Over the past year or so, I’ve become blogging buddies with FireTag, a member of the Community of Christ. He has his own blog at The Fire Still Burning. Many of you should recognize FireTag, as he frequently comments here at Mormon Matters. He was part of my panel for the Interview with the Community of Christ.
As some of you may know, the Community of Christ (formerly known as RLDS), canonizes revelations in their edition of the Doctrine and Covenants much more frequently than the LDS church does. There is an upcoming World Conference (similar to General Conference) coming up in April, where they will discuss canonizing a new revelation. I asked FireTag to write a series of guest posts discussing this process, and he has graciously agreed to do so. Without further ado, here is his tourist guide to canonizing modern revelation:
Living prophets who add to the canon of scripture are a distinctive marker of the Mormon movement. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the most recent such formal canonization was Official Declaration 2, added in 1978. The Proclamation on the Family could conceivably be submitted “for common consent” at some future date, the last step in its addition to the Doctrine and Covenants.
The next largest Restoration Movement body, Community of Christ, has added to its version of the Doctrine and Covenants far more frequently. Eleven new D&C Sections (153-163 in CofChrist numbering) have been added since 1978 under three prophet/presidents, and a proposed Section 164 is expected to be announced to the church by webcast on January 17, 2010 for consideration at the CofChrist’s April 2010 World Conference. Since World Conferences during the period have been held only seventeen times (counting 2010), adoption of new scripture is almost a “normal” World Conference activity.
The document is expected to deal primarily with two topics: (1) conditions of membership, as applied to converts from other Christian faiths; and, (2) with the rights to participate in and administer sacraments and ordinances of the church, including ordination and marriage, for those in non-heterosexual monogamous relationships where civil law allows.
Because the latter issues involved in the 2010 document will be very recognizable points of discussion in the bloggernacle, this post is offered as background for those Mormons who want to watch the process unfold. A later post nearer the time of the conference will focus more on events during the conference itself.
The CofChrist holds week-long Conferences that are far more legislation-oriented than are LDS conferences. Most of The Apostles or First Presidency are given no time to address the conference, for example, since only Sunday mornings and evenings are set aside for worship. Mornings and afternoons are devoted to consideration of legislation, whether in full conference, or in various quorums, committees, or delegate caucuses. Consideration of a revelation takes priority over all other matters.
In recent years, our Prophets have become increasingly uncomfortable with “springing” revelations on the people at the beginning of Conference for, literally, overnight consideration and adoption as had been the practice in earlier decades. It now seems to be standard practice for the Presidency to initiate a formal “discernment process” shortly after a Conference to call the church to participate in prayerfully considering the issues which will be the subject of action (and prospective revelation) at the following Conference 3 years later. Often, these are the very same issues which were referred back to the First Presidency for further study or direction (often through a standing or special committee that the Presidency creates) by the previous Conference. Of course, the Apostles, the Presiding Bishopric (chief financial officers, not pastors, in the CofChrist), the Presidencies of the various quorums, and others are closely involved in these considerations behind the scenes.
As a result of these practices, the general membership of the church has acquired some expanded opportunities to influence the theological and policy issues that the leading quorums of the church will seek to address during the periods between conferences. This power is not as explicit as in earlier times when the Prophet was directed to “inquire of the Lord”, and the Prophet has his own impresses regardless of what the Conference says, but there is definitely a notion that “common consent” is involved both in framing which questions the Prophet asks and in accepting the answers the Prophet receives as inspired.
Both of the major expected topics of proposed Section 164 are the result of pressures by significant portions of the membership to address issues of personal importance to them. The CofChrist draws a much smaller proportion of its active membership from North America and Europe than does the LDS church. In fact, conventional wisdom in the CofChrist holds that North American membership will soon be a minority in the church, if it is not already. As a result, views of the membership in places like Africa, India, and Haiti have major and growing influence on the church’s agenda.
These nations are less individualistic than Americans. They often have experienced great tension between teachings of Christianity and other great world religions accepted by their families and friends, and they are less likely to see differences among Christian denominations that loom large in American discussions as important. They often participate in the CofChrist while knowing or caring little about such things as the Book of Mormon or the early history of the Restoration movement. As a result, many of them deeply question the need for rebaptism, which seems to imply a rejection of the sacrifices they made to become Christian in the first place, as well as of the Christian families and communities around them.
The second largest demographic bloc in the church consists of relatively aged, relatively conservative members still very committed to the uniqueness of the Restoration and uncomfortable with any suggestion that their sacrifices would have been just as meaningful in another denomination.
Consequently, following the 2007 Conference, the First Presidency was left with an “action item” to address the issue of the “conditions of membership”, and has been directing a formal discernment process intended to lead to the January 17 guidance to the church. This issue is considered sufficiently divisive that the leading quorums had clearly indicated a desire not to deal with other divisive matters until the church has proven it can work through the issue. The schism that resulted in the church in the 1980’s over extension of priesthood to women has clearly instilled caution in the church leadership.
However, there is another divisive issue, the roles which gays living in monogamous relationships are to have in the church, which a third important demographic bloc, progressives in the Western nations, has forced onto the agenda despite the wishes of the leadership to defer consideration. Field jurisdictions which are roughly equivalent to LDS stakes (though they sometimes extend over several countries) have rights to pass legislation at their own conferences which then come to the floor of the World Conference for action. Ten such “mission centers” in the United States, Canada, and Australia passed overlapping resolutions which ask the church to change policies in various ways toward allowing gays to marry where civil authority permits, allowing our priesthood to perform such marriages as sacraments of the church, and/or to remove such relationships as barriers to holding priesthood. In response, four mission centers, in the southern US, Central America, and Africa passed proposed legislation that would reaffirm (either permanently or until further study) current policy. All proposed legislation is available for reading here.
The significance of bringing these resolutions up at all should be understood. Their existence eclipses the Leading Quorums’ agenda for 2010 in a way that has not happened in perhaps 80 years, when the quorums were divided among themselves on the direction of the church.
The Presidency has been publicly studying these gay-rights issues without resolution since 1992. While Americans tend to view the issue through the lens of domestic politics, there is a major international church component in the CofChrist consideration. It took special deliberations among the 12 and Presidency to even publicly announce that the specific legislative proposals for 2010 existed, because of fears that members in some third world nations would be subject to physical persecution because discussion of homosexuality was culturally taboo.
It is these potentially divisive issues which form the background for proposed Section 164. The proposed revelatory document should be published on the Community of Christ website within 24 hours of President Veazey’s address to the church on January 17, and a link will be added to the comments of this post as soon as the document appears.
Do you have any comments or questions?