I’ve been on a pilgrimage for the last 14 years, but I think that my
problem until recently has been that I have been looking back at what once was,
rather than looking forward to what might become. My motivation for being
baptized in the Community of Christ was the following: I wanted to symbolically
put an end to a long and painful change process and begin to look forward to a
new and better life as one of Jesus’ peaceable followers. I thought it was
rather symbolic that I had sung Mozart’s Requiem in the choir a few weeks ago,
as a requiem for the old creature I once was, a death mass for the life I once
lived and for the principles I once believed in.
I’ve been a Christian all my life. I have been willing to take upon me
the name of Christ as far as I can remember. This faith had its origin in the
church community that I grew up in (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day
Saints). But it was only as a sergeant in the military, 14 years ago, that I was
challenged to the core. A soldier asked me if I was a Christian, and when I
answered yes – he said, what on earth are you doing here? It was an important
realization – that the greatest injustice one can do to oneself is to do
injustice to others – and I am grateful that someone else was more lucid than me
at the time and got me started on this transformational process. But I’m not
going to dwell on the past so much today. The important thing for me right now
in this moment is to look forward to a new life as a member of the Community of
Jesus once said, “Without being born again, one can by no means enter
into the kingdom of God”. To me this passage of scripture means that when we are
baptized, we enter on a journey of discovering the kingdom of God within, so as
to contribute to establishing God’s kingdom in the world. Through my baptism
today I committed myself to seeing things from God’s perspective – and let the
Spirit of Christ and of His peace show me a gentler way to a better life so that
I can be a blessing to others. A peaceable disciple wants first and foremost to
serve his Master and this Master has always underlined the fact that we serve
him best by serving others.
In the Doctrine and Covenants 164:5 of the Community of Christ, it
says: “It is imperative to understand that when you are truly baptized into
Christ you become part of a new creation. By taking on the life and mind of
Christ, you increasingly view yourselves and others from a changed perspective.
Former ways of defining people by economic status, social class, sex, gender, or
ethnicity no longer are primary. Through the gospel of Christ a new community of
tolerance, reconciliation, unity in diversity, and love is being born as a
visible sign of the coming reign of God.”
It is this community that I want to be part of and as a member of the
Community of Christ, I can help bring it about: I can increasingly testify of
Jesus Christ and participate in my newfound church’s own mission of promoting
communities around the world that are built on hope, peace, love and joy.
Would I be here today unless Joseph and Emma Smith had dedicated their
lives to understanding God’s will for them? The Book of Mormon has been central
to my quest for peace in my own faith, and has convinced me like few other books
have, that war and violence are neither of God nor are they God’s will for His
children. War and violence is what we, together with God, must oppose. But still
there are many so-called Christians, to the extent I thought I was a Christian
when I was in the Armed Forces, that distort the teachings of Christ and adapt
them to serve their own purposes: this distortion has led to suffering, disaster
and death on an unimaginable scale.
How grateful am I for having found the Community of Christ that both
understands and interprets latter day scriptures in a responsible manner and
that have taken seriously the divine call to repent from the violence that has
previously defined (and still does) the Saints in the latter days. The first
Saints, who lived at the time of Jesus, must be looked upon as examples of
Christian living for the Latter-Day Saints, so that the last shall be (equal to)
the first. For the disciples in the time of Christ believed that they had indeed
beaten their swords into plowshares that they would no longer practice war – but
always seek peace. It is with them that I have chosen to lay down by the waters
of baptism (down by the riverside) my sword and my shield.
Does it mean that members of the Community of Christ do not feel
indignation at the injustice that characterizes the world we live in, that we do
not fret and grieve when nations go to war against each other or when
authoritarian regimes oppress people, or that we do not suffer when we see that
we are about to undermine and destroy the very Creation that sustains our puny
lives? On the contrary, like God, neither can we look upon sin in the slightest
and consent to it. We are called to promote good fellowship, through our
communion with the Holy Spirit that is the peace of Christ, to be a force in the
world that can transform unhealthy relationships, that we may promote God’s
peaceful reign and not the least, bring balance to and purity of
Peace I give unto you. Not as the world gives, give I unto you. Do not let
your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. I have always believed that
Joseph Smith’s vision of building Zion was one of the greatest innovations in
Christianity in the 19th Century. But the scripture I now am referring to, has
always been central to my understanding of how Zion will see the light of day.
We will achieve peace, but not through the methods of the world (not as the
world gives). Mahatma Gandhi said: There is no way to peace, peace is the way.
That is, there is no way to Zion, Zion is the way. I see the connection here
with what Christ said that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and that no
one comes to the Father but by him. We must dare to live as Christ suggested we
ought to in the Sermon on the Mount (is it any wonder we refer to Zion as Zion’s
Mount). Some have taken his admonition seriously and have followed Christ’s
long-suffering example in their quest for a better world.
Change does not come by itself, but it comes when we change ourselves –
and to help us along the way Jesus has given us rituals and symbols that can
help us keep to the uninterrupted and narrow path. Baptism is one of the
sacraments that can remind us of His death and resurrection, and also of his
victory over those who sought to get rid of him. He changed the course of
history in spite of opposition and persecution. Others have also tried to change
history through the same methods and all who refuse to lift up our swords
against our neighbors have become pilgrims in the pursuit of peace.
The symbolism of my baptism today, on an Easter Sunday (the day we
remember His resurrection) reminds me that I must follow in his footsteps
through all the days of my life on earth. The fact that I’m the same age as
Jesus was when he died on the cross and was reunited with his body, says a lot
about his ability to embrace His Divine calling in a relatively young age. 33 is
a good age in a modern world to take up the call I have received to testify of
Christ and the need to continue to admonish others of the importance of
nonviolence both as a believer in the Community of Christ, but also as a
committed member of the global world community.
Maybe that’s what I need to do as a newly baptized member, to see how
the principles taught in Doctrine and Covenants 164 can be implemented in other
contexts. Perhaps one day the world community will become a whole new creation,
a Community of Christ, a new society where we increasingly view ourselves and
others from a changed perspective, where former ways of defining people by
economic status, social class, sex, gender, or ethnicity no longer are primary.
Through the gospel of Christ a new community of tolerance, reconciliation, unity
in diversity, and love is being born as a visible sign of the coming reign of
Apr 26, 2011
One of my best friends in this world, mormongandhi, was baptized this past Easter Sunday into The Community of Christ (aka Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). Unfortunately, I was unable to make the trip to Oslo to take part in his special day, but he wrote a beautiful testimony which he has shared on his blog, and which I know he won't mind that I share here. ;) It's an inspiration to me, a story of spiritual triumph.
As a married gay man with a love for the Book of Mormon and its non-violent message, and knowing what kind of person mormongandhi is and what kind of heart he has, I'm genuinely grateful for a place where he can feel at home. For him, that home is The Community of Christ and I know that its small community in Oslo, Norway is very happy to welcome him into their fold. Who wouldn't be?
Below is mormongandhi's baptismal talk, also posted on his blog, Latter-day Satyagraha.