CoC to tackle Major Issues at April Conference: Gay Marriage & Baptism

FireTagchrist, christianity, community of christ, doctrine, gay, homosexuality, inter-faith, Mormon, news, ordinances, prophets, revelation, RLDS, scripture 24 Comments

This is the second guest Post from FireTag, a member of the Community of Christ (formerly known as RLDS).  As he mentioned in his previous post, the Community of Christ is going through the process of canonization of a new revelation.  Here’s his latest installment of the process.

CofChrist Prophet: Baptism in Christ Transcends Culture

“5 It is imperative to understand that when you are truly baptized into Christ you become part of a new creation. By taking on the life and mind of Christ, you increasingly view yourselves and others from a changed perspective. Former ways of defining people by economic status, social class, sex, gender, or ethnicity no longer are primary. Through the gospel of Christ a new community of tolerance, reconciliation, unity in diversity, and love is being born as a visible sign of the coming reign of God.”

With these words, the Prophet/President of the Community of Christ delivered to the church for its consideration as divine counsel on January 17 a document that changes the relationship between its sacraments and its people. Copies of the documents are already posted at

Most stunning to readers on the bloggernacle, the document places resolution of pressing issues of marriage, sexual identity and roles, among others, into the hands of field or national jurisdictions to resolve within the context of their own cultures and secular laws. This appears to mean that the Community of Christ will no longer have a world-wide policy toward these cultural institutions, although what local policies will come into place is left undefined. Thus, jurisdictions in which gay marriage is permitted by the culture may be able to move forward with this practice as a sacrament of the church as well, and the church may continue to forbid discussion of the issue in nations where such discussion is taboo.

In addition, persons baptized by water within other denominations who are led by the Spirit to the Community of Christ are now to be accepted without rebaptism into membership upon confirmation following a period of study.

The headlines will probably not be the most important part of the document in the long run. Take a look at it and see what you think.

Comments 24

  1. usually it seems that gay marriage is a pretty hot button topic on the bloggernacle. the lds church takes a pretty conservative position on this issue, and the CoC takes a much more liberal position. what do you think if the lds church took a similar position with regard to gay marriage? what about baptism?

  2. As far as baptism, a fundamental belief of the LDS Church is priesthood. Since we believe a main thing in JS’s history is the restoration of the priesthood, I think it would be hard to work around this. Also, in spite of that, baptism is also an outward commitment to join a group. If someone is actually interested in joining the LDS Church, baptism as a commitment to that makes sense.

    As far as gay marriage, I actually think this is easier to accomplish. We already accept “civil” marriages as allowing 2 people to live together, etc. We don’t give them the same weight as an “eternal” marriage done in the temple, which is held out at the highest goal. At some point, in juristictions where it is legal, it would also be easy doctrinally to at least accept “civil” gay marriage and extend the same civil rights to a gay couple. This would obviously preclude going to the temple. It would be much more difficult doctrinally to accept gay temple marriage.

  3. I commented on this at another site, but there is a big theological issue, IMO, with accepting other baptisms. Aside from the authority question (which the CoC is less stringent on perhaps than are the LDS), this also opens the door to question our rejection of infant baptism. Accepting anabaptists (adult baptizing sects) is one thing, but infant baptisms challenge the entire meaning of the atonement, introducing the notion of original sin. These are all things that were specifically clearly rejected by JS and are foundational theological concepts to Mormonism. The CoC is really only half-Mormon at this point, but they are jettisoning some very core things in making that move. Since it goes to a vote, not sure what the outcome will be, but I would vote against that one if I were in the CoC.

  4. Hawkgrrrl:

    The church is beginning to put up interpretive guidance (presuming approval of the document) as a Q&A link from the page in the main post above. (I’ll add the Q&A link here shortly).

    I understand from initially skimming the guidance that achievement of the age of accountability will remain a requirement.

    One of the paragraphs of the document specifically casts the guidance given to Joseph as a TEMPORARY step necessary for the rise of the church. I don’t know for myself yet what I feel about that interpretation, because we still haven’t answered the overarching question within modern CofChrist theology of what replaces the “one and only true church” rationale of the founding generation.

    I can agree with the final statement in the document very strongly that “mission matters most”, but we still aren’t defining a mission for which there needs to be a “we” centering around the CofChrist in the first place, IMO. Once you take the theological step of saying that there is more than one true church, you have to eventually ask “in which one does God want me?” and “what does God want me to do there?”

    I must confess, when I read that paragraph, I said to myself that I’ve seen the same argument made for polygamy as “necessary for the rise of the church” by the LDS. So a lot of CofChrist traditionalists are going to react negatively to that argument even if it comes from their prophet.

    Mike S.:

    All of our priesthood also trace our authority back to JS. Christ can give authority to whom He wishes. After all, the 12 in Bountiful didn’t get their authority from the 12 in Jerusalem. But you do see how different from traditional LDS/RLDS thought is the worldview expressed in the paragraph cited in the OP. It carries the implicit idea that RELIGIOUS DENOMINATION is no longer primary either. And our traditionalists are going to find that difficult to come to terms with if they haven’t done so by now.

  5. One of the criticisms with the LDS church concerning the Manifesto was the issue that the revelation seemed to be “man-inspired” due to government pressures. However, the LDS resisted efforts for 40 years to keep polygamy. On the one hand, I applaud the CoC for attempting to tackle the issue of gay marriage, but there doesn’t seem to be a consistent policy–let national governments decide this issue? That’s not a position of leadership, it is a position of accommodation. Such a position seems to be following society, rather than leading it.

    Now one is welcome to criticize the LDS position on gay marriage, but at least they have a position. This guidance from the CoC seems to be following society, rather than leading it. Time will tell if the gay marriage issue ends up like the ERA amendment issue, or civil rights. If gay marriage is like ERA, the LDS position will have been right; if not, the reverse is true. By waiting for national governments tackle the issue instead of providing guidance, the CoC position will adopt the “winning” proposal. But the prophetic lead of Abinadi, Jeremiah, or other prophets who faced intense opposition for unpopular position seems to mirror the LDS position on gay marriage. It seems to me that the CoC is following a “Missouri Compromise” political solution, rather than a revelatory solution. But I guess it does put them on the right side of history, no matter which side it turns out to be.

    As for baptism, I agree with Hawkgrrrl and Mike that priesthood authority seems to be a big issue here. FireTag, you and I have discussed when a theological break between the LDS and RLDS churches happen, and it seems to me we generally agree that from a theological perspective, Coc accepts most of Joseph’s guidance before the Nauvoo period. It seems that 1838 seems to be a theological breaking point (though obviously the RLDS church was founded in 1860.) It seems to me that priesthood authority played a prominent role in early Mormon history, starting in 1832-1838. So, this idea of accepting other denomination’s baptism seems to be a bit of a departure from Joseph’s early teachings on the subject.

    It does seem that the CoC is trying to become more Protestant in nature, and I suspect that many CoC members would find this uncomfortable. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in April.

  6. MH:

    There is, for those who don’t know (as you do), some precedent in CofChrist history for this approach of field jurisdictions deciding. It’s exactly what we did in the 1970’s when we started baptizing tribes in India from cultures where polygamy was practiced. The field apostle was given authority to decide and made the decision to preserve existing families but allow no new polygamous marriages — despite the fact that this was one of the LDS doctrines the Reorganization had never been able to accept from Nauvoo in the first place (sorry, folks).

    But that was one place, out of contact with the rest of the church because of economic limitations and relatively small membership. Monogamy did not violate taboos, though divorce would have had terrible consequences for the women involved.

    It IS an accomodation to society. The question is whether it is an accomodation in the same sense that the Law of Moses was — as a stepping stone to a fuller recognition of the teachings of Christ.

    I have no doubt how this is going to play out in April now. The Q&A makes it clear that they will not hold this longer than April for further discernment or bring less controversial sections to the floor separately — which was their “off-ramp” if there was any doubt about passage.

    However, this may have more in common with the Missouri Compromise AFTER April than makes me comfortable. The Compromise did not ultimately keep the Union together.

    The approach we’re taking isolates the devisiveness over GLBT issues to the first world fields of the church, but we still have to find ways not to marginalize either progressives or traditionalists within these fields (to be consistent with our theology) or follow the implicit meaning of the document and let these blocs separately follow where the Spirit leads THEM.

  7. I remember touring the Nauvoo mansion house in 2002 and being taught some things by the CoC member guide. He described his heritage in the RLDS arm. He states that his ancestors left Nauvoo late and joined with the followers of Brigham in Winter Quarters behind the larger movement. He stated that when they arrived, the Priesthood leader of the camp told them that they would need to be rebaptized (I guess in his mind to rededicate themselves to the cause after deciding late that they would make the trek). They didn’t feel that it was right to be rebaptized so they turned around and went back, later to find their religous home with the Reorganization.

    So here was a group that from a doctrinal standpoint had good grounds for rejecting rebaptism, as they had already been baptized through priesthood authority. I wonder what their reaction would have been if they had been told that baptism through any faith would have been acceptable.

    I was thinking of the concept of allowing things in countries where laws are different and thought of how this applies to Civil/Temple marriage in the LDS church. If a country requires that a civil union take place before a temple ceremony, then the couple can be sealed immediately after the civil union. If a couple in the USA has a civil union first, then they are required to wait a year before they can be sealed in the temple.

    This may seem like small potatoes, but it essentially places requirements for temple worthiness in the hands of geographic policies. Obviously it gets more troublesome when a change like “Country A must obey the 10 commandments while Country B must only obey 9 out of 10”. Requirements for Salvation being different by country would make St. Peter’s job at the gate a little more complicated.

  8. “The way of peace they know not; and there is no judgment in their goings: they have made them crooked paths: whosoever goeth therein shall not know peace.” Isaiah 59:8

    The narrow path is blurred by the wide expanse of debt. Soon, the land will be sold and the prophecy fulfilled.

  9. #6: MH – “This guidance from the CoC seems to be following society, rather than leading it.”

    I would argue that all churches do this, as they have to exist in society. Back in the New Testament time, a big issue was circumcision. This was felt by many to be essential, but interfered with the church spreading into the society as a whole. Eventually, the church changed to fit societal norms. Over the years, religious leaders resisted notions of the heliocentric model of the solar system, the masses having the Bible, etc., only to eventually have to conform to societal pressures.

    In our own times, the LDS Church gave up polygamy to essentially fit societal norms. And with blacks and the priesthood, it is clearly a case of the church “following society, rather than leading it”. The waltz was condemned as an “evil” dance in society, but eventually the Church followed that. Even in something as superficial as the dress of our leaders, we tend to be stuck in a 1950’s mentality.

    So, using this as a criticism of the CoC, that they are “following society, rather than leading it” is a bit off in my opinion. The vast majority of churches tend to be conservative by nature, and it is very hard to argue that any of them are “leading society”. In nearly every instance, they have to be dragged along by changing societal norms, often only doing so when the current generation of leaders died off.

  10. I am interested to see how this plays out. I see shades of the schism and kerfufle that followed the decision to ordain women in the 1980’s.

    Also it seems very inconsistent to follow the Scriptural injunctions on Homosexuality in say Africa and then in Iowa marry same sex couples. I think you need to pick one or the other.

    I am wondering where the COC will be in 50 years? Any thoughts? I see a denomination that is trending into a mainstream protestant church with similar growth issues.

  11. #10 – Mike S: “So, using this as a criticism of the CofC, that they are “following society, rather than leading it” is a bit off in my opinion. ”

    As a member of the CofC myself, this particular criticism is not entirely rejected by me. I get what you are saying, that all groups, not just CofC, may and do from time to time follow society, but, being very much on the conservative side myself, I think that the church (all of ’em) *should* at the very least, strive to provide guidance to society in general, and the denomination in particular, and resist, as much as possible, doing things simply because society seems to push us in particular directions. So, if we fail to do so, yes, lets not wag the finger at CofC if others have and do likewise, but let us also not drop the expecatoin that Christian denominations should strive to be leaders.

  12. Rigel:

    The points you mentioned in your last paragraph struck me, and because our structure is less regularized than in the LDS, the implementation process is far more complex than one imagines if you focus on national levels alone.

    My own mission center (stake equiv) contains 13 congregations (ward equiv) differing in membership size by more than a factor of 10. By April, one congregation will be in a civil jurisdiction where gay marriage is legal. Six congregations will be in jurisdictions where gay marriage is illegal, but limited legal rights are granted for unregistered same sex domestic partnerships, and the other six congregations are in jurisdictions where same sex partnerships have no legal status or are banned outright.

    Yet, because of the size disparity, the congregations routinely rely on shared priesthood support to run basic programs ranging from youth programs to Sunday morning worship. Much of the North American church away from Independence is entangled like that. And I’m sure that there are major differences unknown within each congregation itself.

  13. mike, your point is well taken that all churches make some accommodations. however it seems to me that the CoC is essentially letting governments have the leading role in deciding this issue. this seems to me that the prophet is abdicating his leadership role. i’d be much more comfortable if he either came out and supported the LDS position on gay marriage, or if he received a revelation confirming the idea that gay marriage is ordained of God. it seems to me that he is trying to do a solomon like idea to split the baby, which is niblet’s ot satisfactory to either side. perhaps the conservatives in the CoC will act like the real mother in the solomon story and abdicate the baby to keep the baby alive, but I don’t view this position as an overall positive for the CoC.

  14. “I am wondering where the COC will be in 50 years? Any thoughts? I see a denomination that is trending into a mainstream Protestant church with similar growth issues.”

    Hi bbell,

    I often ask this myself. I was born, raised, and remain very active in the CofC, but it does seem to change, and I can see other changes looming in the future (although it seems that the changes are sort of a domino type of thing, some changes can’t happen until something else is changed first).

    We already have open communion, and if the revelation is endorsed in April 2010, we will then have “open baptism” and “open marriage” (but not in the plural sense). Many people have very non-Restoration ideas about power and authority (of the priesthood), and so, I sometimes wonder if we will one day have open ministry, meaning, we might let people from other denominations perform sacraments in our church buildings. It is, however, even in my own opinion, very far fetched. But, not impossible. We have many people who just can’t tolerate any degree of what they would call being “exclusive”. Here is a possible scenario: A new member, never baptized before, wants to joint our denomination. So, he must of course be baptized, which he is OK with. As with many of us, he wants to be baptized by someone who he feels some sort of connection with. However, although really wanting to be CofC, he has yet to forge deep relationships with any of us, but has an Uncle Bob, who is a Baptist minister. So, he wants his uncle to perform his baptism. He really has his heart set on it. How could we deny him that? It would be so hurtful, and spiritually damaging to tell him that no, his Uncle cannot do so. This is the kind of argument someone might make. Again, this is still I think far fetched, but within the realm of possibility.

    As for becoming a main stream denomination one day, in fact, I *don’t* think it will happen. While I may at times seem a bit bitter towards my own church, that is just a slice of my overall opinion understanding of it, and one thing that I’m very delighted about is that the church is extremely focused on being a church that upholds continuing revelation. As you all know (if you’ve been following the purpose of this thread), we add new revelations to our D&C at almost every conference (more or less). We “do” continuing revelation rather well, in my opinion. But its not just a left over legacy from the old days. Our church leadership is really supportive of the concept. Every new revelation, and dozens of the old ones, are routinely quotes in support of whatever the sitting First Presidency wants to accomplish.

    Just a couple of years ago, we published a list of “Enduring Principles” and Continuing Revelation was one of them.

    Each is supported by an article to discus them in more depth, and the one for Continuing Revelation was written (appropriately enough), by Prophet-President Stephen Veazey

    Very recently, we created a document called “We Share” which provides an overview of who we are, and what we are all about, etc. The Enduring Principles were incorporated into it, so again, by doing so, the church is saying “this is current, and this is very much a driving force behind our stance on such things”

    While I have some serious questions about the latest revelation, it really seems clear to me that Continuing Revelation in Community of Christ is becoming even more prominent. This will however always get in the way of us being thought of as a “main stream” church.

    I do have other thoughts though in answer to the question of where we might be in 50 years, which also support my position that we will never be mainstream. I sometime (thought not very seriously at this point) wonder if we might actually evolve into some sort of quasi-church. Our church is just not open to exploring and being more liberal in regard to traditional Restoration stuff, but also fundamental Christian teachings as well. We seem to be really pushing a “whatever you personally believe is just fine” philosophy. There are therefore a very diverse mix of views about the nature of God, and what exactly Christ was/is. I do think that the overwhelming majority of most church members is that Christ is what traditional Christianity says Christ is. However, there are those who think he was more of a teacher and preacher and less of a divine being or even a prophet. If such ideas pick up steam, and become the predominant viewpoint, I can see us evolving into something different, a group that looks to Jesus for moral guidance, but which denies the orthodox notions of the Christ. This would however likely be rejected by main stream churches, especially the more evangelical ones (although I do know that there are many segments in other denomination, and many authors, who also would prefer to view Christ as something less than what Christianity says about him.

    So, will Community of Christ one day be counted as a main stream church? I doubt it. Not unless the main stream embraces similar attitudes, or the CofC ejects some things that right now at least seem to be more in the forefront than ever before. What what will we look like in 50 years? Who knows, but there is the risk of drifting further away from the Restoration and even moving somewhat from some of the core traditional Christian understandings. Yet, having said all this, I also still see a strong Restoration voice, and sometime feel that the winds are changing, and that some of the church leadership and membership, while perhaps still supporting some (if not all) of our recent changes are feeling the time has come to get back to our roots, slow down and pause, and discern ways to be a Restoration church of the 21st century. I think that is only hope for future (at least in the sense of being meaningful, if not for mere existence). I think many core Restoration beliefs need to be re-emphasized, but we need to frame in the context of being a 21st century, urban, world wide church, as opposed to a 19th century, rural, localized church. We can remain true to our heritage, but without the arrogance and elitism that was rampant (so I’ve been told) in the church in previous decades. To do less is only be that main stream church, that “street corner church” – and that would be worse. Where is the value of being that? How can we make the most impact on the world? What can we do to be the most effective witness of Jesus Christ as we possibly can be? I think only by embracing our Restoration doctrines and adapting them to the current era, embracing our mission to be a world wide church, but one founded our Restoration Gospel, and not the “trends of the day” that are blown about by the winds.

  15. bbell:

    The growth issues have been real in North America for a long time. Baptisms have been in steady decline in NA since the 1950’s, and, if anything, the movement toward the religious left was an attempt to respond to the decline rather than a cause of it.

    I have previously published through the CofChrist Seminary evidence showing that our growth rate in North America is statistically independent of anything the church does. Growth is controlled by the level of receptiveness of society to the Restoration message. (I have some less decisive evidence that the LDS may following our track, but about 70 years behind us statistically.)

    The mathematics of this are now pretty inexorable for us. In far less than 50 years, the decisions about the future of our denomination will be made by the church in the third world. That third world may be addressing entirely different moral issues than are on our radar, so our conception of protestantism may not even be the appropriate framework.

    I’m personally enough of a believer in the historicity of the BofM to be keeping my eye out for angry Mayans.

  16. Firetag,

    Based on your reply I see shades of of the current Anglican kerfufle raising its head for the CofC then. So what happens to a church where in Iowa gay marriage is practiced and in Africa its not when the African members soon outnumber the Iowa members?

  17. Just for further consideration / insight:

    “This raises questions about whether any denomination can address the issue of homosexuality by adopting different standards on a national or regional basis.”

    From a CofC report, presented at World Conference 2007

    (third paragraph, under the heading “Experiences of Other Denominations”)

  18. Hi Firetag, I hope you don’t mind me adding comments. I know this is your guest blog. I’m just talkative. Feel free to tell me to back off. Sorry if I’ve been to vocal. 🙂

  19. “In our own times, the LDS Church gave up polygamy to essentially fit societal norms.” Yeah, and to avoid extinction, which is I think your point.

    Firetag – thanks for the clarification on age of accountability. To MH’s point, I think authority is still a question. It will be interesting to see the outcome in April.

  20. DavidD:

    Be very vocal. MM is looking for broader perspectives on Mormon issues.


    To add to David’s point, if you’ve read my previous post on the background issues for Section 164 (linked by MH in the second line of this post), you’ll note that the Presidency did NOT want the issues to come up precisely because of a fear of the Anglican result. It was forced onto the agenda by progressives in the West who regard this as a fundamental issue of human rights.

    The revelation’s commentary by the prophet frames the same sex marriage issue among a variety of sexual and gender tole issues, all of them somewhat unique to particular world cultures. He’s trying to help us see that all of our cultures face their own moral challenges and that “prophetic people” have to take the leadership to meet their OWN culture’s moral challenges rather than impose their views as universals on others or expect the prophet to do the work for them. A little “mote and beam” thing.

    I think this is key for the future of the CofChrist. We aren’t going to be able to maintain a central hierarchial infrastructure focused on North America, even if the LDS can and will. We are going to have to learn to hear the Spirit directly as it applies to our own personal missions.


    I think the above offers my idea about how the CofChrist has to see its priesthood authority as well.

    Oh, and I hope that half-Mormon is meant in a half-full rather than half-empty sense. 😀


    In regard to your point, I honestly am having trouble deciding about the wisdom of this document, as I do with much that comes from our leadership, because the “solutions” being recommended are always conventional. If Lehi confers leadership on Nephi, but Nephi is the ELDEST son, you can’t be sure the decision is inspired because it’s so conventional.

    The decisions minimize expected losses of membership (in the eyes of the leadership) for as long as possible, and only at the last minute. If we believe that God wants to maximize CofChrist membership, than that makes sense. But our theology says (even in the document itself) that only some people are called by the Spirit to focus within the CofChrist denomination. So is it just choosing the eldest son, or true prophetic guidance. That’s what I’m still evaluating.

  21. Firetag:

    Sorry if I “struck” you! So if I read you correctly, the mission center would be deciding (potentially) whether to recognize gay marriages, but would be faced with the prospect of performing them only where it is legal to do so. Are you saying that this would be further complicated by different attitudes in different congregations with consequent rifts in the teaming of inter-jurisdiction priesthood leadership that exists now?

    DavidD: “We can remain true to our heritage, but without…arrogance and elitism…”

    I hope our LDS congregations can strive for that goal.

    “In our own times, the LDS Church gave up polygamy to essentially fit societal norms.”

    I know people love to look at responses like that as evidence that churches shift to fit in with society, but its also true that revelation is sought most earnestly in times of crisis. Members also look for Prophetic guidance during the crisis, but I feel sympathetic toward a Prophet who must seek revelation because something was “forced onto the agenda”.

  22. Rigel:

    With my eyesight, I get struck so much they don’t let me drive anymore. 😀

    Decisions may be made at field level, but my mission center illustrates the complexities involved. I didn’t even look outside my mission center, but the area supervised by the Apostle runs from North Carolina to Norway. A few intra-field cultural differences and applicable civil laws in place there!

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