What is Most Important?
"There are many issues that could easily consume the time and energy of the church. However, the challenge before a prophetic people is to discern and pursue what matters most for the journey ahead."
On Sunday, March 25, in the opening worship of World Conference, President Steve Veazey spoke to the assembled representatives of the world church and offered what he felt to be God's "Counsel to the Church" (wma, mp3, text). Despite - or perhaps because of - the pointed, explicit and challenging nature of the Counsel, the Conference gave a standing ovation following his words. After a week of intent discernment by the many bodies of the church, on Friday, March 30, the church adopted President Veazey's statement as Section 163 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the church's unique scriptural authority and expression alongside the Bible and Book of Mormon.
In the meeting of Elders, my own quorum, I spoke against recommending the document for adoption this year. I felt it was challenging and profound enough that the whole church should have time to explore it and understand what we are committing ourselves to before canonizing it. My position was voted down, and the Elders - alongside all the other quorums and bodies - recommended the Conference have the opportunity to adopt it. I can understand their enthusiasm - the words are so timely and needed, the document addressed issues we are struggling with and offered clear and compelling direction, and we could be spending the next several years applying these words as binding on the body, rather than discussing what it would be like if we decided to bind ourselves to it.
In the main chamber of the Conference, I again rose to comment, specifically on verses three and four.
3 a. You are called to create pathways in the world for peace in Christ to be relationally and culturally incarnate. The hope of Zion is realized when the vision of Christ is embodied in communities of generosity, justice, and peacefulness.
b. Above all else, strive to be faithful to Christ’s vision of the peaceable Kingdom of God on earth. Courageously challenge cultural, political, and religious trends that are contrary to the reconciling and restoring purposes of God. Pursue peace.
c. There are subtle, yet powerful, influences in the world, some even claiming to represent Christ, that seek to divide people and nations to accomplish their destructive aims. That which seeks to harden one human heart against another by constructing walls of fear and prejudice is not of God. Be especially alert to these influences, lest they divide you or divert you from the mission to which you are called.
4 a. God, the Eternal Creator, weeps for the poor, displaced, mistreated, and diseased of the world because of their unnecessary suffering. Such conditions are not God’s will. Open your ears to hear the pleading of mothers and fathers in all nations who desperately seek a future of hope for their children. Do not turn away from them. For in their welfare resides your welfare. (D&C Section 163)
"This is serious stuff," I said. "If we adopt this as scripture, if we accept this as God's word for our church, this will be a challenge.
"The poor will ask us what is most important. The hungry will ask us what is most important. People facing the barrel of a gun will ask us what is most important. People holding that gun will ask us what is most important. We have to be prepared to wrestle with that question.
"If we accept this document as scripture, most of us in this room will be set against the policies of our own governments and the economic systems under which we live. And that seems to me prophetic."
I wasn't speaking against the document. I was highlighting the seriousness of the words we were considering binding ourselves to. The Conference voted overwhelmingly to accept the document and its challenge, and the letter of counsel became the newest chapter in the story of our struggle to discern God's will and answer God's Call.
Section 163 is a extraordinarily powerful word of caution, challenge, and promise. I hope and pray that we can heed the caution, take up the challenge, and meet the promise.