(HEART OF DISCERNMENT) “Speaking of Zion: A Commentary on D&C 165” by Evan Sharley

Its no secret that The February Policy is taking up a large portion of folks’ mental, emotional, and spiritual energy right now. I, myself, am driving from Boise to Salt Lake City this weekend to mourn with my friends down there. So many of us cannot understand how this policy helps achieve the Divine’s purpose of Zion, and as a result are wondering if there is still a place for us in this church. I was likewise pondering my place in this church, and watched my confirmation service in hopes I would find the solace I was looking for.

In this service, John Hamer quotes from Doctrine and Covenants 165. As so often happens with scripture, these verses profoundly took on a new meaning in light of what is currently going on in my life. While this scripture was canonized in 2016, it speaks prophetically to the situation that is playing out here in 2023. I would like to repeat some of the verses from this section and give some commentary on them in hopes that we can better understand why this is all happening.

3A. More fully embody your oneness and equality in Jesus Christ. Oneness and equality in Christ are realized through the waters of baptism, confirmed by the Holy Spirit, and sustained through the sacrament of Communion. Embrace the full meaning of these sacraments and be spiritually joined in Christ as never before.

Arguably, this verse is simply rephrasing and consolidating the Enduring Principles of “Unity in Diversity”, “Worth of All Persons”, and “All Are Called” into simply “Oneness and Equality.” By focusing how there is equality among those baptized, it echoes the 5th verse of the preceding section, which itself alludes to Galatians 3:27–29 and 2 Corinthians 5:17.

In this, we are given the reminder that the sacraments are to be ritualistic symbols for the church to remember that no one is better or worse than anyone else.

3B. However, it is not right to profess oneness and equality in Christ through sacramental covenants and then to deny them by word or action. Such behavior wounds Christ’s body and denies what is resolved eternally in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

While the preceding verse explicitly calls out specific sacraments, this verse uses more broad language. With this, we can also keep in mind the sacraments of Child Blessing, Evangelist’s Blessing, Laying on of Hands for the Sick, Marriage, and Ordination.

What the First Presidency’s February Policy essentially does is deny the sacrament of Ordination by word, and inevitably action, to non-monogamous people. As this verse then implies, this Policy wounds Christ’s body (us in the church) and denies the power of the atonement and resurrection.

3C. You do not fully understand many interrelated processes of human creation. Through its wonderful complexity, creation produces diversity and order.

Who is being told that they don’t have a full understanding in this verse? You, the reader? Us, collectively as the church? In light of the recent policy, I cannot help but see these verses as a confession of the frailties of its human author; it feels autobiographical. It feels almost as if Steve Veazey is confessing that he understands that there is a vast diversity among the human family, but it is so complex to him that struggles with appreciating and affirming it.

3D. Be not consumed with concern about variety in human types and characteristics as you see them. Be passionately concerned about forming inclusive communities of love, oneness, and equality that reveal divine nature.

This verse, again, feels as if a specific person is being addressed, and I believe that person is Veazey. It seems to be a confession that he often gets caught up with the assumptions that he makes about people that he doesn’t understand. He then goes on to admit that he has not been as passionate about building inclusive communities of love, oneness, and equality for these misunderstood people as he needs to be.

3E. Oneness and equality in Christ do not mean uniformity. They mean Unity in Diversity and relating in Christ-like love to the circumstances of others as if they were one’s own. They also mean full opportunity for people to experience human worth and related rights, including expressing God-given giftedness in the church and society.

In this, Veazey reminds himself that not everyone needs to live life in the same way, or even similar ways. Our church has struggled to accept this in practice. For example, queer folks are often expected to behave in non-queer like ways in order to gain full acceptance in the church; we cannot truly “come as we are”.

He reminds himself that he needs to put himself in another’s shoes so he can understand their circumstances, which he needs to in order to truly love them. The fact that this reminder is here indicates that Veazey often struggles with this practice.

He reminds himself that even though there this complex diversity that he doesn’t understand, it doesn’t change the fact that everyone deserves the full opportunity to share their giftedness within Community of Christ.

4A. Regarding priesthood, God calls whomever God calls from among committed disciples, according to their gifts, to serve and reach all humankind.

Verse 4 seems to hone in on the complex human diversity as it relates to the church’s priesthood. The question that this verse is answering is “who is called to the priesthood?” This verse then affirms that the people who are called to priesthood are whomever God calls. It also echos D&C 119:8B which says “All are called according to the gifts of God unto them…”. This verse reiterates that we as a church aspire to “Draw the Circle Wide“, and not gate keep the priesthood by making arbitrary rules based on the biases of a particular person or group of people.

The fact that this was a question, again, highlights the struggle that Veazey has had with accepting the vast diversity among the human family. He struggles to accept that people who do not look or act like he does could be called to the same priesthood as he is.

4B. Priesthood policies developed through wisdom and inspiration provide a clear way for disciples to respond to calling. They also define the difference between a sense of call as potential and the need to align one’s life with principles of moral behavior and relationships that promote the well-being of the church community.

This verse is truly applicable when talking about the February Policy.

The first sentence provides a litmus test for us: a priesthood policy is wise and inspired when it provides a clear way for disciples to respond to their callings. Arguably, this sentence alone highlights the problems with the Policy in question. This Policy has left unordained non-monogamous folks wondering how they can respond to their calling, while also making ordained non-monogamous folks wondering if they will be kicked out of the priesthood. This confusion shows that this Policy is unwise and uninspired, and should thus be disregarded.

The second sentence again reveals Steve’s human shortcomings. Verse 3E could be seen as a confession to the very sin that is being committed in this sentence. It opens the doorway for a diverse and complex person to feel a call to priesthood, but because this person’s complexity isn’t understood they are labeled as being immoral and their sense of call to priesthood is dismissed as “potential”. This implies that to be seen as moral people people must sacrifice their “wonderful complexity”. This, again, is the very sin that is being denounced and confessed to in verse 3B

6A. Beloved Community of Christ, do not just speak and sing of Zion. Live, love, and share as Zion: those who strive to be visibly one in Christ, among whom there are no poor or oppressed.

This verse is a call to action to embody what was said in the previous verses. In light of the autobiographical point of view, it could be safe to assume that this also serves as a reminder for it’s author that talk is cheap, and that actions speak louder than words. If we do not want oppressed people within our church, then we need to recognize the complex diversity within humanity, and give all of this complexity full access to the priesthood.

Accepting diversity is extraordinarily difficult for the president of our church, so much so that he lamented about it when he created scripture for our church. If we take an autobiographical point of view with this section, we see verses 3B-3D as confessions to Steve’s own shortcomings and his tendencies to sin when it comes to recognizing and honoring diversity within the church. Verses 3E and 4A are then reminders of how he needs to overcome these flaws. Verse 4B creates an outline for how he can determine if a policy is a good one, but in the same verse falls right back into the errors that he just confessed to.

Historically it has been the president of the church’s responsibility to create policy for the entire church, but D&C 164:7 started shifting the burden of policy-making to individual nations. A shift that was initiated by Steve Veazey regarding accepting LGBTQIA+ folks. In light of the February policy I can’t help but agree that perhaps this initiative should be accelerated . I can’t help but wonder if the policy-making powers of the president of the church should be curbed, and authority to create policies should be seized on a more localized level.

I am deeply reminded of warnings that King Benjamin gave regarding monarchs in the 13th chapter of Mosiah (v. 16-46). I can’t help but feel as if we have a “theocratic monarch” who has issued an edict, one which many of us recognize as uninspired. However, if we were more democratic and more localized, this problem likely would not have arisen.

There are those of us that would fall into what here is described as “wonderfully complex”. For us, verse 3 has typically felt like an affirmation of our worthiness to fully participate in the church, including priesthood, instead of the confession that it is. When the February Policy was released, it left many of us feeling betrayed and disillusioned. It made us feel as if the church only wants to speak and sing of Zion while we are desperate to live, love, and share as Zion