Section 111

This section is still in our Doctrine & Covenants, but is posted here for curious LDS members, as it was removed from their Doctrine & Covenants in 1876 when they inserted their Section 132 (the reason being that LDS 132 sanctions polygamy, whereas this older section authorizes only monogamy.  When they added the section on polygamy, they had to get rid of the section that condemned polygamy).  According to Wikipeida, when it appeared in the LDS D&C, it was Section 101.  Another section became LDS 101 when this one was removed (when LDS Section 132 was added, 25 other sections were also added {none of which are in the CofC version} and some renumbering took place).

***

jsiiThis section on marriage is not a revelation. It was prepared while the Book of Doctrine and Covenants was being compiled and was read by W. W. Phelps at the general assembly of August 17, 1835. It was adopted unanimously by that assembly as part of the Book of Doctrine and Covenants.
It has been retained in every edition of the book published by the Reorganization, and the church knows no other law of marriage than that which is set forth here.

111:1a According to the custom of all civilized nations, marriage is regulated by laws and ceremonies:
111:1b therefore we believe, that all marriages in this Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints should be solemnized in a public meeting, or feast, prepared for that purpose:
111:1c and that the solemnization should be performed by a presiding high priest, high priest, bishop, elder, or priest, not even prohibiting those persons who are desirous to get married, of being married by other authority.
111:1d We believe that it is not right to prohibit members of this church from marrying out of the church, if it be their determination so to do, but such persons will be considered weak in the faith of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
111:2a Marriage should be celebrated with prayer and thanksgiving; and at the solemnization, the persons to be married, standing together, the man on the right, and the woman on the left, shall be addressed, by the person officiating, as he shall be directed by the Holy Spirit; and if there be no legal objections, he shall say, calling each by their names:
111:2b “You both mutually agree to be each other’s companion, husband and wife, observing the legal rights belonging to this condition; that is, keeping yourselves wholly for each other, and from all others, during your lives?”
111:2c And when they have answered “Yes,” he shall pronounce them “husband and wife” in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by virtue of the laws of the country and authority vested in him:
111:2d “May God add his blessings and keep you to fulfill your covenants from henceforth and for ever. Amen.”
111:3 The clerk of every church should keep a record of all marriages solemnized in his branch.
111:4a All legal contracts of marriage made before a person is baptized into this church, should be held sacred and fulfilled.
111:4b Inasmuch as this Church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication, and polygamy: we declare that we believe that one man should have one wife; and one woman but one husband, except in case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again.
111:4c It is not right to persuade a woman to be baptized contrary to the will of her husband, neither is it lawful to influence her to leave her husband.
111:4d All children are bound by law to obey their parents; and to influence them to embrace any religious faith, or be baptized, or leave their parents without their consent, is unlawful and unjust.
111:4e We believe that all persons* who exercise control over their fellow–beings, and prevent them from embracing the truth, will have to answer for that sin.
* (Note: The 1835 D&C included an addendum with a correction to verse 4e: “We believe that husbands, parents and masters who exercise control over their wives, children and servants, and prevent them from embracing the truth, will have to answer for that sin.” This is also found in
Messenger & Advocate, 1:163, August 1835.)

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The Passion of the Disciple: From Cross to Community

By Prophet-President W. Grant McMurray
2004 World Conference Sermon, March 28, 2004

Note: this item is still available on the Internet Archive, here.

grant-sermonI have traveled to many parts of the church since last we met in World Conference. As I was contemplating my address tonight I was thinking of many memorable and inspiring moments over these past two years: Vibrant worship in a half-dozen nations of Africa. Ten baptisms in a unique font one Saturday night in Hardy, Arkansas. Preaching in New Liskeard, Ontario, where I last visited when my dad spoke from the same pulpit fifty years ago. A long reflective drive in the quiet of my car from Missouri across the Black Hills and over the Cascades to Puget Sound, following the coastal road from Seattle through Oregon to Los Angeles, and then across the desert, passing the Grand Canyon on my way home to the Midwest. One month, five thousand miles, two reunions, and a lot of windshield time to ponder life and vocation and God’s creation.

These and more were compelling memories, but it is an unlikely image that stuck most forcefully in my mind. It is an image where I experienced a strange kind of hope where perhaps many would not. I traveled last fall in the British Isles and one day went with Andrew Fox to the Beresford Road congregation in northwest England. There in a nearby house we met with the power structure of the congregation. Well, we had tea and scones with Jean, Margaret, Maureen, Elsie, and Ethel. Same thing.

These five ladies, none of them ordained and only two of them church members, pretty well run the congregation; some days they are the entire congregation. One of the other regular attendees is Harold, the husband of one of the nonmember ladies. They told me they had a women’s department and I asked them how that meeting differed from a regular church meeting. “Oh,” they said, “when the women’s department meets, Harold doesn’t have to come.”

Andrew pops in from time to time and other guest ministers visit. But these ladies keep the church alive in a multicultural neighborhood. They run a charity sale, collecting used goods, arranging them in a side building that functions as a store, pricing them to meet the needs of those who have little to spare, and donating all the proceeds to maintain the church and to support a long list of charities.

After a delightful spot of tea, and an inspiring conversation, we left, but we were ordered by the ladies to stop by the charity sale building and take something to remember them by. As you know, rummage sales are right up my alley. So Andrew and I went into the building but we were unable to find the light switch. We stumbled around in the dark, looking for some serviceable item for me to take home, knowing they would ask and probably would know if nothing was missing. Andrew found a mug advertising Tetley Tea, depicting a choir of Tetley Tea folk apparently singing the Tetley Tea jingle. Good enough, I thought, and we found our way out of the building.

We went to the car and I tossed the mug into the back seat. After a while I asked Andrew about the high-pitched but muted whine coming from the rear end of the car. He heard it too, got out, listened underneath the vehicle and around the back of the car. It was when he got into the back seat that he realized the whine was emitting from the Tetley Tea cup, and that when it was not sitting on its bottom, it played the Tetley Tea jingle. Sit it down, it was quiet. Lift it to drink your tea and you got the jingle. Unwittingly throw it in the back seat of a car and you get nonstop jingle.

Swell, I thought. How am I going to get this thing through airport security?

“What do you have in that bag, sir?”

“Just a teacup that has an incessant whine, officer.”

“Please step inside this room, sir, and remove all your clothing.”

Well, I was determined to get the mug home-and as you can tell, it has run out of juice-because it came to symbolize for me something wonderfully hopeful about our community of faith. These five ladies have no special training, have few if any ministerial skills, and probably do not have a real vision of what the church is called to be in the world. They are an unlikely band of disciples, swinging the door of Beresford Road open every Sunday, helping the community where they live, and by the grace of God serving as the hands and feet of Jesus in a place of urgent need, a place where only they can be the church. Such is our story.

We gather tonight from the nations of a world that groans in despair and yearns for hope. We come as people of faith, knowing from the testimony of our own lives that we have already seen that for which we seek, and yet still we come-needful, uncertain, questioning, exploring. We come to worship and to learn, to make choices and to be inspired, to renew friendships and build new ones. We come as individual persons. The question for us this week is whether we will depart as a people.

Let us be plainspoken. These are discouraging times for those of us who believe in and serve churches, especially in North America and other parts of the Western world. The pervasive secularism, the struggle for financial stability, the seeming loss of one generation and the struggle to retain the next, the clash of cultural values in an increasingly politicized society-all these and more contribute to the feeling of many that the church, while mostly virtuous, is ineffective, irrelevant, and bound for extinction.

This is experienced within most religious denominations today, including the Community of Christ. I have sensed that discouragement on the part of some of our staff, people who work long, hard hours and wonder whether it will all go for naught. I see it in the faces of our dedicated, senior members, who look at the graying of our active membership and question whether the next generation will carry forward the church to which they gave their lives. I look into the eyes of our youth and young adults, bedazzled with many conflicting choices for their time and energy, and see them pondering whether church-any church-is the place they want to be.

Some of you visiting this Conference from other parts of the world will wonder what I’m talking about. You come from places where the church, often still in its formative years, is vibrant and alive. Your people, many of them living at times on the very boundaries of life, are deeply passionate about the gospel and committed to the ministries of the church. Similarly, there are congregations in North America that have caught the vision and become energized, witnessing communities.

But for way too many, the questions are serious and deeply rooted: How can I best live out my own personal faith? Does this church offer a vision that speaks to my life? Is there something about this community that, in the words of the MasterCard commercial, is “priceless”? And perhaps most challenging of all-is there something inherently spiritual and intrinsically divine in our life together? Can we still say with conviction and assurance that “God is in this work,” and that inherent in our faith and mission are the seeds of our own salvation, and that of the world?

We must not trivialize this question or dismiss its urgency. We have established a churchwide priority goal to “share your witness and resources.” We have been asked to invite people to share in the blessings of community. But I am not sure we have, at least for our time, figured out what those blessings truly are. I do not think we fully understand what it means to be a member of the Community of Christ.

I grew up as a fourth-generation church member in Ontario, Canada. There I was taught that despite our long name and small congregations, we were the “one true church.” All divine authority flowed through us. Our priesthood, imperfect and untrained though they may be, provided through the sacraments the sole pathway to eternal life. The fact that people either didn’t know us, or confused us with someone else, did not hinder the conviction that we embraced “all truth”-indeed it only heightened it. We were sometimes called a “peculiar people” and even if it was said disparagingly we beamed with pride.

I was a young man and do not know what theological conundrums were being wrestled out in the councils of the church. I only know they escaped me in Guelph, Ontario. For there, and I daresay in many hundreds of other places throughout the church, our identity was shaped by words such as these given by Joseph Smith Jr. in 1831:

Hearken, O ye people of my church, saith the voice of him who dwells on high, and whose eyes are upon all men; yea, verily I say, Hearken ye people from afar, and ye that are upon the islands of the sea, listen together; for verily the voice of the Lord is unto all men, and there is none to escape, and there is no eye that shall not see, neither ear that shall not hear, neither heart that shall not be penetrated; …and the voice of warning shall be unto all people, by the mouths of my disciples, whom I have chosen in these last days, and they shall go forth and none shall stay them, for I the Lord have commanded them. –Doctrine and Covenants 1:1a-b,d

You see, in Guelph and elsewhere, we believed that we were those disciples. We were sent forth by God’s very word to penetrate every heart with the good news of the “everlasting covenant” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:4d), which binds God and God’s people in an indivisible community of joy and hope and love and peace.

Where did it go? Why did that conviction seem to lose its power? Is it gone forever, or is it still nested within the very life and soul of our faith?

I believe with all my heart that the call that gave birth to the Restoration movement remains powerfully alive in our time. It resides in the very fabric of a global community of people centered in Jesus Christ, dedicated to the pursuit of peace, reconciliation, and healing of the spirit.

We have been on a noble journey these past few decades. Our experience as a people caused us to ask probing questions that led to new understandings. We took the gospel into all the world, and we discovered that we not only had some things to teach, we had some things to learn. Some believe that journey has severed us from our roots. I say, thank God we had the courage as a people to go on that journey, for I believe it has pulled us up, roots and all, and transplanted us in a new world. The dream of the kingdom of God, the dream of Zion, endures. What it needs now is to be claimed by a people with the vision to embody it.

These days a movie about the last hours of Jesus has been the subject of much attention in the international media. It is refreshing, I suppose, that a film based on a religious theme warrants so much conversation in places so often restricted to mindless entertainment devoid of redeeming values and flouting reasonable standards of decency. But the movie The Passion of the Christ seems to be not so much bringing people together as once again splitting them apart. My intent is not to critique the film, although having seen it I confess that I wish it had focused more on Jesus’ acts of love and words of hope than on the numbing lacerations of his flesh.

I am, however, one who does believe that there can be no Easter without Good Friday, no resurrection without death, no hope without experiencing fear, no joy without feeling despair. But if the passion week of Jesus Christ is to have its ultimate purpose, which is the salvation of humankind, it must be expressed in the passion of the disciple. The journey that ultimately transforms our world is not just the one from Gethsemane to Calvary, but also the journey from the cross to community.

That was the passion on the hearts of those imperfect and often bumbling disciples who were sent by Jesus into all the world to baptize and to teach and to build community and to proclaim peace. That was the passion of those disciples on the nineteenth-century frontiers of America who responded to a call to Restoration, foolishly believing despite the evidence that “a great and marvelous work is about to come forth.” And that, my friends, is the passion that seems to have been lost and now must urgently be found by this global gathering of God’s people known to the world in this era of human history as the Community of Christ.

Tonight it is time for us to begin to ponder some weighty decisions about whether we are prepared to declare to the world the kind of people we are called to be. We must stop muttering old bromides that seem no longer to truly empower us and instead proudly embrace the Restoration call in our own time, in our own words, and in the diverse chorus of voices that compose our fellowship.

Just because the issues are different in New Caledonia in 2004 than they were in New York in 1830, does not mean that the same God is not calling us to mission. Just because we decided that God’s truth is not exclusively resident within the Community of Christ does not mean that we have no truth, even distinctive truth, to offer the world. Just because we do not have millions of people on the rolls of our church does not mean that we cannot touch millions of lives with a compelling vision of God’s sacred community.

The challenge for this body, and for our church around the world, is to build a cadre of passionate disciples, rooted in scriptural principles based on study and prayer, committed to life together, dedicated to serving humankind, and willing to trust God to bless once again this “great and marvelous work.”

“But we’re too small,” we whine with squeaky voices. “But we have insufficient resources,” we grumble frugally. “But we don’t have enough kids,” we say with wrinkled brows. “But we’re not accepted,” we declare embarrassingly. “But it’s too much work,” we announce idly. “But we don’t know what to do,” we state helplesslyly. “But there isn’t evidence we can pull it off,” we say calculatedly.

Well, let me tell you something. If Joseph Smith Jr. had accepted those excuses he would never have responded to the call that came to him when he put his knees to the ground as a fifteen-year-old boy, and ended up founding and dying for what became the largest and most influential religious movement birthed on American soil. We are a slice of that movement-in my view, its most faithful and hopeful slice.

If Joseph Smith III had accepted those excuses he would never have responded to “a power not my own” at Amboy, Illinois, and gathered a disparate band of dissenting churches on the American prairie and transformed them into a body now a quarter million strong in fifty nations of the world. We are that body.

If Frederick Madison Smith had accepted those excuses he would never have ignored the chortles of those who thought his vision of a majestic auditorium in the Center Place of Independence, Missouri, was a pipe dream that would never be built and never be filled. But it stood as a virtual shell through the years of the Depression and it was built and has been filled thousands of times, and tonight services from its chamber are being transmitted around the world.

If W. Wallace Smith had accepted those excuses he would never have stepped onto an airplane in 1961 to take a trip around the world to launch the worldwide expansion of the church. Without that vision our community would have no Africans, no Japanese, no Haitians, no Filipinos, no Koreans, no Latinos, no Indians, no Arubans, no Chinese, no Dominicans, no Russians, or Ukrainians, or Sri Lankans. But we have them all and more, and they are all here tonight, allowing our church to experience the family of all God’s children-a foretaste of the kingdom.

If Wallace B. Smith had accepted those excuses he would never have listened to the persistent impressions of the Spirit and brought to the church instruction that the priesthood is for all persons who experience God’s call, whether male or female, and that the church shall build a majestic temple dedicated to the pursuit of peace. The church seemed not ready to accept ordination of women, nor financially positioned to build the Temple, but still the message came. And today, just twenty years later, women are ministering with skill and devotion at every level of church life and the Temple has become the enduring symbol of our movement, calling us by its defiant design to pursue peace, reconciliation, and healing of the spirit.

It is with that same assurance that I beseech the Community of Christ to claim anew God’s call to be a people-a prophetic people building sacred, witnessing community in a new world, responding to the spirit of restoration, rediscovering the hidden truths of God in our life together. It is for us to distill from the journey of the church, touching now its third century, those principles and values that speak to every age but in new and transforming ways. That is the spirit of Restoration-the renewing, growing, evolving understanding of God’s purposes in each era of human history.

Part of our task, should we take up the challenge, is to understand that our name, Community of Christ, commits us to a profoundly sacred principle. We are pleased when people talk about our church as a family, and we recognize the things we enjoy about our movement-reunions and camps, laughing together, congregational retreats, talent shows (OK, maybe that’s pushing it), and especially potlucks, declared by some to be one of the sacraments of the church. The change in our name sadly removed from our lexicon the beloved moniker, “Chatter Day Saints.”

There is undeniable power in such relationships and activities. And there is religious content there too. After all, when Jesus met his disciples on the road to Emmaus following his resurrection, his followers recognized him only when they shared a meal together. But despite their potential theological significance, we should not assume that the community of which we speak is merely good fellowship, box socials, and campfire songs.

Henri Nouwen in his book Reaching Out writes these words:

The basis of the Christian community is not the family tie, or social or economic equality, or shared oppression or complaint, or mutual attraction… but the divine call. The Christian community is not the result of human efforts. God has made us into his people by calling us out of “Egypt” to the “New Land,” out of the desert to fertile ground, out of slavery to freedom, out of sin to salvation, out of captivity to liberation… the initiative belongs to God-he is the source of our new life together…. Therefore, as the people of God, we are called ekklesia, the community called out of the old world into the new. –Henri J.M. Nouwen, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, 1975, page 110

For the Restoration movement, this principle has special significance because community building is what we were all about from the beginning. Our church was founded in an era when Americans were thinking a lot about community, and experimenting with various approaches to economic, political, and family life. So it was not unnatural for Latter Day Saints of the nineteenth century to work with all kinds of esoteric notions ranging from holding all things in common to laws of consecration and stewardship to joint stock associations to Orders of Enoch, ending ultimately with principles of tithing and stewardship. This speculation on the economic basis of community was evolutionary, often learning from failures more than successes.

Although much of that seems foreign to us now, it actually permeates much of the history of our church, coming to its apex at Nauvoo, Illinois. There, a fusion of political, economic, social, military, and spiritual concepts created a noble, if tragically flawed, experiment in community living. Elements of that experience are woven into the fabric of church life even now.

There are some here tonight from the village of Ikot Oku Mfang, Nigeria, the place where the Restoration movement first came to the continent of Africa. On my first trip there in 1995 I was struck by the remarkable ways in which that village, with a large church population led by the late Sunday Charlie Akpan, resembled some of the elements of Nauvoo. There was a co-mingling of civic, social, religious, and educational elements, both in Sunday’s style of leadership and in the way the church was seen as community. I do not think there was any intentional modeling of Nauvoo at all, but somehow the culture of the Restoration merged nicely with the culture of western Africa, creating a worthy venture in community building centered in Jesus Christ.

Well, what are we to learn from such things? Certainly no one is proposing a return to the kind of community led by Joseph Smith Jr. at Nauvoo. He served as president and prophet of the church, mayor of the city, head of the university, and lieutenant general of the militia. I’m just glad the job description has changed.

But inherent in that experience, which is part of our collective story, is a commitment to building Christ-centered community. They believed that community was divinely conceived and incorporates the call to discipleship. We are no longer a sectarian, nineteenth-century church; now we are a global twenty-first-century church. But the things we learned at Nauvoo had to do with living together in peace, with economic justice, with seeing the sacredness of all aspects of life and not just the so-called spiritual ones. These are Restoration principles that come out of our history but apply to our own time. These are principles that help define what it means to be a member of the Community of Christ.

And here’s the wonderful thing: That commitment to Christ-centered community is now enriched in our movement by the unique contributions of other cultures that bring to us additional insights to add to what we already knew. Through them we have learned principles of hospitality, of caring for extended family, of generosity reminiscent of the widow’s mite, of conflict resolution, of frugality and efficiency, and of celebration even in the midst of oppression. We know a lot about community. It’s who we are. It’s in our name. And it is sacred.

I will resist the temptation to do mini-history lessons on various other principles that I believe emerge from our story and stand as elements of our identity as a people. I have my own list of these and I know others do as well. It is not the final list that matters-it is understanding the powerful place of story in helping us frame clearly a sense of who we are as a people, and to grasp what it means to be a member of the Community of Christ.

I want to make sure we understand what I mean when I talk about our church’s story. We make a huge mistake if we assume that means only what happened in America during the formative years of the church. That is a slice of it, and it is important we understand it.

But the French Polynesians also have a story of the coming of the gospel to the islands of the sea. They can tell it well and they can enact it dramatically. And, of course, they can sing about it. But that is not their story. It is our story. It is part of us, and if we are truly to be a people, that story must worm its way into our hearts as well.

The Community of Christ has, in just the last few years, been planted in places like Nepal and Sri Lanka, both nations where wars and internal upheaval are the way of life. Here the call to the church to be dedicated to peace is tested in lands where it is not a theory, but an everyday reality. Those founding stories are developing even now, but they are not just stories for those nations. They are our story. They are part of our identity. They help all of us understand what it means to be a member of the Community of Christ.

There are a number of defining concepts or beliefs that we can distill from our life together. Let me just mention a couple and connect them to specific issues with which we are dealing in the year 2004.

One of the treasured phrases from our Doctrine and Covenants is “the worth of souls is great in the sight of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 16:3c). This commitment to the value of each person is central to Restoration theology and shapes how we deal with issues and how we process disagreements.

Two years ago I invited the church to participate in a loving and respectful dialogue on the issue of homosexuality, something that has proven to be very divisive in religious denominations throughout the world. It is an issue where biblical understandings, medical and psychological research, and pastoral care all vie for their rightful place. In the mix are issues of church polity involving questions of ordination and the acceptance of nontraditional relationships.

We all understand the points of conflict and disagreement. The question for the Community of Christ is whether we have resident within our tradition and calling resources of thought and spirit that lead us where no one else has gone before. Does a church committed from its origins to the worth of all persons have anything unique, dare I say prophetic, to offer? Does a church called anew in this time to the ministries of reconciliation and healing of the spirit have a contribution to make beyond the political and cultural rhetoric of our time?

I challenge us to have the faith to try. I invite the church to begin to explore together what it truly means to be a prophetic people on an issue of deep division. Do not rush to judgment on matters of polity until we have a real opportunity to discern God’s will for us, taking whatever time may be needed to listen, truly listen, to one another and to the Spirit. I pledge to you that no decisions have been made and that the invitation to dialogue is genuine and heartfelt. Let us see if God can work with us. Let us have the courage to trust in the things we believe. Let us learn together what it means to be a prophetic people.

Another core principle of our faith is our conviction that ministry has many dimensions and that “all are called” to some form of service. This has resulted in an understanding of priesthood quite unique among Christian denominations. We know its blessings and also some of its problems.

It is no secret that some of our U.S. and Canadian congregations struggle to cultivate and sustain vibrant leaders in a culture that increasingly competes for our time and energy. We are concerned about the lack of younger participants, particularly those willing to assume leadership roles or even engage in congregational life as it is presently constituted. Many smaller congregations worry about their longevity, and have an aging leadership base that simply cannot continue forever to nobly and faithfully serve as they have done for decades.

We need strong congregations where worship is central, the Christian faith is taught and lived out, and pastoral nurture is evident. One primary way to strengthen the church in the U.S. and Canada is to more effectively equip the pastoral leadership of our congregations.

I determined some time ago that tonight’s sermon would not be a litany of new programs and resources, but an exploration of who we are and who we’re called to be. I am going to make only one exception because I have something extraordinarily exciting to share and because it is related to who we are and who we must become.

Tonight I am delighted to announce a five-year project designed to prepare 100 bivocational pastors in the USA and Canada for more effective and empowered ministry. You will receive more information later this week, but the Co-Missioned Pastor Initiative asks the congregation and World Church to co-mission with the pastor who senses God’s divine call to develop new skills, insights, and understandings, thereby leading the congregation to a clearer sense of vision, purpose, and fidelity to the gospel.

The Co-Missioned Pastor Initiative will help congregations in the achievement of the sharing goal and will provide leadership education, training, professional development, financial, spiritual care, and mentoring resources to the pastors. We believe it will increase pastors’ tenures of service, and will attract leaders from the next generation of Christians. In partnership with the Community of Christ Seminary, a three-year curriculum of integrated education, skill development, and spiritual formation will be afforded each of the 100 participating pastors.

Now, there’s one more thing to say about this, and I especially invite a listening ear to any who wonder whether God is still in this work. A project like this takes significant resources if it is to be done correctly–and we intend to do it correctly. We estimate the cost over five years will be approximately $2.5 million. Our budgets are tight and we were uncertain how to fund the project.

In the chamber tonight is a family who many years ago committed themselves to be disciples of Jesus Christ and to return to God from the blessings of their lives. One of their passions has been the training and empowerment of our self-sustaining ministers, and especially our pastors. Passion and opportunity converged. Merely coincidence? I have my thoughts about it, but who can say? They do not wish you to know their name; their agreement is with their God. They may even be sitting beside you. But tonight I am permitted to tell you that because of the remarkable generosity of that devoted family the entire Co-Missioned Pastor Initiative has been completely funded for all five years.

These two examples illustrate ways in which Restoration principles help us define contemporary church life. We do not do it by replicating the past or by inventing the future. We do it by applying values grounded in our faith journey–such as the worth of persons and the belief that are all called–and using those principles to speak clearly to the problems or needs of our own time-such as issues of profound disagreement and the need for leadership development.

To do this is to keep faith with our past by allowing it to continue to be renewed in the present moment. It is to be God’s faithful people, believing that God’s blessings attend us today, just as in days gone by. Those who would cling fearfully to every past understanding, without reflection or awareness, are actually the ones who have lost the very heart of Restoration itself.

What a journey we have been on from the prairies of the Midwest to the islands of the sea, from the burned-over district of New York to the rivers of the Congo, from a teeming city built on the banks of the Mississippi to the rural barrios nestled into the hills of the Philippines. What a journey we have been on from the School of the Prophets to the Community of Christ Seminary, from priesthood with long white beards and black coats to ministers in colorful dresses and tribal garb, from a church driven from place to place, buildings burned, leaders tarred, to a community proclaiming the peace of Jesus Christ in the war-torn lands of the world.

But it all ultimately begins at the cross, where disciples knelt in fear and uncertainty and then were sent forth to be the church in all the world. The disciples journeyed from the foot of the cross to the formation of community because that is where the One they followed told them to go.

Let us be a prophetic people, once again expressing the passion of those disciples. Let us risk doing what we have always believed. Let us stand against the tidal wave of human oppression and be a people who declare freedom in Jesus Christ. Let us go to the boundaries of life because we have always been a frontier people. Let us seek authenticity rather than acceptance, rightness rather than riches. Let us be a people of conscience, and integrity, and justice. Let us face down the culture of indifference and selfishness and embody the countercultural alternative of compassion and community.

We are called from the foot of the cross to be a Restoration people in a new time. The eternal truths of the gospel have not faded; they shimmer anew, awaiting redemption, awaiting a people who know they are called into a new and everlasting covenant with their God.

We are the Community of Christ-crafted by God’s own hand from the awesome spiritual journey that brings us to this moment. Do we shrink in fear or do we courageously go forward to face the challenges and embrace the hopes of the future?

Believe in the promises of God. Become God’s people once again. Build the community that warrants the name it bears. The past is redeemed. The future awaits. God calls for us. The same words are spoken again, not from times long ago, but renewed and affirmed in the hearts of today’s passionate disciples:

Hearken, O ye people of my church, saith the voice of him who dwells on high, and whose eyes are upon all men; yea, verily I say, Hearken ye people from afar, and ye that are upon the islands of the sea, listen together; for verily the voice of the Lord is unto all men, and there is none to escape, and there is no eye that shall not see, neither ear that shall not hear, neither heart that shall not be penetrated; …and the voice of warning shall be unto all people, by the mouths of my disciples, whom I have chosen in these last days, and they shall go forth and none shall stay them, for I the Lord have commanded them.

It is to us that the command comes. The call to community comes from the cross. Let us take it up. Let us go forth and be God’s people once again.

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I Am The Way

By President Kenneth N. Robinson
2004 World Conference Communion Service, March 28, 2004

Note: This item is still available on the Internet Archive here.

kenI remember. Do you remember? Do you remember the stories in scripture of what Jesus said and did? Do you remember the life changing impact he had on people from all walks of life? No one forgets such life-transforming encounters with Jesus.

Zacchaeus remembered his experience with Jesus. From that day on he was a new man. Not only did he find a new inner freedom but his actions demonstrated that change for all to witness. The Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well remembered her encounter with Jesus. She ran back to the town and told everyone, inviting them to come and see him for themselves. It was clear to all that the encounter with Jesus had changed her life.

Do you remember your own experiences with Jesus Christ and his Spirit? If you were impacted like Zacchaeus and the woman at the well then you remember. I cannot ever reflect on today’s scripture, John 14:1-6, and especially verse 6 without remembering with stark clarity just such an encounter I had over 40 years ago. I was a long way from home at a two-week leadership school at Australia Mission headquarters in Sydney. One evening I ran into a retired appointee in the library. We spent quite some time discussing John 14:6. I don’t remember anything that good man said. I only remember that he triggered some curiosity and as I left the building that night the words “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” were playing in my mind. I didn’t know the meaning of those words but as I drove home suddenly I was filled with a powerful spirit that confirmed the truth of them to me. I felt immediately that I wanted to tell everyone, to share this priceless treasure – just like Zaccheus and the Samaritan woman – even to the extent of rolling down my window and shouting to people in other cars on the highway. I knew I had been given a precious gift, although I was not at all sure where it would lead. I only knew I must follow that path. How about you?

The disciples of whom John wrote left all to follow Jesus, so impacted were they by their encounters with him. At this time, however, they are in shock. Jesus has just told them he is leaving and that they cannot go with him. Listen to verses 1 to 4 where Jesus is consoling them:

“Set your troubled hearts at rest. Trust in God always; trust also in me. There are many dwelling places in my Father’s house. If it were not so I would have told you; for I am going to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am you may be also. And you know the way I’m taking.”

His message to them and us is that now that we have encountered him and have determined to follow him he will not abandon us. He goes ahead to prepare a place for us. In his house there is room for all.

Today we acknowledge and celebrate this Jesus who reaches out to persons in every place and every status of life. This universal, inclusive love of all people is amply demonstrated by simply looking around our own congregation this morning. We are many colors, many tongues and many cultures but one faith in one Lord who has touched our lives and set in motion a transformation. We are poor and we are wealthy; we are from great cities and from tiny villages; we are highly educated and we are from elementary schools; we are powerful in society and we are powerless in society – but we are one faith in one Lord Jesus Christ who has touched our lives and set in motion a transformation.

When Jesus told his disciples that they knew the place where he was going, Thomas immediately cried out:

“Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus replied, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Jesus the Christ is the way to God. The answers to life’s questions are found in and through him. The very experience of receiving such profound love, forgiveness and new awareness sets in motion the burning desire to be with him, and to be like him. The scales fall from our eyes and we have a fresh view of life. Priorities change, fears melt and the new person in Christ is ready to follow where Christ leads. The path he leads us on goes through the cross. Discipleship is more than uttering “yes” to Jesus’ invitation. He calls us immediately into places where our own limitations are challenged. Today we celebrate at his table that he has called us together to create a loving family that embraces extraordinary diversity. It challenges training and perceptions we have nurtured all our lives. Only by the power of his Spirit gracing our community can we let go and truly be transformed.

We humans have a great propensity to create boundaries, to draw lines. It helps us to feel we are in control. We can fashion reality after our own desires, illusions and fears. And so it is that:

On this beautiful earth we draw lines to separate peoples from each other. We make those lines so much a part of daily life that we begin to think they are real. We fight wars over them. We build high walls as if that makes them real. We discuss the relative merits of the Canadian or American sides of Niagara Falls.

Jesus, however, has another reality to share with us. He shows as that God sees the earth in all its beauty as one earth without boundaries. Walls crumble or are torn down or become irrelevant and turn into tourist attractions. At Niagara it is nothing to do with Canadian or American. It is all about the Falls and the profound impact of their power and beauty, paying no respect whatsoever to imaginary lines.

We, however, insist that there are lines. There is a line between those that are born well, to aristocracy and everyone else. There are lines between the wealthy and the poor, those with education and those without. There are lines between tribes and ethnic groups who will defend the separation to the death. Remember Bosnia, Rwanda, Ireland, the Civil War in America, and many more. There are gender lines, age lines, religious lines.

But Jesus wants to show us a world in which the beauty and oneness are breathtaking, and there are no lines. How do you think astronauts from different countries feel about the earth from aboard the international space station as they together view the beauty of the earth with the moon hovering nearby? They are different people. Do you think they all eat the same standard ration meals in space? But the earth, without lines, proclaims the overwhelming message of one common home and one humanity.

Recent studies in genetic anthropology have found that all 6 billion people on earth share a gene pool that differs by the very tiniest fraction – less than 1/10 of 1%. The chimpanzees on one hillside in Africa have more genetic variation than all 6 billion humans. Can you imagine that? Creatures that to our eyes look about the same have more genetic difference than all 6 billion humans on earth. We are so well trained that we can spot even the minute differences between people. But the truth is that we are overwhelmingly the same and very little different. We are the same family with subtle variations that provide for extraordinary creativity, beauty and originality in adapting to specific environments.

It is so hard to let go of our lines. With our lines we can make judgments of good and bad; better or best; attractive or repulsive, and in so doing feel better that we are on the right side of the line. On occasion we even dare to thank God that we are on the right side of the line.

But Jesus would point us to the world God created without lines, where colors gently blend, where shapes and forms interweave, where fixed boundaries are nowhere to be seen, and all belongs together.

But surely there must be lines. We even draw lines to separate ourselves from ourselves, trying to cover our eyes to avoid seeing in our own souls the interplay of light and shadow, selfless sacrifice and selfish will. Our most desperate acts are attempts to draw a line between ourselves and God, feeling that if we could turn our back on God our pain might go away and we could be answerable to self alone.

But Jesus looks us in the eye, names our hypocrisy and calls us to better things.

I am the way, and the truth, and the life.

Jesus calls us, all of us, to follow him, that through him we will find God. As we respond we encounter a power of love so great that we are changed and we desire to be like him. The lines and distinctions that once loomed large now appear to fade and we begin to see the heart that beats just like our heart, the soul that yearns for love, trust and belonging just like ours.

I am the way, and the truth, and the life.

We reach out for bread and juice to say aloud to ourselves and to others “I remember when Jesus touched my life and I committed my life to him. Today I remember and covenant with him anew.”

I am the way, and the truth, and the life.

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Proclaim the Risen Christ!

Challenge by Robert R. Kyser II, Senior President of Seventy
April 11, 2002

“The earth, God’s creation, groans for the liberating truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ which have been given for the salvation of the world.”
–Doctrine and Covenants 155:7, adapted

kyserWe cannot help but hear the groans of God’s creation, where we live, work, go to school, from our neighbors, friends and family, from both far and near, within the deepest part of our lives at this moment.

Abuse of human life and well being– I heard it in the blessing of a young child whose life has already been violated.

Hunger and poverty– I saw it in three children waiting at the door of their church in hopes that someone would come with something, anything for them to eat.

Terror– I felt it in the destruction of buildings, lives, families, communities, on a day which we hope will never be forgotten, but a day which was and is like any other day for much of the world community.

Lost– those who have no place to belong, no sense of purpose and no hope for the future. They hear it, see it, and feel it every moment.

We cannot help but hear the compelling invitation to proclaim the Risen Christ, which has come to this Community of Christ during this World Conference.

Just as Jesus Christ called Mary by name that first Easter morning, so is each of our names being called :

Douglas Menya [Kenya, Africa]
Miklos Csorba [Hungary, Europe]
Agnes Rao [India, Asia]
Jack Cargill [Canada, North America]
Erika Amador [El Salvador, South America]
Karli Smith [Australia]

We are all called, each by name, to reach out to another person and invite them to experience the Risen Christ.

May our response be:

One of daily personal prayer.
One of forming disciple partnerships in support of our witness.
One of engaging new persons in conversation, discerning those who are seeking and needing the saving grace of the gospel.
One that believes this great commission can and will be accomplished and that not one disciple is excused.

Are the words we are now hearing, hard sayings? Will some of us also turn back?
To that question let us together say NO! We have no alternative but to proclaim Jesus Christ the Son of God. We make that proclamation because we believe and are sure. Tonight let us renew our commitment to become an inviting, baptizing, and discipling church.

May this commitment made on April 11, 2002, be this faith community’s response to September 11, 2001, and the earth’s groanings which it represents.

Sisters and brothers in Christ:
Send the sound the earth around
From the rising to the setting of the sun
‘Til each gathering crowd
Shall proclaim aloud

Each one has reached one!

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Called to Discipleship: Coming Home in Search of the Path

By Prophet-President W. Grant McMurray
2002 World Conference Sermon / Address, April 7, 2002     

grant-sermonA few weeks ago I went to the Ozarks for several days to begin the process of writing these words. I took two briefcases jammed with papers, a large box filled with books, a couple of sacks of groceries, and a mind brimming with a multitude of ideas, strategies, and programmatic initiatives emerging from months of planning and goal setting. I went to a place by a lake, mostly because water is where I usually turn to calm my soul.

My soul needed calming because I had so much to say that I barely knew where to begin. I was feeling the burden of expectation because church leaders had spent a long time in a process of visioning and now it fell to me to encapsulate those months and months of work into one address that was to be both a declaration of institutional direction and a spiritually uplifting and motivating call to discipleship. At the same time I had my own inner turmoil-my unworthiness to be calling anyone to discipleship when I am such an inadequate one myself, my own issues burning deeply within that I knew I needed to proclaim, my own hopes and dreams for the church I love so much.

We have been on a journey these past few years. We have sought ways of being both faithful to a marvelous heritage and open to a challenging future. We have embraced a call to transformation, acknowledging that to build a Temple dedicated to peace and reconciliation and healing urges forth from us something we had never fully imagined. We have called ourselves by a new name and taken very seriously what that means to our lives and our church. To truly be the Community of Christ is serious business. It is not a label or a sign or an inscription on letterhead. It is a call to a new understanding of discipleship. Two years ago we talked about how we must go deeper into ourselves, truly learning what it means to walk the “Path of the Disciple.”

And now it is the year 2002. We have entered the third millennium of the Christian era. It has been 172 years since Joseph Smith declared that a “great and marvelous work is about to come forth.” Eighteen years since we were called to build a Temple dedicated to the pursuit of peace. Five years since we began a journey of transformation. Two years since we declared ourselves to be the “Community of Christ” committed to walking the Path of the Disciple.

And so I came to the lake, my mind ablaze with thoughts, my heart filled with desire, my soul yearning for the words that are equal to this moment in our church’s history. Along the way I stopped for a few provisions and there I found a DVD of the marvelous, Academy Award-winning 1982 film, Gandhi. I bought it and I took it with me to the lake, knowing that I could watch it with my laptop computer and headphones.

I knew myself too well. I knew I would twist in the wind much of the time I was there. I knew I would put off facing the questions I had to face. I knew I would seek alternate pleasures (the NCAA basketball tournament, works of suspense fiction, walks by the lake) rather than confront the issues I knew I would eventually confront. I decided that if I was going to escape the difficult assignment I faced, perhaps I could do it in part by watching the chronicle of a disciple, albeit a Hindu one.

And so I watched the story of Gandhi, a fragile and imperfect man who somehow came to understand what it took to live with integrity and purpose. Strangely, there was no point at which my mind connected to the idea that this very week we would be honoring his granddaughter, Ela Gandhi, with our International Peace Award. It was entirely serendipitous, at least to the extent I can consciously recall, that my renewed encounter with the film converged with that award.

I watched the film with fresh eyes from my initial viewing of it twenty years ago, and even from a time or two since when I caught it on video or cable. This time I watched Gandhi as a model of what it meant to be a disciple, recognizing that his own religious vocation was markedly different from ours. But still, it provided me much by way of instruction.

About two-thirds of the way through the film, a remarkable scene occurs. Gandhi has returned to his home, a city by the sea, to contemplate his next steps in the struggle for independence for the Indian people. There he is met by a reporter whom he has known since he was a young man in South Africa.

After reminiscing about their time together in South Africa, Gandhi ponders, “I have traveled so far and thought so much. As you can see, my city is a sea city, always full of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, Persians…. In our temple the priest used to read from the Muslim Koran and the Hindu Gita, moving from one to the other as if it mattered not which book was being read as long as God was being worshiped.”

Then Gandhi’s eyes looked out to the sea. “When I was a boy I used to sing a song in the temple: ‘A true disciple knows another’s woes as his own. He bows to all and despises none.’ Like all other boys I sang the words, not thinking what they meant or how they might be influencing me. I’ve traveled so far and all I’ve done is come back… home.” And then, in a moment of insight, Gandhi’s face brightens, his troubled and pensive eyes become clear and focused, and he strides hurriedly off into the conflict that will become his legacy.

We have traveled so far. Have we, too, come back home where we began? That thought has been working on me these past weeks as I have reflected on the call to discipleship of the Community of Christ in the Year of our Lord 2002.

A few years ago my family and I made a journey to my homeland of Canada. We went to visit various places of importance to me and, as is often done at such times, I went to houses where I had once lived, so as to show them to my children (who were, of course, intensely interested).

And so on one day I was driving down Woolwich Street in Guelph, Ontario, seeking a house I had lived in when I was five. I knew it would be easy to find because it sat way back off the street, with a huge front yard where I had romped with our two dogs, first Skippy and then Kim, prior to the latter’s permanent exile to a dog pound for crimes against humanity.

I had not been back to Guelph for many years and had not lived there as an adult, so I had to find my way by intuition and childhood memory. As I drove on Woolwich Street I knew I was close to my destination. I could feel it in my bones. I could sense it, but I could not see it. It just has to be near here, I thought to myself. I know it is right here. I’m sure of it. But I could not see the house with the big yard.

Finally, in frustration, I pulled into the parking lot of a beauty parlor to get my bearings. Everything felt so familiar, even though it had been almost fifty years since I had lived there. Why couldn’t I see it? Had it been torn down or destroyed?

And then, in a moment of recognition I can vividly recall even now, I suddenly realized that I was standing in my own front yard. Transformed into a parking lot, the yard fronted the house where I had once lived, now painted white and changed incongruously into a hairdressing salon. I had traveled so far and seen so much, and now I had come home. But I barely saw it until suddenly it came into bold relief. It was home, made altogether new by the transforming experiences of five decades since I had last played with my puppy on the grass outside that house. Now I stood and viewed it with new eyes.

This evening, in a time of unceasing change, I call the Community of Christ to come home to the fundamental principles of discipleship, to recapture the spirit of the Restoration movement, to walk with me for a few moments on the “old, old path, made strangely new.”

Make no mistake; this is not a call to return to the past. This we could not do even if we willed it. Although we sometimes are nostalgic about them, I would remind you of a much-admired book title I once encountered, Them Good Old Days, They Was Awful. We do not have the luxury of languishing in the past, whether real or imagined. The church is called to live prophetically, joyfully, and creatively in the unfolding present, which evolves invariably into God’s future, and ours.

But that future is rooted in the journey we have been on together as disciples of Jesus, as a Restoration church, as the Community of Christ. Jesus said it first, when he commissioned his followers with the words that have been at the heart of the church’s calling from its very beginning: “Go therefore to all nations and make them my disciples, baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all that I have commanded you. I will be with you always, to the end of time” (Matthew 28:19-29, REB). That declaration both sends the disciple into the future and promises that the Spirit of God will accompany us as we go.

For the Restoration movement, the same call is reiterated in the first section of the Doctrine and Covenants:

Hearken, O ye people of my church, saith the voice of him who dwells on high, and whose eyes are upon all men; yea, verily I say, Hearken ye people from afar, and ye that are upon the islands of the sea, listen together; for verily the voice of the Lord is unto all men, and there is none to escape, and there is no eye that shall not see, neither ear that shall not hear, neither heart that shall not be penetrated…. –Doctrine and Covenants 1:1a-b

The call to discipleship is the call to Christian vocation in every generation. It is not old-fashioned or passé, nor is it quaint or trendy. It is spoken to young and old, male and female. It is spoken in the language of every land and in the vernacular of every age. It is not complex or convoluted. It is the spiritual home of the Christian. It is simply these words of Jesus: “Come, follow me.”

The task of the contemporary church is not to figure out what our mission should be. That has been provided with stark and compelling clarity. Instead, the task of the church is to define precisely how we propose to fulfill that mission in our own time. And more importantly than even that, the task of the church is to nurture and empower individual disciples who walk the path pointed to by the one we have chosen to follow.

Tonight, on behalf of the leadership of the church, I will outline some challenging four-year goals to move us forward on the path of the disciple. These are built around the six essentials of the path we first discussed two years ago. We have recast them in personal rather than institutional terms. We are asking each member of our church to embrace them as qualities of our discipleship:

First, to share your witness and resources
Second, to teach and learn the sacred story
Third, to create diverse communities
Fourth, to extend the hand of reconciliation
Fifth, to allow the Spirit to fill you
And sixth, to embody justice and proclaim peace

The specific supporting goals we will present tonight will be but whispers in the wind if these six foundational principles are not personalized by each and every one of us.

I remember as a young adult I used to faithfully watch the Jerry Lewis Telethon on Labor Day weekend, which raises millions of dollars each year to combat muscular dystrophy. I was intrigued by the variety of entertainment on the program, but particularly by the tote board that added the contributions as they moved inexorably toward achievement of the ambitious financial goal. I cheered them on, fervently hoping that the goal would be reached. But to the best of my remembrance, I never once called and made a pledge. I apparently saw no relationship between achievement of the goal I supported and my own participation.

There is a story told about a little boy who wasn’t getting good marks in school. One day, he tapped his teacher on the shoulder and said, “Now I don’t want to scare you, but my daddy says if I don’t get better grades, somebody is going to get a spanking.”

It is easy for us to pass over the relationship between what you and I do and the achievement of goals to which we may be emotionally or intellectually committed. But let us make no mistake about that tonight. The call to discipleship is intensely personal; it is about you and me. If we don’t do it, it won’t get done.

In the remaining minutes of my time tonight I must do three things. First, I will introduce the specific goals that have been developed over more than a year of prayerful planning and reflection, including widespread consultation with people in many settings around the church. I will be able to do that in only a very cursory fashion, but as you leave the chamber tonight you will receive a packet of resources to expand on the goals I share. In other ways throughout this week there will be detailed presentations and other materials that will provide a basis for communication and dialogue. We have processed our budget with these goals in mind, reallocating resources and personnel so as to address the priorities we have identified. We are serious about these goals. With your help, we intend to make them happen.

Second, I will linger for a while on one goal with twin components that will become the very highest of priorities for us during this next biennium. Even among the things we have decided we want to do, there must be choices made as to where we put our primary emphasis. I will share that essential priority with you.

And third, as we move through the goals there are some things we need to talk about in terms of complex and difficult issues before the church. I am going to ask for your indulgence to permit me to reflect aloud about those for a few moments here and there.

As we present these goals, we affirm that the Community of Christ continues its journey of transformation into a new century, proclaiming Jesus Christ and promoting communities of joy, hope, love, and peace. In Section 161 we are directed to an awareness that “…the road to transformation travels both inward and outward. The road to transformation is the path of the disciple.” We commit ourselves to walk that path in each of the following ways, through specific initiatives and ministries, centered on scriptural principles, to be accomplished over the next four years.

First, we will be disciples who share our witness and resources, those who “heed the urgent call to become a global family united in the name of Christ, committed in love to one another.” To accomplish that goal we will commit ourselves to become a witnessing church, calling every member to “each one, reach one,” so that every single one of us feels a personal call to bring at least one other person to Jesus Christ. The other piece of the sharing goal is equally important: we will honor God’s call to tithe.

Here I must pause and make it very clear that the sharing goal is the heart of the matter and will be our priority for the next biennium. With all the exciting things we want to accomplish, our achievement will be measured on how effectively we embrace these two principles of the sharing goal-the effectiveness of our witness and the generosity of our response.

The call to be a welcoming, witnessing church is easy to say and very difficult to do. It is not sufficient for us to just be “nice people.” We will be required to develop Christ-centered and person-oriented congregations that are inclusive, outreaching, and missional. This is not just about missionary work; it is about being the community of Christ.

The Council of Twelve has been charged with and has accepted the responsibility of leading this churchwide effort. Tonight, as a part of this goal, we are prepared to launch the Mission to North America in which we challenge the church on this continent to be as effective in our growth as our brothers and sisters in the so-called developing nations of the world have been. A strategy has been prepared and specific training will be offered, including “Mission 2003: A Conference of North American Leaders,” which we are calling for next summer to equip leaders of the church in North America to undertake this effort.

We will be announcing assignments of the Council of Twelve so as to support this initiative, and we are restructuring our workload and field minister assignments so as to limit administrative tasks by the Twelve and free the apostolic witness for dynamic expression throughout the church. With your approval of the new Bylaws we will be prepared to organize the field around missional principles, providing structural support to congregational witnessing communities.

If each one reaches one, as the goal suggests, it will have the effect of doubling the active membership of the church. We did not express it in those terms largely because we knew this was not about numbers, but about discipling. It is the joyful response of the disciple to witness, in word and deed, to what he or she has discovered in Jesus Christ.

Some might ask how this relates to our focus on social justice these past few years, and my response is that it is connected to it in every respect. Our declaration of the gospel calls us to follow the teachings of Jesus, which articulate the undeniable worth of all persons. We must be mission driven, not market driven, never forsaking the poor, disadvantaged, and marginalized in pursuit of a goal to grow the church.

We are called to be an evangelizing, compassionate, peace-and-justice church. We must recognize that sometimes the struggle to be prophetic works against the desire to grow. We saw that in 1984, when the inspired provision for the ordination of women–absolutely the right thing to do–set back substantially the “Faith to Grow” initiative of the church at that time. We paid the price of being in tune with God’s prophetic call. Now with a longer view we have experienced the fruits and recognized the blessings that have come to the church. The growth comes not when we set numerical goals, but when we choose to witness to the truth and exemplify that in our daily lives.

And so, “each one, reach one” comes as a personal challenge to every one of us. Can we make that commitment?

The sharing goal has twin pillars: becoming a witnessing community and honoring God’s call to tithe. The sharing of our lives and the sharing of our resources are the two primary ways in which the Christian disciple responds to God’s call; they are inextricably connected to each other. Section 147:5a movingly reminds us that “stewardship is the response of my people to the ministry of my Son and is required alike of all those who seek to build the kingdom.”

For over a dozen years now several Presiding Bishoprics have worked diligently on the “redefinition of terms” and “greater understanding of the stewardship of temporalities” called for in Section 154 of the Doctrine and Covenants. They have done so with an awareness that the key principle is in yoking stewardship and discipleship, seeing each as a reflection of the other.

This week, the Presiding Bishopric, with the full support of the First Presidency and the Council of Twelve, will be presenting new understandings of the principle of tithing as A Disciple’s Generous Response. I am very aware that they have been consistently prayerful, respectful of tradition, open to new insights, and responsive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

I want to add my personal testimony to what my colleagues of the Presiding Bishopric will present later this week. I believe their work has been blessed by the brush of spiritual insight and creativity. It respects our long heritage and yet provides a disciple-centered understanding of stewardship that forms solid foundational principles by which each individual can respond in accordance with their own desires and commitments.

I invite your prayerful consideration of what they will share with you, your attentive reading of the material to be provided, and your generous response to honor God’s call to tithe.

Each one, reach one. Honor God’s call to tithe. These two components, uniquely interconnected, compose the sharing goal. It will be our priority these next two years and is the underpinning of all else that we do.

Second, we will be learners and teachers, those who “listen attentively to the telling of the sacred story.” To support that goal we proudly announce that the Community of Christ Seminary, operated by Graceland University in partnership with the church, will open in September of this year. The seminary and other learning programs will be utilized to assist us in training 3,000 congregational leaders and all full-time ministers so as to significantly enhance their ministerial effectiveness.

In addition, recognizing our commitment to being a global family, we will expand the church’s field resources operations to provide discipleship resources appropriate to the language and cultural groups within the church. To demonstrate our commitment to this task, we have asked Apostle Lawrence W. Tyree to relinquish his responsibilities as a member of the Council of Twelve and accept a new calling in the development of international resources for the church.

We remain committed to the church school and will explore ways of revitalizing its ministry, while developing new models for discipleship education and scriptural literacy for all ages.

The treasured, sacred story of our faith must be transmitted anew to each and every generation. We will be learners and teachers. We will be disciples equipped for the journey.

Third, we will embrace our historic call to be God’s people, those who “create diverse communities of disciples and seekers.” To accomplish this goal, within four years we will establish 1,000 congregational partnerships to enrich discipleship through cross-cultural sharing. We will expand the WorldService Corps to 100 persons annually. We will take steps to strengthen the relational ties that support and empower families in all their diversity.

Goals such as these only begin to touch on the call to community that is so central to our heritage and to our contemporary mission. We have much yet to learn, but we have learned some things along the way and can begin to share from out of that experience. It is in our name; it is who we are.

Josiah Royce said these words:

I believe in the beloved community and in the spirit that makes it beloved, and in the communion of all who are, in will and deed, its members. I see no such community as yet, but none the less my rule in life is: act so as to hasten its coming.

May that spirit accompany our efforts to establish diverse community in God’s name.

Fourth, we will be agents of reconciliation, “those who feel conflict yet extend the hand of reconciliation.” To accomplish this goal we will expand cooperative efforts with other faiths, recognizing that we have much to offer as well as to receive from such endeavors. Aware of the conflicts that abound in church and world, we will also increase the number of trained mediation/conflict resolution specialists available to support the church’s ministries and community service.

In the past two years a number of our people have been involved in reconciliation efforts with members of Restoration churches. That has been a satisfying process, resulting in much open sharing, several hymn festivals commemorating our common heritage, and the building of bridges of understanding that have blessed all involved. This process is ongoing.

But we recognize that there continue to be significant issues that divide people within our fellowship, in the larger Christian body, and between persons of faith around the world. We are committed to being voices of reason and hope, to be listeners and reconcilers, not those who divide and exclude.

So now let me speak to one such issue that threatens to divide us. In the past few weeks I have been the recipient of scores of letters, e-mails, and phone calls generated by the resolutions before our Conference dealing with homosexuality. Some have been thoughtful and reasoned, but many have been desperate and angry, sometimes accompanied by symbolically crumpled paper or copies of offending text besmirched with bold, black lines. And this weekend we have been faced with pickets proclaiming a hateful God I do not recognize and describing good people in vile and contemptible terms.

To all of this, I say to you, “No, no, no.” We must not succumb to our fears nor fail to respect those who disagree with us. We must instead be voices of reconciliation and ministers of healing. In the midst of our differences, there just has to be a better way. There is no issue that divides churches around the world in our time like the issue of homosexuality. It is for us to decide whether we will be rendered asunder by it, or whether we have the spiritual courage to face it together.

Tonight I am going to take a risk. What I am about to say is my personal statement to you on this issue, joined in by Ken and Peter, my colleagues in the First Presidency, after many hours of conversing together. I have not consulted with other church officers or asked for their consent. What I say does not change church policy. It does not require action or agreement. It simply describes the present situation openly and honestly, expresses our own thoughts after prayerful and extensive reflection, and points to what we believe is possible for us to do as a diverse community of God’s people.

Gay and lesbian brothers and sisters are walking with us on the path of the disciple. They have chosen to be there because they feel God’s call to them. Some have struggled throughout their lives with questions and uncertainties about their identity, their acceptability, their status as children of God. Some have dared to tell their story, resulting at times in warm acceptance and other times in cold rejection. Some have come to understand that God loves them unconditionally and embraces them as valued members of the human family; others are not so sure.

Our church, like all churches, has struggled with how to be inclusive, agreeing that God’s love comes to all persons, but differing on what behaviors and lifestyles are deemed acceptable. Because there is no social consensus, no moral agreement, no definitive psychological explanation, we have all cast about in search of answers. For some, that answer is provided in one of the seven biblical passages that seem to condemn homosexuality as a sin. For others, the answer is in compassion upon seeing the face of a man or woman who simply says “this is my story.” For our brothers and sisters in some cultures of the world, it is not something to be discussed nor is it thought by them to exist in that culture to any appreciable degree. For families and friends the answer comes only in the call to love a loved one, which has precedence over virtually every other call.

Because of these many differences, our church stands in the midst of much ambiguity and inconsistency. We have a twenty-year-old statement from the Standing High Council that serves as official guidance, but has not been universally adhered to throughout the church. I will be totally honest and acknowledge that I have myself participated in situations where its provisions were not honored. I have been present in conferences where persons I knew to be in long-term, committed homosexual relationships were approved for priesthood in jurisdictions where their lifestyle was known and their ministry was accepted. The conflict within me was between lawgiver and pastor. To enforce the policy would have required me to intervene and prevent the ordination of someone whose call to ministry I could not deny. This I could not do. This I will not do.

In fairness, you should know the hearts of those of us you uphold in leadership. I read scripture contextually. I believe that scripture carries a powerful witness of the love of God but that it has to be read in its totality and not in phrases and fragments here and there. When it comes to people and our many differences, I will always choose to love rather than to judge. My instincts are toward inclusion and not exclusion.

At the same time, I am fully supportive of our historic polity of theocratic democracy, which balances the priestly witness with the consent of the people. Ministry is not just about calling. It is also about acceptance of that calling by those who will receive the ministry. Therefore, it is not just my views but all of our views that must be weighed as we make decisions together.

The word “catechesis” is defined as “a dialogue between believers” (Westminster Dictionary of Theology). Hear the distinction. This is not a dialogue between faithful and unfaithful people. It is not a dialogue between saints and sinners. It is a dialogue between believers, between disciples, over differences that are real and honorable. I ask us, as members of the Community of Christ, to be willing to share with each other in that exploration.

I am not in the habit of telling our delegates how they should vote, but I am about to make an exception. I request the delegates to this World Conference to table or refer all pending legislation on homosexuality so that we can avoid actions that will be divisive and shape a process by which a broader understanding and consensus can be built. I will ask the Standing High Council to participate with others in looking anew at this matter, seeking issues on which we can surely agree (God’s love of all people, fidelity, the value of family, the sacredness of sexuality as part of creation) and shaping dialogue in areas where we do not agree (the blessing of same-sex relationships, standards for ordination, the interpretation and authority of scripture).

In the meantime, I ask the Community of Christ to be willing to live with us on the boundary for a while. To do this means that we may not have a policy that guides every decision, but we will have to trust the Holy Spirit to accompany us in our choices. It means that some parts of the church may function differently from other parts of the church and there will be distinctions that are occasionally unsettling but representative of the diversity of our body, both in terms of viewpoints and cultures. We recognize that certain national governments have requirements that our local church leaders in those nations will need to respect and interpret in accordance with their own cultural understandings.

And finally, I ask that we be prayerful and respectful and sober in our consideration of this issue so important to the well-being of our community of faith. I believe that these words from Henri Nouwen speak meaningfully to us in this time:

We are not the healers, we are not the reconcilers, we are not the givers of life. We are sinful, broken, vulnerable people who need as much care as anyone we care for. The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God. –Henri J.M. Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1989), 43-44

Fifth, we will be a church composed of persons open to new understandings of spirituality, “embodying the hope and freedom of the gospel” and seeking “pathways for healing.” To achieve this goal, we will encourage each congregation to establish at least one covenant discipleship group that integrates spiritual practices, worship, scriptural literacy, and mission. The term “covenant discipleship group” will be new to many of you, and we will provide information this week and in the months to come on this innovative approach to discipling. It links the commitment to learning with the spiritual quest and supports us on our individual and collective journeys toward discipleship.

In addition, we establish a goal whereby each congregation, through careful planning and openness to the Holy Spirit, will experience vibrant and effective worship in support of the church’s mission. Tepid and poorly planned worship is not acceptable in a community striving toward discipleship. We must sing and proclaim, tap our feet, feel the Spirit move, and sense the call to the mission that we have embraced.

And now I want to share with you a personal dream, connected to this goal. You have all heard me talk about the importance of understanding our heritage, and of using our marvelous story to empower our contemporary calling.

The Kirtland Temple is perhaps the towering symbol of that historic faith journey, a place beloved by our people because of its majesty and beauty and because we continue to experience the presence of the Spirit there just as our ancestors did when it was erected. This beautiful site, on the National Register of Historic Places, has been lovingly cared for by the Kirtland Saints and by the staff of the temple, many of them volunteers. But they work in a woefully inadequate visitors center that fails to meet the needs of the increasingly large number of people who come to see the temple. And worse, it does not represent the Community of Christ in a way that would make us proud.

About a month ago I traveled with several others to Kirtland in pursuit of an idea. We stood on the church’s property in the shadow of the temple and imagined what would happen if we could construct a facility on this marvelous site that would serve as both a visitors center for the historic property and a spiritual retreat center in support of the mission of the church. It will be both a place to interpret our story and a place where our people can come, individually and in groups, to experience spiritual growth, guidance, and insight.

We are still in the earliest stages of planning, but we want to make this dream a reality. The Restoration Trail Foundation has made it the highest priority and has committed to lead the effort to raise the funds. President Emeritus Wallace B. Smith and former Presiding Bishop Francis E. Hansen have agreed to chair this funding effort. We do not have resources in the World Church budget to devote to this task, but we believe it can be accomplished with the generous support of those who care about our story, who love Kirtland, and who sense the call to allow the Spirit to fill us and renew us as we walk the path of the disciple.

Sixth, and finally, we will be a community of people who embody justice, “those who see violence but proclaim peace” and who “feel the yearnings of [our] brothers and sisters.” To accomplish this goal we call every congregation to become engaged in some neighborhood project or projects of transformation and justice. A few weeks ago I visited the congregation at Seminole, Oklahoma. After dedicating a lovely new facility, enjoying a bounteous potluck, and horsing around with some terrific kids, I participated in their Sunday evening addictions ministry. Here several members of the congregation sat with twenty or twenty-five alcoholics and drug addicts in the process of recovery. For them, the congregation was a home, a place of safety. Several had been baptized and were now bringing leadership to the self-perpetuating program of Twelve Step ministry. It took little training, only a willingness to be present for one hour a week with those who had a need. These are justicemakers.

Additionally, we will recruit and train community development specialists equipped to lead ministries among the poor and dispossessed. We are in conversations with Outreach International to have them assist us in utilizing the skills of their unique Participatory Human Development program for our own congregational efforts at embodying justice. Our desires to work for justice must be matched with the skills to be effective in our endeavors.

And finally, in the shadow of the events of September 11, 2001, we pledge to stand as a global community committed to seeking peaceful solutions to the conditions that lead to war, international conflict, and injustice within the human family. We cannot dream small dreams. The path of the disciple leads to the kingdom of God. Such a kingdom can only be built by those with a vision of a better world and a willingness to tackle the huge issues that world offers up. And so, we choose to dream big dreams and we will seek ways of being peacemakers in a world embroiled in conflict and war.

It is a long litany of goals we propose. We will have to make some choices among them in the short term, but we cannot miss any of them in the long term. I worry that we might stagger a bit under the load of it all. Are we strong enough, wise enough, committed enough to walk on this path?

My mind returns to Gandhi. In another scene in the film, he is deep into a fast in protest of an injustice. He is frail and sickly. Even his followers are discouraged, concerned that while his cause is just his methods may be damaging to him.

He beckons a worried follower and invites her to place her ear near his mouth so she can hear these words: “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it. Always. Whenever you are in doubt that that is God’s way, the way the world is meant to be, think of that. And then try to do it [God’s] way.”

We have been on a long journey, this sometimes frail and occasionally despairing church of ours. We have traveled so far and seen so much. But now the journey brings us home to see what we need to do, who we need to be. Here, in the comfort and security of our spiritual home, we can look to the horizon and imagine where it is God would have us go.

Then we see it. The path of the disciple begins at the doorstep of our home and winds off into the far distance. Its ending place is beyond our view and it is hard to know just where it will take us.

But then there is a voice. A steady, unchanging, compelling voice. “Come,” it says. “Come, follow me.”

And we go.

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2002 Letter of Counsel

Letter of Counsel Regarding the Presiding Quorums, by Prophet-President W. Grant McMurray

To the Councils, Quorums, and Orders, to the World Conference, and to the Church:

grant-sermonThe past biennium has been an exciting and challenging one for the church. We have participated in a historic change in our denominational name and have conscientiously struggled with what it means to describe our movement to the world and to each other as the Community of Christ. We have seen the witness of the church continue to expand in many places and are richly blessed by the diversity of many cultures and peoples. We watched with horror the events of September 11, 2001, and were reminded anew how urgently the world needs people dedicated to the pursuit of peace, reconciliation, and healing of the spirit.

But a sense of restlessness abides in us as we see the abundant needs of the world and feel the call to be a people of hope, proclaiming the name of Jesus Christ and creating communities that embody his ministries. We know that we are called to still new avenues of service and to confront with integrity the serious questions that are before us.

It is my burden and joy to continue to give prayerful consideration to the leadership needs of the church, particularly in the presiding quorums. As always, I have taken this task as a deeply personal one to which I give considerable energy, openness, and reflection. In doing so, I am always aware of the many persons who serve the church in significant ways and the vast array of ministries that they perform. I am deeply grateful for the service of all, whether in full-time or self-sustaining ministry.

We have a long tradition of having those who serve in the presiding quorums do so until their retirement, except in special circumstances. Over the years, some members of the quorums have expressed a desire to offer their ministry in other ways, perhaps returning to the field or to other responsibilities commensurate with their skills. As the church has expanded into new areas of ministry, I have become increasingly aware that there are many ways to express one’s sense of calling. There will be times when the presiding quorums will benefit by new perspectives and gifts, without assuming that such roles will necessarily continue until retirement. I will continue to be mindful of the needs of the church and of individual ministers in this way, and will be open to expanded opportunities for leadership development and service. Part of what I present in this letter is consistent with that emerging understanding.

Throughout the past biennium I have carried the needs of the church on my heart and have wrestled with the callings I sense in my brothers and sisters. I have received a confirming assurance of the Holy Spirit and now bring the following instruction pertaining to the Council of Twelve Apostles.

1. A. Alex Kahtava has served for thirty-five years as a full-time minister of the church, including fourteen years as a president of Seventy and fourteen years as a member of the Council of Twelve Apostles. Since 1994 he has served as president of the Council of Twelve, bringing excellent leadership to the administration of the field and the missionary expansion of the church. As he approaches the age of retirement, he has expressed a desire to be relieved of those responsibilities so that he may continue his ministry in a self-sustaining capacity. We acknowledge with grateful hearts the vibrant missionary witness he has brought throughout his ministry, and his unflagging commitment to the expansion of the church. He has led his colleagues in the Council with integrity and caring support and will be missed in the leading quorums of the church. For some time I have sensed in him an emerging call to the office of evangelist and it is now timely that he be ordained to the Order of Evangelists, carrying the spirit of that ministry into the years of his retirement.

2. Lawrence W. Tyree has served as a member of the Council of Twelve Apostles for ten years, blending a deeply committed missionary spirit with an interest in new forms of communication and outreach indicative of this Information Age. He has also been a voice on behalf of young adults, calling church leadership to an awareness of their unique needs and the opportunities for ministry among them. In addition, he has been uniquely gifted with the ability to articulate the gospel message in several different languages, understanding the rich nuances and beauty of culture. He carries a deeply rooted sense of call, and the needs of the church now require him to give expression to that call in a new way. To respond to those needs, he is released from the Council of Twelve in order to give his full time to the development of international resources, translation ministries, and language training. The expanded witness of the church in many cultures requires that an increased level of priority be given to this significant task, and we are grateful that he is available and prepared to lead this effort.

3. To fill one of the vacancies in the Council of Twelve, Mary Jacks Dynes is called from her field responsibilities and her service in the Council of Presidents of Seventy to be an apostle. Her gentle spirit is matched by a fervent missionary witness. She has prepared herself educationally and spiritually for these new responsibilities and she should now take her place with an assurance that her ministry is expanding into new areas of service. Her ordination to the high priesthood and the Council of Twelve is now timely and appropriate to the needs of the church.

4. David D. Schaal is also called from his current responsibilities to be an apostle and a member of the Council of Twelve. He brings the heart of the pastor into his apostolic witness, understanding that it is ministry to people that is the primary purpose of the church. He has provided visionary leadership for several jurisdictions of various sizes and complexity. His experience and giftedness will grace the church, and his loving spirit will bless both his colleagues and those he serves.
I am led to offer this additional counsel with regard to the Presiding Bishopric:

5. Orval G. Fisher has brought an array of skills and a commitment to personal ministry into his service as a member of the Presiding Bishopric since 1996. While his quick and well-trained financial mind has been a significant asset, it is his commitment to people, and particularly to youth, that has marked his church service in every responsibility he has carried. In recent months the circumstances of his health have caused him to reflect upon his ministry and to consider the ways he can most effectively express his own sense of call during the remaining years of his full-time service. In response to that inner sense of direction and purpose, he has asked to be released from the Presiding Bishopric in order to return to full-time field ministry. I have felt the confirming assurance of the Holy Spirit in honoring his request and look forward to the ministry he will continue to provide to the church and its people.

6. For the mission of the church to be accomplished, it is necessary to establish effective organizational processes sensitive to the needs of people and grounded in sound principles. Stassi D. Cramm has been blessed by training and experience to utilize those processes in very successful ways in the secular world. But she has also recognized God’s call to ministry and has responded to that as a full-time appointee. She is now called to blend her training and calling by accepting ordination to the office of bishop and being set apart to serve as counselor to the presiding bishop and a member of the Presiding Bishopric. We look forward to the significant contribution she can make in the councils of the church as she extends her ministry into this new avenue of service.

In offering these calls for the approval of the church, I have a profound sense of gratitude for the willingness of so many to sacrificially offer their lives in service to our Lord through full-time ministry. We recognize that the cost of discipleship can sometimes be very significant, even while the rewards are deeply affirming. We will be facing significant issues in the years ahead, and the many challenges before us require excellence in our presiding quorums and in the many responsibilities people carry in every congregation of the church. I pray that God’s blessings will sustain and empower all who serve so that the witness of the Community of Christ will be equal to the challenges of our time.

Respectfully submitted,
W. Grant McMurray
President of the Church
March 6, 2002

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