This new book is the ideal place to begin a dialogue with the other branches of the Restoration
by George Cole
The Restoration amazes me. Joseph Smith’s vision produced at least a dozen different kinds of peculiar people, each with its own emphasis on differing parts of Smith’s teachings. They each handle social issues differently as well, including widely different approaches to LGBTQI matters.
Of the major three denominations, I will assume that you are fairly current on the Salt Lake Church. I have too little information about the FLDS Church, but I imagine they deal with gay and lesbian members by excommunicating and expelling them from their community. The former RLDS Church, the Community of Christ, however, has been doing some amazing things. A collection of personal essays, Homosexual Saints: The Community of Christ Experience, edited by William D. Russell, brings to light the similarities and differences with our cousins in the Restoration.
Russell’s selections approach the subject affirmingly, uplifting and tragic stories told together, and often one and the same. He seemed guided by the words of former Community of Christ president W. Grant McMurray: “I have always believed that the pathway to understanding the issue of homosexuality is in the telling of personal stories. Decisions about policy and law, whether religious or secular, must first have a human face.” The faces seen in Homosexual Saints remind so well of those seen at Affirmation events, or those of any people who come from a faith that does not accept their orientation. Though they are told from a different point of view, though they come from a different place, these people tell stories of a church they love, and how that affects their lives forever.
Part of the telling of these personal stories is also telling the history of Gay and Lesbian Acceptance (GALA), which began with a predominantly RLDS Affirmation chapter in Kansas City. GALA has grown into a robust organization with various chapters, retreats, and a presence at the biannual Community of Christ World Conferences.
These are stories of an institution and its members working toward better understanding of difficult subjects, working slowly toward inclusion, toward loving and accepting each other in a truly Christ-like manner. “In a world that cannot come to common ground on any of the … issues that swirl around this topic, the church cannot be expected to have those ready
answers,” then-president McMurray said in his April 2000 World Conference address. He continued: “But here is what we can expect—that every person who walks through our doors will be received with open arms. We will listen to the life stories of each person who graces our fellowship and embrace them in love. On this there can be no compromise.” I can scarcely imagine a more direct and welcoming statement coming from any church leader.
The sentiment is echoed by one of the essayists, Allan Fiscus. “Each of us is called to ministry. Some paths are different than others. This is my calling—my path to reach out to those who are questioning, searching, and struggling to understand a volatile subject. To be an ensign of peace. This is my church, and you are stuck with me.” While certainly not all other contributors to the book remained members of the Community of Christ, they share in its common culture, derive their values from it, and lead lives based at least in some part on its teachings. Much like I’ve heard said, “You can take the Mormon out of the church, but you can’t take the church out of the Mormon.”
I see Homosexual Saints as the ideal place to begin a dialogue with the other branches of the Restoration. We have opportunities before us to learn from gays and lesbians whose church is slowly coming to accept them as fully participating members, taking those painful steps that the LDS church in Salt Lake may yet take one day. We can read the stories in this book and learn how we might take these steps ourselves. We can build bridges with the authors, with the people and leaders in GALA, and perhaps with leaders of the Community of Christ. There is no need to isolate ourselves, like our forebears did in the Salt Lake Basin. When we work with our brothers and sisters outside our own faith, we will learn so much. Also, we must contribute as much as we have received. Let us take the lead of these good, faithful people, and work toward a more inclusive, more Christ-like church.