Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Talking Points for Communication

The First Presidency is finally preparing materials on at least a monthly basis on the issue of homosexuality. Unfortunately, these materials are generally to provide cover and "rational" for their discriminatory policies because, apparently, we just aren't getting it.

The latest is a document titled "Talking Points for Communication About Same-Sex Marriage Policy." These talking points, and my responses are below:

· We are acutely aware of the pain and frustration of individuals and groups who view same-sex marriage from various personal, scriptural, theological, legal, and sacramental perspectives. Matters of human sexuality are so deeply imbedded in our individual, social, and cultural identities that it is difficult for people to separate examination of related issues from their underlying sense of self. Because preserving one’s sense of self-identity is a fundamental need of human beings, consideration of human sexuality, homosexuality, and same-sex marriage issues easily becomes emotionally charged and conflicted. Further, consideration of such issues in an international community of faith, with the added complexities of diverse customs and languages, must be done with great care, understanding, and sensitivity.

BTC: No one is suggesting proceeding as to this or any issue without due care, understanding or sensitivity. However, it is in itself quite insensitive to draw an equivalence between the pain and frustration of those who are prohibited from enjoying civil rights and liberties of heterosexual couples and who are actively and often violently discriminated against due to societal views on homosexuality (views the Church condones) and those who would disagree with a theological/moral position the Church might take on an issue that would have no direct affect on their lives.

· Direction in the life of the church emerges through the interaction of scripture, tradition, prophetic guidance, knowledge, and discernment. This interaction occurs in an international faith community with diverse cultural perspectives. Intercultural critique of proposed direction is an important part of this process. It’s often overlooked by those who hold strong opinions on certain issues, especially if they are from the traditionally dominant, individualistic (Western) cultures of the church. Some international church leaders are greatly concerned the dominant cultures of the church will decide the question of same-sex marriage and related issues without adequately considering their voices and perspectives.

BTC: No one is suggesting that a decision be made without consideration of international voices. However, if the question has not been decided, then why the recent First Presidency communication regarding the decision? In what capacity were international leaders consulted in connection with reaching current Church policy on the question of same-sex marriage and related issues?

· The Expanded World Church Leadership Council, after completing the We Share foundational statement, has begun to discuss “culturally respectful standards of conduct,” including issues related to human sexuality and homosexuality. We have discovered in the council that it takes much patience, sensitivity, and effort to understand perspectives and to find common ground. For example, the word “homosexuality” has multiple meanings and connotations across cultures of the church. Also, in some nations, our ministers’ well-being could be jeopardized if they are linked to a church body that holds positions on homosexuality contrary to governmental positions. These are just a few of the complexities we are dealing with.

BTC: If these are truly recently “discovered” complexities, then the Expanded World Church Leadership Council would do well to read some of the reports provided to the Church by the Committee for Homosexuality and the Church, the Human Sexuality Task Force and other committees over the past two decades. In several nations, such as India and Nigeria, our ministers’ well-being are in jeopardy due to them being associated with a church that is Christian. Please provide examples of these nations where the risk to our ministers would be materially increased by their association with a church whose policy is not to actively enforce discrimination against homosexuals?

· The first step in resolving difficult issues is to fix a common base of understanding about the current situation. The recent statement of the Presidency was in response to inquiries about the current policy and its background. It was not a new policy statement or a new interpretation. The statement was provided as information to the church because many were saying they did not know what the policy was.

BTC: Same-sex marriage did not exist until this decade. How “old” could this policy be? Even in the “clarification” of the statement, the First Presidency refers to a section in the Church Administrators handbook that didn’t exist until 2005 and which does not expressly prohibit priesthood from doing anything. When and how did a policy prohibiting priesthood from performing legal same-sex marriages come into being?

· In the same statement, the Presidency said the appropriate leadership bodies (Presidency, Standing High Council, World Church Leadership Council) are reviewing the policy in terms of adequacy for today’s situations. These are the World Church leadership bodies that previously presented official statements on issues related to homosexuality.

BTC: No it didn’t. The statement said they were “considering what the most-helpful process may be for engaging the church in a consideration of issues about church policy and homosexuality.” Is the First Presidency reviewing the policy or the process for reviewing the policy?

· The Presidency’s position is that the church needs to abide by current policy unless there is a change in policy. This is a matter of leadership integrity, especially because of the 2002 WCLC statement, Community, Common Consent, and Homosexuality. That statement indicated in a related matter (homosexuality and ordination) there would not be further exceptions to the guidelines (policies) unless they are adjusted through the “common consent” of the people. The 2002 statement resulted from the reaction of the church to the comment by President W. Grant McMurray at the 2002 World Conference that the policy on homosexual ordination had been ignored by church officers in several instances.

BTC: Leaders with integrity do not create policy and then claim that they are bound by that policy until it is overturned by common consent. Whether the First Presidency considers the policy to be new or old, no argument can be made that it is in place due to World Conference action. What is the point of the claimed review of the policy by leadership if the decision has been made to do nothing pending World Conference action? Also, there have been numerous World Conference resolutions brought forth on the issues of homosexuality and each of them has either been ruled out of order by the First Presidency, requested by the First Presidency to be referred or substituted by resolutions by the First Presidency which effectively referred them. How is this consistent with this bold deference to “common consent?”

· An important part of being in true international community is learning to talk about divisive issues without dividing. When one side thinks the other side has made up its mind and will do what it wants regardless of policies, it becomes difficult—if not impossible—to have meaningful discussion. Any change in the policy will need to occur through a process that incorporates healthy decision-making and “common consent” in community that is seen, regardless of the outcome, as fair by those who have different views.

BTC: In what way is the First Presidency encouraging this “meaningful discussion?” How many Herald articles have addressed these issues? How many educational resources have been produced?

· We are aware of legislation coming to World Conference about same-sex marriage. To preempt World Conference deliberation by allowing ministers in some parts of the world to ignore church policy would disenfranchise the World Conference from actions it may or may not choose to take.

BTC: Assuming the First Presidency does not intend to continue its history of promoting the referral of this legislation, in what way is the First Presidency promoting the necessary and important deliberation of these issues such as it is doing with respect to the issue of Conditions for Membership?

· Also, to ignore the current policy creates a confusing administrative situation in the church. If some ministers are allowed to ignore the policy on same-sex marriage, then should others be allowed to ignore church policies they do not agree with?

BTC: The issue is not whether or not to ignore the policy – the issue is that the policy is wrong and has been wrongly interpreted by the First Presidency. Again, no policy was presented or passed by common consent. The policy, such as it is, has been interpreted by the First Presidency during a decade where they simultaneously advocated for referral of any WC legislation on the topic. No one thinks policies should be ignored – we think the policy is wrong and should be changed.

· The World Church Human Sexuality Task Force is working on a “Sexual Ethic Statement” that will provide background and perspective for discussing many related issues.

BTC: No they’re not. Perhaps the First Presidency is thinking of the Human Sexuality, Faith and Community Standing Team? The team which to date is shown to have only two members. Ironically, Human Sexuality Task Force did approve a Statement of Sexual Ethics in the spring of 2006 pursuant to its report to the 2002 World Conference (“The intention is to provide a comprehensive sexual ethics statement, which can provide a foundation for discussion and guidelines in all areas of human sexuality”). Hopefully this new ethics statement by this new body will be given greater consideration by the First Presidency than in the past.

· The church did not apply any pressure or assert any influence on Graceland University about its position on same-sex marriage. Graceland leadership chose to align with the current church policy about proposed same sex marriages to be performed by Community of Christ ministers.

BTC: Was this a new policy or interpretation for Graceland too? Or was the timing of their policy a coincidence?

· The church is involved in a prayer, discussion, and discernment process about “Conditions of Membership” in response to action by the World Conference. It is important that we focus on the fullest membership participation in this process, even as we begin to address other important issues.

BTC: Is the First Presidency saying that a prophetic Church can’t discuss more than one issue at a time?

· We have been counseled as a church to “Listen together to one another, without judgment or predisposition. Do not assume that the answers to matters of conflict have yet been perceived. There is much labor to be done. Reason together in love, and the Spirit of truth will prevail.” (Doctrine and Covenants 162:5c.)

BTC: Again, in what way is the Church promoting this listening and dialogue regarding policies concerning homosexuality?

What is disheartening is the paradoxical and conflicting postures the First Presidency continues to take. The position involves the notions that (1) this is an important issue that must be discussed at an international level before any decision is made; (2) a decision has been made but it's not new or a new interpretation even though no one seems to know what it is; and (3) this decision which has been made, but not by the First Presidency and can't be made without international discussion and discernment must be strictly adhered to and can't be undone without World Conference action.

And every time this issue has come up over the last decade, they act as if they are seeing it for the first time, they create new committees to replace all the past committees they created to deal with the same issues.

How do you have a rational discussion with these people?


  1. where are these FP Talking Points posted?

  2. It was distributed by the FP to church leaders who seem to be getting a bunch of questions about this policy. I'll try to get the technology to post the pdf.

  3. Ok - I was able to make a link above.

  4. Hey BTC, what are you thinking about these days?