General Questions and Answers
- Why is the church having national conferences?
The 2010 World Conference approved inspired counsel to the church. That counsel included provisions for national conferences to address “pressing issues in various nations” that are not appropriate for the World Conferences to consider (Doctrine and Covenants 164:7c). Issues that are not appropriate for the World Conference are ones that “likely will cause serious harm in some of them [nations]” (Doctrine and Covenants 164:7b).
Mission centers in Australia, Canada, Central America, and the United States sent numerous resolutions to the 2010 World Conference, seeking to resolve questions about same-sex/gender marriage and the ordination of persons in same-sex/gender committed relationships. There are significant cultural and legal differences around these issues in many nations. World Church leaders determined—in harmony with Doctrine and Covenants 164:7—such questions were not appropriate to bring to World Conference. Australia, Canada, the United States, and the British Isles have decided to address these issues in national conferences.
- How has the Holy Spirit been evident in the national conference process?
The Holy Spirit has been evident in the unity expressed at the World Conference as it considered the portion of Doctrine and Covenants 164 that pertained to the provision for national conferences. It has blessed subsequent discussions of questions to be considered at the conferences. The Holy Spirit also has guided those planning national conferences to ensure the discussion and decision-making processes are respectful, fair, and open to the Spirit’s guidance. There also are reports of the Holy Spirit blessing group discussions about the issues in the nations preparing for national conferences.
- Why do the questions need to be different if the basic issues are the same?
Each nation planning a national conference has created questions that reflect the relevant laws, terminology, and cultural background in that nation. While the basic issues are the same, some situations and legal definitions are different. Each nation has designed questions that are understandable in its particular context.
- What do the terms “consensus” and “consent” mean?
“Consensus” means general agreement on a question or a viewpoint held by most or all.
- All viewpoints have been sufficiently presented and considered for the body to take informed action.
- A sufficient number of participants in a conference express support of a proposed direction or that they will not stand in the way of a proposal, OR…
- A sufficient number of participants express that they do not support a proposed direction.
The national conferences have developed processes to measure levels of consent (support) regarding certain questions.
- Will national conference recommendations have to be approved by World Conference?No. A national conference recommendation pertains only to the nation having the conference (See Doctrine and Covenants 164:7). Therefore, a recommendation will not have to be approved by World Conference. However, any policy revisions based on a national conference recommendation will have to be approved by the Council of Twelve Apostles and the First Presidency before any changes are implemented.
- What does it mean if no consent is reached in a national conference?
If a sufficient level of consent is not reached, the basic provisions of current policies will remain in place, just like in nations not having national conferences. If the outcome indicates about the same numbers of people not supportive and supportive of revising policies, then respectful discussion and discernment will continue.
- What are the basic provisions of current policies related to the questions coming before national conferences?
The basic provisions of current policies (summarized) are:
- Community of Christ priesthood members are not permitted to perform same-sex/gender marriages even if such marriages are legal in the civil jurisdiction where the marriage is planned.
- There is a difference between homosexual orientation (over which people may have little or no control) and homosexual activity (defined as sexual acts between persons of the same sex).
- Homosexuals who are not involved in homosexual activity can be considered for ordination to the priesthood.
- Homosexuals who are involved in homosexual activity cannot be considered for ordination to the priesthood.
- Sacramental marriage is reserved for one man and one woman.
- What if people are not satisfied with the results of national conferences and subsequent policy decisions and want to bring matters up for reconsideration? How can that occur?
It can occur in several ways. National, field, and language delegate meetings are provided for at World Conference. Discussions of pressing national issues may occur at these meetings. If there is a sufficient level of support (usually two-thirds or more of participants) for reconsidering a matter or for addressing a new issue, the field apostle(s) may develop a proposal for convening a national conference for “broader dialogue, understanding, and consent” (Doctrine and Covenants 164:7d).
Some apostolic fields have field (multinations) or national gatherings for various purposes. If the field apostle chooses, there can be discussion at such gatherings about issues that have been addressed at a national conference or that could be addressed at a future national conference. If there is a sufficient level of support for reconsidering a matter or for addressing a new issue, the field apostle may develop a proposal for convening a national conference according to established procedures.
Also, if legislation comes to the World Conference that is not appropriate for the World Conference to consider according to established criteria (Doctrine and Covenants 164:7), the First Presidency can rule the legislation “out of order” and refer it to the field apostle(s) involved for consideration as an item for a possible national conference.
- Is it appropriate for congregations or mission centers to take actions to tell their delegates or representative participants how to vote?
No. The church has a long-standing position that it is not appropriate to pressure or bind delegates to decide in a certain way before a conference. Delegates are elected to go to conferences to confer with other delegates and church leaders about important issues. Often delegates receive helpful information, additional perspective, and inspiration at conferences that benefit their decisions. The Holy Spirit can move in surprising and unifying ways when we gather in conferences in the spirit of worship and mutual discernment. Delegates and participants should attend national conferences with open minds and hearts so they can genuinely participate in the process of “common consent” in the church’s life.
- Is it appropriate to have potential delegates share their views on the questions to be considered by a national conference before the vote for delegates?
No. For the same reasons as stated above, it is not appropriate to request potential delegates to commit to a certain viewpoint as a condition of being elected a delegate.
- If policies change in one nation, what is the impact on another nation?
If policies change in one nation, the revised policies pertain only to that nation. Other nations will be informed of the changes, but the revised policies will not pertain to them.
- If a person in a long-term, committed, same-sex/gender relationship is called and ordained in nations where it is allowed, can that person provide priesthood ministry in a nation where policies would not have allowed it?
The church’s general policy is that ordination authorizes priesthood members to provide priesthood ministry wherever they live or travel. There is also a policy that priesthood ministry coming from outside of a church jurisdiction should be approved by the appropriate church officers. Usually, this applies to ministry from outside of one’s mission center, but mission centers may establish their own procedures for congregations within the mission center (See: Church Administrator’s Handbook: 2005 Edition, pg. 20). The basic principle is that requesting or receiving priesthood ministry is the responsibility of pastors, mission center presidents, supervising apostles, and other presiding officers of the church.
If a policy change is approved for a nation that allows people in committed same-sex/gender relationships to be ordained, there are other nations where such priesthood activity would create serious harm and disruption to church organization and mission. Same-sex/gender relationships are not legal in several nations, and people could be put in serious danger. Therefore, if such ordinations are approved in a nation, there will be other nations where the priesthood ministry of people in committed, same-sex/gender relationships should not be offered and will not be accepted. Additional details, including a list of nations where priesthood ministry by people in same-sex/gender relationships should not be offered and will not be accepted, will be provided before any policy changes are implemented.
- If an ordained person in a long-term, committed, same-sex/gender relationship/marriage moves to a nation that has policies that do not allow for ordination of such persons, will that person’s priesthood license be removed?
No. The call, administrative approval, and ordination will already have occurred. It would not be proper to remove a person’s priesthood license simply because of moving to another nation. However, as stated above, there will be nations where the priesthood ministry of people in committed, same-sex/gender relationships should not be offered and will not be accepted.
- If policies are revised in a nation to allow priesthood members to perform same-sex/gender marriages in areas where it is legal, will all priesthood members be required to perform such marriages?
No. Officiating at same-sex/gender marriages will not be required of any priesthood member. The same principle that applies to heterosexual marriage applies in this case. The priesthood member decides whether or not to officiate at a wedding.
- How will policies be implemented in mission centers that have congregations from two or more nations that may have different policies?
Congregations will follow the policy of the nation where the congregation is physically located.
- If policies are revised in a nation allowing priesthood members to perform same-sex/gender marriages in areas where it is legal, will they be allowed to perform such marriages in other nations where the government says it is legal, but the church policy has not changed?
No. In the case of same-sex/gender marriage, priesthood members must abide by the church policies in the nation where they are involved in ministry.
- If a priesthood member lives in a nation that does not allow same-sex/gender marriage, can he or she travel to a nation where the church policy and the law allows same-sex/gender marriage and be the officiating priesthood minister?
Yes, if certain conditions are met. First, a priesthood member would have to meet all national and local government regulations and certifications to be able to perform marriages in that nation. Second, the priesthood member traveling into an area to perform a marriage would need approval from the pastor and the mission center president, or the mission center president if no congregational participation is involved. Third, priesthood members are always responsible for determining how their involvement in same-sex/gender marriages would impact their ability to bring effective ministry in their home congregation, mission center, or field.
- If someone has membership in a congregation that does not allow people in a same-sex/gender relationship to be considered for ordination, but attends a congregation in a nation that does allow it, can a priesthood call be considered for the person in the congregation where membership is held?
No. People must abide by the policies of the church in the nation where membership is held.
- If consent is reached to revise policies, what is the process for developing new policies?
The basic process for developing revised policies will be:
- The recommendations of the national conference will be reported by the field apostle(s) to the First Presidency and the Council of Twelve Apostles.
- The Presidency will work with the field apostle(s) to draft an interim policy with a proposed effective date that reflects the desired direction indicated by the conference.
- The draft interim policy will be considered by the Council of Twelve and then by a joint meeting of the First Presidency and the Council of Twelve.
- When approved, the interim policy will be put in place for two years.
- After two years, the interim policy will be evaluated to see if any refinements are needed to address unanticipated questions.
- After any needed refinements, official policies for the nation involved will be approved by the First Presidency and the Council of Twelve.
Interim policies will be developed, approved, and implemented within one year following the national conference. The policies will go into effect when they are released by the First Presidency for implementation in the nation.
Policies approved for implementation will pertain to all congregations and mission centers within the nation. Individual priesthood calls are always subject to the spiritual discernment of pastors, mission center presidents, or other church officers. Likewise, priesthood calls always must be approved by a church conference. Also, if policies are revised, priesthood members will not be required to perform same-sex/gender marriages.
The ethical standards of those called and ordained to priesthood are presented in several official documents. The “Priesthood Standards and Qualifications” portion of the “Recommendation for Ordination Form” in the Church Administrator’s Handbook (2005 Edition) contains excellent information in the form of a list of questions. Chapter 11 in The Priesthood Manual (2004 Edition) has information on “Ministerial Ethics.”
In addition, Doctrine and Covenants 164:6a provides clear guidance for moral behavior and relationships by listing ethics principles: Christ-like love, mutual respect, responsibility, justice, covenant, and faithfulness. To ensure clarity, Section 164:6b identifies types of behaviors and relationships that are not moral: selfish, irresponsible, promiscuous, degrading, or abusive.
The church has released a draft Statement of Sexual Ethics that applies the counsel in Doctrine and Covenants 164 to ethical standards for members and the priesthood. This statement is being reviewed by various church leadership bodies and then will be finalized. That statement is available at www.CofChrist.org/ethics.
28 May 2012