Friday, March 29, 2013

The Stumbling Block of Revelation

One of the key doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that of continuing revelation. This has been a great blessing in our fast changing world and society, allowing us to receive revelation and guidance directly from our Father in Heaven, specifically concerning issues and situations we find ourselves in today.

Unfortunately, this doctrine of continuing revelation can sometimes be a stumbling block for our testimonies.

Why a stumbling block?

Let's have a little history lesson.

Prior to 1978, the priesthood was restricted to men not of African descent. I won't go into specifics, because they aren't relevant to this post - but just know it was a complicated and strange policy, and many people didn't understand it. Even today, the best explanation we have (officially) is this statement from the Church:
“The origins of priesthood availability are not entirely clear. Some explanations with respect to this matter were made in the absence of direct revelation and references to these explanations are sometimes cited in publications. These previous personal statements do not represent Church doctrine.”
 In 1978, the Church issued an official declaration, based on revelation, extending the priesthood to all worthy male members of the Church.

Recently I have been hearing members of the Church say that they hope that the Church will eventually embrace same-sex marriage because, after all, the Church was "wrong" once (referring to the priesthood ban). They seem to be viewing the 1978 revelation as a sort of apologetic "Whoops, we were wrong, we're sorry" admission.

Honestly, it's hard not to see it that way, especially given all the personal statements and opinions that were offered as explanations for the priesthood ban, most of which were abhorrent, even in the early and mid 1900s when they were originally offered.

If so many apostles, prophets, and other Church leaders could be so misguided and racist, then might not our Church leaders today be bigots and homophobs? It isn't a completely illogical leap.

Except for one small principle which might help us sort out this whole issue.

At General Conference in April 2012, Elder Christofferson taught:

…it should be remembered that not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. It is commonly understood in the Church that a statement made by one leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, not meant to be official or binding for the whole Church.
While any number of racist sounding explanations for the priesthood ban can be readily produced by any proficient Googler, I think you would be hard pressed to find any of these comments listed in proclamation format, signed by all fifteen living apostles at the time of the statement's utterance, and good luck finding teachings by every single apostle since quoting the statements. In fact, most of the apostles either said nothing about the subject of the ban, and few quoted the misguided (in my opinion) statements of their brethren. We must always remember that prophets are still just men. Moses, arguably one of the greatest prophets, was scolded by God Himself. Even Joseph Smith had issues, admitting his youthful indiscretions and at times failing to be content with God's answers to his prayers and requests.

On the other hand, The Family: A Proclamation to the World is a document affirming the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, and testifying that gender is an eternal characteristic. This document was signed by every one of the fifteen apostles of Jesus Christ living when it was written, and it has been quoted by every newly called apostle since. I think it is safe to consider the document, and its call to "responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society" as being "official [and] binding for the whole Church".

It can definitely be hard to recognize what is revelation and what isn't, what is scripture, and what are the philosophies of man. Again, we can go back to our fundamental belief in revelation - not just continuing revelation through prophets and apostles, but personal revelation. Each and every one of us is entitled to receive our own revelation - as Levar Burton says "But you don't have to take my word for it."

More reading about revelation:
Becoming a False Prophet to Ourselves

1 comment:

  1. I'm so happy that your back to blogging, I missed reading your blog. This whole topic is very fascinating to me. I've had the issues on my mind just like everyone else has. It seems like the panic and worry that some are having about this might be much ado about nothing. Like you said the Proclamation is there, it is available for anyone to read and ponder, its like a road map or a light house. If the court changes things regarding civil marriage then they will, that doesn't change the proclamation. There are many countries where ss marriage is already legal and the church is doing fine and actually growing. My take on all of this is that it is a culture shift in society and it is just an opportunity for us to not judge and learn tolerance. We can strengthen our own families, regardless of what society or the court says we are in charge of our own homes. I've thought about this more than I want to admit and I keep thinking about Joseph Fielding Smith. I read a book about him many years ago and he was at the helm of the church when a major shift took place involving families and marriage. It directly impacted his life and his own family. He lived polygamy, he resisted for a long time as he didn't want to but he relented and did what he was called to do. Then he was tasked with putting a stop to it. This was huge for the church and for members, they made it though. I am not saying that polygamy and ss marriage are the same, I am just saying it was a big cultural and societal shift for the church and the storm was weathered and we are all blessed for it. I see the parallel that you made with how people could say that about the "Priesthood ban", I don't like calling it that as I feel like it is more complicated than that but you know what I mean. It isn't the same though, apples and oranges. Thanks for sharing the link to your post about personal revelation, I never read that before as I think you authored it before I happened upon your blog. These are all big questions, I am going to read up on Joseph F Smith again, I feel like that is where I should go. I feel like if anything there might be a lesson there about what is happening now. That is my feeling. I can't even remember the title of the book I read either but I will find it, or a better one. Thanks for sharing this, your posts are always very thought provoking. Cheers!


What makes your soul delight? This is my invitation to you to share your thoughts right here on my blog. I read every one of them, and I appreciate them!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...