Tuesday, June 24, 2014

"Unto Such Shall Ye Continue to Minister": Responding to Church Discipline


The tempest of public opinion is raging among the online community of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because of Kate Kelly's excommunication on Monday. I don't envy her, her priesthood leaders in Virginia, or the Church public affairs staff right now--all of whom are dealing with the fallout from that decision. Each is facing down an inhuman amount of vitriol and false doctrine that I find to be infinitely more tragic that what is actually happening to her.

On Excommunication

I've seen members of the Church in support of Kelly comparing excommunication to damnation. This is false, and I cannot believe that honest members of the Church do not know better than this.

Excommunication is the not the worst thing that could ever happen to someone. I've seen many people say that, and it simply isn't true. Excommunication is not the end of someone's relationship with God. He doesn't cease to love them, to bless them, and to teach them. The Atonement of Jesus Christ still covers them. They still have the same claim on repentance, mercy, and grace that we all have. While they no longer have a right to the full blessing of the gift of the Holy Ghost, they still possess the Light of Christ. The Holy Ghost can still guide them in their lives. They can still pray, feast on the scriptures, and feel the love of God. I would even suggest, based on what I've heard excommunicated members say upon returning, their capacity to be closer to God is enhanced exponentially during their excommunication IF they seek for it.

Excommunication is not the end
of someone's relationship with God.
Excommunication is not damnation to hell. It is not a forced estrangement from family members on either side of the veil. Excommunication is nothing more or less than a severing of a person's relationship with the Church itself. They are denied all possibility to serve in, and especially speak to members of the Church in the official setting of the Church. Even then, it's not comparable to shunning--anyone from the Church can have contact with excommunicated members. (3 Nephi 18: 27-33, 2 Nephi 26: 23-28, D&C 64: 8-12)

Excommunication doesn't turn into all of these more serious consequences until after a person's judgment by Jesus Christ. Only he has the right to remove a person from all of their blessings and any hope of exaltation. We are taught that he will only do this if a person refuses to repent, but we must also acknowledge that only he knows if a person has truly repented or not. Excommunication on its own cannot damn someone. Members of the Church shouldn't compare excommunication to damnation, it's melodramatic and disingenuous. And they certainly shouldn't take upon themselves the right of judgment that only belongs to Jesus Christ. (See Mormon 8: 20, D&C 82: 23, Matthew 7: 1-2)

On False Analogies and the Question of Doctrine

I've also seen members and non-members alike comparing what is happening to Kate Kelly with the priesthood ban on men of color. They've argued that the scriptures never teach that a woman CAN'T be ordained to the priesthood, which means there must be room for the move to ordain them in this life. Any refusal to do so is thereby comparable to denying men of different races the priesthood.

The comparison LDS women to disenfranchised men of color is a false analogy. The circumstances for the two groups are different to the point of being incomparable. In the case of race and the priesthood, the sons of God were being denied what can argued historically and with doctrine to be their right. Historically in the Old Testament church, black men were ordained to the priesthood. No one explains this better than Darius Gray, chosen leader by the LDS group to speak to racial issues and the African American experience via the GENESIS group.




Note the portion where he explains that Melchizedek was a son of Canaan, the grandson of Ham. We know from the scriptural account that Ham and his descendants were black, including one of the most celebrated high priests in the history of the Church. The man for whom the Melchizedek Priesthood is named, and one of the most righteous men that has ever lived on this earth, was a black man.

The priesthood ban was a changeable policy which had been instituted at the time of the American Civil War, and was removed by the prophet in 1978 according to revelation. Black men in the Church were restored to what had previously been their privilege to receive--the ordination that they had enjoyed through the majority of the Church's Old Testament history, and possibly even some of the New Testament history. As such, ordaining persons of color to the priesthood was a necessary part of the Restoration of the gospel.

Will women ever be ordained to the Priesthood?

Why is this different from ordaining women to the priesthood? Because we have zero historical or doctrinal evidence that a woman has ever rightfully held the offices of the priesthood. There has never been a female high priest. There has never been a female prophet, in the sense of being responsible for the entire Church as a whole. Not in the Old Testament Church, not in the New Testament Church, and not in the modern Church. There is simply no legitimate precedent for a claim by a woman to an earthly priesthood office in either the Aaronic or Melchizedek priesthood. Search the scriptures, you will not find one. You will find plenty of eternally significant women serving in every imaginable capacity, many even as leaders within the Church. But never as part of the priesthood offices. And, I would add, you never hear or see these choice women pushing for ordination.

Members of the Church largely know this to be true. But I've seen some of them attempt to defend the Church's position against Kate Kelly by arguing that women will never receive the priesthood. They maintain the position that by definition, the priesthood is power given to men and therefore cannot be given to women. Women don't need to be ordained to it, the vast majority of them don't WANT to be ordained to it, and they are just as happy without ever being ordained to it. Most of the people I see taking up this stance are women, and they need to understand the ways in which what they're saying is untrue.


The temple is the only realm in this life in which women are allowed to exercise that priesthood.

Women can, do, and will receive ordination to the priesthood. There is no mandate against it in the scriptures because it already happens in very specific functions in the Church today. Ordination is the plan of Heavenly Father for his daughters in the future. Today, women function as officiators in the priesthood ordinances extended to women in the temples of the Church. The temple is the only realm in this life in which women are allowed to exercise that priesthood. These roles serve as a preparation for the full enfranchisement that women will receive in the kingdom of God. 

It is the intention of Heavenly Father for all of his righteous daughters to hold the priesthood. They will be priestesses, queens, and rulers in God's kingdom in equal partnership with their husbands. They will command and have dominion over their divine inheritance as a goddess, in the same sense that the priesthood prepares God's worthy sons to be gods in his house.

If it is the ultimate destiny of God's daughters to hold the priesthood, why can't they exercise it through ordination on earth?

Our roles as Relief Society women
prepare us equally as well
--if not better--than
earthly ordination ever could.
 
I've asked this question throughout my experience in the Church, and the answer I've received to my prayers is a simple one. Women being ordained in this life is not the best way for them to prepare for their roles in and responsibilities in eternity. Motherhood, sisterhood, and our roles as Relief Society women prepare us equally as well--if not better--than earthly ordination ever could. 

Some people seem to think that if women are ordained to the priesthood, this is somehow going to change the roles they play in the Church and in eternity. But I think they'd be overwhelmingly disappointed by how little things would actually change. They'll still be mothers. They'll still raise children. They'll still be sisters, teachers, friends, and leaders. They'll still be naturally better at serving the needs of women and children than men are. Other than a change in title, giving women the priesthood wouldn't change the things they dislike the most in people and their choices.

So the error in groups like Ordain Women is one of impatience. Knowing they will receive the priesthood one day simply isn't enough. They want it now, and they want it their way. And they're making the very dangerous mistake of misinterpreting the answer from the Lord and the Church as "No," when really it is, "Yes, but not this way. Not the way you're trying to achieve it."

It isn't impossible for the Lord to change the entire function of the Church to ordain women to the offices of the priesthood. He's the Lord--he can do as he pleases and frequently does. But even if ordination doesn't come until heaven, I'm content to wait my turn to receive it, and live as worthily as I can so I will receive it. And the number one requirement to honor the priesthood is one written into the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood, in D&C 84: 33-41.

33 For whoso is faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods of which I have spoken, and the magnifying their calling, are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies.
34 They become the sons of Moses and of Aaron and the seed of Abraham, and the church and kingdom, and the elect of God.
35 And also all they who receive this priesthood receive me, saith the Lord;
36 For he that receiveth my servants receiveth me;
37 And he that receiveth me receiveth my Father;
38 And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him.
39 And this is according to the oath and covenant which belongeth to the priesthood.
40 Therefore, all those who receive the priesthood, receive this oath and covenant of my Father, which he cannot break, neither can it be moved.
41 But whoso breaketh this covenant after he hath received it, and altogether turneth therefrom, shall not have forgiveness of sins in this world nor in the world to come.

This promise applies equally to the male and female leaders of the Church. When we show respect and obey the counsel of anyone anointed by God, whether they are ordained to the priesthood or not, we have done the will of God. Let us maintain this as our standard and be at peace with the timetable of God in all things.

I know that God lives. I know that Jesus is the Christ. I know that he leads and guides his Church today through the inspired leadership of a prophet. We have a Quorum of Twelve Apostles, identical to those in the time when Christ walked the earth. I testify that they give us the counsel and protection from anything and everything that would take us away from Christ and our loyalty to him. I sustain them as our leadership, and pray that all members everywhere will have the same determination. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.