In his opening talk of the latest General Conference, President Nelson invited conference participants to prepare to hear “pure truth, the pure doctrine of Christ, and pure revelation.” He also said that “pure revelation for the questions in your heart will make this conference rewarding and unforgettable.”
Today’s guest post is from longtime friend of the blog, Brother Sky.
On the one hand, such exhortations and rhetoric are hardly surprising. The LDS Church views the world through a binary lens of good/evil and many of our leaders have used such language through the years. Such rhetoric merely reflects the LDS beliefs about absolute goodness and absolute wickedness. On the other hand, however, I wonder about the difference between the intended and actual effects of such language. I assume that President Nelson and other church leaders employ such language in an attempt to both inspire and strengthen the faith of those watching and listening.
My main issue with this approach is how potentially polarizing and demoralizing it is. Suppose we take President Nelson’s exhortations at face value: If we, for example, believe that the conference will provide “pure revelation” for the questions we have in our hearts, then what happens if we don’t receive such revelations? Or what happens if we leave the conference confused, still puzzled, still doubting? Does such rhetoric really help in that situation? Or can it lead to hearers of President Nelson’s words to actually doubt more substantially the words of leaders if the “pure revelation” of “pure truth” doesn’t occur? Or can it lead the hearers to doubt themselves and their own worthiness?
There have been several posts on this blog lately concerning faith, certainty and the hazards and costs of admitting one’s doubts and nuanced faith to a religious community that appears to value absolute knowledge of the truth of all the LDS Church teaches more than friendship, fellowship and charity. On the When Faith is Work thread (https://wheatandtares.org/2021/09/29/when-faith-is-work/), both MrShorty and Elisa mentioned the book The Sin of Certainty, by Peter Enns. In that book, Enns does not argue for an intellectual embracing of religious truth, nor does he champion the kind of faith that the LDS Church appears to; instead, Enns views skepticism not as a loss of faith, but as an opportunity to strengthen and deepen faith. Enns suggests that true believers can accept mysteries and paradoxes, in part because God himself wants it this way; only by being faced with and accepting such mysteries and paradoxes, suggests Enns, can we grow into a more mature discipleship.
Enns’ approach certainly seems at odds with President Nelson’s, which leads me to a series of questions:
- Can the quest for “pure truth” or “pure revelation” actually have the opposite of the intended effect?
- Does such language further divide the church by encouraging people to act as if they’ve accessed “pure truth” while others have not?
- In your own experience, has the uncompromising language of purity helped, harmed or been irrelevant to your faith journey?