The Beyond the Walls service of March 26th, 2023 had both Shawn Matheson and Wednesday Jones speaking.
Matheson gave this peace lesson:
In 2016 I was a member of the Utah Mormon church when their First Presidency passed the “November Policy,” which targeted a minority group of people with a policy aimed at excluding them from the full blessings of the church. I told my Mormon Bishop then, how that did not feel right to me.
Since I left the Mormon church I have been investigating Community of Christ and contributing to this weekly production of Beyond the Walls. Last month I unfortunately saw the First Presidency of this church make a similar policy, which excludes a minority group of people from the full blessings of the church. I told Pastor Hamer how that did not feel right to me, because it is a similar policy of exclusion.
I am a heterosexual 50-year old man from a lifelong conservative Utah background, so it has taken me time to open the eyes of my heart and to become a compassionate LGBTQ+ ally. An ironic and unexpected blessing that God has given me, is that “coming out” religiously helped me to find empathy with those who have “come out” in their sexual identity. God’s Love transformed my heart with an unexpected gift and I now have many friends in the LGBTQ+ community.
When we know someone adversely affected by a policy, we can have a personal point of view. I have a friend who was so devoutly passionate about Community of Christ, and she has now left fellowship with the church over the February Policy. In advocacy I’ve written my mission center apostle, I’ve spoken with my Canadian online pastor, I’ve attended a Zoom event, and I am offering this prayer for our peace.
I am a lay congregant but I bring experiential empathy, both as a former Utah Mormon and someone whose heart has been transformed to be LGBTQ+ inclusive. In this discussion of the February Policy I see two fundamental questions:
- Should a person have a right to privacy in their consenting, healthy personal relationships?
- Should a church be involved with sex policing or trying to codify and legislate a person’s interpretation of what a healthy relationship is for them as an individual?
In my former Mormon days I saw a very centralized planning, a one-size-fits-all, franchise approach. However, even the Salt Lake church was willing to reverse its November Policy when it saw that it had erred and hurt a subset of people.
I love that Community of Christ is more free in expression, both for congregations to embrace their regional and cultural identity, and for faithful disagreement. And I love that in Community of Christ, in most cases, the church uses a method of local council and representative input, which helps people feel heard and involved.
In this vein I ask, could this February Policy be reversed at the most, or stayed at the least and be left to each Apostle’s Mission Center and Congregations to discern? More specifically, I wonder if the February Policy has not highlighted the rapidly changing nature of our global community, and a need for a less centralized approach — in favor of local discernment?
Our RLDS 1984 church history has shown us the schismatic results of “one-size-fits-all” approach, while the regional and congregational approach can lend to people aligning where they feel most comfortable in their faith journeys. The blessing of today’s technology is that someone can easily attend an online congregation with which they most culturally and ecclesiastically align.
As a church do we want to be a melting pot, or a salad bowl? Do we want central administration in every matter, or the ability to locally discern? Do we want a franchise approach, or local expression? Will our community recognize the + in LGBTQ+? Will we see that past religious polygamy is different than a personal choice in a loving, committed relationship?
In Jesus’ ministry we see his wisdom and nuance. For example, the black and white letter of the law in his day was for the stoning of an adultress, for men to not interact with women, and for Jews to not have interactions with those considered unclean such as Gentiles and lepers. Jesus’ compassionate ministry however was in loving nuance. For example, Jesus often gave non-answers to difficult questions, and he simply showed his love by asking the question back, or by doing nothing. In Jesus’ method, he taught us to fish.
Perhaps this recent February Policy will help us to ask the question, should the process begin to grant ecclesiastical independence for Apostles to guide regional discernment with their Mission Centers and congregations.
Please pray with me. Loving God of Wisdom, we seek the wisdom of your Loving Son Jesus, who ministered to the fringe of society, and who often said very little to tough questions or answered with return questions, and who taught us to fish. We ask you, Wise Lord, to please inspire our hearts to feel of the inspired path you would have us take. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
After the service Hamer conducted his traditional Minister’s Chat, and this was one of the things that was talked about the most. In it was said the following:
John Hamer: Shawn, I want to thank you for your lesson. It is not always easy when we are in dispute within a denomination – to be able to raise our voices and say “we’re not entirely on board with everything that the leaders are saying”. I know because of the way things work in the LDS church dissent isn’t tolerated in any way. It doesn’t mean that we are always comfortable with it in our tradition, but obviously it is tolerated.
As you know, you had written an entirely different peace lesson when you brought this personal objection to me as a pastor and you had talked to the apostle. I said, “well, if you feel strongly about that, would you like to speak on that during your peace lesson?” so I appreciate that you did so.
Shawn Matheson: Yes, thank you for the opportunity to speak on that.
You know, I was reflecting just on my journey. Hyper conservativism, even 10 years ago, ask Shawn and I wasn’t LGBTQ+ inclusive to where I’m at now speaking up for those who are marginalized.
The empathy that I’ve found therein ironically stems from the same experience I had in the Mormon church. I now can readily recognize trauma, and, in a kind of empathy, reach out. I think that’s the message of today that everybody captured so well. Its the compassion of Christ, and the message of empathy and reaching out to the marginalized that really touched my hard and I thank you for the opportunity to speak up.
Hamer: A lot of people probably, even if you’re a member of the church, you’re probably not even aware the new policy was rolled out by the First Presidency in February. It regards priesthood, so therefore it is functionally a little bit different from what the LDS policy was which is a denial of membership to children of gay couples. This is instead a denial of ordination or causing priesthood silencing in certain circumstances for Community of Christ members. I thought I would just mention –
Matheson: Certainly there is that difference, but I also find some commonality with targeting a minority group for non-inclusion in the full fellowship of the church. We’ve seen that play out in the Salt Lake congregation, we’ve seen it play out here in our Beyond the Walls congregation, we’ve seen people adversely affected. So its different, but common.
Hamer: Yeah. Well I totally appreciate it and we’ve had a bunch of experiences, like you say in our own congregation and also in local congregations here in Canada where people had priesthood silenced because of similar policies that were not on the book but still enforced as if they were on the books within the last decade here in Canada. Which is one of the reasons why the Canadian church actually sent not last Conference but the Conference before a bunch of resolutions to the World Conference trying to get the First Presidency to revise these policies.
We are having, in the current World Conference, a proposal on marriage and priesthood, which is actually before the Conference. I am going to be a delegate to that. I personally feel like that proposal, while it will be good to move forward, as written, is very flawed in a number of ways. We’ll be talking about that on Thursday in our Zoom group. We are also talking about it in the Seventy’s quorum. Anyway, its up to everyone individually to discern on those things.
I really appreciate, Shawn, that you shared your perspective on that which is unique in the sense that you were in a church which actually caused a lot of people to surrender their membership of that church because they weren’t prepared to do that, and unfortunately we’ve seen that happen with several people in Community of Christ unfortunately this year.
Matheson: Well, thank you again, John. As a transitioning Mormon it strikes my heart, so I very much appreciate the opportunity to speak up.
Hamer: On that note, we are in this period in the Lenten journey, as Michael mentioned, where this is uncomfortable parts of the narrative. He said it wasn’t a spoiler for us to say that it isn’t going to get happier before it gets happy; it actually gets darker. So, perhaps this was a service that is always going to challenge us.
I appreciate all of you for being a part of that, and I appreciate everyone in this community that is with us right now for allowing yourself to be challenged. We are not just going to the end of the teacher’s manual and copying in crib notes the easy answers to life’s questions. This is something that we struggle with, this is something that the Evangelists are inviting us to struggle with and enter into dialogue and discernment with, and hopefully we are doing that. Thanks to everyone who’s joined us and who is part of that.
Leandro Palacios: I see that some of you would like to see the policy that we’re talking about. I am not sure I am going to be able to find a link right away…
Hamer: its like in the app within the church’s…
Palacios: But I will post it on our facebook group, and if you wait a minute I’ll post … the link to the policy. I will try to post it before I end the stream.
Wednesday Jones: Can I say something?
Jones: The policy does concern me, because I’ve had friends who are really dear to me leave over it – friends I’ve learned a lot about, scripture about, have really guided me, and speak with authority from God who have been restricted from priesthood.
Something that comes to mind is, I think maybe the church needs to address something that’s like generational trauma. I come from a community that experienced chattel slavery, and that can manifest in generations in how we sometimes interact with each other, how we raise our children, and there’s this trauma that continues generation-after-generation.
I think in Community of Christ there’s some trauma from Mormon polygamy and that abusive system and that continuing with the generations. I think sometimes we have to confront that past and confront that history and confront that pain to be able to move forward. Sometimes out of trauma we end up hurting others and perpetuating that harm.
That was just something that I kind of observed. Again, I’m coming to this as a converts, as someone new, but out of my observation that’s something that I noticed that I felt like I should say something about.
Hamer: I really appreciate that perspective.
In short, this service was about “The February Policy“, and universally condemned it.
As far as I know, this is the first time this policy has been explicitly talked about in public within an official church context. As one of the few people this policy targets, this service not only made me feel seen, heard, and my pain validated, but also gave me hope that this issue isn’t going to be quietly swept under the rug now that I don’t have the energy to keep fighting. My friends love me and want me to feel like an equal in our community, and so they are not letting it go.
I hope that this sort of advocacy continues, because it is heroes like Shawn Matheson, John Hamer, and Wednesday Jones that will make me feel safe enough to return home one day.