Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A letter to a friend

I'm happy to answer your questions. Please understand that I have to stand somewhere, though, in answering them; that is, I can't make sense of my present reality without some reference to my past. In doing this, I am not trying to be negative--and in fact am attempting to be as positive as possible. That said, I realize that any mention of problems within Mormonism or with the Brethren are often taken, by Mormons, as attacks upon their faith and upon them personally. Well, you have to stand somewhere, too, so I kinda understand. But, my experience isn't an attack on you personally, or upon the sincerity of your faith or relationship with God. I'm not trying to convince you of anything except a closer walk with Christ. I still believe in the LDS Church as a true church, a system of salvation, and a pretty darn good place, for many people, to live and raise their family. Were it not for the fact that God called me to move, I would not have done so.

So, in regards to my earlier blog, which many said was contentious or mean-spirited, I didn't intend it to be anything but a recollection of my journey both good and bad. Leaving out the bad and only commenting on the good is a real disservice; how can you ever improve if you are not honest about your past? And I'm not so keen on thinking that any temporal institution isn't in need of salvation, that anything on the earth is perfect. The only time perfection is on the earth is when God intervenes, usually to be later mucked up by man and requiring a new creation or restoration of holiness.

Now, you asked what I found appealing within my new faith. In terms of the Community of Christ's ecclesiology, and specifically structure of church government, I appreciate that it is a theo-democracy, with power divided up among the presiding councils which include but are not limited to the Apostles. For a contrast, see the LDS Church's website here which states that "The Church is led by 15 apostles."

Reading the D&C and unfiltered church history, I'm convinced that the Community of Christ is much closer to the original design (and I could comment in depth why I think that's the case, but in short the LDS Apostles have ensured their complete custodianship over the church, over time, rather than sharing power among the other quorums present in Joseph Smith Jr.'s day; see D&C 124:123-138 for an example of the early church's quorums).

Within the Community of Christ, you'll find:
A Standing High Council over the Church (D&C 107:37)

A Presiding Evangelist (aka Patriarch, D&C 124:124)

SEVEN Quorums of Seventy (not nine or five but seven, with the presidents of each quorum making up the "Presidents of Seventy" (D&C 107: 93, 95-96).

And, in addition to these groups, the theo-democracy also recognizes the voice of each member, hence votes are more than just a rubberstamp--they actually count for something. This democratization seems much more in line with the early church which rarely had a consensus when votes were taken. The organization ensures that power is distributed out among more than just fifteen men, but is balanced through several presiding quorums, with the entire Church--the body of Christ--having a voice and a role.

---But, while having the "original" quorums and officers is important, there are other issues which I am much more concerned with.

Attitudes towards history is one of them. The Community of Christ is very open towards its history, recognizing that it has faults but that the Kingdom of God and Zion still beckons us forward. That's a stark contrast to the fear that I lived in as a (honest) religious historian of Mormonism and an active member. To pick an example among many, the reprimand would have been swift were I to report that the LDS Church, for fifty years (1890s to 1940s), knowingly profited from church corporations renting out church property as houses of prostitution. Within the Community of Christ, were I to write about something like this, instead of censuring me, they'd be more interested in learning from the past, making sure it never happened again. In fact, we'd all sing Kumbaya and braid each other's hair as this "coming clean" session unfolded (that's a crack at the many comments I've received that the CofC is just a bunch of washed-out Mormon hippies).

Somehow, I think, that all ties into the much larger issue of salvation. You can't have a Savior unless you admit to your mistakes, and I appreciate that the Community of Christ is open to its mistakes and current shortcomings. Most importantly, I love their theology of liberation, seeking out the oppressed to establish Zion on the earth. Shalom, as a Hebrew term, is often translated as "peace" but includes concepts of not only peace but justice. Hence, to establish God's shalom, which is embodied in Jesus Christ, is to bring justice to the oppressed. The oppressor is as hurting as the oppressed: both need justice in order to establish peace. And I'm quite convinced that this is the mission of Christ, to seek out the oppressed and marginalized, challenging the status quo and seeking a new vision of the world, a new creation and restoration of holiness and salvation on the earth (I'm shamelessly stealing here from Gutierrez, and will probably continue to do so).

It has been said that a church should not exist to survive but to serve. Within the Community of Christ, I do not see an institutional end unto itself but a church very interested in serving God's children wherever they might be, and recognizing the worth of all individuals.

I love that the Community of Christ has a temple in Zion, dedicated to peace (Isaiah 52:7); that it has never denied the priesthood to anyone based on race (CofC D&C 116); that its early leaders recognized the human-rights violations inherent within polygamy; that it still continues to add to its canon of scripture, with messages pertinent to our current situation and dilemmas--such as ecological threats to the earth. I love that my wife or daughter might hold the priesthood (which is something Joseph really seemed to encourage, possibly reflected in the fact that women in the LDS Church practiced priesthood-like washings, anointings, and blessings--outside of the temple--until the 1940s, and continue to do so within the temple), that I could break bread with a gay member of the Christ's community, and while not condoning sex outside of marriage recognize that each of us are sinners and in need of Christ's undeserved grace. In the Community of Christ, I stand in solidarity with my family.

I love that I can recognize that humanity has been on the earth for 150,000 years; that Asiatic peoples came to and populated the Americas at least 12,000 years ago; that evolution isn't necessarily out of harmony with God's design and the beauty of his creation. I love that over the pulpit a few weeks ago I could compare the descending dove in Matthew 4 to the dove that returned to Noah in the ALLEGORICAL story of the Flood, and no one bats an eye, but is edified and uplifted; that I am encouraged to buy a Bible that includes the most recent scholarship, not cling to a translation that is centuries old. I find it encouraging the the cornerstone, keystone, and capstone of my faith is Jesus Christ; that I need not worry about DNA, Egyptian scrolls, or peep stones. And foremost, I love the Mystery of the Divine, the Beauty of Grace, the Power of the Spirit present with the Triune God of the Restoration, present in the Book of Mormon, D&C, and Lectures on Faith (especially the Fifth Lecture).

I believe that polygamy was a cultural practice that made sense among the ancient Patriarchs but wasn't necessary to salvation (and in fact was disastrous in more modern times). I am disappointed that Joseph had himself ordained King over the earth, that he attempted to exalt himself beyond his bounds. But at the same time, I honor his ministry and message; I still believe in the Restoration, still want to raise my children in a church that teaches of Christ, still want to worship the Lord in His house. I still consider myself a Saint, believe in the Book of Mormon as the word of God, and see the Latter Days as a new creation of God's holiness. And I hope that family and friends can realize that where our pews happen to be located makes little difference to the relationships we have had, have now, and will continue to have. You might worry about our eternal situation, but I implore you to direct your energies to the here and now, not some distant, unforeseeable future.

Within the Community of Christ we have found a home, and we are happy. And if you're happy, we're happy for you. I only hope that my friends and family can honor that, recognizing that we have found peace.

I'll let you know about Miami.
Hope that answers your questions;
Peace and Love,

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