREAS, The 1988 World Conference requested that the issues of prejudice and racism be studied and recommendations developed as guidance for church members and jurisdictions; and
WHEREAS, The Human Diversity Committee was asked by the First Presidency to continue this study and to develop a policy statement for use by the church in dealing with issues of prejudice and racism; and
WHEREAS, The Human Diversity Committee has developed an “Affirmation of Human Diversity” which is included in its report to the 1992 World Conference; and
WHEREAS, This statement expresses valued principles of the RLDS faith and provides positive guidance to church members throughout the world in understanding and combating prejudice and racism; therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the 1992 World Conference endorse the following “Affirmation of Human Diversity” and encourage its use in educational materials, worship resources, and leadership training.
The gospel of Jesus Christ reveals the unqualified love of God and the inestimable worth of all persons. 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 persons 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 persons may find acceptance and the opportunity to share their giftedness.
We commit ourselves to work with all persons of goodwill to promote mutual respect, appreciation, and peace in all relationships.
“Bruised and Brokenhearted: Learning to Accept and Welcome Human Diversity” by Leona Barwise (Saints’ Herald, November 1992)
It was Thursday, April 9. My houseguests were coming over following the afternoon business session of the 1992 World Conference in Independence. Delegates from around the world had been meeting to vote on the business of the church. Under the leadership of our prophet and leaders from all jurisdictions, the community of Saints was basking in the spirit that had brought them to this sacred place. They came to be renewed, to reason together, to be prophetically led, and to affirm their commitment to the Temple’s call to peace.
“It passed! It passed!” said Nancy. “And so beautifully.”
“There was truly a spirit of love among the delegates,” my friend Hazel added. “You would have been pleased.”
They were referring to the Report of the Human Diversity Committee (H-7).
The Gospel of Jesus Christ reveals the unqualified love of God and inestimable worth of all persons. … We therefore acknowledge and affirmhuman diversity by creating a spirit of openness and peace within our congregations where all persons may find acceptance and the opportunity to share their giftedness. – 1992 World Conference Bulletin, page 259
Yes, I was indeed pleased.
WIthin a few short weeks of World Conference the national news media reported a marked increase in “gay bashing.” The problem was attributed to two incluences:
- Opinions voiced by people in high places or who merited public exposure; and
- Television ministers with judgmental views on homosexuality who had aired their predjudice and bigotry, thus inciting hatred and encouraging violence.
As we have witnessed on television in the coverage of the election speeches and debates, our news media report increased expressions of prejudicial bias and judgmental hatred. The bashing of gays goes on verbally and physically. “Cleansing” appears to be in progress around the world.
But there are walls that keep us all divided;
We fence each other in with hate and war.
Fear is the bricks and motar of our prison,
Our pride of self the prison coat we wear.
-Hymns of the Saints, No. 107, Stanza 3
Exposure to Homosexuality
I was working as an industrial nurse at Remington Arms (now called Army Ammunition Plant). It was 1942; World War II was in progress. I was assigned to a busy two-nurse first aid station. Our one clerk efficiently kept the line moving as the seemingly constant flow of workers filled our waiting room. She spotted the severe emergenies of those dripping blood, decided the urgency and priority, and directed the workers to the wash basin until one of the treatment stations opened up. It was indeed an assembly-line type of first aid.
“Mrs. B,” the clerk whispered, “I’m sending you this next one. Besides,” she giggled, “I think she likes you.” I stared at her blankly until she said, “You know, she’s one of those who likes girls instead of men.” Then she winked.
Dispensing asprin for headaches was part of our standing orders. felt totally inept and a bit frustrated. I compassionately longed to help my patient, to fix what I considered her “problem.” Only later did I determine that she didn’t need fixing. She needed the wholeness of acceptance and self-worth. She needed someone to recognize her diversity and giftedness.
My introduction and professional exposure to male homosexuality occured during the 1960s. I was working for Seattle-King County Department of Public Health. I was a nurse in a hospital inside the city jail. The medical profession at that time was ambiguous about the etiology, or cause, of the “coming out” of the gay community and viewed the “socially abnormal” behavior as ugly. One the whole, the several doctors with whom I worked appeared to accept the opinion of some psychiatrists of the day. The theory was that the child at an early age (about eighteen months) had made a misidentification with the wrong parent. The phenomenon probably was the result of a domineering, doting mother.
My personal “battle of Jericho” came as a great surprise about ten years ago when our son informed us that he was gay. The walls, the sky, and every support that held me up collapsed. But I’mnot writing this article to explain our pain and struggle to fix what we believed was a problem.
I want to bear witness and affirm the loving compassion of our Lord – and those dear people who mercifully and paitently expressed Christ’s love to us in healing ways as we found acceptance of ourselves, our son, and our “adopted” son, whom we love dearly.
Looking to Scripture
Scripture tells us of the mother who longed for Jesus to allow her two sons to sit next to him, one on each side, in his kingdom. He said, “Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drinl of the cup that I shall drink of?” (Matthew 20: 20-23)
If my commitment to the Lord Jesus is without reservation, I too will have my bitter cups along my journey. It has been my experience that as I grow in ways to serve God’s children, I find peace and purpose.
I am well aware of the scriptures in Romans and the Mosaic law that denounce what we know today as homosexuality – as well as many other behaviors. The particular statement in Romans is not consistent witht ehcompassionate teachings of the Lord Jesus.
Revered Jerry Lachina, pastor of Grace Gospel Church in Washington State, likes to cite Romans 8: 1, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Ballard News Tribune, Deecmber 27, 1989).
One hundred years ago mentally ill paitents were hidden in attics and cellars. Families were counseled and taught by biblical scholars and church leaders of the day that God was punishing them for unknown sins. Shame and secrecy were their protection against society and the church.
In past years many illnesses – now treatable or curable – such as leprosy, tuberculosis, and venereal diseases of unknown origin have been sources of shame and denial. They were accepted by patients and families as punishment from a vengeful God. These church teaching were validated by selective, distorted scriptures.
Tragic incestuous abuse of children and oppressive violence against women also have found expression in distorted interpretations of scripture in many cultures. Sadly, slavery in the United States found justification by some people in scripture.
Accepting All People
I believe that God’s world has had enough inquisitions, forced Christianity, hatred, and violence. I am pleased that as a church we are not waiting for the medical profession to prove a psyiological reason for human diversity among God’s human family and that we affirm and openly accept all of God’s children as recipients of God’s grace.
Since I have been healed and become open, I have talked to many friends about our son and our “foster” son: relatives, church friends, and those I believed would not be offended.
A good friend, a highly educated, professional woman, recently said to men, “All of the gay men with whom I have worked are capable, pleasant, and highly gifted people. I feel called to reach out to them.” As an elder she preached at the Kansas City RLDS Peace Chapel. She has shared her moving testimony with many people.
A few weeks ago a father said to me, “If only I thought there was some biological reason…” His gay son is HIV positive. It has been difficult for him to talk to his son.
A mother met me with an unexpected hug. I had sent her out of town gay son a card and greeting. This gifted person had been the “spark plug” for his Zion’s League. I talked with a woman who lost a son recently to AIDS. Her sorrow now comes from the judgmental expressions of another son. The family is in double grief.
In January 1991 I assisted with others at the funeral of a twenty-four-year-old friend. He had been in my junior church school class. He once told me, “Mrs. B, I know it doesn’t really matter how long I live, the important thing is to know Jesus!” I am a better person because of John. His family was supportive of him and the young man with whom he lived. I consider them special parents.
In August The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported research conducted by UCLA School of Medicine scientists Laura Allen and Roger Gorski. Their research revelaed marked anatomical differences in portions of brain structure and tissue between homosexual and heterosexual males, which supports the theory that sexual orientation has a biological basis. This study follows by less than a year another announcement of findings of anatomical different in brain tissue of homosexual and heterosexual men in San Francisco, California. More research is needed to further validate these findings.
Our scriptures depict Jesus walking through the walls that divided his culture. He touch and healed the untouchables, expressed compassion and healing to thesegregated outcasts. He sacrificially “drank of the bitter cup” freely and gave himself in response to fulfilling God’s will. Jesus Said,
“Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls; for my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11: 29-30).
It is my hope and prayer that I will refrain from judging any of God’s children. I desire to help heal the “bruised and brokenhearted” and invite them to express their gifts among us.
“The Vision Transforms Us” by W. Grant McMurray (Saints’ Herald, June 1998)
Looking for digital copy – check back soon
“Called to Discipleship: Coming Home in Search of the Path” by W. Grant McMurray (April 7, 2002)
A few weeks ago I went to the Ozarks for several days to begin the process of writing these words. I took two briefcases jammed with papers, a large box filled with books, a couple of sacks of groceries, and a mind brimming with a multitude of ideas, strategies, and programmatic initiatives emerging from months of planning and goal setting. I went to a place by a lake, mostly because water is where I usually turn to calm my soul.
My soul needed calming because I had so much to say that I barely knew where to begin. I was feeling the burden of expectation because church leaders had spent a long time in a process of visioning and now it fell to me to encapsulate those months and months of work into one address that was to be both a declaration of institutional direction and a spiritually uplifting and motivating call to discipleship. At the same time I had my own inner turmoil-my unworthiness to be calling anyone to discipleship when I am such an inadequate one myself, my own issues burning deeply within that I knew I needed to proclaim, my own hopes and dreams for the church I love so much.
We have been on a journey these past few years. We have sought ways of being both faithful to a marvelous heritage and open to a challenging future. We have embraced a call to transformation, acknowledging that to build a Temple dedicated to peace and reconciliation and healing urges forth from us something we had never fully imagined. We have called ourselves by a new name and taken very seriously what that means to our lives and our church. To truly be the Community of Christ is serious business. It is not a label or a sign or an inscription on letterhead. It is a call to a new understanding of discipleship. Two years ago we talked about how we must go deeper into ourselves, truly learning what it means to walk the “Path of the Disciple.”
And now it is the year 2002. We have entered the third millennium of the Christian era. It has been 172 years since Joseph Smith declared that a “great and marvelous work is about to come forth.” Eighteen years since we were called to build a Temple dedicated to the pursuit of peace. Five years since we began a journey of transformation. Two years since we declared ourselves to be the “Community of Christ” committed to walking the Path of the Disciple.
And so I came to the lake, my mind ablaze with thoughts, my heart filled with desire, my soul yearning for the words that are equal to this moment in our church’s history. Along the way I stopped for a few provisions and there I found a DVD of the marvelous, Academy Award-winning 1982 film, Gandhi. I bought it and I took it with me to the lake, knowing that I could watch it with my laptop computer and headphones.
I knew myself too well. I knew I would twist in the wind much of the time I was there. I knew I would put off facing the questions I had to face. I knew I would seek alternate pleasures (the NCAA basketball tournament, works of suspense fiction, walks by the lake) rather than confront the issues I knew I would eventually confront. I decided that if I was going to escape the difficult assignment I faced, perhaps I could do it in part by watching the chronicle of a disciple, albeit a Hindu one.
And so I watched the story of Gandhi, a fragile and imperfect man who somehow came to understand what it took to live with integrity and purpose. Strangely, there was no point at which my mind connected to the idea that this very week we would be honoring his granddaughter, Ela Gandhi, with our International Peace Award. It was entirely serendipitous, at least to the extent I can consciously recall, that my renewed encounter with the film converged with that award.
I watched the film with fresh eyes from my initial viewing of it twenty years ago, and even from a time or two since when I caught it on video or cable. This time I watched Gandhi as a model of what it meant to be a disciple, recognizing that his own religious vocation was markedly different from ours. But still, it provided me much by way of instruction.
About two-thirds of the way through the film, a remarkable scene occurs. Gandhi has returned to his home, a city by the sea, to contemplate his next steps in the struggle for independence for the Indian people. There he is met by a reporter whom he has known since he was a young man in South Africa.
After reminiscing about their time together in South Africa, Gandhi ponders, “I have traveled so far and thought so much. As you can see, my city is a sea city, always full of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, Persians…. In our temple the priest used to read from the Muslim Koran and the Hindu Gita, moving from one to the other as if it mattered not which book was being read as long as God was being worshiped.”
Then Gandhi’s eyes looked out to the sea. “When I was a boy I used to sing a song in the temple: ‘A true disciple knows another’s woes as his own. He bows to all and despises none.’ Like all other boys I sang the words, not thinking what they meant or how they might be influencing me. I’ve traveled so far and all I’ve done is come back… home.” And then, in a moment of insight, Gandhi’s face brightens, his troubled and pensive eyes become clear and focused, and he strides hurriedly off into the conflict that will become his legacy.
We have traveled so far. Have we, too, come back home where we began? That thought has been working on me these past weeks as I have reflected on the call to discipleship of the Community of Christ in the Year of our Lord 2002.
A few years ago my family and I made a journey to my homeland of Canada. We went to visit various places of importance to me and, as is often done at such times, I went to houses where I had once lived, so as to show them to my children (who were, of course, intensely interested).
And so on one day I was driving down Woolwich Street in Guelph, Ontario, seeking a house I had lived in when I was five. I knew it would be easy to find because it sat way back off the street, with a huge front yard where I had romped with our two dogs, first Skippy and then Kim, prior to the latter’s permanent exile to a dog pound for crimes against humanity.
I had not been back to Guelph for many years and had not lived there as an adult, so I had to find my way by intuition and childhood memory. As I drove on Woolwich Street I knew I was close to my destination. I could feel it in my bones. I could sense it, but I could not see it. It just has to be near here, I thought to myself. I know it is right here. I’m sure of it. But I could not see the house with the big yard.
Finally, in frustration, I pulled into the parking lot of a beauty parlor to get my bearings. Everything felt so familiar, even though it had been almost fifty years since I had lived there. Why couldn’t I see it? Had it been torn down or destroyed?
And then, in a moment of recognition I can vividly recall even now, I suddenly realized that I was standing in my own front yard. Transformed into a parking lot, the yard fronted the house where I had once lived, now painted white and changed incongruously into a hairdressing salon. I had traveled so far and seen so much, and now I had come home. But I barely saw it until suddenly it came into bold relief. It was home, made altogether new by the transforming experiences of five decades since I had last played with my puppy on the grass outside that house. Now I stood and viewed it with new eyes.
This evening, in a time of unceasing change, I call the Community of Christ to come home to the fundamental principles of discipleship, to recapture the spirit of the Restoration movement, to walk with me for a few moments on the “old, old path, made strangely new.”
Make no mistake; this is not a call to return to the past. This we could not do even if we willed it. Although we sometimes are nostalgic about them, I would remind you of a much-admired book title I once encountered, Them Good Old Days, They Was Awful. We do not have the luxury of languishing in the past, whether real or imagined. The church is called to live prophetically, joyfully, and creatively in the unfolding present, which evolves invariably into God’s future, and ours.
But that future is rooted in the journey we have been on together as disciples of Jesus, as a Restoration church, as the Community of Christ. Jesus said it first, when he commissioned his followers with the words that have been at the heart of the church’s calling from its very beginning: “Go therefore to all nations and make them my disciples, baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all that I have commanded you. I will be with you always, to the end of time” (Matthew 28:19-29, REB). That declaration both sends the disciple into the future and promises that the Spirit of God will accompany us as we go.
For the Restoration movement, the same call is reiterated in the first section of the Doctrine and Covenants:
“Hearken, O ye people of my church, saith the voice of him who dwells on high, and whose eyes are upon all men; yea, verily I say, Hearken ye people from afar, and ye that are upon the islands of the sea, listen together; for verily the voice of the Lord is unto all men, and there is none to escape, and there is no eye that shall not see, neither ear that shall not hear, neither heart that shall not be penetrated….” –Doctrine and Covenants 1:1a-b
The call to discipleship is the call to Christian vocation in every generation. It is not old-fashioned or passé, nor is it quaint or trendy. It is spoken to young and old, male and female. It is spoken in the language of every land and in the vernacular of every age. It is not complex or convoluted. It is the spiritual home of the Christian. It is simply these words of Jesus: “Come, follow me.”
The task of the contemporary church is not to figure out what our mission should be. That has been provided with stark and compelling clarity. Instead, the task of the church is to define precisely how we propose to fulfill that mission in our own time. And more importantly than even that, the task of the church is to nurture and empower individual disciples who walk the path pointed to by the one we have chosen to follow.
Tonight, on behalf of the leadership of the church, I will outline some challenging four-year goals to move us forward on the path of the disciple. These are built around the six essentials of the path we first discussed two years ago. We have recast them in personal rather than institutional terms. We are asking each member of our church to embrace them as qualities of our discipleship:
First, to share your witness and resources
Second, to teach and learn the sacred story
Third, to create diverse communities
Fourth, to extend the hand of reconciliation
Fifth, to allow the Spirit to fill you
And sixth, to embody justice and proclaim peace
The specific supporting goals we will present tonight will be but whispers in the wind if these six foundational principles are not personalized by each and every one of us.
I remember as a young adult I used to faithfully watch the Jerry Lewis Telethon on Labor Day weekend, which raises millions of dollars each year to combat muscular dystrophy. I was intrigued by the variety of entertainment on the program, but particularly by the tote board that added the contributions as they moved inexorably toward achievement of the ambitious financial goal. I cheered them on, fervently hoping that the goal would be reached. But to the best of my remembrance, I never once called and made a pledge. I apparently saw no relationship between achievement of the goal I supported and my own participation.
There is a story told about a little boy who wasn’t getting good marks in school. One day, he tapped his teacher on the shoulder and said, “Now I don’t want to scare you, but my daddy says if I don’t get better grades, somebody is going to get a spanking.”
It is easy for us to pass over the relationship between what you and I do and the achievement of goals to which we may be emotionally or intellectually committed. But let us make no mistake about that tonight. The call to discipleship is intensely personal; it is about you and me. If we don’t do it, it won’t get done.
In the remaining minutes of my time tonight I must do three things. First, I will introduce the specific goals that have been developed over more than a year of prayerful planning and reflection, including widespread consultation with people in many settings around the church. I will be able to do that in only a very cursory fashion, but as you leave the chamber tonight you will receive a packet of resources to expand on the goals I share. In other ways throughout this week there will be detailed presentations and other materials that will provide a basis for communication and dialogue. We have processed our budget with these goals in mind, reallocating resources and personnel so as to address the priorities we have identified. We are serious about these goals. With your help, we intend to make them happen.
Second, I will linger for a while on one goal with twin components that will become the very highest of priorities for us during this next biennium. Even among the things we have decided we want to do, there must be choices made as to where we put our primary emphasis. I will share that essential priority with you.
And third, as we move through the goals there are some things we need to talk about in terms of complex and difficult issues before the church. I am going to ask for your indulgence to permit me to reflect aloud about those for a few moments here and there.
As we present these goals, we affirm that the Community of Christ continues its journey of transformation into a new century, proclaiming Jesus Christ and promoting communities of joy, hope, love, and peace. In Section 161 we are directed to an awareness that “…the road to transformation travels both inward and outward. The road to transformation is the path of the disciple.” We commit ourselves to walk that path in each of the following ways, through specific initiatives and ministries, centered on scriptural principles, to be accomplished over the next four years.
First, we will be disciples who share our witness and resources, those who “heed the urgent call to become a global family united in the name of Christ, committed in love to one another.” To accomplish that goal we will commit ourselves to become a witnessing church, calling every member to “each one, reach one,” so that every single one of us feels a personal call to bring at least one other person to Jesus Christ. The other piece of the sharing goal is equally important: we will honor God’s call to tithe.
Here I must pause and make it very clear that the sharing goal is the heart of the matter and will be our priority for the next biennium. With all the exciting things we want to accomplish, our achievement will be measured on how effectively we embrace these two principles of the sharing goal-the effectiveness of our witness and the generosity of our response.
The call to be a welcoming, witnessing church is easy to say and very difficult to do. It is not sufficient for us to just be “nice people.” We will be required to develop Christ-centered and person-oriented congregations that are inclusive, outreaching, and missional. This is not just about missionary work; it is about being the community of Christ.
The Council of Twelve has been charged with and has accepted the responsibility of leading this churchwide effort. Tonight, as a part of this goal, we are prepared to launch the Mission to North America in which we challenge the church on this continent to be as effective in our growth as our brothers and sisters in the so-called developing nations of the world have been. A strategy has been prepared and specific training will be offered, including “Mission 2003: A Conference of North American Leaders,” which we are calling for next summer to equip leaders of the church in North America to undertake this effort.
We will be announcing assignments of the Council of Twelve so as to support this initiative, and we are restructuring our workload and field minister assignments so as to limit administrative tasks by the Twelve and free the apostolic witness for dynamic expression throughout the church. With your approval of the new Bylaws we will be prepared to organize the field around missional principles, providing structural support to congregational witnessing communities.
If each one reaches one, as the goal suggests, it will have the effect of doubling the active membership of the church. We did not express it in those terms largely because we knew this was not about numbers, but about discipling. It is the joyful response of the disciple to witness, in word and deed, to what he or she has discovered in Jesus Christ.
Some might ask how this relates to our focus on social justice these past few years, and my response is that it is connected to it in every respect. Our declaration of the gospel calls us to follow the teachings of Jesus, which articulate the undeniable worth of all persons. We must be mission driven, not market driven, never forsaking the poor, disadvantaged, and marginalized in pursuit of a goal to grow the church.
We are called to be an evangelizing, compassionate, peace-and-justice church. We must recognize that sometimes the struggle to be prophetic works against the desire to grow. We saw that in 1984, when the inspired provision for the ordination of women–absolutely the right thing to do–set back substantially the “Faith to Grow” initiative of the church at that time. We paid the price of being in tune with God’s prophetic call. Now with a longer view we have experienced the fruits and recognized the blessings that have come to the church. The growth comes not when we set numerical goals, but when we choose to witness to the truth and exemplify that in our daily lives.
And so, “each one, reach one” comes as a personal challenge to every one of us. Can we make that commitment?
The sharing goal has twin pillars: becoming a witnessing community and honoring God’s call to tithe. The sharing of our lives and the sharing of our resources are the two primary ways in which the Christian disciple responds to God’s call; they are inextricably connected to each other. Section 147:5a movingly reminds us that “stewardship is the response of my people to the ministry of my Son and is required alike of all those who seek to build the kingdom.”
For over a dozen years now several Presiding Bishoprics have worked diligently on the “redefinition of terms” and “greater understanding of the stewardship of temporalities” called for in Section 154 of the Doctrine and Covenants. They have done so with an awareness that the key principle is in yoking stewardship and discipleship, seeing each as a reflection of the other.
This week, the Presiding Bishopric, with the full support of the First Presidency and the Council of Twelve, will be presenting new understandings of the principle of tithing as A Disciple’s Generous Response. I am very aware that they have been consistently prayerful, respectful of tradition, open to new insights, and responsive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
I want to add my personal testimony to what my colleagues of the Presiding Bishopric will present later this week. I believe their work has been blessed by the brush of spiritual insight and creativity. It respects our long heritage and yet provides a disciple-centered understanding of stewardship that forms solid foundational principles by which each individual can respond in accordance with their own desires and commitments.
I invite your prayerful consideration of what they will share with you, your attentive reading of the material to be provided, and your generous response to honor God’s call to tithe.
Each one, reach one. Honor God’s call to tithe. These two components, uniquely interconnected, compose the sharing goal. It will be our priority these next two years and is the underpinning of all else that we do.
Second, we will be learners and teachers, those who “listen attentively to the telling of the sacred story.” To support that goal we proudly announce that the Community of Christ Seminary, operated by Graceland University in partnership with the church, will open in September of this year. The seminary and other learning programs will be utilized to assist us in training 3,000 congregational leaders and all full-time ministers so as to significantly enhance their ministerial effectiveness.
In addition, recognizing our commitment to being a global family, we will expand the church’s field resources operations to provide discipleship resources appropriate to the language and cultural groups within the church. To demonstrate our commitment to this task, we have asked Apostle Lawrence W. Tyree to relinquish his responsibilities as a member of the Council of Twelve and accept a new calling in the development of international resources for the church.
We remain committed to the church school and will explore ways of revitalizing its ministry, while developing new models for discipleship education and scriptural literacy for all ages.
The treasured, sacred story of our faith must be transmitted anew to each and every generation. We will be learners and teachers. We will be disciples equipped for the journey.
Third, we will embrace our historic call to be God’s people, those who “create diverse communities of disciples and seekers.” To accomplish this goal, within four years we will establish 1,000 congregational partnerships to enrich discipleship through cross-cultural sharing. We will expand the WorldService Corps to 100 persons annually. We will take steps to strengthen the relational ties that support and empower families in all their diversity.
Goals such as these only begin to touch on the call to community that is so central to our heritage and to our contemporary mission. We have much yet to learn, but we have learned some things along the way and can begin to share from out of that experience. It is in our name; it is who we are.
Josiah Royce said these words:
“I believe in the beloved community and in the spirit that makes it beloved, and in the communion of all who are, in will and deed, its members. I see no such community as yet, but none the less my rule in life is: act so as to hasten its coming.”
May that spirit accompany our efforts to establish diverse community in God’s name.
Fourth, we will be agents of reconciliation, “those who feel conflict yet extend the hand of reconciliation.” To accomplish this goal we will expand cooperative efforts with other faiths, recognizing that we have much to offer as well as to receive from such endeavors. Aware of the conflicts that abound in church and world, we will also increase the number of trained mediation/conflict resolution specialists available to support the church’s ministries and community service.
In the past two years a number of our people have been involved in reconciliation efforts with members of Restoration churches. That has been a satisfying process, resulting in much open sharing, several hymn festivals commemorating our common heritage, and the building of bridges of understanding that have blessed all involved. This process is ongoing.
But we recognize that there continue to be significant issues that divide people within our fellowship, in the larger Christian body, and between persons of faith around the world. We are committed to being voices of reason and hope, to be listeners and reconcilers, not those who divide and exclude.
So now let me speak to one such issue that threatens to divide us. In the past few weeks I have been the recipient of scores of letters, e-mails, and phone calls generated by the resolutions before our Conference dealing with homosexuality. Some have been thoughtful and reasoned, but many have been desperate and angry, sometimes accompanied by symbolically crumpled paper or copies of offending text besmirched with bold, black lines. And this weekend we have been faced with pickets proclaiming a hateful God I do not recognize and describing good people in vile and contemptible terms.
To all of this, I say to you, “No, no, no.” We must not succumb to our fears nor fail to respect those who disagree with us. We must instead be voices of reconciliation and ministers of healing. In the midst of our differences, there just has to be a better way. There is no issue that divides churches around the world in our time like the issue of homosexuality. It is for us to decide whether we will be rendered asunder by it, or whether we have the spiritual courage to face it together.
Tonight I am going to take a risk. What I am about to say is my personal statement to you on this issue, joined in by Ken and Peter, my colleagues in the First Presidency, after many hours of conversing together. I have not consulted with other church officers or asked for their consent. What I say does not change church policy. It does not require action or agreement. It simply describes the present situation openly and honestly, expresses our own thoughts after prayerful and extensive reflection, and points to what we believe is possible for us to do as a diverse community of God’s people.
Gay and lesbian brothers and sisters are walking with us on the path of the disciple. They have chosen to be there because they feel God’s call to them. Some have struggled throughout their lives with questions and uncertainties about their identity, their acceptability, their status as children of God. Some have dared to tell their story, resulting at times in warm acceptance and other times in cold rejection. Some have come to understand that God loves them unconditionally and embraces them as valued members of the human family; others are not so sure.
Our church, like all churches, has struggled with how to be inclusive, agreeing that God’s love comes to all persons, but differing on what behaviors and lifestyles are deemed acceptable. Because there is no social consensus, no moral agreement, no definitive psychological explanation, we have all cast about in search of answers. For some, that answer is provided in one of the seven biblical passages that seem to condemn homosexuality as a sin. For others, the answer is in compassion upon seeing the face of a man or woman who simply says “this is my story.” For our brothers and sisters in some cultures of the world, it is not something to be discussed nor is it thought by them to exist in that culture to any appreciable degree. For families and friends the answer comes only in the call to love a loved one, which has precedence over virtually every other call.
Because of these many differences, our church stands in the midst of much ambiguity and inconsistency. We have a twenty-year-old statement from the Standing High Council that serves as official guidance, but has not been universally adhered to throughout the church. I will be totally honest and acknowledge that I have myself participated in situations where its provisions were not honored. I have been present in conferences where persons I knew to be in long-term, committed homosexual relationships were approved for priesthood in jurisdictions where their lifestyle was known and their ministry was accepted. The conflict within me was between lawgiver and pastor. To enforce the policy would have required me to intervene and prevent the ordination of someone whose call to ministry I could not deny. This I could not do. This I will not do.
In fairness, you should know the hearts of those of us you uphold in leadership. I read scripture contextually. I believe that scripture carries a powerful witness of the love of God but that it has to be read in its totality and not in phrases and fragments here and there. When it comes to people and our many differences, I will always choose to love rather than to judge. My instincts are toward inclusion and not exclusion.
At the same time, I am fully supportive of our historic polity of theocratic democracy, which balances the priestly witness with the consent of the people. Ministry is not just about calling. It is also about acceptance of that calling by those who will receive the ministry. Therefore, it is not just my views but all of our views that must be weighed as we make decisions together.
The word “catechesis” is defined as “a dialogue between believers” (Westminster Dictionary of Theology). Hear the distinction. This is not a dialogue between faithful and unfaithful people. It is not a dialogue between saints and sinners. It is a dialogue between believers, between disciples, over differences that are real and honorable. I ask us, as members of the Community of Christ, to be willing to share with each other in that exploration.
I am not in the habit of telling our delegates how they should vote, but I am about to make an exception. I request the delegates to this World Conference to table or refer all pending legislation on homosexuality so that we can avoid actions that will be divisive and shape a process by which a broader understanding and consensus can be built. I will ask the Standing High Council to participate with others in looking anew at this matter, seeking issues on which we can surely agree (God’s love of all people, fidelity, the value of family, the sacredness of sexuality as part of creation) and shaping dialogue in areas where we do not agree (the blessing of same-sex relationships, standards for ordination, the interpretation and authority of scripture).
In the meantime, I ask the Community of Christ to be willing to live with us on the boundary for a while. To do this means that we may not have a policy that guides every decision, but we will have to trust the Holy Spirit to accompany us in our choices. It means that some parts of the church may function differently from other parts of the church and there will be distinctions that are occasionally unsettling but representative of the diversity of our body, both in terms of viewpoints and cultures. We recognize that certain national governments have requirements that our local church leaders in those nations will need to respect and interpret in accordance with their own cultural understandings.
And finally, I ask that we be prayerful and respectful and sober in our consideration of this issue so important to the well-being of our community of faith. I believe that these words from Henri Nouwen speak meaningfully to us in this time:
We are not the healers, we are not the reconcilers, we are not the givers of life. We are sinful, broken, vulnerable people who need as much care as anyone we care for. The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God. –Henri J.M. Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1989), 43-44
Fifth, we will be a church composed of persons open to new understandings of spirituality, “embodying the hope and freedom of the gospel” and seeking “pathways for healing.” To achieve this goal, we will encourage each congregation to establish at least one covenant discipleship group that integrates spiritual practices, worship, scriptural literacy, and mission. The term “covenant discipleship group” will be new to many of you, and we will provide information this week and in the months to come on this innovative approach to discipling. It links the commitment to learning with the spiritual quest and supports us on our individual and collective journeys toward discipleship.
In addition, we establish a goal whereby each congregation, through careful planning and openness to the Holy Spirit, will experience vibrant and effective worship in support of the church’s mission. Tepid and poorly planned worship is not acceptable in a community striving toward discipleship. We must sing and proclaim, tap our feet, feel the Spirit move, and sense the call to the mission that we have embraced.
And now I want to share with you a personal dream, connected to this goal. You have all heard me talk about the importance of understanding our heritage, and of using our marvelous story to empower our contemporary calling.
The Kirtland Temple is perhaps the towering symbol of that historic faith journey, a place beloved by our people because of its majesty and beauty and because we continue to experience the presence of the Spirit there just as our ancestors did when it was erected. This beautiful site, on the National Register of Historic Places, has been lovingly cared for by the Kirtland Saints and by the staff of the temple, many of them volunteers. But they work in a woefully inadequate visitors center that fails to meet the needs of the increasingly large number of people who come to see the temple. And worse, it does not represent the Community of Christ in a way that would make us proud.
About a month ago I traveled with several others to Kirtland in pursuit of an idea. We stood on the church’s property in the shadow of the temple and imagined what would happen if we could construct a facility on this marvelous site that would serve as both a visitors center for the historic property and a spiritual retreat center in support of the mission of the church. It will be both a place to interpret our story and a place where our people can come, individually and in groups, to experience spiritual growth, guidance, and insight.
We are still in the earliest stages of planning, but we want to make this dream a reality. The Restoration Trail Foundation has made it the highest priority and has committed to lead the effort to raise the funds. President Emeritus Wallace B. Smith and former Presiding Bishop Francis E. Hansen have agreed to chair this funding effort. We do not have resources in the World Church budget to devote to this task, but we believe it can be accomplished with the generous support of those who care about our story, who love Kirtland, and who sense the call to allow the Spirit to fill us and renew us as we walk the path of the disciple.
Sixth, and finally, we will be a community of people who embody justice, “those who see violence but proclaim peace” and who “feel the yearnings of [our] brothers and sisters.” To accomplish this goal we call every congregation to become engaged in some neighborhood project or projects of transformation and justice. A few weeks ago I visited the congregation at Seminole, Oklahoma. After dedicating a lovely new facility, enjoying a bounteous potluck, and horsing around with some terrific kids, I participated in their Sunday evening addictions ministry. Here several members of the congregation sat with twenty or twenty-five alcoholics and drug addicts in the process of recovery. For them, the congregation was a home, a place of safety. Several had been baptized and were now bringing leadership to the self-perpetuating program of Twelve Step ministry. It took little training, only a willingness to be present for one hour a week with those who had a need. These are justicemakers.
Additionally, we will recruit and train community development specialists equipped to lead ministries among the poor and dispossessed. We are in conversations with Outreach International to have them assist us in utilizing the skills of their unique Participatory Human Development program for our own congregational efforts at embodying justice. Our desires to work for justice must be matched with the skills to be effective in our endeavors.
And finally, in the shadow of the events of September 11, 2001, we pledge to stand as a global community committed to seeking peaceful solutions to the conditions that lead to war, international conflict, and injustice within the human family. We cannot dream small dreams. The path of the disciple leads to the kingdom of God. Such a kingdom can only be built by those with a vision of a better world and a willingness to tackle the huge issues that world offers up. And so, we choose to dream big dreams and we will seek ways of being peacemakers in a world embroiled in conflict and war.
It is a long litany of goals we propose. We will have to make some choices among them in the short term, but we cannot miss any of them in the long term. I worry that we might stagger a bit under the load of it all. Are we strong enough, wise enough, committed enough to walk on this path?
My mind returns to Gandhi. In another scene in the film, he is deep into a fast in protest of an injustice. He is frail and sickly. Even his followers are discouraged, concerned that while his cause is just his methods may be damaging to him.
He beckons a worried follower and invites her to place her ear near his mouth so she can hear these words: “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it. Always. Whenever you are in doubt that that is God’s way, the way the world is meant to be, think of that. And then try to do it [God’s] way.”
We have been on a long journey, this sometimes frail and occasionally despairing church of ours. We have traveled so far and seen so much. But now the journey brings us home to see what we need to do, who we need to be. Here, in the comfort and security of our spiritual home, we can look to the horizon and imagine where it is God would have us go.
Then we see it. The path of the disciple begins at the doorstep of our home and winds off into the far distance. Its ending place is beyond our view and it is hard to know just where it will take us.
But then there is a voice. A steady, unchanging, compelling voice. “Come,” it says. “Come, follow me.”
And we go.
“Community, Common Consent, and the Issue of Homosexuality” by the Church Leadership Council (2002)
The World Church Leadership Council met in a retreat setting September 15-19, 2002. During that time extensive attention was given to implementation of the sharing goal, inter-quorum functions and relationships, review of budget projections, and a variety of other significant issues. The Council also participated in a discussion of the church’s processing of the homosexuality dialogue since the 2002 World Conference. From those reflections the Council developed the following statement as further guidance to the church on this sensitive and important matter.
The church has been called to a loving and respectful dialogue on the difficult and often divisive issue of homosexuality. We have traveled to scores of camps and reunions this summer and are aware that many people are troubled by the questions and conflicted over how to handle them. We are saddened by the pain and confusion that some are feeling. As church leaders we are determined to both grapple prophetically with issues before us and yet process them in a way that honors our community and the principles of common consent that govern us. Such challenges have confronted the church in every generation.
If the church is to be faithful to the demands of the gospel it will often be called beyond the boundaries of certainty to explore its implications in a complex world. We are deeply committed to seeking God’s direction and embodying the life and ministry of Jesus in our own personal ministry and in the lived-out witness of the church. Even while doing so, God’s people are also called to live together in love and to embrace the rich diversity of our global family. A creative and challenging tension will always exist between the desire for unity within the body and the need to press the limits of our understanding. We ebrace both those principles in exploring the issue of homosexuality within our community.
In terms of policy we are aware that some are concerned that a few exceptions have been made to the 1982 Standing High Council statement guidelines that have governed us in the matter of homosexuality and ordination. That discomfort is shared by all of us in leadership, even in our awareness of the exceptions and the human and pastoral issues surrounding them.
As indicated by President W. Grant McMurray in his 2002 World Conference sermon we are asked to seek issues on which we can agree and shape dialogue in areas where we do not agree. As we continue this exploration we want the church to know that we will follow the provisions of the 1982 guidelines regarding calling and ordination. (Note: These guidelines provide that all persons are welcome in the fellowship of the church. With regard to the ordination, those with a homosexual orientation may be ordained provided they are celibate.) This will not affect those ordinations that have been previously provided for, even if they were exceptions to the guidelines. We will not make further exceptions to the guidelines on calling and ordination unless they are adjusted through the common consent of the people.
In terms of further processing and dialogue, we understand very well that various areas of the church need to approach the matter differently. In some nations it is not possible to even discuss it because of cultural and legal issues. In other places, regardless of how individuals may feel, the questions is very much a part of the culture in which the church is ministering and we have no choice but to talk together about it. Each field apostle, in consultation with local leaders, will be responsible for determining whether that field will participate in the dialogue and what methods will be used. The World Church staff specializing in conflict resolution is designing a dialogue process that can be adapted to each area as appropriate. This process honors all viewpoints and provides abundant time and opportunity for each perspective to be heard and understood.
In our deliberations within the World Church Leadership Council we focused primarily on how we can effectively implement the two components of the sharing goal: “Each one, reach one” and “Honor God’s call to tithe.” This is fundamental to the fulfillment of our church’s mission. There will always be issues upon which substantial disagreement will exist among faithful members of our community. Our task as a community of God’s people is to invite all to share in the fellowship, respect one another in our diversity, listen and learn from each other in love, and look beyond the things that may divide us to embrace our essential unity in Jesus Christ. The church has been counseled that “the path will not always be easy, the choices will not always be clear,” but we have also been promised that “the cause is sure and the Spirit will bear witness to the truth, and those who live the truth will know the hope and the joy of discipleship in the community of Christ” (Doctrine and Covenants 161:7).
As church leaders we live willingly in the tension between certainty and the demands of faith. We proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and pledge anew to work tirelessly to build the communities of joy, hope, love, and peace that are at the heart of our mission. To do so requires openness and transparency, unconditional love and respect for one another, and a willingness to rely on the leadings and assurance of the Holy Spirit in all things. We commit our personal ministry and our collective leadership to that end.
World Conference Resolution #1279: Dialogue on Homosexuality (April 1, 2004)
Whereas, The church has been called to a loving and respectful dialogue on the issue of homosexuality as it pertains to the life of the church; and
Whereas, A process called “Listening Circles” has been developed for use throughout the church, with persons currently being trained to facilitate these sessions; and
Whereas, The Listening Circles are in their earliest stages and have not yet been implemented in most jurisdictions of the church; and
Whereas, The issue of homosexuality is a difficult and often divisive question that must be handled with sensitivity and care because people of faith and goodwill hold very different views about it, and because of pastoral concern for the lives of those families directly affected, and;
Whereas, The World Church Leadership Council Adopted a statement in September 2002 entitled “Community, Common Consent, and the Issue of Homosexuality,” which affirms that the principles regarding calling and ordination contained in the March 18, 1982 Standing High Council Statement on Homosexuality would without exception govern church polity on this question “unless it is adjusted through the common consent of the people”; and
Whereas, The experience of other religious bodies has demonstrated the serious consequences that occur when their legislative assemblies prematurely vote on these matters without prayerful, thoughtful, and informed dialogue; and
Whereas, We have been divinely directed to pursue peace and to seek reconciliation and healing of the spirit (Doctrine and Covenants 156: 5a), which instruction obligates us to use every possible means to resolve conflict, honor the worth of all persons, and seek God’s will on matters of disagreement within the body; therefore be it
Resolved, That Items G-5, G-6, G-10, G-11, and G-12 be referred without prejudice or specific action to the First Presidency so as to not hinder or limit the continuing dialogue on this issue within the church; and be it further
Resolved, That the 2004 World Conference encourages the use of Listening Circles within all jurisdictions of the church where it is culturally appropriate; and be it further
Resolved, That the First Presidency report to the 2006 World Conference on the progress of the Listening Circles, along with recommendations as to further steps that may be appropriate to the mission and ministries of the church; and be it further
Resolved, That in the two-year period between now and the next World Conference the Committee on Homosexuality and the Church currently in place be allowed to further study the effects of passing a resolution for or against homosexuals in the priesthood in the many countries where there is church activity; and be it further
Resolved, That the aforementioned committee be allowed to continue to look for ways to reach understanding and a compromise that can protect the church’s unity and be in keeping with our mission statement which will be reported to the next legislative World Conference.
Touched by Grace: LGBT Stories in Community of Christ, pages 4-5
Since the 2002 statement by the World Church Leadership Council, world church leaders have worked at promoting a continuing civil dialogue between church members, in hopes that greater understanding among members can be achieved and social change can occur without disrupting the church – like the ordination of women did in the 1980s. At that time, there seemed to be come recognition that the 1980s division was not handled skillfully by the leadership. Dissenters were driven from the church. They might might have been retained, in many cases, if a more pastoral approach had been used.
A number of events took place over the next several years, leading the GALA movement to where it is now. Church leadership abruptly changed, which threw the progress on LGBT issues unto a period of uncertainty. GALA began an initiative of working with congregations to explore what it meant to welcome all people – not just LGBT. The desire was to help congregations become an ensign of safety and community. A grant was secured, and a formal, separate organizationcalled the Welcoming Community Network (WCN), was formed WCN began to develop resources and a process to move congregations toward inclusion.
Under the initiative of its president-elect, David Howard, GALA began direct advocacy and education with the new church leadership. Their first meeting was held in January 2008. It was GALA’s desire that one of the First Presidency would be available to attend. To the surprise of Howard and GALA president Allan Fiscus, all three First Presidency members were present. For the nect ninrty minutes, the five of them shared their stories and listened to each other’s hopes as the journey toward giftedness and self-worth was explored. The meeting ended in a circle, with a prayer offered by President Steve Veazey. From this moment, all realized this relationship could blossom – that GALA could be a partner in the journey the church would pursue in creating an environment leading to new understandings of what it means to truly be the body of Christ in a world that is marked by fear and separation.
Over the next several months, additional meetings were held with the First Presidency, Presiding Bishopric, most of the apostles, Presiding Evangelist and his quorum secretary, President of Seventy, High Priest Quorum and its leadership, and other staff. WCN flourished and began to train people in facilitating welcoming congregations. Several congregations became a part of WCN. “Homosexual Saints” was widely distributed throughout world leadership. LGBT people reengaged in the life of their church community, advocacy training was provided at GALA retreats, and a strategic plan was developed for the 2010 conference.
Doctrine and Covenants 164: 5-7
It is imperative to understand that when you are truly baptized into Christ you become part of a new creation. By taking on the life and mind of Christ, you increasingly view yourselves and others from a changed perspective. Former ways of defining people by economic status, social class, sex, gender, or ethnicity no longer are primary. Through the gospel of Christ a new community of tolerance, reconciliation, unity in diversity, and love is being born as a visible sign of the coming reign of God.
A. As revealed in Christ, God, the Creator of all, 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 the principles of Christ-like love, mutual respect, responsibility, justice, covenant, and faithfulness, against which there is no law.
B. If the church more fully will understand and consistently apply these principles, questions arising about responsible human sexuality; gender identities, roles, and relationships; marriage; and other issues may be resolved according to God’s divine purposes. Be assured, nothing within these principles condones selfish, irresponsible, promiscuous, degrading, or abusive relationships.
C. Faced with difficult questions, many properly turn to scripture to find insight and inspiration. Search the scriptures for the Living Word that brings life, healing, and hope to all. Embrace and proclaim these liberating truths.
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.