Each spring the Community of Christ, formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, invites members and elected church delegates from throughout the world to their headquarters in Independence, Missouri for their annual World Conference. Held in the church’s spacious Auditorium (located next door to their iconic temple which to me looks like a giant ice cream cone), the conference held last week over a six day period attracted about 2,000 people, including about 1,500 church delegates. Considered a time of spiritual rejuvenation, the conference is translated into multiple languages, and in the past few years has been recorded and made available to view online later by followers of the faith.
World Conferences are made up of delegates elected to represent the church’s Mission Centers (roughly equivalent to a Catholic diocese or LDS Stake), meeting together to discuss and vote on the business of the church. Three years ago prior to World Conference, various Mission Centers throughout the church had passed resolutions calling on the church to embrace allowing gay members to be ordained to the priesthood (without any stipulations) and to end discrimination in marriage on the basis of sexual orientation. These resolutions then came before the sessions of the World Conference and were considered according to parliamentary procedures. Unlike General Conference, the semiannual meetings held by the Utah based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, these meetings are conducted according Robert’s Rules, with motions, seconding, discussion, questions of privilege, calling the question, and the such. Historically, in the World Conference of 2010, the first business that came before the conference was whether or not to approve a new revelation brought to the church by President Stephen M. Veazey, the church’s leader and prophet. The approval of the World Conference would mean that the revelation (initially referred to as “prophetic counsel”) would be added to the Community of Christ’s Doctrine and Covenants. Like the resolutions referred to the conference by the Mission Centers, the prophetic counsel addressed the issues facing LGBT members of the church. The result of the procedural voting three years ago ended with the church leaders accepting the revelation “as the mind and will of the Lord”, and it was canonized as scripture as Doctrine and Covenants Sections 164 (the most historic change in church history since Section 156 approved in 1984 which allowed women to be ordained to the priesthood). But the steps made three years ago did not officially sanction gay marriages. That happened just a few days ago.
The Missouri Mormons of the Community of Christ are not to be confused with their doctrinally different cousins in Utah though. While this month’s General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City expounded on traditional values and marriage between a man and a woman, last week’s World Conference of the Community of Christ solidified and expounded just how glaringly the differences in practice and doctrine have become in the past 150 years.
The specific recommendations of the conference to the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the two highest governing bodies of the church) last week were as follows:
The 2013 USA National Conference recommends the sacrament of marriage be extended, where legal in the USA, to persons of the same sex/gender. Thus the 2013 USA National Conference recommends a change to the current policy for the USA on the sacrament of marriage; and
The 2013 USA National Conference recommends that a church-recognized way for two persons of the same sex/gender to publicly express their covenant to each other be made available in places in the USA where marriage is not legal. Thus, the 2013 USA National Conference recommends a change to the current policy for the USA regarding same-sex/gender covenant commitment services where marriage is not legal; and
The 2013 USA National Conference recommends allowing a priesthood call to be processed according to established procedures regardless of sexual orientation, including a person in a monogamous, committed, same-sex/gender relationship (e.g., legal marriage, civil partnership, covenant relationship) in the USA. Thus, the 2013 USA National Conference recommends a change to the current policy on ordination for the USA.
Read by the church’s newly elected president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Apostle Linda Booth, and sustained with a majority vote by the church delegates present, the message was loud and clear: Gay marriage is okay.
Since gay marriage is only authorized in a small number of states in the United States (currently 9 with Rhode Island preparing to be the 10th), and since marriage is a state contract, the Community of Christ appears to be preparing official commitment ceremonies for those couples that reside in states without gay marriage. Also, the Community of Christ will acknowledge monogamous committed relationships as on par with marriage, in matters of priesthood calls, no matter whether they are labeled as legal marriage, civil partnership, or a covenant relationship. In other words, the legal difference between states will not impact how the Community of Christ approaches these relationships.
The Community of Christ in recent years has struggled not just to grow but to maintain their fledgling membership. With approximately 250,000 church members wordwide, the church just last year sold land to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a deal, that according to numerous sources, helped replenish nearly empty church coffers. Meanwhile, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continues to be among the fastest growing faiths in the United States and has over 14 million members wordwide.
For many members of the Community of Christ last week’s motions and resolutions may be accepted as “the will of the Lord”, and to many in the world the change will likewise be seen as a good and timely action. However, there are also those who are left wondering, “Just how far will a church stray from their original doctrine just to appear popular?”
While some groups of faith may change their beliefs with those of society, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continues to emphatically declare “that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children” (See The Family: A Proclamation to the World). The Lord’s commandment to love everyone includes those of the LGBT community, and recently the church came out with an official website, MormonsAndGays.org, which adopts a more conciliatory tone toward gay men and women than many Latter-day Saints have heard in the past. Official Church doctrine has not changed, but with the realization that their are many among the faithful who struggle with same sex attractions, there is an outreach to love and rescue them like never before.
Only time will tell what may become of the Community of Christ with their watershed announcement on gay marriage, but for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints nothing has changed, and few expect that it will.