Camp, with Girls
Growing up, California struck a pretty good balance on religious diversity – as Latter-day Saint populations go, California is no Utah, of course, but I knew plenty of other Latter-day Saints, even if we did run in different social circles. I was the Latter-day Saint in choir and drama. There were a handful of Latter-day Saints in band and orchestra. There was one who played on the football team, and another on the water polo team. We would see each other in seminary and at church on Sundays, but that was largely it.
And that was fine! I had wonderful friends, inside and outside the Church, and it gave me the chance to see how other churches did things.
For example, when I went to youth activities, I did Boy Scout stuff (RIP) and participated in the occasional service project or co-ed “etiquette night.” When my mainstream Christian friends went to youth activities, they… well, I don’t know what they did, because I was never there on youth group night, but in their youth group building, they had a projector/Xbox setup that they used to play Halo, rock instruments, what I can only describe as a pinball pool table, and all kinds of other cool stuff.
I went to seminary, which required me to wake up early and go to what was basically Sunday School with 15 other teenagers. My mainstream Christian friends had actual church rallies on my high school campus with motivational speakers and free pizza.
(Good pizza, too! Not even that garbage Hawaiian pizza.) Editors note: Hawaiians aren’t garbage, just their pizza.
During my summers, I went to scout camp, which, while incredibly fun and rewarding at times, also meant hiking to the site with my pack and sleeping on the ground and watching idiot-jocks do idiot-jock things: (Editor’s note: R-rating) like seeing how long they could stand with their backs to a fire they’d created with some kind of liquid accelerant or make blowjob jokes once people started breaking out Vaseline for chapped lips.
(Clearly, I have some unresolved issues there.)
During their summers, my mainstream Christian friends went to a Christian camp – a co-ed Christian camp – and slept in cabins and did, I don’t know, Christian camp stuff (clearly, I didn’t go to this either). Regardless of what they did there, their Christian camp had something my scout camp didn’t.
You can certainly discuss the merits of each of these contrasting approaches (along with any additional details my keenly-honed, teenage observational skills obviously missed), but to my young adult brain, the scales were generally tipped in favor of, well, the activities with girls and pizza.
But especially activities with girls.
So when some of my seminary friends came to me with a petition, I was intrigued. There’s something to this whole co-ed camp thing, they told me. We should do it in our church as they do it in other churches, they told me. Why don’t you sign your name on this petition we’re passing around, they told me, and when we get it to the right people we’ll have one big youth group camp with the young men and the young women together.
Wait… Camp? With girls?
GIMMIE THE PEN!
A Soft Correction
Not long after that, during early morning seminary, we had a surprise visitor. It was our stake president. He had received our petition and wanted to talk with us about it.
There are many different types of governments, he explained, but the Church of Jesus Christ was not like our national, community, or even school governments. The people leading the Church are led by inspiration. It was really the Savior’s church, and the things we did, from the highest levels to the local levels – including policies dictating the types of permissible campouts – were not there because someone had campaigned for them or voted on them. They were that way because the Lord inspired his leaders to make those decisions.
I felt like I should have known that. I wasn’t all that sophisticated, but I should have known that.
I was embarrassed my name was on that petition he was holding. We weren’t being censured or reprimanded. On the contrary, the stake president was really only teaching us, and in the most loving way at that. But I still wanted to grab it back and scribble my name off.
It was a powerful lesson for me, and one I’m thinking about today.
A “Plan to Split”
The Hill reported on January 3, 2019, the United Methodist Church, “the nation’s third-largest [apostate] denomination,” was close to a split that has been a long time coming. Earlier this year, a j*urnalist for the SLO Tribune wrote about how in 1972,
“The General Conference, the denomination’s primary legislative body, adopted the language that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” and that “self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in (the church)” [in the denominations Book of Discipline]….
“At a four-day special session of the church’s General Conference Feb. 23-26, [2019,] thousands of church members, including an elected delegation of 864 elected clergy and lay leaders, met in St. Louis to vote on a report by the Commission on a Way Forward, which identified three options for how the church can address issues related to human sexuality.
“Those included the “simple plan,” which would remove all language in the Book of Discipline that excludes LGBTQ people from full participation; the conservative “traditional plan,” which would affirm the current restrictive language and strengthen enforcement for violations; and the “one church plan,” which would give individual churches and conferences the authority to draft their own rules regarding LGBTQ participation.”
(How could you even think of voting against the ‘one church’ plan? Are you not in favor of one church?)
Those present voted in favor of the traditional plan, and now… here we are.
A Church without Priesthood Keys
I’m awestruck, frankly, at the way we talk about these kinds of sweeping policy changes.
I’ve written before about sustaining our leaders who hold priesthood keys. Decisions in the Lord’s Church are made by those who hold the keys associated with a given stewardship and in accordance with appropriate principles. Bishops are responsible at the ward level, stake presidents are responsible at the stake level, and the President of the Church (now President Nelson) holds all the keys necessary for governing the Church.
Pastor Rick Uhls of the San Luis-Obispo United Methodist Church, opposed to this new hard line:
“The hope was that we could finally put these issues of human sexuality behind us and start talking about the things Jesus Christ actually talked about. It’s doing nothing to attract people to our church.”
He added, by video, they’d looked to the vote as “something that was hopeful, something for us to be able to continue ministry in our context in the way we have felt led and called to do…
“[The proceedings] sent a pretty strong message…that those of us who are seeking to be one church that is open to all people, regardless of their sexuality, just wasn’t going to prevail.”
(See, I told you. How can you be against one church?!?)
You see, this is why the Book of Mormon is so important. The Lord Himself told us that one reason it was brought to light was to establish his gospel and stifle contention. Had Pastor Uhls read Amulek’s words to Zeezrom, he probably wouldn’t be trying to soften the gospel message in this way and veil it in talk of inclusion.
But more importantly, look at how, might we say, grassroots his ministry is. It’s all about what he’s felt “led and called to do,” and what he’s decided “Jesus Christ actually talked about.”
The Church of Jesus Christ is not built upon the foundation of Pastor Uhls interpretation of scripture. It’s built upon the foundation of apostles and prophets, with the Savior as the chief cornerstone. Ironically enough, many years ago another Methodist wrote of a problematic ordination:
How easily are bishops made
By man or woman’s whim!
Wesley his hands on Coke hath laid,
But who laid hands on him?
Who indeed. The same might be said of who made Pastor Uhls arbiter of biblical theology on sexual orientation and gender identity.
NPR reported early last year that Jay Rundell, president of the Methodist Theological School in Ohio, said, “we are very clear that we will stand by our LGBTQ students, staff, faculty, alums, and friends. We will resist what we see as a narrow misuse of scripture and tradition.”
This news is largely my first exposure to the UMC, so I’m understandably illiterate in the ‘inside baseball’ here, but still – I can’t see how an organization at odds with itself like this remains intact. It appears a certainty that it won’t.
It’s true that you see these same tensions within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But the difference here is important – in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, leaders hold priesthood keys. Division, and resistance, to the degree it happens, leads only to one thing:
“While in Kirtland, President Brigham Young encountered a group of apostates who were plotting against the Prophet Joseph Smith within the very walls of the temple. He declared, ‘I rose up, and in a plain and forcible manner told them that Joseph was a Prophet, and I knew it, and they might rail and slander him as much as they pleased, they could not destroy the appointment of the Prophet of God, they could only destroy their own authority, cut the thread that bound them to the Prophet and to God and sink themselves to hell.‘”
I am infinitely grateful for the leadership structure, the priesthood structure, of the Church. And I am infinitely grateful for the care my old stake president took in teaching us, a class of dummy teenagers, the important lessons of Church government. Maybe I’ve come to appreciate some grey in all the black and white as I’ve gotten older, but still, I’m blessed to have learned that lesson so early.
This is not the work of men. This is the Lord’s work and the Lord’s Church, and it is guided by His hand. Though I don’t understand everything, I now understand that.
I wanted to camp with girls. My perspective on the particulars has changed, and my position has, well, evolved. I’m grateful that I had the faith then to sustain my local leaders, even when my persuasions pushed me in a different direction.
- “The Keys and Authority of the Priesthood” -Elder Dallin H. Oaks, April 2014
- “Revelation in a Changing World” – Elder Boyd K. Packer, October 1989
- “The Keys of the Kingdom” -Elder Bruce R. McConkie, April 1983