Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Section 164: Homosexuality

If you read my blog and don’t read over at Saints Herald or John Hamer’s stuff, then you are short-changing yourself. These professional writers with insider connections offer valuable insight to anyone interested in the inner workings and institutional goings-on at the Community of Christ.

As noted below, the delegates at the 2010 Community of Christ World Conference overwhelmingly (is there any other way?) approved the canonization of new Doctrine and Covenants Section 164. Part of this new Section deals with the on-again off-again issue of re-baptism that was referred to the First Presidency back at the last World Conference. The other thrust was the introduction of regional, national or cultural conferences to address certain questions which are not appropriate to deal with in an international setting due to a variety of reasons.

But wait, you say, I thought the other part was about homosexuality – indeed paving the way for the imminent acceptance of GLBT (if not already opening the door)? Well, you’re not alone and I have no doubt that this was certainly on the mind of the Prophet when he penned these words. Others have assumed that we would now move to call national conferences, particularly in the US and western countries, to address the issue of homosexuality. And indeed we may.

Of course, reasonable people may believe otherwise.

And is it unreasonable to at least be skeptical? President McMurray made many believe that he was on the cusp of opening the church to GLBT when he asked us to live on the boundaries during his 2002 address to the World Conference and organized the Committee on Homosexuality and the Church with the express mission “to provide overview and guidance to the church-wide dialogue process regarding homosexuality in the church and make recommendations to the First Presidency regarding future policy or guidelines.”

Many felt that affirmation was imminent. But after walking back on policy in the face of the Community, Common Consent and the Issue of Homosexuality published after the World Church Leadership Council after their fall 2002 meeting, resolutions again flooded into Headquarters for World Conference 2004. If the WCLC wanted a decision by common consent – well by golly they were going to get it. A decision would be made – and in just a couple short years!

Of course, the litany of resolutions brought before the 2004 World Conference never received a vote either. The First Presidency deviated from parliamentary procedure to bring their own last-minute resolution calling for the referral of all homosexuality-related questions. Like D&C 164, this passed and the resolutions were swept off the board. Of course, there was great confidence and trust in President McMurray and the continued work of David Brock and the Committee on Homosexuality and the Church. Moreover, we had instituted listening circles, to begin healthy dialogue.

Surely by the 2006 World Conference, we would have an outline of new policies, or a pathway to achieve them.

But as happens from time to time (and of which we constantly run the risk if we delay) – a funny thing happened on the way to World Conference 2006. President McMurray resigned and a special conference was held to select Stephen M. Veazey as his successor. No legislation was considered at the 2005 Conference and the next was pushed from 2006 to 2007.

Tick tock. Tick tock.

At the 2007 World Conference, the topic that dominated the last two regular conferences was not in sight. No resolutions addressed the issue that had been hopefully referred to the First Presidency. The Committee on Homosexuality and the Church gave its report where it revealed the tremendous failure of its efforts to promote dialogue on the subject and elected to decline its mandate to make policy recommendations. The Committee was disbanded after conference, and no similar committee was ever instituted to examine policy or the issues surrounding GLBT in the Community of Christ.

Of course, this all changed when, in spring 2009, Community of Christ priesthood presided over the marriage of two same-sex couples in Iowa after the secular legal right was acknowledged by the Iowa supreme court.

So once again, the eyes of the GLBT world turned to Independence and a lot of some 20 resolutions were presented to the Conference addressing (once and for all!) the issue of homosexuality. What happened next is a matter of some interpretation.

Some feel that leadership, through Section 164 set the stage to finally accept homosexuals; doing so in a practical, if not dramatic fashion. Did those individuals feel the same way after 2002 with the President’s commitment and the institution of the Committee? After 2004 with listening circles and a First Presidency mandate to develop new policies? I’d be interested to know.

But I don’t think it’s unreasonable for one to question whether a conservative (institutionally if not ideologically) leadership struggling to maintain status quo during a time of economic and theological upheaval, may have just found a way to once again put off a difficult and potentially divisive decision for another day – upsetting some, but outraging no one. Might there be another problem as leaders attempt to “create and interpret Church policy” or implement local or national conference? Sure. But I’m sure the First Presidency, as Scarlett O’Hara put it – is happy to think about that tomorrow, after all, tomorrow, is another day.

Whether that day is one of openness and acceptance of all God’s children, remains to be seen.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Section 164: Conditions of Membership

Yesterday, the Community of Christ World Conference overwhelmingly adopted President Stephen Veazey’s Words of Counsel as new Section 164 of the Doctrine and Covenants. There was much good in the Document, but from a substantive policy standpoint, it really contains two points: first, on conditions of membership and communion (paragraphs 2, 3, and 4) and second, regarding human sexuality, morals and relationships (paragraphs 5, 6, and 7).

This post will refer to the first issue, on conditions of membership and communion.

While undoubtedly this new Section 164 will grease the skids for membership growth in certain parts of the world, what I consider truly historic are its theological implications. Few could argue the Church has been moving away from the notion of the Community of Christ as “the one true Church” – especially over the last 50 years or so. Like many issues, some feel this move has been too slow and tentative, while others have actively resisted or outright denied its occurrence.

This is understandable. The Church was founded on the notion that we were The One True Church in the Latter Days. This concept is very appealing to many. Imagine – out of the billions of people in the world, YOU have fortunately stumbled upon the ONLY group through which one can attain salvation!

But this is a poor, and dangerous theology. The idea of having a unique and exclusive line to heaven has lead to many tragic events throughout history – from the Crusades, to the Inquisition, to the Holocaust. The idea is completely counter to the other major pillars of the Church, such as Worth of Persons, Sacredness of Creation and All Are Called.

The movement from THE true church to A true church has been slow. But I think it would be difficult going forward to argue that we have not arrived. Paragraph 2a of the new Section 164 leaves little wiggle room:
2 a. Instruction given previously about baptism was proper to ensure the rise and cohesiveness of the church during its early development and in following years. However, as a growing number have come to understand, the redemptive action of God in Christ—while uniquely and authoritatively expressed through the church—is not confined solely to the church.
This is a major historical step and, in some ways, was likely made easier by the controversy over the second substantive point of the Words of Counsel regarding human sexuality. I’m sure some feel that this acknowledgment that the Community of Christ is one church among many, struggling to follow that still-small voice to attain enlightenment, will cause a rift. But I don’t think so.

Those who continue to believe the Church is alone in its authority and truth will not see any outward policy changes resulting from this new theological position and that will make it less painful, and less easy to convince members to leave their comfortable pews. For those who have long waited for the Church to clarify its position on this matter, it will embolden them in new ways.

This is an important and historical step, to becoming A true church and to becoming a community of Christ.

UPDATE: My prior post below has a 15/04/10 update.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

UPDATED: “Mr. Chairman, I appeal from the decision of the chair.”

As I’ve discussed, the biggest problem with the Community of Christ First Presidency’s proposed legislation to have regional/national/cultural conferences to consider issues “not appropriate” for discussion at World Conference, is the lack of any checks and balances (common consent). The Prophet (in consultation) would determine which legislation he/she feels would be better off not considered, and then the Prophet would have the unilateral ability to call (or not call) regional conferences to considered the issues (not the legislation) as proscribed, again, unilaterally, by the Prophet.

On April 7, the Presidency revealed its proposed policies on conditions for membership and re-baptism. These policies were initially promised by the end of March and the timing is more than just inconvenient. Most delegates have left their jurisdictions for World Conference and are unable to confer with their local groups on the ramifications.

More troubling than this delay, however, is the Prophet’s stance on the proposed legislation (20 items) relating to homosexuality. He has said that, if the Words of Counsel are approved, he will, at an appropriate time, make a determination as to whether this legislation should be ruled out of order. To wait until Conference or even after approval of the Words of Counsel, is highly irresponsible and borderline conniving.

As opposed to the issue of Conditions for Membership, the Words of Counsel’s guidance on the issue of homosexuality is extremely vague. It speaks generally about being sensitive to different cultures and against making global decisions of morality, but there is very little (none) actual specific guidance. Nonetheless, in his questions and answers related to the topic, President Veazey has made clear that he will review, and potentially call out of order, legislation that he perceives will be in contravention of this Counsel.

But how the President plans on interpreting the Counsel to rule items out of order is extremely critical to determine whether the Counsel should be sustained. The bigger issue, however, is the problem with parliamentary procedure.

You see, in the April 7 Q&A the Presidency addressed the question of the erosion of common consent by saying:

If the Presidency rules legislation out of order based on the principle that deciding a specific policy for the whole church will likely cause harm in some nations, the World Conference has the option of appealing to see if that decision reflects the will of the delegates.

So the Presidency is placing the future of common consent – the doctrinal equivalence of a democratic institution – upon the will of individual conference delegates to (a) understand nuanced parliamentary procedure, (b) use this procedure to challenge the Prophet to his face and (c) convince a majority of the other tourists/delegates to join in challenging the chair based on this parliamentary procedure.

Having attended many World Conferences and being well aware of the delegates’ general understanding of parliamentary procedure and willingness to challenge the Prophet, I submit this is not a very fair maneuver on the part of the Presidency.
But if this is what President Veazey wants to do, then he should certainly give some advance notice of his intent to invoke the new Words of Counsel to rule items out of order. Why? Because of the nature of appealing orders of the chair.

Roberts Rules of Order states:

An appeal may be made from any decision of the chair (except when another appeal is pending), but it can be made only at the time the ruling is made. It is in order while another member has the floor. If any debate or business has intervened it is too late to appeal.”

So once the ruling has been made, a delegate must immediately appeal, before any other business intervenes. Without advance notice of what the chair is likely to rule, a delegate will have to immediately recognize an ruling has been made, immediately determine whether this ruling is appropriate, immediately find someone willing to second the appeal, immediately fill out his/her legislative card with the number 16 (appeal), immediately jump to his/her feet to get to the cue and immediately formulate a cogent argument to voice to the face of the Prophet that he screwed up. A daunting task indeed, and one that the President should be sympathetic to.

So we must assume that all legislation regarding homosexuality will be ruled out of order by the chair, anytime after the Words of Counsel are approved. This is not wild speculation either. The current schedule offers time before legislative session to consider all of the proposed resolutions in specifically designated dialogue sessions – all of the resolutions, that is, other than those 20 that relate to homosexuality.

When considering an argument against an out-of-order ruling, you must understand the basis for the ruling. You can’t argue the merits of the underlying motion, but the merits of the President’s decision. This decision is said to be based on the following:

Is this legislation in order according to our parliamentary rules? (BTC: this should be already cleared by the Mission Center prior to enacting the legislation, so there should be no problems here)

Does this legislation propose action contrary to the clear direction of the counsel? (BTC: not sure what this means. Again, its hard to imagine any homosexuality issue being in “contrary to the clear direction of the counsel” when nothing in the counsel was very clear on this issue)

Does this legislation ask the World Conference to decide for the whole church what likely would be harmful in parts of the church if it is adopted as an official World Church position? (BTC: the key here is “official World Church position.” If a particular resolution is not asking the World Church to take a “position” then it’s hard to see it being called out of order on this ground.)

Does this legislation propose action that would best be considered by a national or field (multinational) conference? (BTC: “best” is very subjective, but “action” is not. Does the legislation provide for the church to take action?)

I’ll give one example:

G-1, submitted by the Canada East Mission and the Arizona USA Mission, does not include the word “homosexual” “GLBT” or the like. It asks to amend WCRs 1182 and 272. This is not out of order on parliamentary grounds. It proposes no action in clear contravention of the Words of Counsel. It does not require the Church to take any position, let alone one that may be harmful. And it absolutely must be decided at World Conference, because regional conferences will have no standing to amend World Conference action.

If this resolution is deemed out of order, the Chair will effectively be saying that these two WCRs may never be amended. In addition, the Chair would be saying that his ability to consider resolutions extends beyond the words of the resolution, but to the perceived meaning, effect, and potential debate topics related thereto.

So look at the resolutions. Think like the First Presidency. And prepare arguments defending their debate and consideration. And remember, an appeal does not have to be recognized by the chair – meaning you don’t have to go to the cue and wait for your name to be called.

So fill out your card (No. 16). Find your second. But if you feel you won’t get recognized in time, just stand up, clear your throat and yell in an authoritative tone:

“Mr. Chairman, I appeal from the decision of the chair.”

15/04/10 - It's over. 21 resolutions actively worked on for more than a year in more than a half dozen mission centers from Africa, to Canada, to Latin America - have been wiped off the board in a matter of minutes. If the subject is addressed at a later date, it will be at the will and in the manner proscribed by the First Presidency.