In another month I will experience General Convention at a distance of 2,000 miles. Convention will nonetheless keep me busy, as I edit daily reports by The Living Church’s reporting team at the Salt Palace Convention Center.

This year’s meeting marks the first time in 24 years — since the 70th General Convention met in Phoenix — that I have not been present for at least half of the schedule. This change is mostly welcome, because Convention has always overwhelmed me. If you know the feeling of fearing that something more important is happening in another building, another room, or even one table over as you dine, you know what I experience through most hours of any General Convention.

I will not miss crowded pathways, Westboro Baptist Church’s cookie-cutter protests, hysterical responses to Westboro Baptist Church’s protests, noisy wine-and-cheese receptions, scorching heat, sore feet, and the never-ending struggle to stave off dehydration.

I will miss other moments, though. My introvert’s soul is refreshed by shared meals with fellow journalists, longtime friends, or people I’ve wanted to meet for years. One of my fondest memories of Convention in 2012 was an extended interview with attorney Michael Rehill, who was every bit the storyteller and principled fighter I expected he would be, especially in light of his persisting questions about Title IV.

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Here’s a sentence I spent most of my life thinking I would never write: I will miss the chance to see Salt Lake City, other than from its utilitarian airport or from an airliner’s small window. My life has intersected with Mormon culture a few times:

  • A close childhood friend converted to Mormon faith for a few decades.
  • I interviewed two filmmakers on their efforts to make mainstream films that are sympathetic to Mormons.
  • I toured the restored temple in Nauvoo, Illinois, in researching a never-fulfilled essay about Masonic influences on Mormon architecture.
  • I talked with two Mormon couples for a chapter that did not make the final cut for my book Tithing: Test Me in This. (The short version: The LDS is not as legalistic about tithing as it once was, but tithing remains a consideration for a “temple recommend,” which assures access to crucial ordinances and sacraments, such as proxy baptism and eternal marriage.)

With all this in mind, I was disappointed to read that the Standing Commission on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations “has no plan to recommend beginning formal bilateral dialogue with the LDS Church” (from the commission’s Blue Book report). The commission supports interacting with Jews and Muslims in “dialogue on topics of common interest, including religious matters, shared worship occasions, and participation in local and regional interfaith councils.”

What stops it at the Mormon threshold? Christology is not the sole issue.

I know what factors would be problematic for me, as a cradle Episcopalian who recites the Nicene Creed through an evangelical understanding. I want to know what restrains a commission of the Episcopal Church from commending good-faith discussion with Mormons.

The commission made its decision in response to an enabling resolution (2012-D081), which the 77th General Convention sent along for further discussion. It urged bilaterial talks between the Episcopal Church and the LDS Church. The enabling resolution did not require treating the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a Christian body, but urged dialogue for “interreligious purposes of friendship, good will, [and] mutual understanding.”

At the heart of my disappointment is a thought that I have weighed since Executive Council and the House of Bishops began holding periodic meetings in Salt Lake City: in practice, the Episcopal Church and LDS have one crucial point of theology in common, and it is called continuing revelation. Experienced observers of General Convention will have heard that phrase, or derivations of it, such as “The Holy Spirit is doing this new thing among us,” “The Holy Spirit is guiding us into new truth,” or “My bishop speaks prophetically about marriage equality.”

The Episcopal Church put it this way in 2005, in its response to the Windsor Report:

Holy Scripture, historical and contemporary understandings of human sexuality, and liturgical developments have been integral to discerning the movement of the Holy Spirit. The consequent testing and discerning of the Holy Spirit has led to fuller understandings of God’s action and grace towards us, including hearing anew older voices from the tradition. (To Set Our Hope on Christ, p. 27, emphasis added)

Continuing revelation is not exclusive to the LDS and the Episcopal Church. The United Church of Christ endorsed it through this marketing slogan: “God is still speaking: Never place a period where God has placed a comma.”

But the LDS has the distinction of relying on continuing revelation in making two massive changes in its historic theology: repudiating plural marriage (1890) and opening its voluntary priesthood to all members, regardless of race (1978).

Even if General Convention never authorizes dialogue with Mormons, our churches both affirm continuing revelation, with varying degrees of candor. Theologians in both churches ought to wonder how far that revelation extends and on what basis the Episcopal Church sets any limits on it.

And yes, I know: be careful what you wish for.

The featured image of the Salt Palace Convention Center was uploaded to Flickr by jnshaumeyer. It is licensed under Creative Commons.

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Doug, knowing your ready wit, I have to ask you to clarify. You seem to satirize or at least be critical of TEC’s reliance on a doctrine of continuing revelation. Is that correct? If so, are you concernied with its abuse of a doctrine you affirm, or are you denying that doctrine itself? If yes to both, then can you clarify what you understand that doctrine to be, and how you would amend it to bring it into what you consider a sound teaching? I am particularly interested in what the word revelation means to you. I’d love to hear… Read more »

Thanks for your response, Doug. I had hoped others would weigh in, too, but since they did not, I thought I’d share with a slightly different account. This is from Robert Song, who was my viva examiner, along with Hauerwas: For the Church now, the question is not merely an antiquarian enterprise of uncovering the meanings of ancient texts, but rather the properly theological venture of discerning their meaning for us in our world. As Karl Barth declared, Christian theology as such ‘does not ask what the apostles and prophets said but what we must say on the basis of… Read more »

Doug, not sure if you think I was challenging your questions, but if you were, please know I was not at all. I responded entirely to what seemed to be the suggestion that the doctrine of continuing revelation is not orthodox. It is, and its rejection is deeply problematic, for reasons Song suggests surely, if not necessarily in his words. I’d frame it in terms of pneumatology, instead. The key point is that God continues to address God’s creation, and continues to create, and Jesus addresses us in our time and place and sustains us with the Word. Aquinas and… Read more »

Craig,

As I think you realize, what you’re describing as “continuing revelation” is incredibly different from a Mormon theology of ongoing revelation or what Doug was getting at. Indeed, it is so different that it is like you’re missing the point of what he was saying, simply to try and say something you want to say about the nature of revelation.

I definitely got the point, Zachary. I am not sympathetic, however, to a diagnosis of TEC, so often repeated by conservatives, which perpetuates the idea that revelation somehow stopped 2000 years ago. It is not clear that Doug was making that diagnosis, but it seemed he might have been. My comment responds to an apparent premise in the article, not the contrast made based on the premise. I suggest an alternative diagnosis of the same phenomenon which allows us to make the critique while preserving a high pneumatology. I did not comment on the Mormon doctrine at all since I… Read more »

I understand continuing revelation in a MacIntyerian sense. Hence there is a “right” way and a “wrong” way. The right way is to be so immersed in the Tradition that that your forward steps are faithful to the Tradition while moving it forward. The classic story used by Progressives to justify their next steps is the story of Cornelius in Acts 10. Their spin is that Peter has learned something “new” that leads him to reach out to the Gentiles. But clearly this is not the case – Peter has actually learned something old. God’s plan *always* included the Gentiles.… Read more »

Yes, Charlie, that’s a great example. Let’s be clear, however, that it is an example of how Jesus, the Living God, through the agency of the Spirit, the Eternal Word, continues to judge us. So that’s an example the Eternal Word correcting us. But from a christological perspective, it’s insufficient to say merely that. The Christ eternally judges us but Christ the Creator eternally creates, as well. And that brings into the systematic fallacy of the “revelation stopped 2000 years ago” bulwark against reform. It seems to forget that the Incarnation was not the beginning or the temporal end of… Read more »

“If you think about it, all of this is the foundation of what we mean when we speak of a personal relationship with the Christ.” Sweet talker! You know what ideas are important to me! The mention of Creation is interesting: not sure what you mean by “open.” I’d insist that telos of Creation is being restored; God had, and has, plans for Creation, and what he is doing now is “congruent” with what he has done and will do. There is a tension in your insistence of “particularity” highlighted by the phrase “conform to the Eternal Self-knowledge.” The relationship… Read more »

At the last diocesan convention here in Philly, a Mormon came as a representative of the local inter-faith group to give us greetings. He was the only speaker all day to quote extensively from Scripture. Make of that what you will.