Address delivered at the Affirmation Conference on August 15, 2013 Robin Kincaid Linkhart, president of Quorum Six of the Seventy in the Community of Christ (formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints)
Thank you for inviting me to participate with you this weekend. It is an honor to be here with you, to share stories, to learn, to support one another in our challenges, and to explore how we can further engage our families, churches, neighborhoods, communities, and nations in the critical work of affirming our mutual worth: the work of Affirmation.
Though I am a guest at your table this weekend, I believe there is much that connects us. I will name three.
First. We, you and I, share a common heritage birthed in the life of a young boy seeking truth through prayer in a grove of trees. Like you, the sacred story of the Restoration, the gift of the prophetic impulse, and God’s dream for justice and peace on the earth, Zion, shapes and forms my story.
Second. My husband and I have four children; our youngest daughter Mollie, age 25, is gay. Since she came out to us three years ago, our family continues to walk beside Mollie and her partner Laura as they embrace their true identity and fully live into the all of who God created them to be in a world fraught with fear, prejudice, and oppression.
Words fail to describe the pain and the joy of that journey. Like you, the reality of God’s Creative Diversity, seen clearly in the beautiful divinely appointed diversity of human sexuality and orientation, challenges me to open my heart and soul to deeper understanding, and to learn more completely the ways of love that always call us to new frontiers.
Last. Regardless of the countless ways people separate themselves, endlessly building walls of division between classes, categories, races, genders, nations, cultures, tribes, religions, sexual orientation, and so much more – ultimately, whether we acknowledge it or not — we share the common experience of humanity cohabitating the earth with all creation.
We are connected. My welfare resides in your welfare — and yours in mine. As someone said yesterday, “We are all God’s family.”
Like you, I believe in the inestimable Worth of all persons.
In recent years the Enduring Principle, Worth of All Persons, brought Community of Christ face to face with traditional practices which exclude our LGBT sisters and brothers. God’s voice would not be stilled.
In 2010, Prophet and President Steven M. Veazey brought Words of Counsel to the church (known now as Section 164 of the Doctrine and Covenants), which opened the door for National Conferences to address pressing issues relative to culture and context that could not effectively be addressed at World Conference (General Conference) due to the fact that we are not all at the same place at the same time on all issues. While several nations are ready to discuss and embrace full inclusion, others are not. In some countries it is illegal to even talk about homosexuality.
Immediately following that conference USA General Authorities began the process of calling a National Conference for 2013 and developing a plan for how we as a people would journey together toward that conference.
We entered a period of discernment, a time of listening for God’s voice and direction. We asked ourselves to adopt a position of Holy Indifference: To set down our personal opinions and positions, to share our authentic selves and stories with one another, to speak from the heart and listen from the heart. All over the nation we met with one another sharing in small groups.
Additionally, we considered the lens through which we study scripture, digging deeper into the exegetical process in efforts to be one with those who first received scripture’s sacred words. So that across 1000s of years we could hear with them in their culture and context, rather than imposing our own lenses, in order that we might more clearly understand eternal truths. We also studied current resources from many disciplines to increase our awareness and diffuse fear around LGBT.
We held hands, we prayed, we laughed, we cried.
The day after World Conference 2013 closed, for the first time in the history of the church, the USA National Conference convened. From the moment we entered the conference chamber we felt God’s Spirit wrapping us in Holy Presence. We used a sharing process which gave all perspectives voice. We listened to one another in love and respect. We paused regularly for moments of worship, song, prayer, silence. For three days we walked together seeking common consent.
On Sunday morning, April 21, 2013, with overwhelming support the 2013 USA National Conference recommended the sacrament of marriage be extended, where legal in the USA, to persons of the same sex/gender, and that a church-recognized way for two persons of the same sex/gender to publicly express their covenant to each other be made available in places in the USA where marriage is not legal. The Conference also recommended allowing a priesthood call to be processed according to established procedures regardless of sexual orientation, including a person in a monogamous, committed, same-sex/gender relationship (e.g., legal marriage, civil partnership, covenant relationship) in the USA.
In the days approaching the National Conference I imagined what it would be like if we sensed God calling us into practicing full inclusion for LGBT sisters and brothers and moved ahead with that understanding. Would there be joyful shouts and cheers? Would we break into the Hallelujah Chorus?
It was quite different than I ever imagined. We all sat in perfect quiet and stillness as the Spirit of God wove our hearts together, those who rejoiced, those who remained wavering, and those absolutely certain we were making a mistake. God took us to a different way of being. A place where we clung to our journey as a peculiar people, a people of faith, a people of joy, hope, love, and peace. And in that moment we understood the future is in God’s hands and that which brings us together equips us well for the journey of asking ourselves difficult questions. This is how God shapes and forms us to truly become a reflection of God – to live in God’s image.
Sisters and brothers, the work you are doing is vitally important to the future of our world. The Community of Christ stands with you in your efforts. Our hearts and prayers join with yours and we offer our hand in faithful friendship. If you hear me say nothing else, please hear this: It is worth all the effort and pain, just keep walking and holding on to one another. Keep your shoulder to the wheel as you pioneer new frontiers.
I have struggled to know what words of encouragement I could leave with you. In prayer my heart tells me “Just share the words you hear God speak.”
And so today I share words from Community of Christ’s sacred scripture, Doctrine and Covenants, the place we write down our very best understandings of what God speaks to us in our time and in our place on the continuum of Human history.
I will share four brief passages. The first may sting a bit, it stung us when we first received it, but I want you to capture a glimpse of how God beckoned us onto this path of inclusion.
“It is not pleasing to God when any passage of scripture is used to diminish or oppress races, genders, or classes of human beings. Much physical and emotional violence has been done to some of God’s beloved children through the misuse of scripture. The church is called to confess and repent of such attitudes and practices. Scripture, prophetic guidance, knowledge and discernment in the faith community must walk hand in hand to reveal the true will of God. Follow this pathway, which is the way of the Living Christ, and you will discover more than sufficient light for the journey ahead.” (Community of Christ Doctrine and Covenants 163: 7c, d)
“Listen, O people of the Restoration — … Listen to the Voice that echoes across the eons of time and yet speaks anew in this moment. Listen to the Voice, for it cannot be stilled, and it calls you once again to the great and marvelous work of building the peaceable kingdom, even Zion, on behalf of the one whose name you claim. Listen carefully to your own journey as a people for it is a sacred journey and it has taught you many things you must know for the journey yet to come.” (Community of Christ Doctrine and Covenants 162:1a,b,2a)
“Collectively and individually you are loved with an everlasting love that delights in each faithful step taken. God yearns to draw you close so that wounds may be healed, emptiness filled, and hope strengthened.” (Community of Christ Doctrine and Covenants 163:10a)
“Let the Spirit breathe.” (Community of Christ Doctrine and Covenants 162:2e)
From my heart to yours: You are good, you are right, you are beautiful, you are beloved. I am so glad we are on this journey together.