Is Mormonism a “read-only” religion or a “read-write” religion? I can certainly see evidence for both, and the emphasis may be shifting as leaders change. First, a few quick definitions.
- A “read-only” file is one that does not enable you to make edits. It can be read by the recipient, but not altered by them.
- A “read-write” file is one that can be updated, edited, or even erased by anyone with access or “permission” to do so. If a file is “read-write” and is shared or sent to another person, that person can make changes to it.
At first blush, the idea of religion as read-write sounds like madness! Any fool can alter it, whether they know what they are doing or not? Ridiculous! Or at least we’d better be super careful who gets permission, right?
But when you consider religion as read-only, that’s something that’s incredibly inflexible and will become obsolete quickly. It can’t be perfect for every age and every circumstance without some input and notation and interpretation at the very least, and it probably more likely needs revision as society evolves. Humans make mistakes, even when operating under inspiration. Part of the point of the divine is its ineffability.
In religion, we call the ability to revise or edit revelation, or at least we often call it that. If we want to downplay the edit we might call it something else like a policy change, or a news release, implying that this is just a comment added to the document of the Church, not something that alters, deletes or replaces something fundamental. Even when it does.
For example, the Priesthood & Temple Race Ban that was ended in 1978 was a fundamental shift in theology, hailed as a revelation. Prior to that, Church leaders justified the existing policy with doctrine (teaching) that supported it. After 1978, like a Jedi mind trick, we were supposed to completely forget those justifications because they were all wrong. Well, actually that instruction to forget it all was 8 years later, indicating that there were plenty of people out there with older versions of the document still on file. Which indicates a read-write approach.
By contrast, the Proclamation on the Family was not (successfully or officially anyway) hailed as revelation. It affirmed the Church’s position that 1950 gender roles are eternal in nature, and that gay marriage was not. But it wasn’t trying to overwrite existing doctrine. It might have been more overt and explicit, but it didn’t alter any prior teachings; it just shut a few open doors. It was a strong affirmation of the status quo, a calcification of the existing assumptions and practices, not a repudiation or change to them.
In short, it’s probably true to say that all religions are read-write to some extent, but that conservative religions are more invested in the narrative that they are read-only: the same today, yesterday, and forever. Joseph Smith did not create a conservative religion; he routinely made significant doctrinal alterations. But subsequent leaders were invested in “what Joseph created” as their source of authority, and therefore, some were more inclined to consider the faith read only. They could possibly comment on it, or clarify a doctrine here or there, but always with an appeal to authority from those who prededed them in leadership (including scriptural authority). To those types of leaders, the idea that church members might contribute to the narrative of the church is anathema. It undermines their authority.
And yet, as members, we are basically running the church, at least locally. We are the ones whose ideas and experiences make up the content of meetings and gospel discussions. We are the ones who are teaching the young. Depending on how you look at it, the membership is the Church. Certainly without a membership, there is no Church. We are where the theological ideas are tested and refined. Our lives are where the rubber meets the road. If the Church’s teachings don’t work there, maybe they need to be altered.
When I was growing up, my impression was that there was at least as much focus on personal revelation as there was on prophetic revelation, possibly more. The gospel had to be meaningful in our daily lives; it wasn’t a static thing left on a shelf until Sunday. Every person who was baptized was entitled to revelation tailored to their own personal circumstances. Over the years, I’ve seen this focus being de-emphasized and replaced with the idea that if your personal revelation differs from the “rules” for everyone, that your personal revelation is invalid or you are fooling yourself because you desire to sin. Only the institutional revelation is valid.
That’s definitely the opposite of what I was taught growing up. Perhaps that was a local ward thing, or maybe different leaders have emphasized things differently. The Church can’t preach to the exception, but personal revelation would instruct a person when their choice was an exception. They would feel good about the deviation from the norm.
In a Relief Society class about ten years ago, three of us mentioned that we had pursued careers because we felt that we had personal revelation that it was right for us. One sister, the bishop’s wife, wearily said she didn’t know we were allowed to ask for things that were different from what Church leaders taught (referring to Pres. Benson’s infamous “Mothers Come Home” talk of the 1990s). The three of us vehemently said that we were taught to seek personal revelation for our own individual life choices, and if we didn’t, who would on our behalf? Nobody, that’s who. We saw our religion as read-write, not as read-only. But that doesn’t mean we were in the majority.
I was listening to an interview with Carol Lynn Pearson yesterday in which she talked about the pain that the doctrine and history of polygamy has caused countless women in the Church, and she said she is an example of not having to believe that polygamy is a true principle yet still believing in the Church. In that instance, she sees the Church as read-write. Her input matters. Her experience with it can be unique and different and therefore more meaningful.
Many issues people have with the Church experience seem to be tied to the correlation effort that continues. As I’ve often said, they can correlate the manuals, but they can’t correlate my thoughts. If you see the Church as read-only, your charge is to alter your thoughts to conform to the Church and its leaders’ ideas. If you see it as read-write, you see yourself as contributing to the Church’s ongoing narrative and progression toward being Christlike. It seems quite clear from some of the news stories about firings at BYU-I that some Church leaders do want to police and correlate members’ thoughts, at least regarding culture wars. If Twitter is any indication, quite a few members agree with this belief, and most of the ones who disagree leave the Church. That doesn’t really seem like a recipe for success to me.
- Do you see the Church as read-write or read-only?
- How do you think Church leaders see it? How do you think your fellow members see it?
- Have you noticed less emphasis on personal revelation over time? If so, why do you think that is? If not, explain what you are seeing.
For instance I’m reading this excellent post this morning w/ a large cup of java in one hand and the iP in the other. Why? Because #1 java makes me happy to be alive at 5am, research indicates it’s very healthy & Pres Newsroom says caffeine’s not a problem. So what’s the problem? It’s hot? So’s hot chocolate! Does this make sense? This is an easy fix for the read/writes but the read-only is stuck w/ toxic Diet Coke.
A different metaphor is that the Church is a one-size-fits-all church, except that obviously the cultural packaging doesn’t fit everyone, only some. It’s interesting that the leadership will make surprising accommodations to keep some members happy and active, making Spanish-speaking wards, even whole stakes, superimposed on the normal boundary-defined ward and stake system. They make YSA wards. Each of those have their own official leadership, attuned to the needs of that LDS demographic. Those are significant accommodations, made to keep non-English speakers and young single adults active and involved.
Why are other accommodations so often rejected out of hand? What makes non-English speakers and young single adults so privileged, while the idea of a liberal ward or a gay ward or a Wednesday-night ward (for people who work on weekends) to keep liberal members and gay members and weekend-working members active and involved never even considered?
I’m a read/write type of person which makes me a bad fit for church which I’m come to see as a read only institution. Sure there is change, however slow it is but it’s not coming from the bottom. The change has to come from the top.
Conference is the perfect symbol of what I mean. When I got to a conference for work, it’s a give a take affair where they might be keynote speakers but there are classes as well and questions are actively sought. The LDS semi-annual conference has always been a “now hear this” affair. Questions are never solicited and are actively dismissed and discouraged.
Finally when there is a “quick” change like when it was announced that children of same sex marriages could not be baptized unless they renounced their parents was dropped after a couple of years. The leaders seemed surprised that their proclamations caused such outrage. Still for every declaration on one side that seems to be moving forward there are two other statements by other church leaders taking us backwards. Multiply that with the members of your ward or stake and it’s always going to be a read only institution with the read/write types either shutting up or leaving.
What bothers the average progressive Mormon more:
1. the Church hangs on to old and foolish beliefs and traditions
2. the Church makes arbitrary changes without explanation
Take the Nov 2015 policy against gay members vs. its revision/retraction in Apr 2019 (39 months later):
3. the Nov 2015 policy is a kind of example of #1 by doubling down on anti-LGBTQ
4. the Apr 2019 policy is a kind of example of #2 by offering bogus justifications for the change
I think the Bretheren thought that when they made the Apr 2019 change, progressive members would celebrate. Instead, many of us wondered why the Nov 2015 policy had ever existed in the first place and so the positive change in 2019 only made the 2015 policy look worse.
* 41 months later
The Church as an institution would like to project itself as a read-only Church to its members. It is the “One True Church” with “prophets, seers, and revelators”. Members are comforted with the understanding that changes to important teachings are simply not necessary in a Church created and constantly directed by God Himself. If members were to notice a constant stream of doctrinal change, they would start to question whether God really did create and is still directing His Church in the way the Church likes to profess. As a result, most changes in the Church are presented as minor policy changes, even if they are really much more than that. The priesthood/temple ban is an exception to this rule–there simply was no way for the Church to slowly back into that change.
In reality, though, the Church as an institution is really a read-write Church. Literally every doctrine, teaching, and practice of the Church has changed in some way since the Church was founded by Joseph Smith. By being constantly 30 or so years behind society in the culture wars, the Church keeps the majority of members content. If the Church were to adapt in synch with the rest of society, many of the more conservative members would be troubled by the changes. However, by waiting 30 years to adapt to society, even many conservative members welcome the changes when they finally come. By that time, the change doesn’t seem bad–it just seems “normal”–and (most) everyone breathes a sigh of relief (think about the recent changes to FSOY for an example of this).
Despite recent talks by prominent Church leaders (Corbitt and Dew) against activism in the Church, the reality is that activism has been perhaps the most important agent for change within the Church. This recent Salt Lake Tribune article discusses this well: https://www.sltrib.com/religion/2022/12/03/latter-day-saint-activism-see/. The Church doesn’t like to be seen reacting to activism (because they are supposed to be guided by God, not heretical activists), so they will often excommunicate activists and wait for things to calm down for a bit before then enacting some of the changes the activists were asking for. If the change is large, then Church leaders may slowly adopt changes over time so that it appears to most members that the Church is just making small policy changes instead of larger doctrinal changes.
That’s the institutional Church. However, the OP also discusses how individuals might treat the Church as a read-write entity at the personal level. I do think that the OP is correct about how there used to be a stronger acceptance of personal revelation when I was growing up than there is now. While there are still occasional statements making some allowance for exceptions through personal revelation, the message that individuals need to align their personal beliefs and actions with Church leaders is coming through much stronger days. So, yeah, Church leaders would like members to treat the Church as a read-only entity at the personal level.
I personally lost confidence that Church leaders, past (including JS) and present, are any more plugged in to God’s will than I (or anyone else) am long, long ago. I still consider what they have to say, but the Church is definitely read-write for me. There are large parts of the Church that I have completely deleted, other parts that I’ve just edited, and there are new parts that I’ve added. I don’t like that I have to hide my beliefs from all but a very small number of members in order to be able to participate “normally” in my local congregation, but it’s usually not a huge deal to me. I believe and do what feels right to me, and I ignore messages and calls to action from the Church that conflict with my beliefs. I know a lot of people can’t do that, and sometimes it’s not that fun, but I do still find value in my local Mormon community. I guess I’m good at compartmentalizing.
Very observant. All religions are read-write but…they are presented as read only. This causes mass confusion to those who hang their hats on other than God (like a book, a man, or a creed). Academics and Scholarship regarding the bible for instance, has shown massive read-write in both the OT and the New. Its amazing. What will become of all this…I will tell you. Modern religion will include a more honest presentation of this…or they will all die. And Im pro religion. Your post is awesome.
I am going to start a rtevolution (spiritual). A new concept. Let’s pretend for a moment that the Book of Mormon really is the keystone of our religion. Now….use the detailed concepts in it , to every religion out there, even our own. All of it…the if they be mistakes….the pride cycle…the wheat and tares growing together and intermixing. If we really really use the book of Mormon and quote it , regarding OUR own doctrine and church, we can really get somewhere. The book of Mormon would never say the prophet of a church…would never make a mistake. Totally against the Book of Mormon. What about adding and taking away from scripture…apply it to ALL scripture even modern day scripture. A new kind of Mormon is beginning. Make the Book of Mormon’s principles your keysxtone (not its flawlessness, nor its academics, nor its exacting history) and we can really get some refresxhment. For instance a persons character and heart is far more important to Christ, than his temple recommend. There are only two churches, those who repent and come unto Christ and those who don’t. And the spirit and God are the final authority. Everything else is a schoolmaster, just like the OT and its law were for Christ’s fulfillment…everything. And school is only as good as its effecttiveness and its purpose. (ignore my typos, I have challenges lol)
So, how many – like me – clicked “ok” on the Adobe Acrobat when they first reached your page?
To your third question, I do think “personal revelation” is being minimized or basically redefined to “personal revelation consistent with Church revelation”. Any other “personal revelation” is invalid. I feel like the follow the prophet messages are really at a fever pitch in this regime.
@josh h as you note, I don’t think it’s so much change without justification as it is change with deceitful justifications. Nelson just plain lied about the origins of the POX, the nature of its reversal (it wasn’t really reversed!), and the reasons for it. Not to mention he presented a view of reality where God made a big mistake with the POX and our leaders stepped in and saved us from God’s unintended consequences. THAT is what made people mad. It was hands-down the most hubris taking-the-Lords-name-in-vain I’ve ever seen.
Read only seems the better way to describe the church in my experience. I can’t remember a stake president in the last 25 years who was progressive. Mostly the same for Q15 with a few exceptions.
A rhetorical question to those who consider the church read-write: some of the doctrines we delete / ignore are so fundamental to being LDS what is the point of considering yourself LDS? For me the answer is increasingly there is no point in belonging to something inherently different and even opposed to my values.
A fun but irreverent (and fictional) case study is Book of Mormon the musical. The missionary does what JS did – he didn’t like the available options so he invented his own. That’s the catch, it’s read – write for the founders and leaders but not for the rest of us.
“Nelson just plain lied about the origins of the POX, the nature of its reversal (it wasn’t really reversed!), and the reasons for it. Not to mention he presented a view of reality where God made a big mistake with the POX and our leaders stepped in and saved us from God’s unintended consequences. THAT is what made people mad. It was hands-down the most hubris taking-the-Lords-name-in-vain I’ve ever seen.”
@ Dave B. Much like temple clothing, it’s more like one size fits none 🙂
“And yet, as members, we are basically running the church, at least locally. We are the ones whose ideas and experiences make up the content of meetings and gospel discussions. We are the ones who are teaching the young. Depending on how you look at it, the membership is the Church. Certainly without a membership, there is no Church. We are where the theological ideas are tested and refined. Our lives are where the rubber meets the road. If the Church’s teachings don’t work there, maybe they need to be altered.”
I liked this. And it is something I have mulled over from time to time, the role of the membership at large to be the real drivers and shapers of the church. I’m reading at the moment about the formation and role of memory in the first Christian centuries and the author talks about ‘official’ memory vs. ‘vernacular’ memory in the public realm, the two sometimes being in opposition, sometimes co-operating, sometimes co-opting/absorbing. I wonder how a similar dynamic plays out (or could play out) in the church and the potential this holds. This is not so much about the creation of ‘folk’ doctrine/practices vs. official teachings. Our past has shown our folk doctrine can be just as damaging as our official doctrine, and the relationship between the two has played out it many ways. This is more about the members collectively, in the meeting rooms, classrooms, councils etc, getting a feel for what is right and what is wrong, what works and what doesn’t. When I have thought about this before I have been tempted to use words like gatekeepers or maintaining boundaries. But I realise merely swapping one type of gatekeeper (GAs) for another (members) does not help us much. So it is a collaborative exercise. And of course the success of this is going to depend hugely on the make up of a ward or stake. Are people ready or willing to take more responsibility for the direction of their communities or just follow the official line? This can only work well if discussion takes place honestly, openly, without judgement and in good faith. That can often be a big ask.
Does anyone else have any thoughts of what this could look like in our congregations? Personally, I think the first step is to realise that binary solutions to nuance situations is not the way to go. But beyond this…………?
@jack, yes. That analysis is based on his own words.
I really don’t have time to type an explanation but if you are willing to listen to one, it’s here: https://open.spotify.com/episode/70XWvY2L27ar929cichnJN?si=2f594840bbaf4030
@Simon C– I love your idea, but unfortunately I think you’ve captured at least one reason I don’t think it’s possible right now (at least where I live): “This can only work well if discussion takes place honestly, openly, without judgement and in good faith. That can often be a big ask.” There is no way honest, open, nonjudgmental discussions about change are going to happen in my local ward any time soon. Too many people have been trained to “Look to the Brethren” on any issue that I just don’t think this is possible right now. I do like your positive attitude, though–maybe I’m just too big of a pessimist here.
That podcast is pure narrative building. He comes at the problem with his opinions already firmly in place and makes no attempt whatsoever to understand the policy and its permutations from a faithful perspective. I won’t go so far as to say that he’s being disingenuous but he is certainly wrong–that much I will say.
@Jack–You have now commented twice indicating that you disagree with Elisa and Radio Free Mormon’s interpretation of the events surrounding the enactment and subsequent reversal of the Policy of Exclusion, yet you have not given a single reason in either of your responses about why you disagree with them. You just simply state that they are wrong. Just telling people they are wrong without providing any reasons or criticizing their tone isn’t particularly convincing.
The events surrounding the Policy of Exclusion are pretty important to me, so I feel compelled to provide a response. First of all, I think that Pres. Nelson should be applauded for reversing the policy so quickly. The Church does not have a history of fixing mistakes that quickly (about 3 and a half years is slow by most standards, but it’s lightning speed by Church standards), so he deserves credit for reversing the policy in such a short amount of time. While I applaud him for fixing things quickly, I do have concerns with how he handled this issue in other ways.
Perhaps you have another interpretation in mind, but I am aware of 2 competing interpretations of the events surrounding the Policy of Exclusion (and I’m going to really boil this down to what I think are the most critical parts):
1. Pres. Nelson’s interpretation. Pres. Nelson claims that God revealed to the Q12 and FP that the Policy of Exclusion should be enacted. He talked about how the apostles studied, discussed, and prayed about the policy and how when Pres. Monson declared it to be the will of the Lord it was a very spiritual experience for all the apostles. Pres. Nelson describes the process here: https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/article/president-nelson-handbook-change. About three and a half years later, Pres. Nelson claims that the Q12 and FP God revealed to them that the same policy should be reversed. Pres. Nelson describes that process here: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ya-weekly/2022/04/5-truths-about-heavenly-fathers-love-and-laws?lang=eng. According to Pres. Nelson, both enacting and reversing the Policy of Exclusion were the result of revelations from God. With Pres. Nelson’s interpretation, God wanted the Policy of Exclusion enacted in 2015, and then He wanted it reversed in 2019. God changed His mind within three and a half years. You haven’t really explained yourself, but I assume you are referring to this interpretation as the “faithful perspective” in your previous comment.
2. Radio Free Mormon’s interpretation. RFM has a hard time reconciling how two conflicting revelations received within three and a half years could both truly be revelations from God. Either God must be fallible or Pres. Nelson must be mistaken about at least one of the revelations coming from God. Since God is not fallible, Pres. Nelson must have been incorrect when he thought he received a revelation on this issue. Again, you haven’t explained yourself, but I assume that you believe that this interpretation is “wrong”.
Elder Uctdorf said in a recent GC address, “To be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders in the church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles or doctrine.” I believe the Policy of Exclusion is a perfect example of the type of mistake Elder Uctdorf is referring to. Yes, RFM has a critical and biased tone at times, but if you ignore the tone, I believe that his interpretation on this matter is essentially correct, especially about the most critical issue–did Pres. Nelson receive two conflicting revelations from God, or did Pres. Nelson mistake his own thoughts and opinions as revelation from God?
I don’t think God is fickle and changed His mind on the Policy of Exclusion in the course of three and a half years. Perhaps more importantly, my thoughts and prayers agree with the scriptures on this issue: denying baptism to anyone, including children with a gay parent, is wrong–it doesn’t seem like this is what Christ would ever want for His Church. I believe that Pres. Nelson simply did not receive the revelations concerning the Policy of Exclusion in the way he claims he did. Please note that I’m not accusing Pres. Nelson of lying. He may very well believe that he received those revelations from God. If Pres. Nelson believes he received these revelations, then I’m simply saying that I believe that he is mistaken. It seems to me like he probably confused his own thoughts and opinions for revelation from God.
You have not stated your interpretation of the events, so I’m going to assume for now that you more or less accept Pres. Nelson’s version. That’s perfectly acceptable. I acknowledge that there is some possibility, however remote that it seems to me, that Pres. Nelson did indeed receive the two conflicting revelations from God. If this interpretation truly is what you mean by a “faithful perspective”, then I would ask you whether it is faithful to God or whether it is faithful to the man, Pres. Nelson? To me, RFM’s interpretation seems to be more faithful to God at the expense of Pres. Nelson while Pres. Nelson’s interpretation seems to be more faithful to Pres. Nelson at the expense of God.
The reason the events surrounding the Policy of Exclusion are so important to me is because the Church continues to struggle to face the reality that our Prophets, Seers, and Revelators make fundamental mistakes. If the Policy of Exclusion were the only apparent time that Church leaders had made a fundamental mistake in Church history, I might be able to buy in to the theory that God did change His mind this time for some reason that we don’t understand right now. However, given the pattern of apparent mistakes made by Church leaders throughout Church history, it takes an awful lot of mental gymnastics to conclude that all of these mistakes were really God’s will. The Policy of Exclusion really appears to me to be yet another mistake in a long line of mistakes (that we never talk about in Church, so many members aren’t very aware of them!) made by Church leaders.
I’m not talking about minor mistakes such as Pres. Nelson once forgetting to signal before changing lanes on the highway. No, I’m talking about big, fundamental mistakes–mistakes that hurt people, mistakes that change people’s lives, mistakes like the Policy of Exclusion. Many, many Church members refuse to believe that Church leaders can make these kinds of mistakes. These kinds of fundamental mistakes can cause Church members unnecessary pain because they adversely affect their lives in important ways (think of the pain unnecessarily inflicted on gay parents and their children caused by the Policy of Exclusion). Furthermore, the failure of Church leaders to acknowledge and to apologize for such mistakes causes many Church members to become disillusioned with the Church when they learn about this pattern of Church leaders committing (and not acknowledging) key mistakes throughout Church history.
If the Policy of Exclusion were the one and only big mistake ever made by Church leaders, then it wouldn’t be so important to me. However, this event is only one of many big mistakes made by Church leaders over the course of Church history–and there is every reason to believe such mistakes will continue to be made in the future. Church members should be aware of these times in Church history where Church leaders have made fundamental mistakes. Only by understanding this history can members protect themselves from the sometimes mistaken teachings of Church leaders that may seriously damage their lives and spiritual well-being. Church members need to feel more confident in following their own inspiration, even if it sometimes conflicts with the teachings of Church leaders because history has repeatedly shown that sometimes Church leaders are wrong.
Please note that I didn’t say that Church members should completely ignore or disregard Church leaders. I think it’s a good thing for Church members to listen to and ponder the teachings of Church leaders. However, given the reality that Church leaders are sometimes wrong in fundamental ways, members should be aware that there may be times when the best path for them to take–even the path that God Himself would have them take–will deviate from the teachings of Church leaders. In other words (and to return us to the OP), members need to treat the Church as read-write.
In short, President Nelson did the right thing by quickly reversing the Policy of Exclusion. However, he missed a wonderful opportunity to teach the Church about the true fallibility of prophets by sticking to his story that he received conflicting revelations (even if he still believes that he received conflicting revelations, perhaps he should ponder whether that really is what happened or whether he mistook his own thoughts for revelations from God). Had he acknowledged and apologized for his mistake, he could have guided Church members to a more mature and sustainable understanding of the fallibility of Church leaders. It’s not too late, though. There’s no reason he couldn’t apologize now! After all, sometimes it takes the passage of time for any human to come to grips with the reality that it was really themselves that was at fault–just ask my spouse.
Sorry for the threadjack but another important data point is that Nelson’s description of the process by which the POX came about (Monson receiving the revelation and sharing it with the Q15, all of whom had a witness it was revelation) is a fabrication.
Monson was in late stages of dementia at the time. Christofferson at least was not present for any such meeting, and some have reported that Holland wasn’t either.
I re-listened to that episode after I recommended it and realized it was pretty strident even for RFM, so I’m sure it wasn’t an appealing tone for many. But I think RFM is strident on the issue because of what’s at stake. If a prophet doesn’t understand the difference between his own thoughts and revelation, that’s a serious problem. And if a prophet would rather save face by blaming a capricious and harmful policy on God (and taking credit for saving us from God’s mistake by asking God to reverse the policy), then that is also massively problematic.
Finally, it’s important to note that although the church supposedly said that same sex marriage isn’t apostasy, it has since instructed stake presidents to excommunicate married same sex couples.
mountainclimber479 (and Elisa),
Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Just to be clear–I didn’t feel the need to explain my reasons for disagreeing with Elisa because she didn’t argue her position. She simply stated that President Nelson had lied and taken the Lord’s name in a vain–and I simply contradicted that statement.
There is so much here–I don’t know if I have the where-with-all to tackle it. But here’s a start: first off, we have to be careful that we don’t paint ourselves into a corner by implying that the apostles can’t tell the difference between revelation and their own desires. While it’s certainly true that no one is immune to beguiling themselves we have to take into account that they were acting as a group. And, second, we have to remember that President Nelson describes both situations (2015 and 2018) as being pretty-much identical with respect to getting revelation. And so if he was sincere in his telling of the events (and I believe he was) what other explanations might be brought forward to explain the conundrum from a faithful perspective?
I think these verses from D&C 103 are very insightful with respect to how the Lord works with his people at times–especially regarding the establishment of policy:
30 It is my will that my servant Parley P. Pratt and my servant Lyman Wight should not return to the land of their brethren, until they have obtained companies to go up unto the land of Zion, by tens, or by twenties, or by fifties, or by an hundred, until they have obtained to the number of five hundred of the strength of my house.
31 Behold this is my will; ask and ye shall receive; but men do not always do my will.
32 Therefore, if you cannot obtain five hundred, seek diligently that peradventure you may obtain three hundred.
33 And if ye cannot obtain three hundred, seek diligently that peradventure ye may obtain one hundred.
34 But verily I say unto you, a commandment I give unto you, that ye shall not go up unto the land of Zion until you have obtained a hundred of the strength of my house, to go up with you unto the land of Zion.
There is a range of acceptable action in this particular example. The Lord sets forth his will–but we don’t always do his will. And so he sometimes allows a little wiggle room between his will and what he will accept as a minimal offering–and it’s at that minimum where he draws the line with a commandment.
That said, I have no problem with the idea that the church learned something about itself through that experience; I don’t see it as a failure. And I believe that President Nelson is sincere when he says that everything they sought to do with respect to this issue was undergirded by genuine concern and love. I do believe the apostles had the welfare of children in mind when they issued the first policy statement. We are a family church–and they didn’t want to place children in the position of being at odds with their parents and household. That’s clear to me–especially as one who is a child of three divorces.
But after witnessing the difficulties that arose from the policy the apostles pleaded with the Lord on behalf of the church–and they received permission to reframe it in a way that was more palatable to the members without compromising it to the degree that it would fail to fulfill the Lord’s minimal requirements; his “commandment.”
God: I command you to not drink coffee.
Member: How about I fulfil the minimal requirement and drink coffee?
God: Fine by me.
JOSEPH SMITH: I’m getting revelations through a stone!
HIRAM PAGE: Me too!!
JOSEPH SMITH: Yeah, but yours are false.
JAKE: Ah, all those wonderful read-write files locked by administrator privileges…
@Jack–Who’s painting themselves into a corner here? I’m open to considering all possibilities, including the possibility that God did change his mind over the course of three and a half years. It feels to me like you are painting yourself into a corner by insisting that only the “faithful perspective”, one in which Pres. Nelson did not make a mistake, is the only possible narrative to be considered. Why is it that so many Church members struggle to take Elder Uctdorf’s admission that church leaders sometimes make mistakes at face value and consider the possibility that Pres. Nelson made a mistake with the Policy of Exclusion?
I can see that you made 4 points in defense of you position:
1. You state that the FP and Q15 acted as a group, so the group as a whole couldn’t have been deceived. First, my understanding is that the other apostles are supposed to fall in line once the prophet declares “the will of the Lord” on an issue even if they may personally disagree, so it is possible that there was some dissent. Second, these revelations are just described as things that they just had a peaceful feeling about (i.e., they didn’t literally hear the voice of God). Revelation based on feelings can be prone to error. Finally, a much larger group of members who were adversely affected by the Policy of Exclusion had a completely different revelation, but received in a similar way, that led the FP and Q15 to reverse the Policy of Exclusion. Whose revelation was correct: The FP and Q12’s revelation or the revelation of the thousands of members who objected to the Policy of Exclusion?
2. You state that Pres. Nelson sincerely claimed revelation in both 2015 and 2019. If you read my previous comment, I never disputed Pres. Nelson’s sincerity. Pres. Nelson can be very sincere in his belief that he received these revelations, yet at the same time it’s still possible that he mistook his own views and opinions as revelation from God. In fact, that’s exactly what I think happened in this case. As many others have noted since he became the prophet, Pres. Nielson wields the term “revelation” in a much different way than other recent prophets. One gets the feeling that he categorizes nearly any thought or idea that pops into his head day or night as a “revelation”.
3. You state that God was willing to negotiate with Pres. Nelson from the “higher law” of the Policy of Exclusion down to the “lower law” (which is literally just the reversal of the Policy of Exclusion) in order to make members feel better about things. The endpoint (2019) was exactly the same place the Church was at prior to the Policy of Exclusion in 2015. Why would God enact the Policy of Exclusion and then just turn around and reverse it in 2019? If God had simply not enacted the Policy of Exclusion in the first place, the Church would have been in exactly the same place with respect to policy, but thousands of members would not have had to go through the very real pain of dealing with the Policy during those three years.
4. You state that the Church learned something important from these events. However, you never say what the Church learned. I can think of a few things. First, the FP and the Q12, sitting in their elderly bubble in the Church Office Building, learned just how many members the Church has that are adversely affected by their LGBTQ policies. Second, what Church members *should* have learned is that Church leaders, just like Elder Uctdorf taught, can be wrong sometimes. As a result, they should still listen to the teachings of Church leaders, but rely more heavily on their own inspiration because Church leaders’ teachings are sometimes incorrect. I suspect that those aren’t the kinds of lessons that you think God was trying to teach the Church, though. I suppose the Church perhaps learned something else here that I am unable to identify.
This just all feels like mental gymnastics to me. You’ve painted yourself into the corner of prophetic infallibility, and you require convoluted reasoning (higher and lower laws, Church learning things, etc.) to stay there. I believe that the simplest explanation for the whole thing is that Pres. Nelson mistook his own thoughts for revelation from God. All you have to do is open your mind to the possibility that a prophet can be 100% sincere and yet still make a fundamental mistake, and you have a very simple to understand explanation for the whole Policy of Exclusion debacle. No mental gymnastics are required at all. Since all Church members struggle at times to distinguish our thoughts and ideas from God’s promptings, this explanation shouldn’t really be that hard to swallow. Unfortunately, the constant drumbeat of “Follow the Prophet”, “Prophets always teach the truth”, etc. coming from Church leaders does make it hard for members to be open to this possibility.
While the simplest explanation for things is more often than not the correct explanation, there are times when a more complicated explanation is correct. Like I said in my previous comment, if this was the only time prophets have had to reverse themselves on big issues, then I might be able to accept your more convoluted logic that God really did have a good reason for giving two conflicting revelations on the Policy of Exclusion. However, these reversals have happened so many times, that this just doesn’t seem to make any sense. Here are just a handful of examples of reversals of teachings that the FP and Q12 have reversed *in my lifetime*:
1. They counseled against birth control and subsequently backtracked.
2. They taught that homosexuality was a choice and subsequently backtracked.
3. They taught that homosexuality could be “cured” through prayer and subsequently backtracked.
4. They taught that oral sex was not allowed between husband and wife and subsequently backtracked.
5. They taught that women should stay at home and not have a career and subsequently backtracked.
6. They initiated Church discipline for porn use and have subsequently backtracked.
7. They made a huge deal out of masturbation and have subsequently backtracked (well, it appears they are currently still in the process of backing off on this–I hope that’s the case).
8. They taught that women should not expose their shoulders or wear two earring and have subsequently backtracked.
9. The Policy of Exclusion which they subsequently backtracked.
10. They taught that interracial marriage was a bad idea and subsequently backtracked.
There are many, many more examples of these sorts of reversals throughout Church history. My mind is simply not capable of performing the kinds of mental gymnastics required to believe that God wanted Church leaders to flip-flop on every single one of these issues, and my conscience tells me that the Church’s initial position on all of these issues was not inspired of God. Several of those issues above had a big, negative impact on my life personally as well as people that I’m very close to. The only way for members to protect themselves from the fallibility of Church leaders is to treat the Church as read-write.
I think one of the fundamental differences between the modern age and earlier times is the rapid change that has been occurring since the beginning of the restoration. The prophets have had to make many adjustments along the way — and they will continue to do so — in order to accommodate a changing world. Culture is an incredibly powerful thing–and the church has had to be vigilant in navigating its tumultuous tides. I could offer an explanation for every one of the adjustments you mention–but I’ll forebear as I fear that I may unnecessarily offend the good folks on this blog.
Re: painting ourselves into a corner: what I mean to say is–if the apostles tend to be right only when we agree with them (speaking of all of us generally) then we should be willing to axe the counsel we love most from them. If they were to one day permit gay marriage in the church–would we be willing to entertain the possibility that they may have gotten it wrong? That it wasn’t a real revelation–but only their wishful thinking?
I believe it’s better to give them the benefit of the doubt before checking their counsel against my own principles. I have a personal witness that the apostles are the Lord’s anointed–and so I try to receive their words and let the chips fall where they may. And on those rare occasions when I do feel out of sync with their counsel I’ll ask the Lord to help me either right myself with it or allow personal revelation to trump general counsel. But if the answer that comes is the latter of the two–then no one else will ever know of it except perhaps my wife. Personal revelation should remain with the person who receives it, IMO, and never be used to openly contradict the Lord’s servants.
I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on your first two points.
On your third point–I don’t think of it so much as a higher law verses a lesser law. But rather as a lateral range of acceptable action. The Word of Wisdom comes to us in the same fashion. It is designed so that the weakest saint can live by it–though one may perhaps tighten the parameters in a way that would be pleasing to the Lord. But no one is condemned for not living it more strictly.
As to your fourth point–I can’t say that I know *precisely* what the church may or may not have learned about itself from this experience. I’m not that smart. But I can offer a few ideas of my own: The first thing is — as with all difficult requests — it may have been a good thing for the members to wrestle with for a short time. I would never wish that kind of mental anguish on anyone–but as one who has suffered from an inordinate amount of mental distress I’m aware of the positive fruit that wrestling with tough seemingly counterintuitive questions can yield. Secondly, and related to the first–it may have been important for members to take an honest look at their assumptions vis-a-vis sociopolitical views versus doctrine. While I believe that many folks were genuinely concerned for the welfare of children — especially those who have gay loved ones and friends — I’m not convinced that that was the attitude across the board. The church has had a similar policy in place with regard to children of polygamous families for decades–and there’s been nary a peep in their defense. So it isn’t just about what’s best for children. It’s also about how we position gay relations and marriage within the framework of the commandments–particularly the Law of Chastity.
@Jack–“I believe it’s better to give them the benefit of the doubt before checking their counsel against my own principles. I have a personal witness that the apostles are the Lord’s anointed–and so I try to receive their words and let the chips fall where they may. And on those rare occasions when I do feel out of sync with their counsel I’ll ask the Lord to help me either right myself with it or allow personal revelation to trump general counsel. But if the answer that comes is the latter of the two–then no one else will ever know of it except perhaps my wife. Personal revelation should remain with the person who receives it, IMO, and never be used to openly contradict the Lord’s servants.”
This, in my opinion, is the fundamental difference between your thinking and mine. If you operate under those assumptions, then you are required to come up with convoluted explanations for all the flip-flops–or just let your shelf get heavier and heavier over time. I think it’s possible to believe that the apostles are the Lord’s anointed and still acknowledge that they’ve made many mistakes over the course of Church history. Those two ideas are not necessarily in conflict with each other. Church leaders want to make members think that those two realities can’t coexist, but I think they are wrong about that. If this really is God’s church and the leaders really are His leaders, then it appears to me that God allows His Church and His leaders *a lot* of leeway to fumble around and make mistakes in order to finally discover the right path. In fact, oftentimes society is faster to correct itself than the Church is, and that is very disappointing to many Church members who keep getting fed the idea that they should always “Follow the Brethren” because the Brethren are always right. I believe history makes it abundantly clear that Church leaders are frequently wrong, and the faster the Church accepts this reality, the faster member can develop a more mature relationship with God, and the few members will leave the Church the next time Church leaders inevitably make their next big mistake.
Thanks for engaging. You are, of course, entitled to your opinion on the POX. We will have to agree to disagree. As I’ve noted, I think the POX is a very clear, recent example of the fallibility of prophets that the Church absolutely needs to come to grips with. The Church is bleeding members and causing a lot of suffering because it is insisting on the infallibility of Church leaders on big issues. I couldn’t let someone just dismiss the idea that the prophet made a mistake on the POX, which is what I truly believe, without stating my opposing viewpoint.
Thanks for the conversation. Just to be clear–I know that the apostles aren’t perfect. But I do believe that they are on track generally–especially when they’re united. And then, of course, we have to figure what it is that is in question vis-a-vis their counsel. Is it doctrine or policy? Is it principles or methodologies? And so forth. And what kind of exactitude do they require of the more mundane concerns of the Kingdom as opposed to the foundational claims of the church?
Re: convoluted explanations: Remember what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle said: “When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” The truth may seem convoluted because of its “improbable” nature at times. But when it’s understood for what it is it becomes elegant.
I share a personal story as an example of what I mean: I was asked by the church (20 some odd years ago) if I’d be willing to give them the entire score to one of my musicals–no credit or compensation. That was a hard decision. I couldn’t understand the whys and wherefores of such a request. But when I finally agreed to turn it over to them–things changed. And as it turned out–they chose to produce a different show. It was a ram in the thicket (for me).
Now — 20 years later — as I look back on that experience it’s crystal clear what happened. I can see the Lord’s hand through the whole process–though at the time I was quite confused and under a dark cloud as it were. Even so, someone looking on the situation from the outside could have assumed that those folks were abusing their position and trying to extort my creative property from me. It certainly seems like a simpler explanation on its face. But it isn’t what happened–not even close. The truth of that situation — when understood for what it really is — is wonderfully elegant.