Presidential Statement

By President W. Grant McMurray
Wednesday, March 31, 2004

The following is an edited transcript of remarks made by President W. Grant McMurray on Wednesday, March 31, when he returned to the conference chamber following the approval of his Words of Counsel to the Church as Section 162 of the Doctrine and Covenants.

grant-sermonI wish to express my deep appreciation to the Conference for your confidence and support, and far more importantly for your willingness to engage with me in the process of trying to discern God’s will for us as a people. I know discussion has continued for a number of hours and I am aware of some of the concerns and issues that have been lifted up. I hope you will indulge me just a moment or two to reflect on a few things that are on my heart.

First of all, I have had a few people say to me that they are sorry that it took so long. I want you to know with all my heart that I am not sorry. We share together in a very important and serious process and I do not underestimate for one moment the burden that places on me or the burden that places on you. It is part of the genius of this tradition that I love so much and that we honor in our coming together. We are called to stretch the limits of our understanding in what we sometimes call a theocratic-democratic tension. That’s been part of our tradition from the very beginning, and I rejoice in it.

What it means is that I have to struggle to truly understand and express God’s promptings, just as have those who have preceded me in this responsibility. But then your job is to struggle equally hard to discern whether that speaks to you and for the church. That is who we are. That is what we are about. I am eternally grateful to be a part of a church that is willing to engage together in that kind of prayerful exploration and search for truth.

I want to say something about words. Those of you who know me well know that I care very deeply about words. I work hard at how I express things, especially in written communication, because I think words are important. I’m thankful for those who edit what I write, but they usually know they are in for a battle with me because I am very particular about what goes into print. I care very much about words, but I also care about the spirit behind the words. Sometimes in trying to burrow deeply into the precise meaning of a phrase or a sentence or a paragraph, one loses the sense of what the words are really trying to communicate.

In that regard, let me make something perfectly clear. The One we follow is Jesus Christ—he who was born, lived on this earth, taught the gospel of love, embodied it in his very being, died for our sins, and was resurrected to live again in the hearts and souls of his disciples in both the first century and the twenty-first century. Let us be clear about that and not quibble about pronouns to the point that we fail to understand the truth and the spirit of the call that has come to the church to be followers of Jesus Christ. There is no confusion about whom we follow or what our mission is all about.

I also want to say something about the word “listen.” I have been confronted with that word over the past number of months as I have thought about the coming of this Conference. You may remember that in my sermon on Sunday night I quoted from Section 1 of the Doctrine and Covenants, which begins, “Hearken O ye people of my church,” and proceeds to lay out the call to the church that stirred such passion in 1831. It is a familiar scripture, but I was struck forcefully by the phrase “listen together” in the opening sentence. I had never noticed it before, even though I had read it many times.

Frankly, I do not know whether I saw it this time when I first read that scripture in preparing my sermon or when I was preparing the document you have just considered. The scripture, the sermon, and the Words of Counsel interplayed with one another over recent weeks and I honestly do not know the time that it was first impressed upon me.

Listen together. The words came in 1831 but that is a message we need to hear in the year 2004 in a multicultural church of great diversity with people who from out of their own study and faith have arrived at a variety of different viewpoints about all kinds of issues. Listen together. I want to let you know how important it is for us to recognize that the body is sharing in a sacred calling, that building community is a sacred act, and that respecting and listening to one another in love is part of the call of discipleship in our time.

The last thing I want to say is that throughout this entire process, not least during the last two days but also in all of the preparation we have been going through, I have been filled with a renewed sense of my abundant love for our church and a powerful conviction of the call that comes again and again to this movement. I love who we have been. I honor, respect, and feel an enormous sense of allegiance to that tradition. I assure you that in my own ministry I will continue to bear witness to that to my very last days.

I also believe that the spirit of our movement calls us always to be open and receptive to where God would lead us. I do not pretend to know where God is going to take us. I do not know, but I do choose to trust in God and know that God will continue to bless us as we journey together.

My friends, I thank you for your support, but far more importantly I thank you for your willingness to risk, to explore, to pray, to think, and to talk with one another about the things that are on your heart. When the talking is over, I invite you to listen to the spirit of the counsel you have just considered. It urges us to listen and share, but then to get about the task to which we are called. Let us be engaged as disciples of the Lord Jesus in witnessing to our friends and neighbors, and sharing in works of love, peacemaking, and justice wherever we may go. Let us together be the church that we are called to be.

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Guidance for Consideration . . .

By Presiding Evangelist Danny A. Belrose
April 3rd, 2004 (final legislative session, World Conference 2004)

The following statement was given by Presiding Evangelist Danny A. Belrose during the Saturday morning legislative session and is provided here for the information of the Conference.

belroseFrom the day a pubescent farm boy knelt amid a leafy grove of trees to seek divine direction, we have been a people probing and pursuing God’s will and way. It has been, and will continue to be, a quest in which we seek not so much to possess Truth as to be possessed by it–to rejoice in it, to weep in it, to turn toward it, more often than not at the expense of our own will. For all too frequently our “will and way” is not God’s “will and way.” At various junctures on our journey of discipleship, liberal and conservative thinkers have stood hand-in-hand at the threshold of tomorrow equally assured that the beckoning horizon mirrors their vision of “what is right!”

We have teetered here before–ears straining to hear Truth’s confirming voice in prophetic utterance, eyes proof-texting Holy Writ, and prayers proffered to soften intractable hearts that do not feel what we feel, understand what we understand, or follow the God that we follow. And yet, despite passionate polarization, we have been willing to let God be God. In response to the pervasive influence of the Holy Spirit, we have seen shadows of disagreement merge and slip over thresholds poised before baptisms in polygamist cultures, priesthood exclusivity, close Communion, and the very name by which this movement bears its witness of God’s will and way.

The church always pauses at the brink of vital issues that cry for the gospel’s response. And so it should. Unresolved concerns call for the faithful to listen, to dialogue, to pray, and to unify our very best efforts to discern what is right. The church pauses now, pondering its response to homosexuality.

“Trust God’s Spirit” has been our constitution! It must continue to be so–for this mandate is the very heartbeat of discipleship. We have been reminded that trust dampens the fires of urgency: “Trust my Spirit to sustain and uphold you. Do nothing in haste, but continue to trust in the enduring promises of the One in whose name you have been given life” (Doctrine and Covenants 159:7).

Dear friends, we have wisely and faithfully responded to this counsel in our action to defer legislative resolution of the matter of homosexuality. Notwithstanding, many continue to agonize over this question, and passionate voices crying “for” and “against” will continue to echo in our midst. May we speak with tenderness of heart. May we listen compassionately. May we be community. May we hear the voices of sisters and brothers both liberal and conservative without prejudice. May the fervor of competing pleas not drown out those silent saints who continue to seek understanding and guidance. And may we not be governed by fear. Perfect love casts out all fear, and we are a community created and purchased by Love.
May we remember that whenever the church kneels in the grove of indecision, it does so as an act of faith. A willing suspension “of unbelief.” A willingness to be surprised. A willingness to open our hearts and minds to new understandings, new revelation, and new life for liberals and for conservatives alike. We are in this together. We kneel in the grove together. We seek God’s will and way, together.

Dear friends, during the past few months this matter has weighed heavily upon me. I care deeply for the church, as do you. I empathize with those whose passions cry out at both extremes of this issue. I agonize with the silent saints in the middle for whom the voice of certitude is mute. I pray for guidance for the leadership of the church at all levels.

I have considered the obligations of the office to which I am called and have sensed a need to respond to this moment in the life of the church. I have experienced the promptings of the Spirit in what I have said and that which I am about to say. In deepest humility, I offer for your consideration words of guidance and blessing for the church:

The time has come for the church to lay aside personal agendas and differences that vitiate the cause to which we are called. We have allowed ourselves to be engulfed by an issue far less important than it is. The church’s mission is not to define human sexuality. Our mission is to serve the souls of men and women and boys and girls. Our mission is to express Christ’s community on earth–to reach out in joyful witness and to share generously of God’s blessings.

We have permitted a question swaying primarily on the European and English-speaking stage to choreograph the dance of a World Church in nations where this question is not being asked. We have not claimed it–rather it has claimed us. We worry that its final outcome will divide the church asunder, unaware that lack of patience is also a source of division. In response to divine counsel the time has come for us to “listen” and learn from each other as led by the Spirit–committing ourselves to pursue Truth in ways that no longer separate brothers and sisters nor sap the energies of the church.

We have been blessed with sacred text, yet some have sought confirmation in lieu of guidance in its words. Conservatives and liberals alike rest their cases on “facts”: the former assured by “facts” quoted; the latter by “facts” contextualized. Neither side convinces the other. The time has come for the church to free itself from literalism and factualism and to hear the sacred story in ways that honor the past, enlighten the present, and create God’s future.

We have allowed the sweep-second hand of culture to pressure our process of discernment. The time has come when the church must forsake deadlines that anticipate resolution of this question at each emerging World Conference and allow God to bless the church in God’s own way, in God’s own time.

We have permitted legalism to overshadow legitimacy. Priesthood’s authority has never been measured by whom God calls but by ministry actualized. Its value is neither greater nor less than its blessings offered and received. Many serve humbly, sacrificially, and with great devotion in the priesthood, while others passively continue to carry but its name. The time has come for the church to delve more deeply into the meaning, purpose, and accountability of priesthood focused less on the letter of the law and more on the spirit of blessing it brings.

Many contribute willingly and joyfully to the cause of the kingdom. However, some conflicted by the issue of homosexuality have chosen to withhold their gifts or to mete out their stewardship in perceived measurement of the church’s faithfulness. The church is reminded that God’s generosity is neither transactional nor held in abeyance and we who are greatly blessed are called to a corresponding responsibility. Generosity serves only grace; it gives for “the sake of giving”–it moves us from minimums to maximums, from obligation to opportunity. The Great Commission must ring loudly in our ears and spill out freely in acts that heal the bruised and brokenhearted, bring justice to the oppressed, mend severed relationships, and renew purpose to life.

The gospel upholds the inestimable worth of all persons. The ground is level at the foot of the cross and none stands outside the grace of its shadow. We are called to find the face of Christ in those of different colors and different persuasions–to hear Christ’s voice in those who think differently and live differently. We are called to embrace those whose understanding of life is both less than and greater than our own, and whose image of the Divine cries to be seen and set free. Brothers and sisters, the time has come for the church to trust the Holy Spirit to bring harmony to all within the circle of God’s love. As we do so, we need not fear the future. Though some may choose to go their own way, the church’s response to homosexuality shall neither divide nor destroy the church if we let God be God. “Trust my Spirit to sustain and uphold you . . . continue to trust in the enduring promises of the One in whose name you have been given life.” Amen.

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