Wednesday, July 9, 2014


I don’t frequently write about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, aka the Mormons, but recently, a news story emerged from that tradition, which caught my eye. A woman who was raised and still attends the LDS church started an organization called Ordain Women. That effort’s purpose is probably self-explanatory, but apparently, also explosive. Her church excommunicated this woman last month, and that’s the news story I heard. That means she’s barred from important rituals but can still attend services, and fully plans to do so. The interview I heard was of a wounded, defiant soul, committed to her faith, as well as to her conviction that her church did her wrong. Indeed, does women wrong by refusing to ordain them priests.

Did you know was that the LDS church and the Disciples of Christ spring from the same branch on the Christian Family Tree? Scholars call it “The Free Church Movement,” describing a phenomenon began on the- then- American Frontier in the 19th century’s first decades. This was a time when the American Revolution’s ideals of liberty and individuality were just being unleashed into the undeveloped Western lands. Of course, American Indians didn’t describe that land as empty- in contrast to white settlers- and suffered tragically as a result. But so it went, and these frontiersmen and women brought religion with them into wide, “open” spaces

And in some cases, they didn’t like that old time religion. Indeed, they were convinced times were a-changin’. They were free! Free to read the Bible and understand God for themselves, and those clergymen telling them what to do could shut it. It nurtured incredible religious creativity. New communities and creeds popped up all over the place. One essential component of that were faithful believers establishing their own churches, celebrating communion themselves.

Plus, on the American frontier, people lived far from each other. Thus, anticlericalism was as practical a concern as it was theological. And it inspired important aspects of the early Disciples movement. We were a Free Church. Farmers and weavers had as much right to serve communion as any clergy. I love that part of our history, ordained though I may be. We’re all equal in God’s sight, hold similar standing in the Kingdom of God. We’re free to worship, pray, serve our neighbors and love Jesus as best as we can create together.

That similar instinct helped birth our Mormon friends too, though they went a few steps farther in freedom. They count another holy book (in fact, three) as authoritative as the canonized Christian Bible. Plus, they never developed a professional clergy class. Their “priests” are volunteer still, essentially layfolk, people- men- who agree to serve as local church leaders for a time, offering counseling, teaching and ritual leadership until their term has ended. Though we had roots grown from the same Free Church soil, our evolution took a different tack. Still, it’s interesting to know that a community some consider so very different is, in fact, a close cousin.

But I’m sad for our spiritual cousins that their path stopped with lay male priests. On the 19th century frontier, traditional gender roles guided both of our thinking. But as our society better realized that “all men are created equal” should’ve included women too, the Disciples’ order of clergy, eventually, opened to gifts and talents of women. We’re a better church for it. With only one gender having access to leadership, we were limiting by half- at least!- the potential for growth, insight and faithfulness. This Mormon woman who is pushing her church to realize the benefits of gender equality has seen the great results of that in our society, and among her religious cousins. She- boldly, profoundly- has declared, “Enough’s enough. Let the Free Church movement move forward!” I’m impressed by this courage, as well as her commitment not to give up the fight and jump ship, but stay as much a part of the community as they’ll let her. She loves her church enough to stick with it and push it to be as full an expression of God’s love as possible. May we all.

Grace and Peace,

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