Kate Kelly Excommunicated

http://news.yahoo.com/mormon-church-excommunicates-womens-group-founder-202755739.html

Well…was that really unexpected? Come on folks, let’s be real for a minute. Advocating for women’s ordination is one thing, something that I’m not necessarily against…but I’ve explained that before on here. I don’t get bound up about it either way. No, I should say that it’s fairly obvious that it was the demonstrations that led to this. She seems like she wants to continue attending church…I hope she really keeps going. I guess the truth with this situation is that while the communications within the church and talk about leaders and so forth has changed in recent years with social media and blogs, there is a limit to what is acceptable. I think we’re seeing just how close we can get to a boundary before we go too far.

Church Response to NYT Article and Additional Commentary

http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/church-responds-to-church-discipline-questions

Church Responds to Church Discipline Questions
SALT LAKE CITY — 

The Church issued the following statement today in response to questions from the news media regarding Church discipline:

“The Church is a family made up of millions of individuals with diverse backgrounds and opinions. There is room for questions and we welcome sincere conversations. We hope those seeking answers will find them and happiness through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“Sometimes members’ actions contradict Church doctrine and lead others astray. While uncommon, some members in effect choose to take themselves out of the Church by actively teaching and publicly attempting to change doctrine to comply with their personal beliefs. This saddens leaders and fellow members. In these rare cases, local leaders have the responsibility to clarify false teachings and prevent other members from being misled. Decisions are made by local leaders and not directed or coordinated by Church headquarters.

“Actions to address a person’s membership and standing in their congregation are convened after lengthy periods of counseling and encouragement to reconsider behavior. Ultimately, the door is always open for people to return to the Church.”

 

This statement is not unexpected. It also reads like something of a “canned” message, which is also not unexpected. The Church has long ago established that disciplinary hearings are not public information. The difficulty with this situation is that it’s being played out in the public news and the only side that will be heard is that of the accused individuals. The sides of the situation are also fairly well established already, the liberal groups supporting the individuals in question and the conservatives supporting the Church proper. Moderates will be torn, I suppose.

Ms. Kelly has a couple informative posts up on the Ordain Women website if you want to look at them. Again, the problem here is that this is her side only. Her Bishop will almost certainly not comment on the matter, nor will anyone else. In this situation, I stand by my comments last night that her hearing is the result of the organized actions in Salt Lake City during General Conference. Without those, I suspect she would not be here.

There seems to be less information out there from Mr. Dehlin. At least a couple of websites in the ex-Mormon community indicate that he has gone through periods of inactivity in the past. Here and here. This seems to be something that is not new to him. In the New Order Mormon forum, Mr. Dehlin posted that he no longer believes (or believed at the time) in the Restoration of the Church, Priesthood, and so forth. To say that belief in that is fundamental to the church would be an understatement. It’s equivalent to one of my United Methodist friends not believing in the teachings of Wesley. I guess I find it difficult to self-identify as a Mormon while lacking belief in such a fundamental church teaching. If that belief, or lack of belief, is still the case, it should come as no surprise that this is happening to him. 

In this same sense, I would say that I suspect supporters of these organizations, along with supporters of organizations like Affirmation, will be fine. I actually just “liked” the Affirmation New York City page on Facebook today. At the core of all of this, regardless of female leadership or the Church’s acceptance of the LBGT community in a membership context, WE, as members, must be willing to accept them into our congregations. 

To me, the outcome of the situations with Ms. Kelly and Mr. Dehlin is not really in question. Truth is, believing something that is different from orthodox Church teachings and even writing about it is different from actively recruiting people to stage a demonstration on Temple Square or freely admitting that you no longer believe in the Restoration. I think we all need to remember the difference during this time.

Possible Church Discipline Against Two Members

So I read an article from the New York Times a little while ago:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/12/us/two-activists-within-mormon-church-threatened-with-excommunication.html?_r=3

Then I saw a blog post by LDS blogger Jana Riess:

http://janariess.religionnews.com/2014/06/11/facing-mormon-purge/

I wonder if this entire situation might have turned out differently? My personal view is that the problem here has been the methods of “protest” rather than the message. My thought is that Ms. Kelly advocating something of a sit-in at General Conference got her here, not the message of asking for the ordination of women. I have nothing really against the ordination of women. It is not really something that would “bother” me. I do have some serious questions for the organizers about how they would propose reorganizing the entire church if we went to a universal priesthood, i.e. would Relief Society go away and ladies meet with the equally aged men, would Young Men and Young Women become a single youth group, does the Priesthood become “diluted” if everyone has it, etc? But I am not against this as an idea. I was, however, against them attempting to attend General Conference. I think the first time they tried to do it was something of an oddity. They were politely told that they would not be granted admission. Coming back for a second time became something different. My view is that had they stopped at the single appearance and then taken back to words, I do not think this would be happening.

I am not quite as familiar with Mr. Dehlin’s situation. I know from his public Facebook page he self-identifies as a “Cultural Mormon” rather than simply “Mormon” or “Latter-day Saint.” I also know that he runs the website Mormon Voices. The New York Times article said that a letter from his Stake President dated June 7 that “cited an Internet posting in which Mr. Dehlin wrote that he no longer believes many fundamental “truth claims” the church makes.” Personally, I think Mr. Dehlin erred in providing that letter to the New York Times. I also do not think providing the letter will help his cause. I also quite honestly wonder why he attends if he “no longer believes many fundamental ‘truth claims'” of the church. Now, I am not trying to say that he SHOULD leave, simply asking the question. I would also as this question of a United Methodist who no longer believed the teachings of John Wesley, a Presbyterian who no longer believed the teachings of John Calvin, or a Lutheran who no longer believed the teachings of Martin Luther. It is difficult for me to understand how a person who does not believe in or accept the fundamental beliefs of a denomination would still attend that particular denomination. Perhaps this is not quite the case with Mr. Dehlin, but it seems that way to me. It seems to me that this is the “problem” that the Church may have with him.

His message of acceptance for the LGBT community seems to be a good one. We certainly need to be more welcoming of these people. I feel that we fall short in this area quite a bit. I am not necessarily trying to say that we should baptize an openly LGBT person, this is a highly divisive issue in the Mainline churches, while the modern Evangelical churches, along with the Roman Catholic church, are generally against the practice. Same goes with same-sex marriage. These issues are divisive, to a degree, in the LDS Church as well, we can’t deny that. What should not be divisive, however, is that we should welcome ALL persons into our congregations if they wish to attend. The sign on the front of every building says “Visitors Welcome.” I would sincerely ask if they really are? Not by the Church as a body, but as members. Do members really welcome the odd and strange people into our mix? In this way, his message was right on. We, as a church community, need to be more welcoming of the people who don’t fit the standard mold of our church. They need to feel welcome to attend and hear the message of the Gospel. If they are not then we, as members, are doing something wrong. I have to wonder if there is information about Mr. Dehlin what we do not know. 

Truly, it’s a shame either way that these folks may no longer be a part of the church membership. Obviously the majority of liberal LDS bloggers will come down on the side of these individuals while the conservative bloggers will be against them. I suppose I am in the conservative camp, but because of their methods (at least Ms. Kelly’s methods) rather than their message. We will have to see how this turns out.

Service of the Passion (Twelve Gospels)- Greek Orthodox Church

So this is going to be interesting to write. I want to walk the line of being respectful to the traditions of the Greek Church and actually going through how I felt during the service.

So I went to the church after work and I was one of the first people in the nave (chapel or sanctuary would be the relevant Low Church term). I got to watch as folks came in to sit down. Some of them went to the front of the nave and sort of bowed in front of each of six icons (pictures) on the front wall. I see after some research this wall is called an Iconostasis and separates the Nave from the Sanctuary (different from Low Church sanctuary). Some bowed, touched the floor, and crossed their chest three times at the middle four icons, then only once for the outer two. After the bowing and crossing, they kissed the icon. Some only bowed and crossed once prior to kissing the icon. This was very interesting to see.

So at exactly 7pm, the service starts. It starts without introductions of any kind. Two men just started with chanting and I am virtually certain they were chanting in Greek. I had no idea what they were doing. I wouldn’t find out for about an hour and a half, but there were books in the foyer (Narthex if we’re being technical) that lays out the service word for word. VERY High Church tradition. So they chant for a little while longer, read some Psalms which were numbered in the book, but they didn’t announce which Psalms they were reading. After a fair amount of singing/chanting in Greek and English, I start to hear bells.

Once again, I have no idea what is going on. After 30 seconds or so, the Priest (I think he was the Priest, certainly a clergyman) comes out from the Sanctuary carrying an incense burner. I don’t know what this was called. It was handheld and looked something like a small kettle. So he walks all around the nave with this and goes back into the Sanctuary. He then opens some doors in the center of the Iconostasis, called Beautiful Gates, and sets up a podium. He begins the first Gospel reading, I wish I had a copy of the book that we all used, there was something very specific that he said prior to every Gospel reading. I remember part of it was “let us be attentive.”

The first Gospel reading was quite long, being the better part of four chapters in the Gospel of John. He finishes this reading and the folks in the choirs, two men on one side of the Iconostasis and one on the other, start reading and chanting again, in Greek and English. After they have started the chants, one of the men who had been standing on either side of the podium lights one of twelve candles that are in front of the Iconostasis. There were twelve, seemingly for the twelve Gospel readings, but I am not sure of the significance. This procedure, minus the incense, went on for the next 4 readings. After the fifth reading, however, something different happened. The priest came out again with the incense and walked around the Nave. After going back into the Sanctuary, he and others begin a procession out. There were two of the candle bearers in front carrying fans, a man behind them walking in reverse carrying a thurible, a chained incense burner, behind him is the priest who had been doing the readings carrying a large cross (about 7-8 feet tall) with the image of Jesus Christ nailed on it, behind him was an older man in a different set of ecclesiastical vestments.  They walk around the entire nave as we all kneel on kneelers behind the pews and then place the cross in the center of the church in front of the Iconostasis and Beautiful Gates.

After this, we started with more Gospel readings and each of these took place in the same manner as before. Priest would read, candle would be lit, choirs would begin chanting other parts of the service. It should be noted, I forgot to mention this earlier, that the priest chants/sings the entire Gospel reading each time. Very, very interesting. Eventually, the Twelve Gospels were read to the congregation and the service was concluded with a liturgically defined prayer.

So, what did I learn? Well, this service was three hours long, first. There was no preaching of any kind. It was simply High Church readings of the Gospels with various interludes. The Gospels told the story of the last day of Christ. From the Last Supper, to His trial, to the cross, and finally to being placed in the tomb. The manner of service was quite unnerving at first because I lacked a liturgical book to follow along with the service. While this was certainly different, it was indeed spiritual. I honestly don’t know the symbolism of everything that went on. Once I had a book to read from and follow along, it became easier to follow. I’d actually like to get a copy of one and read it over again. Being from a church that is effectively a Low Church tradition, this was a very unique service. One day I may go back and try to sit through a more routine service. But overall, I had an enjoyable, if quite befuddling, evening.

WrestleMania and Theology

This was a very unique week. Strangely, I think I found a great deal of spiritual knowledge and development in professional wrestling this week. My best friend Eric and I traveled to New Orleans this weekend for WrestleMania and all the events the surround that. Saturday night was the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony. There were two very big stories with this that I believe can have theological meaning.

The first is a story of reaching out to someone and that someone coming back from a terrible situation. The second person to come out during the ceremony goes by the name of Jake Roberts, though that is not his real name. He goes through a reasonably brief chronicle of his life, talking about how he was unfaithful to every woman he ever knew, except for a wrestling ring which he compared to a lady, and that once he lost the physical ability to compete in wrestling, he turned to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain of not being able to compete. He also said that he was often jealous of some of his friends who had died before him and often asked God why he was still here when all he wanted to do was die. He said that he didn’t want to commit suicide because of the additional pain it would cause his children. But through all this, a good friend of his reached out to him, helped him get back on track, and really recreate his life. He’s made amends with all of his children and the rest of the people he hurt over the years. Not to go too far in comparing Jake’s friend to Jesus Christ, but that really is something of an indication of how far Christ will reach for us. We are never too far gone down a path of self-destruction for God’s love to be available to us. It is always there and will always be there. This was a man who was determined to end his own life and be done with it all, but a friend reached out to him and quite literally saved him. That’s Christ, always there. But even closer to home, how much can I do personally to help someone who is in need? Well, given the situation, I don’t see why I couldn’t be just as much help to someone as Jake’s friend was to him. In fact, I strongly suspect that would be the Christ-like thing to do.

The last speaker at the Hall of Fame spoke a lot about forgiveness. His wrestling name is Ultimate Warrior and he legally changed his name to Warrior; this has become something of a running joke among fans. Warrior went into the Hall of Fame this year after basically not speaking to WWE leadership since about 1996. Warrior had several disputes with them over the years and one of the worst came when WWE produced a DVD about his career that was basically 2 hours of other wrestlers badmouthing him on camera. He came back with some fairly terse rebuttals. All in all Warrior was generally not well regarded for several years. However, late last year, that changed. Both sides came together, mended their past difficulties, and determined that Warrior would go into the Hall this year. Theologically, this is a good example that we should forgive each other of wrong doings and that we will never be satisfied if we are seeking vengeance against another. If we are unable to forgive others and move on from the situation, we will never have closure on that particular situation. Sometimes forgiveness is difficult, but it is almost always possible. Secondly, if we seek vengeance, there will never be satisfaction. I think that vengeance is something that we will never find enough of. We will continually seek it until it consumes us.

Finally, something that doesn’t have a happy ending. Three days after Warrior was inducted to the Hall of Fame he died. We really aren’t guaranteed anything. Not the rest of today, not tomorrow. All these theological teachings that float around, do I follow them? Do I live in such a way that dying tomorrow would be no problem? Can I do better? Nothing is promised to us on Earth. I sometimes forget that.

Strangely (or likely not) the reading this week in my Intro to Theology course was on salvation. What is salvation to us? What does it mean? To me, salvation is not about getting a big mansion on the big side of Heaven. Salvation, to me, is about taking on the name and mission of Jesus Christ and helping others, just as Christ did. I can be the person who reaches out to a friend who is in dire need of help. I can be the one who forgives even when it doesn’t seem like forgiveness is deserved. Theological lessons can come from many places, some of them quite unexpected. Certainly professional wrestling is an unexpected a place as one might ever find. But this week, I found a lot of spirituality in professional wrestling.

 

Ministry Matters™ | Blog | On Telling Gay Persons to “Go and Sin No More”

Ministry Matters™ | Blog | On Telling Gay Persons to “Go and Sin No More”.

On Telling Gay Persons to “Go and Sin No More”

Being a self-identified, Bible-loving evangelical, I am often asked how conservative Christians should relate to the LGBT community. Despite my general lack of interest in these conversations, I find myself always being asked one “what if” question after another.

  • What if my gay friend wants me to make a cake for their wedding?
  • What if I throw a party and my gay friend wants to bring his/her partner?
  • What if my gay friend is getting married and wants me to attend?
  • What if the gay person at work wants to be my friend? When should I make it clear that I’m against their lifestyle?

When it comes to such questions, it’s amazing to me how much a relationship can change the tone of the inquiry. When coming from a Christian who has a friend or family member who is gay, there is often a desire to be faithful to their moral convictions but also be faithful to their relationship with their friend or family member. But when coming from a person without said relationship, there’s a higher percent chance that fear or anger will be an undercurrent (though this is not always the case, contrary to popular opinion). Nevertheless, at minimum, without a relationship, ethical abstraction or emphasis on principles can sometimes short-circuit mercy.

In both cases, whether a friendship exists or not, I’m inevitably asked the question,“Don’t I have a responsibility to tell gay persons to ‘Go and sin no more’”?

The following is my usual answer to that question. Please note that herein I am not attempting to change anyone’s mind about their ethical position. I am beginning where people are and am trying to push the conversation forward in a healthy way. You can judge whether or that is accomplished.

First, we need to take a quick look at John 8:1-11* to help us with an answer, as that’s the actual passage where Jesus tells a sexual sinner to “go and sin no more.”

John 8 opens with a group of theologians coming to Jesus holding a woman caught in adultery, the punishment for which is the death penalty (Deuteronomy 22:22). And these theologians have chosen stoning as their mechanism of death. Further, as if that’s not terrifying enough, they actually force her to stand before the crowd gathered at the temple. They do not merely want her to die, they want her to be shamed.

They bring her to Jesus in order to test and see whether or not he will be faithful to scripture. They want to know if he’ll be biblical. Will he remain faithful to the text? This is exactly why they remind him of “what Moses commanded,” as if Jesus didn’t already know that. They want to see how Jesus’ comments will contradict God’s word, so they then say to Jesus, “Now what do you say?”

Jesus doesn’t even initially respond. He simply bends down and writes something in the dirt. Then he says, “If any of you are without sin, you can be the first to throw the stone.”

Putting their stones down, these men walk away, from the oldest to the youngest.

Jesus is left standing with the woman all by himself.

She is on the ground before him, but he stoops down and lifts her up.

Through a couple questions he makes her aware that her accusers are gone and that no one—not even him—is condemning her.

Only then does he finally say, “Go and sin no more.”

Now, how does this oft quoted text help us understand when conservative Christians should feel free to tell their gay friends to “go and sin no more”? Here are a number of observations:

  1. Notice Jesus stood up for this clearly guilty woman before her “justified” accusers. Everyone knew she was guilty of adultery, but Jesus actually stands up for her, anyway.
  2. Notice Jesus puts his own life at risk for her. When a group of angry religious people are literally about to enact the death penalty, it takes some extreme bravery to stand between them and a person who is objectively guilty of violating a biblical law.
  3. Notice Jesus is more concerned with pointing out the accusers’ sin than in pointing out her sins. He wants to show that they are sinners, too. They think their sins are of lesser offense to God, but Jesus is pointing out that he’s not too concerned with “who has sinned worse” than someone else.
  4. Notice Jesus establishes, first, that he does not intend to condemn her. And that no one, therefore, is able to condemn her.
  5. Notice Jesus takes the time to lift her up off the ground – a symbolic action of great compassion. He is literally pulling her up out of the dirt and mire of all that condemnation and shame. She is a person, not an object lesson in biblical ethics.
  6. Notice Jesus does all this publicly, so that everyone can see that he does not condemn her.
  7. And notice, therefore, that Jesus has earned the right to then say to her, “Go and sin no more.”

So, if you’re a conservative Christian and you’re concerned with when you need to tell your gay friends to “go and sin no more” here are a few things to do first.

  • Stand up for your gay friends. Stand with them over against even other Christians who would use the Bible to shame them.
  • Put your own life and reputation at risk, if necessary. Christians ought to be the first people standing between gay persons and Westboro Baptist Church and the like.
  • Understand, for all your desire to tell your friend that s/he is a sinner, they already know what you believe. So believe me, without you telling them of your moral convictions, they’re already well-aware. They’re more concerned with whether or not you’ll love them anyway.
  • Be sure to make just as passionate a stance against the sins of God’s people. If you’re just pointing out everyone else’s sins, but you’re not equally passionate – if not more passionate – about pointing out the sins (especially the sexual sins) of the church, then you’re being a hypocrite. This hypocrisy costs the church moral authority with people outside the church.
  • Let your friend know that you know you don’t sit in the judgment seat. They need to hear you say that you are not their judge, jury, and executioner.
  • Don’t make an ethical object lesson out of your friend. This is a lot easier if you’ve gone out of your way to make sure that you have a genuine friendship with them. It’s hard to make an “object lesson” out of someone you care about.
  • Do not be ashamed to show affection and compassion publicly.

Then, after all that, if your conservative moral principles require that you say something, only then have you (maybe!) earned the right—not to condemn (you’ve already given up that right)—to challenge them to “go and sin no more.” I know that the well-intentioned conservative Christians just want to remain faithful to their interpretations of scripture. And I know they are concerned about appearing to morally compromise. But when I read this passage, and when I see Jesus partying with those society considered the worst of sinners, I can’t help but think that Jesus was intentionally trying to appear to be a moral compromiser. I’m not asking conservative Christians to give up their morals or values. But I am saying that if you have not loved intensely enough to at least appear to others that you’re morally compromising, maybe you haven’t loved enough.

Have I missed anything else in the passage that might help push this conversation forward in a healthy, godly manner?

*It should be noted that John 8:1-11 is of questionable origins. Many of our best biblical scholars do not think this story was part of John’s original writings.

Music and Preaching: Talent

Does music invite the spirit into a church gathering? Why certainly it does. But let’s ask ourselves why that is the case. I’ve been thinking about this recently. Back in December, I traveled to a Christmas gathering with all of our local missionaries and the missionaries from half of the Tallahassee mission. It was a very spiritual gathering. Why? Because the men and women who performed were talented individuals. Ask yourself the question: when was the last time you saw someone perform a musical number in church who was terrible? I’m going to say that you haven’t, ever. The fact is folks without reasonable musical talent simply do not play in front of other people…well in a public setting anyway. I would not try to get in front of the congregation and sing a solo. Simply wouldn’t do it. I’m not a singer. A 6th Grade beginning flute player is not going to get up and try to solo How Great Thou Art. He or she would fail. It’s doubtful the bishop or local leader would even consider doing such a thing. Music in church, be it a song sung by the congregation with a piano accompanying them, or an individual singing a song with a violin playing along, guitars, trumpets, the whole deal, is almost always spiritual because there are talented individuals involved in the musical process OR there are enough people to mask any lack of talent, as with congregational hymns.

Consider this, most of us have seen horrible performances of the Star Spangled Banner, Carl Lewis and Rosanne Barr come to mind. Were either of these folk’s members of our congregation, would we ever consider asking them to sing one Sunday? To be sure we would not.

Why then, if we know with near certainty that we would never ask someone without musical talent to sing or play for the congregation, do we, rather often, ask folks with virtually no speaking talent to preach? Something doesn’t add up. Think about it.