Saturday, June 5, 2010

Day 231: Respecting Religious Differences

I wrote last about different kinds of religious discrimination. I have had some direct and indirect follow up communications with both individuals who expressed apparent discriminatory remarks which has lead to further thoughts on the topic.

There are many things which people find new and unusual about my faith. There are also things which I find unusual and difficult to understand in other faiths. Here, I'll mention just two.

The first has to do with the Anglican Church, the established (state-funded) faith of England. Anglicanism broke from Catholicism in the 1530s as a result of King Henry VIII's combined desire for an heir, love/lust of Anne Boelyn, and growing belief of his imperial power (meaning monetary and jurisdictional power over church property and ability to select bishops as well as secular power usually attributed to kings). He engaged in elaborate secular and scriptural research of kingly power in England which culminated in having Parliament declare him sovereign, imperial king of England and head of the Anglican Church. Most today recognize that Henry VIII's power grab was just that, and that the source of priesthood power in the Anglican Church is therefore confused. I have spent a bit of time with both my chaplain at King's College, Cambridge, and Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, to discover how, if the current Anglican priesthood believes the source of their power to be illegitimate, the can dedicate their lives to something they admittedly believe to be ill-founded. Both had similar answers - that their power came from their relationship to God and what they do rather than from where it stems. I am still, frankly, struggling to wrap my head around this answer. How can one's power to act in God's name be God's if it did not descend, legitimately, from him?

And then there is the current controversy swirling around the Catholic Church's, and specifically (and most troublingly) the current pope's cover up of priest sex abuse scandals. There, because they claim (I think, more legitimately) direct descent of priesthood power through the apostle Peter, somehow their conception of priesthood and being able to act in God's name means to them that the priest is the one actually forgiving sins, and therefore, it must be infallible. How do the sins of priests make God infallible?

The answers my doctrine provides for both of these scenarios--descent of the priesthood, its nature, and the bearers of it being capable of falling without diminishing God's power-- are much more satisfying to myself. I believe that the men who legitimately held the priesthood became slowly inadvertently and purposefully corrupted over time after the apostles passed on. They lost their power to act in God's name. It was not restored until given to Joseph Smith through the laying-on of hands by the resurrected John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John. As spectacular as these claims are, once one finds out that they are true, it settles with finality questions of descent. The African English teenager who spoke in the Oxford ward several weeks ago could trace his priesthood power back through eight or nine people directly to Christ. Yet those who hold the priesthood are taught that

'when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.' (Doctrine and Covenants 121: 37)

When one sins in any serious way, they no longer legitimately hold the priesthood. Man is capable of falling, but he does not take his priesthood with him. When he is worthy, he can operate for God, but that worthiness requires constant vigilance. God needs, as the Bible says, a pure vessel.

All this said, I can still respect those who hold ardently to their faith. Very much so. Anyone with faith in this world is to be commended. As I mentioned in the last post, such requires courage, and should be applauded wherever it is found.

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