Policy or Revelation?

Facebook is ablaze with dismay over statements made by Elder Russell M. Nelson in Sunday night’s Worldwide Devotional, titled “Becoming True Millennials.” Initially, when the details of the new provisions were first disclosed and when Elder Christofferson publicly defended them, they were simply portrayed as a policy. Now, many are suggesting Elder Nelson has declared that the policy regarding Mormons in gay marriages and the status of their children (hereinafter, the “New Policy”) is more than a policy, it is a Revelation. The media is now picking up on this: here is a CBS News story titled “Mormon leader says policy against gay marriage was word from God.” If you go visit the home page at LDS.org, you will indeed find a box with a link to the Elder Nelson broadcast — just below “Youth: Ask Your Questions Here” and a couple of boxes to the right of “Meet the New Presiding Bishopric.” Somehow I kind of expected a new big-R Revelation to get a little bigger headline at LDS.org. So … is it a policy or a revelation? What’s the difference? In light of the key LDS principle of continuing revelation, is the distinction between policy and revelation meaningful or simply confusing?

First, a couple of quick caveats. I can see how some listeners, especially journalists unfamiliar with LDS vocabulary and the Mormon habit of quietly exaggerating spiritual experiences, would misconstrue Elder Nelson’s words. All the more reason to get our own definitions of policy versus revelation straight. Also, I’m not defending the New Policy, I’m just trying to understand it. Not an easy task. I’m going to do it chronologically, so I will first review recent developments starting in November 2015, then come back to Elder Nelson’s statements at the end of the post.

1. Private Addition of New Policy to Handbook 1. In early November 2015, several sentences comprising a new policy for dealing with gay Mormons were added to Handbook 1, the non-public Handbook accessible to bishops and other local leaders but not to the general membership of the Church. The changes define any member “in a same-gender marriage” as being in a state of apostasy and mandate a disciplinary council for that member. In rather convoluted language, the new text added to the Handbook also bars naming and blessing, baptizing, confirming, ordaining to the priesthood, or recommending for missionary service *any* “natural or adopted child of a parent living in a same-gender relationship, whether the couple is married or cohabiting.” With approval of the First Presidency, such children can eventually receive baptism, etc., but only once they are legally adults, no longer live with a gay parent or parents, and in an interview with a local leader commit to living LDS commandments and specifically disavow gay marriage. This detailed summary is based solely on the new text in the Handbook. No prior public announcement of the changes was made. I have seen no report that any prior notice or supplementary explanation of the Handbook changes were provided to local leaders prior to the text being added to the Handbook.

2. The New Policy Goes Public. Within just a day or two of the New Policy text being added to Handbook 1 (where it was accessible to literally thousands of local leaders), three events happened in rapid succession: the New Policy text was publicly posted online, social media kicked up a storm over the New Policy, and mainstream media quickly picked up the story. A key event was a Washington Post article dated November 5, 2015, which posted a link to the text of the New Policy and stated that a “church spokesman” had independently provided the text of the New Policy to the Washington Post. The article confirmed that the wording of the text provided to the Washington Post by the church spokesman matched the wording of the text publicly posted online. So at this point the full text of the New Policy was essentially a public document, having been distributed to the media by an LDS official, apparently for publication — nothing in the Post’s article suggests that the Post was barred from quoting from the text of the New Policy or publishing the text in full.

3. Elder Christofferson Interview Attempts to Clarify the New Policy. Late on Friday November 6, 2015, a video interview of Elder Christofferson, conducted by LDS Public Affairs Managing Director Michael Otterson, was posted at the LDS Newsroom. In the interview, titled “Church Provides Context on Handbook Changes Affecting Same-Sex Marriages,” Elder Christofferson explains that a disciplinary council is now mandatory for members in a same-sex marriage but notes that the outcome is not dictated. He emphasizes that same-sex marriage, while now legal in the USA, “is not a right that exists in the Church.” He also states that the provisions barring naming and blessing, baptism, confirmation, ordination, and recommendations for missionary service for minor children with a parent living in a same-sex relationship are rooted in “a desire to protect children” from conflicts that would arise between teachings and expectations of the Church and what such children might receive at home. These children can, upon reaching the age of majority, make “an informed and conscious decision” about being baptized, etc. (subject to the requirements noted in paragraph 1). Finally, Elder Christofferson notes that these provisions of the New Policy are parallel to provisions limiting ordinances for children of polygamous marriages.

4. First Presidency Letter Significantly Narrows the New Policy. Spirited discussion and criticism (as well as defense) of the New Policy continued on blogs, social media, and mainstream media over the following week, during which time the Church remained conspicuously silent on the matter. Then, on Friday November 13, 2015, a letter from the First Presidency was posted at LDS.org. The letter, addressed broadly to all general, area, and local leaders, carries the title “First Presidency Clarifies Church Handbook Changes.” What the letter actually did was to significantly narrow the New Policy as it applies to children (1) by stating that priesthood ordinance limitations “apply only to those children whose primary residence is with a couple living in a same-gender marriage or similar relationship”; and (2) by directing that any child who would be affected by the policy change but who “has already been baptized and is actively participating in the Church” will be allowed to continue progressing in the Church just like other youth. I will refer to these new, narrower prohibitions as the Amended New Policy. A week earlier, Elder Christofferson gave no hint of these narrower applications of the New Policy in his video interview. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that the Amended New Policy terms emerged from discussions by senior leaders in the hectic days following the video interview. It should also be noted that the Amended New Policy has not, to my knowledge, been incorporated into the actual language in Handbook 1. It is certainly possible that some local leaders will apply the original and still operative language of Handbook 1 (what I call the New Policy) without reference to the narrower provisions of the First Presidency letter of November 13 (what I call the Amended New Policy).

5. Elder Nelson’s Worldwide Devotional. After the letter of November 13, the Church provided no additional commentary that I am aware of until Elder Nelson’s devotional of Sunday January 10, 2015. His statements speak to the origin and status of the New Policy, not to any of the particulars. First, he gave a general description of how the Apostles as a committee or council of fifteen consider a problem and reach a decision:

[T]hese fifteen men wrestle with the issue, trying to see all the ramifications of various courses of action, and they diligently seek to hear the voice of the Lord. After fasting, praying, studying, and pondering and counseling with my brethren about weighty matters, it is not unusual for me to be awakened during the night with further impressions about issues with which we are concerned, and my brethren have the same experience. The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles counsel together and share all the Lord has directed us to understand and to feel, individually and collectively. And then, we watch the Lord move upon the President of the Church to proclaim the Lord’s will.

The transcription is mine, direct from the video posted at LDS.org. I assume a transcript will be posted soon, which may supply different punctuation and of course may reflect post-delivery edits. Elder Nelson’s description of how senior leaders arrive at a decision is pretty straightforward: they prayerfully consider options, share their views and proposals in joint meetings, and at some point the President makes a decision. That’s not much different from how local leaders at the stake and ward levels go about making decisions. Think of how the Bishop decides when to schedule the Ward Christmas Party, after input from members of the Ward Council: “Thanks for your thoughts on this; let’s have it on Friday night rather than Saturday night.” Sound judgment, augmented at times by inspiration.

Elder Nelson then spoke directly to the specific decision to issue the New Policy, using the same general framework.

This prophetic process was followed … with the recent additions to the Church’s Handbook …. [W]e wrestled at length to understand the Lord’s will in this matter. Ever mindful of God’s plan of salvation and of his hope for eternal life for each of his children, we considered countless permutations and combinations of possible scenarios that could arise. We met repeatedly in the temple in fasting and prayer, and sought further direction and inspiration. And then when the Lord inspired his prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, to declare the mind and the will of the Lord, each of us during that sacred moment felt a spiritual confirmation. It was our privilege as apostles to sustain what had been revealed to President Monson.

So they formulated options, considered outcomes, shared views and recommendations, then President Monson made a decision.

Policy or Revelation?

If those who view Elder Nelson’s statements as a firm declaration that the New Policy is a big-R Revelation are correct, we ought to expect a document, an Official Declaration 3, to be published at some point. Revelations are not blank checks, after all — a big-R Revelation, at least in the Mormon view of revelation, entails that something specific is revealed. One can’t really claim that a big-R Revelation justifies the New Policy, then decline to offer any particulars about that Revelation. And it would be nice to know if what was revealed (the content of the big-R Revelation) corresponds to the New Policy as originally stated, the Amended New Policy as stated in the First Presidency letter of November 13, or possibly a third position not corresponding to either of those public statements.

Alternatively, one might view Elder Nelson’s statements as merely describing a policy, albeit one arrived at after considerable prayer, reflection, and discussion. If there is a distinction between a big-R Revelation and a small-p policy, it is that a policy suggests prudent, pragmatic, inspired decision-making that leaves open the possibility of changes should circumstances change or if the policy, as applied, turns out badly. A big-R Revelation seems to imply that a specific communication from God was received (not just the sort of general inspiration we attribute to all decisions made by senior or local leaders) and that such a Revelation is not subject to change except if amended by a subsequent big-R Revelation. Pragmatically, I think the New Policy is best viewed as merely a policy, because the times they are a-changing and it seems unwise for the Church to lock itself into a position that may turn out to be increasingly difficult to justify. Furthermore, a careful reading of the actual statements made by Elder Nelson doesn’t actually identify a big-R Revelation. He said he and his colleagues “diligently seek to hear the voice of the Lord” and they “sought further direction and inspiration.” Then, according to Elder Nelson, President Monson made a decision. Well, he makes lots of decisions.

A third view is that the attempt to draw a distinction between a policy and a revelation is misguided and that, operationally, there really isn’t that much difference between the two. Is the Word of Wisdom a policy or a revelation? If you waltz into your bishop’s office with a Starbucks latte in one hand, saying “Hey, it’s just a policy” doesn’t get you off the hook. Just changing what you call it doesn’t suddenly make adherence optional. Was the priesthood and temple ban a policy or a revelation? Or a policy that, over the course of time and in the view of LDS leaders, somehow became a revelation? An intermediate concept is doctrine, which seems to be more than a policy but less than a revelation, and we all know how difficult it is to nail down exactly what LDS doctrine is on any particular point.

Without resolving the policy versus revelation question, let me close by simply emphasizing what happened between Elder Christofferson’s video explanations of November 6 and the First Presidency Letter of November 13. Whether you call the original statements a policy or a revelation, the November 13 letter was plainly a revision. If they can revise the New Policy, the can revise the Amended New Policy should circumstances require.

And that is an encouraging thought.

85 comments for “Policy or Revelation?

  1. Why can’t we just have an honest, open, adult conversation with our leaders about these things which are fracturing the Church and be provided honest, open, reasoned and candid responses?

  2. Doesn’t it go without saying that this can’t be what you call “Big-R Revelation”? Nothing doctrinally new has been revealed. Homosexuality has always been taught as against God’s plan. The Proclamation to the World draws a deep line in the sand to how we define a family in God’s eyes. All of the changes, from beginning to end, have been about practice. Not one word has been about eternal value of the people involved.

    This approach to discussing revelation/policy, etc. feels so foreign to me. It doesn’t at all reflect my experience with Deity. This post comes across to me as a bit of sophistry without true understanding, which leads me to believe I must be missing your point. Haven’t you received revelation before? When you have, what has that looked like to you, as different from “mere” inspiration? What are your expectations of the process? What do you define as revelation vs. inspiration?

  3. Doesn’t it go without saying that this can’t be what you call “Big-R Revelation”? Nothing doctrinally new has been revealed. Homosexuality has always been taught as against God’s plan. The Proclamation to the World draws a deep line in the sand to how we define a family in God’s eyes. All of the changes, from beginning to end, have been about practice. Not one word has been about eternal value of the people involved.

    This approach to discussing revelation/policy, etc. feels so foreign to me. It doesn’t at all reflect my experience with Deity. This post comes across to me as a bit of sophistry without true understanding, which leads me to believe I must be missing your point. Haven’t you received revelation before? When you have, what has that looked like to you, as different from “mere” inspiration? What are your expectations of the process? What do you define as revelation vs. inspiration?

  4. Silver Rain,

    I will post a comment I made previously about your question:

    The general definition tends to be that revelation (in the theological context) is to reveal something that was previously unknown or hidden. Such items tend to come directly through spiritual channels from the Holy Ghost. While such revelations can be revised or better worded by the original receiver the core of the revelation is pure in its message. It is the limitations of language which create some challenges in conveying the message.

    Inspiration is a wholly different item. Inspiration comes as a human mind tries to use reason, faith, prayer and study to gain spiritual knowledge. There is a thought process involved and conclusions are drawn based upon the scriptures, observation, discernment and tradition.

    When something is presented as “inspired” within our church there is rarely, if ever, an accompanying explanation of how the conclusion was reached. There is nothing to guide the Latter-day Saint in determining if it is in accordance with the scriptures and our ability to test the truthfulness of the conclusion is negated. We are forced to either accept it based upon authority or reject it at our peril as incompatible with the existing canon. Remember there was only one apostle who challenged Brigham Young on Adam-God. The others all accepted it based upon Brigham’s authority.

    When something is presented as a “revelation” from the heavens, it is received directly from the Lord and will generally be in sync with the existing body of revealed knowledge. Joseph’s Sermon in the Grove and King Follett discourse show how Joseph tied the new revelation of the Lord’s sacrifice and the hierarchy of the Gods directly to the existing New Testament scriptures.

    Likewise, there are very specific instructions for the church on receiving revelation from the Lord through the Lord’s anointed representative on the earth. Adding to the canon has very specific steps which includes involving the membership of the Kingdom.

    The problem comes when something is presented as “inspired” without any accompanying explanation but is expected to be received as “revelation” by the body of the church.

    Most of Joseph’s most cherished revelations (D&C 76, D&C 88, the book of Abraham…) can be classified as pure revelation and convey truth in a more sublime manner than is found in the ordinariness of the church governance chapters of the D&C.

    NOTE: I realize I am classifying the book of Abraham as a revelation and not as a translation from Mr. Chandler’s papyri. That is how I view it.

  5. “Homosexuality has always been taught as against God’s plan.”

    Please tell me you mean to say “homosexual relations,” SilverRain. Otherwise you are wrong.

    Something not noted in this timeline is the talk by Sister Nelson on January 10. Seems like she is inventing and preaching new doctrine.

  6. This is a strange take. Establishing a policy does not exclude the revelatory process. The prophets in the First Presidency are not bound by the way this or that person tries to define policy, revelation, etc, thankfully. What Elder Christofferson’s comments do show is that this policy was not a knee jerk response to the SSM ruling by the Supreme Court but involved a lot of thought, discussion, and prayer. And in the end, it has been declared to be the mind and will of the Lord.

  7. Glenn,

    “The prophets in the First Presidency are not bound by the way this or that person tries to define policy, revelation, etc, thankfully…”

    So how is someone supposed to go about testing whether what is being presented is in harmony with the scriptures and reflects the true will of the Lord? How is one to get a personal witness of the truthfulness of what is being presented for purposes of obedience? What are the common standards God has articulated on how he reveals truth? Remember, the ultimate source of authority is one’s own conscience and the agency which was provided to each of us to find, verify and follow truth. Was Brigham correct in telling Orson to accept Adam-God because Brigham was the ultimate authority or he would be thrown out of the quorum and excommunicated?

    Can you kindly provide us with specific details on how to determine the mind and will of the Lord? Accordingly, can you provide us with specific details on how to gain verification that what is presented is the mind and will of the Lord? Is it merely “because so and so says so”?

  8. For me the issue is that handbook changes are claimed to be “the mind and will of the Lord” and “revealed to President Monson.” For anyone struggling with these facts, whether or not it becomes codified as big R revelation is irrelevant (except to the extent that the church ultimately changes the policy or not). The issue is what it says about God, or more likely what it says about the leaders of the church. So although it is encouraging that the policy can change, damage has already been done.

  9. Sean, I’m interested to hear any personal accounts you have of “fracturing” within your ward or stake. I don’t mean to suggest you aren’t correct, but I just haven’t seen the same thing (and have wondered why). I live in a suburb of Washington, D.C. with a large LDS population. Our ward is much more liberal than other wards I’ve been in, and I’ve heard nothing regarding any discontent within the ward regarding the policy. It’s certainly possible that I’m simply not privy to all of the machinations going on (though I do attend ward councils and PEC so I’m more plugged in than some), but it just hasn’t been a divisive issue.

    The Sunday after the policy, I was braced for some sort of incident, but nothing happened, and, so far, nothing has continued to happen. The only place I see the divisiveness is in traditional and social media. The only person I personally know who officially left the Church over the policy had already been inactive for unrelated reasons for several years prior to the announcement (this person doesn’t live in the same area that I do).

  10. For the most part, I’m with your third view. Paraphrasing President Kimball, revelation is a broad term, and it doesn’t have to be added to the Standard Works (arguments over common consent notwithstanding) to be considered big R revelation. I do not think church leaders make much distinction between policy and revelation. Since we believe in continuing revelation, there’s nothing wrong with revelation for a certain day and age being changed to adapt to another day and age.

  11. Anonymous: I mean “homosexuality”.
    Quick Google definition: Homosexuality (from Ancient Greek ????, meaning “same”, and Latin sexus, meaning “sex”) is romantic attraction, sexual attraction or sexual behavior between members of the same sex or gender. If I had meant same-sex attraction or action only, I would have said that.

    All three of those are against God’s plan of exaltation, which is based on the family structure as taught by the LDS Church. The context of my original comment should make it clear what I’m referring to. There is no sin except in the last of the three, but the level of sinfulness is irrelevant to my comment.

    Sean: You’re not the OP, but could you clarify the process as you expect it? You are talking about revelation/inspiration as it is presented by the Church as a whole, but I’m trying to understand the difference in process the OP expects. Based on what you say if it’s only “something new” vs. “not something new,” it’s obviously not revelation, since it doesn’t reveal anything new about us or about God. If it’s “directly from the Lord” vs….what? “not directly from the Lord”? Elder Nelson’s obviously saying it was from the Lord. If it’s “in line with received knowledge,” then it’s obviously in line with received knowledge, too, though I find that a strange distinction between inspiration and revelation.

    “Revelation” and “inspiration” can mean many different things. Just because the OP and you have a specific idea in mind of what constitutes “revelation” vs. “inspiration” doesn’t mean that is the denotation that Elder Nelson had in mind.

    To me, Elder Nelson’s point was that the policy change was deeply pondered, prayed over, and subject to the Lord’s guidance, not that this was a “Big-R Revelation.” There is nothing in the rest of his address which seems to indicate he meant the latter. Which is good, because it’s obviously not. But small-r revelation is more like what you and the OP seem to expect from inspiration. Just because it’s inspiration or small-r revelation doesn’t mean it’s not from God. Elder Nelson’s use of the word “revelation” to refer to the process the Quorum of the 12 and the First Presidency went through seems entirely appropriate to me, which is why I’m confused about the OP and asking for clarification.

    Either way, people are entirely missing the point that this is a change in a Handbook. It’s policy, not revelation. Policies change all the time. We make a very grave error when we try to extrapolate doctrines from policies, almost as grave as when we try to shame the church for changing its policies.

    Strangely enough, making a huge issue out of it is more likely to push the Church into a “Big-R Revelation” than anything else: and I suspect those making an issue out of it aren’t going to like the revelation when it is finally stamped with the “big R.” Whether or not that actually damages the Church is subjective according to what you think the purpose of the Church is.

    “Is this revelation or inspiration” is entirely the wrong question. The right question is more like “are the Brethren seeking the Lord’s will,” or “are they in tune with God.” If you already think you know the answer to the right question, you’re already satisfied as to their motivations and status with God. No amount of explanation or stamping something with a big R is going to change your opinion.

  12. I should have said “It’s policy, not ‘Big-R Revelation'”…just to clarify.

    But IDIAT said what I was trying to say much more succinctly.

  13. Very nice thoughts and discussion, Dave–thanks.

    (And I’m inclined to interpret the upshot of your post as something to the effect that there’s been some overreaction to Elder Nelson’s comments.)

  14. Northern Virginia,

    I am just up I-95 in the Philly suburbs. When I talk of fracturing in the “church”, I am more expansive in my definition of church than the Sunday services of the institutional church. My definition would include all the communities, organizations, associations, groups and individuals who feel a part of Mormonism. I, myself, am a convert of 34 years when I accepted the truths of the restored gospel at age 19. I was raised Irish Catholic.

    My activity in the institutional church has ebbed and flowed over those three decades and include an education at BYU, four years of employment at the MTC, serving as a Temple worker and a plethora of church callings and assignments which included Executive Secretary and Family History Center director.

    Given the environment experienced during Sunday services, I would not expect too much of a reaction. My observations are that many members (at least in my local ward and stake) are not ones to expand their horizons beyond the basics of correlation. I do not see much accommodation for deeper discussions without pushback from the Fowler – Stage Three type personalities. While I am sure that private thoughts probably contain doubts and questions, these are not addressed during our Sunday services or classes.

    It is said that a church provides three things to its members:

    1) a theology / worldview which provides some sort of order and seeks to address the metaphysical realm.
    2) a communal worship service or venue for adoration, worship and praise.
    3) a community of shared values and support.

    Unfortunately, the LDS church does not provide much in the way of a communal worship service. There are differing takes on the nourishment provided or the ability to have true adorational worship during our sacrament meeting. Reverence is a recurring problem within congregations as the missionaries know when they bring prospects to church. For me, taking my mom to Mass actually provides me with a greater depth of nourishment and Christ-centered adoration than I generally find in my ward sacrament meeting.

    The LDS church is very good at number three, that is, providing a framework and structure for heterosexual, married couples to raise their children. This is evident in how the programs, services, ordinances, callings, and traditions are carried out. While there is not a determined exclusion to keep others out, the set-up does not provide much place for those who do not fit the mold. Just try asking the older singles, the widows or widowers or the single sisters who attend solo as their children are raised on how the community provides place for them let alone the three great threats of gays & lesbians, feminists and intellectuals. Unfortunately, our tent is not accommodating to all. Oh, my ward does offer love and caring and open arms to the misfits, but being accepted authentically as a misfit is much more difficult. I believe that the more we exclude authenticity by all latter-day saints, the more our Sunday services devolve towards mini-echo chambers.

    The saddest part, in my opinion and as a convert, is that we underappreciate the incredible uniqueness and intense beauty of the theology of the restored gospel. What Joseph brought to the world is mind-boggling. I am not talking about the current emphasis on the idolization of eternal families or the claim that gender is eternal (I still don’t know what that means). And I am not talking about the curse of correlated lessons. I am referring to the cosmology, the universalism, the expansiveness and the agency associated with creation and our place in a universe of wonder, joy and possibilities.

  15. Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    Gaelish (#1), I’m not sure there will be follow-up comments by the Church. Who exactly is going to correct or clarify remarks by the President of the Twelve?

    Sean (#7), the remarks by Greg Prince have also been repackaged as a post at Rational Faiths.

    Robert C. (#18), I think you’re right — I do think there has been some overreaction to Elder Nelson’s remarks. If the remarks are being understood in a way that was not intended by Elder Nelson, perhaps he himself will try to clarify things at the next General Conference.

  16. Silver Rain,

    “Either way, people are entirely missing the point that this is a change in a Handbook. It’s policy, not revelation.”

    I would agree with anonymous. You seem to be directly contradicting Elder Nelson. He stated it is a revelation which resulted in a policy. Pure and simple. They just forgot to present the revelation part to the church first.

    Additionally, I would add that there needs to be a common understanding of the definition of words, especially within our Church. The tendency we have to constantly re-define or ill-define basic words such as revelation, inspiration, doctrine, and policy allows for an infinite number of mind-games and quirky interpretations as to meaning and thought.

    Please allow me to ask again the question I posted above:

    Why can’t we just have an honest, open, adult conversation with our leaders about these things which are fracturing the Church and be provided honest, open, reasoned and candid responses?

    What are we so afraid of?

  17. Not sure I understand the view that there’s nothing new here. The policy identifies gay married couples as apostates and their children as presumed apostates (a presumption that can be rebutted only after they’ve turned 18 and disavow to an ecclesiastical leader their parents’ relationship). The apostasy label in the church is accompanied by implicit shunning, as is evidenced by the fact that the temple recommend questions effectively ask about our interactions with apostates (I realize it doesn’t actually use that word, but the meaning is the same). The notion that gay married couples, not to mention their children, are to be effectively banished from our congregations and marginalized in our social networks is nothing if not new. Anyone who questions this predicted effect need look no further than the example of polygamy in the church, which as Elder Christofferson pointed out, is the model here for the policy. When was the last time you hung out (i.e., affiliated) with your Fundamentalist Mormon polygamist friends? And for those outliers who can answer that question with an actual date, I assume you probably have felt compelled to discuss that relationship with your bishop or SP during the temple recommend interview, a compulsion that no doubt has caused you to question the relationship in the first place. Give it a few years to work its way into our attitudes and thought processes, and before you know it, you’ll be able to replace “fundamentalist Mormon polygamist friends” with “gay married friends and/or their children” and find that the equivalency (and the effects that go along with it) has lost its shock value.

  18. “You seem to be directly contradicting Elder Nelson.”

    Are you trying to understand, or just cherry-pick and fault find? I already talked about the difference in your meaning and his of the word “revelation.”

    ” I would add that there needs to be a common understanding of the definition of words, especially within our Church.”

    I disagree. Semantics is a rhetorical game, one I’m confident the Brethren aren’t playing. Those who seek to understand don’t need to waste time over defining words. Context and pondering is enough.

    “Why can’t we just have an honest, open, adult conversation with our leaders about these things which are fracturing the Church and be provided honest, open, reasoned and candid responses?”

    Let me ask this: have you had that sort of conversation with God?

  19. One interesting aspect of Elder Nelson’s relatively brief comment regarding the policy is that it is part of a much broader point about receiving personal revelation (Point #3, Learn how to access the powers of heaven, learn how to recognize truth). The overall talk included several nuggets, including nuggets about how we need to ask questions and wrestle with difficult issues. That strongly suggests to me that we should not only tolerate but expect situations in which we are trying to seek out the truth because it is not all clear as to what is actual truth. The policy change is for me and many others a difficult question that requires that we wrestle. One subpart of that wrestling, at least for me, is wrestling with the fact that we got a new policy that included a busted if/then clause (pointed out by Alison Smith and others) and then 8 days later got an amended new policy. I don’t think God changed his mind that quickly, so I have to wrestle with the implications.

    I think it’s actually quite difficult to determine exactly what constitutes “the united voice of the First Presidency and the twelve apostles” as compared to a statement or opinion of one or more apostles. Even in the present case, it’s unclear to me as to exactly what “was revealed to Pres. Monson” (to quote Nelson). I assume that it’s the revisions to the policy (amended policy), rather than the policy itself, but that’s only an assumption. Elder Nelson did not actually tell us what was revealed of what the timeline looked like. My other issue (and this is a question that I think requires “wrestling”) is trying to adequately answer this question as phrased by JR Clark: When are the writings and sermons of Church leaders entitled to the claim of scripture? http://emp.byui.edu/marrottr/ClarkWhenAreWritings.pdf. The immediate contextual answer to Pres. Clark’s question in short was that JF Smith’s recently released book and comments on evolution were NOT scripture, and the Pres. Clark had been sent by the current prophet, Pres. McKay, to “correct” what JF Smith (then the current lead apostle) had taught. At least for me, determining when an apostle is teaching something that is not the doctrine of the Church, and dealing with the implications of that, is a difficult question that requires spiritual wrestling.

  20. While perhaps not a “big-R-revelation”, Elder Nelson seems pretty clear: “the Lord inspired his prophet…to declare the mind and the will of the Lord”. This, at least as I interpret it (and I can’t honestly see another way to interpret it), seems to imply that this was more than just Pres. Monson making a decision. It is claiming that the Pres. was inspired to declare God’s will on this matter, not merely present a potentially faulty opinion/decision. As much as I hate to say it, as I deeply disagree with this policy, I don’t think your interpretation works.

  21. SilverRain: *exactly*, who needs words? Words are useless and are always clear as mud, so we never have to question or debate the meaning of them. Thank God (literally) that language, *especially* the English language, is so clear-cut and precise, and that the Brethren (obviously through their constant and direct link to God’s mind) are always incredibly clear in their words, so they can’t be misunderstood or misinterpreted, unless, of course, you’re a doubting liberal/Nazi Mormon who wants to play word games because, again, words are useless and “context” and “pondering” (without words, obviously!!) is all you need.

  22. Northern Virginia,

    You asked me if I saw any significant or honest discussion about these items which are causing fractures in my local ward. I would respectfully offer Silver Rain’s response (#25) as an example of why people may not feel comfortable even attempting to bring up such items. The conversation usually deteriorates into such a kerfuffle of words that doesn’t allow for a deeper understanding of individual perspectives because of the defensiveness of the current narrative which precludes any fruitful results.

  23. Whether it’s policy or revelation, to me, comes down to whether a person believes it is true and good and right or not, and is completely different than whether it is canonized scripture, which it isn’t. I believe the policy is neither good nor right nor true to God’s will, so I consider it policy. People who support the policy, including Brother Russell Nelson, consider it revelation, since they feel the apostles were guided by God to create it.

    Canonized scripture, on the other hand, is made up of things that are not only considered true and good and right, but which are also supposed to have important lasting significance for more than just the audience it was delivered to, and are meant to be of use for generations to come. Canon does not necessarily have to have been a dictated revelation. Several sections of the Doctrine and Covenants don’t have their origins as revelations, and Official Declaration 2 is a statement of policy change, not the words of a revelation. The Articles of Faith were originally just part of a letter to a newspaper editor.

    Thankfully, nothing prejudiced against gay people has been canonized since Joseph Smith’s day. And it won’t be.

  24. When one speaks in the prophetic voice do they have the responsibility to define it as such? Is the speaker under obligation to be certain of the voice in which they speak? Speaking without defining whether it is the personal voice or the prophetic voice takes advantage of the assumed credibility of the position or title. It also creates ambiguity and unnecessary confusion in fellow disciples just so the speaker can retain an artificial sense of personal credibility.

    Why is it always the listener’s responsibility to determine if the speaker is speaking truth? Doesn’t the speaker have a sacred responsibility to emphatically declare if something is from God or personal opinion?

    President Hinckley’s admonition about earrings and tattoos – was it of God or just his personal opinion?

    If it is of God, why does He allow women to mutilate their ears with only one set of earrings but no more? If it is an opinion of President Hinckley, why was it made mandatory for youth camp, EFY and missionary service?

    These really are important questions to ask because they go to the heart of surrendering the most sacred gift given to mortal men and women – that of eternal agency. Are we to surrender our agency for trivial behavioral mores or should we only surrender agency for eternal commands reflecting the will of our Saviour?

    Why do we only obey half of the word of wisdom? To touch upon Dave’s point in the OP – instead of a latte, what if you walked into the Bishop’s office with a hunkering slab of beef on a roll with all the trimmings in the middle of July?

  25. The fact that members of the Lord’s One True Church can’t figure out if something a prophet says in an authoritative way is revelation or not should be proof enough that the Church is not the Lord’s, nor is it One, nor is it probably even True.

  26. John: so absolute uniformity to belief is necessary for a Church to be of God or true?

  27. Well, it is quitting time here on the east coast of the US. I am leaving the office to head home. I would like to thank Dave and everyone else for an enjoyable day of ponderizing such an important topic.

  28. If President Nelson is saying that the policy that was introduced and then amended is the result of revelation, that might be a useful insight into the nature of revelation, and how hard it really is to put it into words and get it right, even after multiple revisions. That insight has many implications.

  29. I agree with Sean (#31). But would go further in my recrimination.

    Color me skeptical, sarcastic, negative, and distrustful. In order to generate compliance/obedience, the normal mode of our leaders, whether local or general, is to imply endorsement by God of their words and actions. Ambiguity, hyperbole, innuendo, and vague implications in place of clear, well-researched, well-documented, and specific claims, admonitions, doctrines, etc.

    In this specific case, IMO, Elder Nelson knew exactly what he was doing, and he was likely directed to do it. He used an ambiguous, coded (in Mormon-speak), description of a normal process (making policy decisions/changes for the church) to strongly imply that this new Policy is God-revealed–a REVELATION.

    In the past I have heard a stake president state that “angels are attending us” to strongly imply that the creation of a new ward out of the parts of two others was inspired by God. This was useful because on paper the action made no sense. Two of the affected wards were quite small, by local standards. And, neither of the two existing wards was extraordinarily large, again, by local standards. Six years later, one of the three resulting wards continues to struggle–with average attendance at sacrament meeting below 110.

    They all expect that years later when their policies and decisions are proven to not be God-inspired (or else God is really jacking us around), the immediate and unquestioning sustaining by the ever-loyal and blindly obedient–who will not remember what they said and did in the past.

    Think of the changes/disavowals to so very many past policies, pronouncements, lessons in manuals, talks in General Conference, articles in the Ensign, etc. on: racial intermarriage, blacks and the priesthood, women working outside the home, birth control, the book of Abraham being a translation, the book of Mormon being a translation–though he hardly looked at the plates, pushing gay men to marry women as a cure, the abhorrence and abomination (to quote their specific words) of being gay, and so on.

    Like I said at the outset, color me negative.

  30. JKC #35, this is one of the things I’ve been thinking about. I would really like to know how this played out. Did Pres. Monson personally approve both the original policy and the amended policy? Did the 15 feel in both cases that they were approving divine revelation? Did they have multiple discussions, come to a general consensus, and then ask someone to draft up that consensus? Did the drafter get it wrong, and hence the amendment? Or was the draft language sitting there in the temple in Pres. Monson’s hands at the time it was approved? If that, then why an amendment a week later?

  31. I’m also wondering if they talked to any gay members or the children of gay members who went through being baptized and living with their gay parents.

  32. You know, actually talking with those who experienced the horrors of what they are trying to avoid to make sure it was actually happening, rather than just being imagined in their thought experiments.

  33. Quick question: isn’t it a little weird that such a big deal is being made over Brother Russel Nelson’s words? I mean, it was a Young Adult fireside broadcast. When have general church members ever cared about those kinds of things? Most of the people they’re aimed at don’t even show interest.

    I understand a lot of people are looking for clarification/revision/abandonment/affirmation of the new policy, but doesn’t this kind of seem to be finding and gulping down crumbs? As has been mentioned, the policy wasn’t even the main point of the talk. It was something about being good Millennials. That doesn’t even apply to most church members, since they’re not Millennials.

    The interest just seems really disproportionate. Let’s be honest: how many people even KNEW he was giving a broadcast before people started talking about what he said? And yet this is being seen as the definitive, end-all statement on the new exclusionary policies.

  34. This post comes across to me as a bit of sophistry without true understanding…

    I tend to agree…

  35. I’m surprised no one has brought up the implications of Pres Monson’s dementia.

  36. Dear SilverRain,

    I have followed this blog for years and have enjoyed your insights and thoughts. I am often with you. But to read your last question to Sean was brutal. Not just you, but so many of my good friends in the church. Why do we lash out at those who are calling out the issues we face as a faith?

    Where is this fear coming from? Has it always been this way in the church? Have I been this way? I’ve been a bishop. I’ve been in a stake presidency. Maybe I was blind to it. I love the church, but I see the issues in front of us. I’m with Sean. Can’t we talk about it?

    And yes, I’m trying to talk to God about it, too. But I just don’t see how we progress as a church with the amount of fear I see in so many I attend church with. Fear of the world. Fear of those who are gay. Fear of their children and families. Fear of anyone who might see things differently in this new policy/revelation than how we’ve been instructed to see it. I think fear makes someone ask that question of Sean, and it makes me sad.

  37. I find it odd that LDS are making distinctions between revelation and inspiration. Mormon Doctrine (1979 edition) on page 383 states “Inspiration is a form and degree of revelation. It is revelation that comes from the still small voice, from the whisperings of the Spirit, from the promptings of the Holy Ghost. All inspiration is revelation, but all revelation does not come by inspiration alone.”

    Also. the Encyclopedia of Mormonism states: “Inspiration” and “revelation” are sometimes used interchangeably by LDS leaders in explaining the source of prophetic authority.

  38. Sean in #11 asked “Can you kindly provide us with specific details on how to determine the mind and will of the Lord? Accordingly, can you provide us with specific details on how to gain verification that what is presented is the mind and will of the Lord? Is it merely “because so and so says so”?

    I would point you to the the testimony that Lucy Walker gained of plural marriage and how she gained it.

    The first thing that is in my mind is that the policy came from a prophet of God. Again, I reiterate, that it was not a knee jerk reaction, but a long drawn out process. The reasoning has been published. Examples have been found of children that were placed in such a tug of war. There stories have been ignored. I do not understand that.

    So, now, there are those who declare that the prophets are wrong, again. All of them.

    This debate will go on. I know that. And yes, there will be some more that will leave the church over this policy, or another policy that will fail to follow the latest social upheaval. It will be sad for those who do leave because they will be leaving the vehicle that Christ Himself has designed to get them to the exaltation destination.

  39. because the times they are a-changing and it seems unwise for the Church to lock itself into a position that may turn out to be increasingly difficult to justify

    You’re assuming, here, that the LDS leaders are acting rationally. They aren’t and they haven’t been at all when it has come to the question of gay marriage. The new policy-cum-revelation appears to be ample evidence of that, for it completely goes against everything they have said about the importance of eight-year-olds receiving the holy spirit as soon as they can.

  40. Doesn’t it go without saying that this can’t be what you call “Big-R Revelation”? Nothing doctrinally new has been revealed.

    Old doctrines appear to have been thrown under the bus. This new policy exposes all kinds of doublethink on the part of the leadership.

  41. A sustaining vote is expected (though may not always have been used?) when modifying the canon, but church leaders often claim revelatory authority to make non-canonical changes. I’m going to have to research more about inspiration vs revelation; I don’t remember people making a distinction. I don’t remember anyone claiming that all revelations should be canonized or that anything not considered for canonization should be necessarily presented to the church.

    There is a cynic in me that says everything currently taught and practiced is assumed to be based on revelation until there is reason to suspect it was erroneous, at which point it becomes the well-considered (or possibly disavowed!) opinion of the past.

  42. “Old doctrines appear to have been thrown under the bus. This new policy exposes all kinds of doublethink on the part of the leadership.”

    People keep saying that, but I don’t see it. The only people I see thinking that are ones already at least somewhat ill-disposed towards the Brethren.

    Repetition doesn’t make it true. If you assume someone hasbad motives, you’ve blinded yourself to the possibility that they don’t. If you assume someone who thinks differently than you is inconsistent or double-minded, you rescue yourself from having to examine your own worldview and admit you may not know or understand everything.

    Revelation is an organic process. That doesn’t display hypocrisy, it displays progression. We clamor for the Brethren to be more transparent and admit to their own humanity, then hold them to inhuman standards of perfection and condemn them for displaying how they work with God.

    That they are working through these things carefully, imperfectly, and full of prayer and pondering rather suggests that they ARE subject to God’s will, rather than just making stuff up on their own. They are clearly savvy enough to know what the easy and popular choice would be.

    You can’t peg them as media savvy manipulators on one hand and out of touch and clueless on the other. That you and those who think like you try suggests very strongly that you have a lot of learning to do before your opinions reflect any understanding of these men and women.

  43. “But to read your last question to Sean was brutal. “

    How was it brutal?

    I can only see it to be brutal if you assume that I assumed he hasn’t, which I didn’t. I’m trying to understand his and the OP’s thought process. As I was thinking it over, Nephi’s question, “have you inquired of the Lord?” came to mind. I realized I needed to understand how he and the OP approach the Lord in order to understand what they expect the leadership’s experience to be.

  44. Sean, thank your for your responses. As you note, the three hour block is not the easiest time for people to bring up issues, especially if they aren’t simply trying to grind an ax in front of an audience.

  45. Interesting conversation. Like Rockwell, I’m a bit cynical about the entire revelation issue. Policy, it seems to me, can have many functions. However, from the standpoint of an organization that has a history of “doctrinal” embarrassments, policy offers a wonderful way to get out of an embarrassing situation. Blacks and the priesthood? It was policy, not doctrine, even though Brigham Young claimed it was. Polygamy? It was, according to various LDS sources, either doctrine, or policy or, my favorite, a surplus of women who needed husbands, but there was a scarcity of available men. Policy offers institutional wiggle room, which this church seems increasingly in need of.

  46. Sean asks, “Can you kindly provide us with specific details on how to determine the mind and will of the Lord? Accordingly, can you provide us with specific details on how to gain verification that what is presented is the mind and will of the Lord? Is it merely “because so and so says so”?”

    As a (presumed?) Latter-day Saint, I would think he has sat through a dozen or so general conference talks that address exactly that question.

    You’ll probably see

    Simply put: Qualify, Receive, Act; in line upon line fashion. If you can continue in this, all things which God has given for us to know, will ultimately be revealed unto you.

    Qualify: Sustain the prophets, seek to follow, love, and understand the Lord by not only looking to His own words and deeds, but also his servants words, teachings, and acts. Serve and love others as the Lord (note, this is really just an elaboration of the first sentence) would do – focus more on “other” than self. Keep yourself virtuous and pure (again, an elaboration of the first sentence). Pray for the power of the atonement to strengthen and add power to your actions. Magnify your callings, which naturally includes preaching and teaching the gospel – family and society. All of these are subsets of what the prophets teach us about qualifying.

    Receive: When you do these things, you’ll notice your mind is becoming aligned with the Lord’s and revelation will flow to it freely by the gift and power of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost is a revelator that is one with the Lord, and the only way we can be one with Him and the Father is through the Holy Ghost, which comes to us as we qualify (through repentance and sanctification and through our worthiness — ie. I’m referring to much deeper than moral purity, but that’s a clear part of it) The more you are focused on the Lord, which necessitates looking to his servants (scripture, talks, writings) as we don’t have him in the flesh teaching us daily, the more revelation you receive.

    Act: The more you act on your revelations, the more revelation you receive. If you notice, the points I make under “Qualify” are actually all part of the “Act” as well. The cycle never ends – line upon line, until we are exalted beings in the presence of our Heavenly Father.

    You’ll notice at no point did I say you know the mind and will of the Lord because “so and so says so”. It’s rather you know the mind and will of the Lord, because you are becoming like him as you look to his servants, who are on the same path of becoming like him.

    When you reject his servants, and acknowledge and point out their flaws and how it might affect your counsel, you sever that tie. The Lord knows his servants are imperfect. He doesn’t need us to talk about it and contextualize their imperfections.

  47. “How was it brutal?”

    It wasn’t. But Nephi has a response as to why some people might find it so.

  48. Sean (5), I think there’s a very blurry division between what you call revelation and inspiration. The idea that revelation only reveals something new is pretty hard to reconcile to the scriptures in which dictated revelation is often repeating something already known.

    Even your example of D&C 76 seems to illustrate the fuzziness. It appears to be a vision both saw, yet the interpretation is very much tied to reason, albeit aided reason in that they say understanding was given.

    Texts like Isaiah with complex poetry seem even more problematic since they suggest a composition that’s not ad hoc as inspiration is given but area literary reaction over time.

    It also seems strange that you make a divide between translation and revelation as again that seems to be at best a very blurry distinction. (As the JST makes clear)

  49. I suggest everyone go on LDS.org and read the talks given by President and Sister Nelson.
    Rarely have I heard anything this explicit about the Second Coming.

  50. SilverRain, you never actually engaged my point about the Holy Spirit. It is apparently extremely important for kids of non-gay parents to have the gift of the Holy Spirit as soon as they reach the age of accountability, defined as eight, so that they can make good choices from thereon out. However, apparently the gift of the Holy Spirit is not important for kids of gay parents who desire to get baptized under the age of 18. That’s nothing but good old-fashioned doublethink.

    You should also note the double standard on the part of the leaders. Kids of gay parents are actually required to disavow their gay parents’ relationship. However, according to Elder Christofferson, in an interview in March, members can go as far as supporting gay marriage on social media and still be considered members in good standing. This appears to be more doublethink at play.

    If you can’t see it, then you need to take your believer blinders off.

    Also, I never said that the church leaders were media savvy manipulators, nor has anyone else on this thread. That’s a straw man.

  51. Revelation is an organic process. That doesn’t display hypocrisy, it displays progression. We clamor for the Brethren to be more transparent and admit to their own humanity, then hold them to inhuman standards of perfection and condemn them for displaying how they work with God. That they are working through these things carefully, imperfectly, and full of prayer and pondering rather suggests that they ARE subject to God’s will, rather than just making stuff up on their own. They are clearly savvy enough to know what the easy and popular choice would be.

    You’re also a straw man-creating doublethinker, SilverRain, and you show it right here. 1) I don’t hold the leaders to inhuman standards. You’re just creating a straw man for your argumentative convenience. 2) In your view, the LDS leaders are not making things up, but carrying out God’s orders. Therefore it logically follows that we either regard them as infallible or collectively less fallible than all other human beings. However, in practically the same breath you chastise people who hold the brethren to inhuman standards and treat them as practically infallible. Which is it, SilverRain? Are the leaders beyond any sort of criticism because they are practically infallible, or should we be able to hold them to regular human standards of consistency? I don’t think you have a logically consistent bone in your body, SilverRain. You just say whatever is most convenient for your argument no matter how much it contradicts things you said just a sentence ago.

  52. Reading the responses to these posts can be dizzying.

    I think that there is a distinction that must be made. There are many people who are questioning this policy not over the gay marriage issue but over the denying saving ordinances to children issue. These are two separate issues. One can promote traditional marriage, stand against gay marriage, and still look at this policy as morally incoherent (as I do).

    Traditional marriage is doctrinal. Denying children saving ordinances because their parents deny traditional marriage is not doctrinal. Argue revelation versus policy all day long, but this policy is not a product of revealed scripture. If the policy is purported to be modern revelation that trumps revealed scripture, than that should be stated plainly. If it is not stated plainly, it need not be treated as such.

    This policy has always smacked of a legalism to me. I do not know and cannot prove it, but it seems that the policy is geared towards some possible lawsuit that could be arranged from gay couples and member children. To simply cut the kids out until they are legal adults seems to indicate such a connection. This is just my sense of it.

    Increasing the moral incoherence of the policy has been the offered explanations. For example, to say that this is the same policy that the Church takes towards the children of polygamous marriages is not helpful. It was just a few decades ago that the Church was teaching that no one could enter into the highest degree of salvation without entering into a polygamous relationship. Now, the children of that same relationship are asked to denounce their parents. Such a reversal may speak to the revelation versus policy issue. And still, polygamy is not the issue. The issue is the saving ordinances for the child.

    The tension caused by this policy/revelation is a product of one central truth: the Church is NOT the Kingdom of God on earth. The Child IS. The Child was not made for the Church, but the Church for the Child. When the Church produces a policy or revelation that pushes the Child aside for any reason (even for good reasons!) it is the moral obligation of all involved to look at such a policy hard. To suggest, as is being suggested everywhere around me, that one should relegate this questioning behind the moral authority of the Church is to fail the test of the Kingdom. I should think many more people would struggle with the issue. After all, that is the Christian thing to do.

    One can keep the faith and question the Brethren. Yes, that is true. When it ceases to be true, the Mormon Priesthood has become more like Sharia Law than the Holy Order of God.

    Regardless of where you stand, Dave’s post is simply listing a chronological line of thinking as produced by the Church that itself is informative, and I thank him for it.

  53. Brad, from the leaders perspective, wouldn’t it be good to have both the parents and the children able to have that?

    I agree that all of this is difficult to quite wrap my head around. I’m willing to give them the benefit of doubt if only because I am so fallibilistic towards my own moral reasoning. I think ethics is far more nebulous than most do and that at best any position only has weak evidence. There’s always an element of risk. We have to make a decision what to choose.

    As for criticism, I don’t think anyone is beyond criticism but we might ask whether criticism is appropriate in a certain circumstance and how the criticism is offered. I think our culture has become highly critical in a rather quickdraw fashion. Twitter in particular is incentivizing some unfortunate social tendencies in that regard.

  54. For some reason John Lundwall’s post (#59) about denying children saving ordinances reminded me of a video I was recently watching of Prof Christine Hayes discussing her book “What’s divine about Divine Law: Early Perspectives” where she shares a study done by Dov Weiss in his 2011 dissertation titled “Confrontations with God in Late Rabbinic Literature.” My ears picked up when Hayes started talking about vicarious punishment (where the children are being punished for the sins of their parents) where certain rabbinic texts explore how humans have openly confronted God for the moral blindness of a particular divine law and a God who in turn listens, and finding the arguments sound, modifies or nullifies the law. Abraham “punting” with God to save the city of Sodom, for example, is used to illustrate this point of “human interlocutor”, and another of Moses confronting God in Exodus 20:5 and God conceding to his criticism of vicarious punishment. How this relates to the policy, it doesn’t, but the policy certainly speaks “vicarious punishment” to me, and so I’m thinking if the rabbi’s were able to come up with writings confronting God about the cruelty of a law (or policy) or if Abraham was able to “punt” with God and Moses confront Him, who is to say it can’t be done in 2016. I’m sure it’s happening with the 15, but if they need a little more coaxing (and they do) maybe there needs to be an even louder outcry from the rest of us and a little help with some sound and constructive criticism to their policy.

  55. God denied saving ordinances to everyone whenever he removed authority from the earth.

    The full way to look at it though is God’s children used their agency to reject his prophets so on account of their actions, priesthood authority was withdrawn.

    Doesn’t that at least apply to prior dispensations as well as this situation?

    Ultimately, the responsibility for this falls on the false consciousness of the parents and all too many in society.

  56. Brad L., insulting me doesn’t strengthen your point or clarify your understanding, so I’m not sure why you bother unless your purpose isn’t to understand, but to gain a sense of intellectual superiority.

    The doublethink you suppose to discern in my thinking isn’t a result of my thinking, it is from your own assumptions and biases. You are the one who assumed that when I say the Brethren are doing God’s will, it necessarily means that they are doing it with infallibility.

    Any good leader knows that any given team is made of imperfect members. No one is perfect at what they do. Yet, by supporting and developing each team member in their imperfection, good leaders can make great teams.

    The Brethren and less public disciples of Christ are all on the same team. God is our coach, and we are all trying to do our best to follow the coach. Maybe the Brethren don’t always do exactly according to the Lord’s ideal, but after we know that God has put them in the quarterback position, we follow them, checking with God if we start to feel the quarterback isn’t doing what the coach asked, or if we start to feel like what we thought was the coaches will isn’t getting followed, or may be different for us. Infallibility isn’t even on the table. We follow the Brethren because we love and trust God, and we love them for putting their all into the team.

    It isn’t blind faith at all. It’s faith with open eyes, not expecting perfection, expecting only a love of the Coach and an honest effort to do His will. Perfection may be something the fans demand, sitting on the sidelines. But for those of us with skin in the game, who are striving and sweating and putting our all into the outcome, we only need our leaders to have a devotion to the same coach we follow, and full effort. Because we want to play, too, even knowing we aren’t very good players ourselves.

    As for your question about the Holy Ghost, that has been answered for years. It has always been doctrinal that those who seek God, and through no fault of their own can’t receive those blessings, will be blessed by the atonement.

    Children whose parents won’t allow their baptism have experienced it. People who sought for God’s true church and never found it have experienced it. I have experienced it myself as a divorced woman so emotionally damaged it is unlikely I will ever be able to fulfil the commandment of God and marry eternally in this life.

    Those of us who have been showered with compensatory blessings know that God’s love covers mortal weakness. None who long to come unto Him, who are willing to give up all they have for God’s promised blessings, will be denied in eternity. Those of us with a vision of those blessings can be patient until they are realized, because we know God’s love.

    Those of us hurt by the weaknesses of others have the option of condemning those who have hurt us, or leaving the judgment to God, casting or burdens on Him, and doing the best we can to follow His will in our own sphere. I know what I choose, and that the “fruit thereof” is good indeed.

  57. We don’t support our teammates by not expressing disagreement when we feel a mistake has been made. We call them out on it so they can see their error and correct it. Your analogy doesn’t fit your point.

  58. Claire: Hey, Bob, you know SilverRain’a projections on this business venture? They’re completely off and will bankrupt the company.

    Bob: It’s ok, Claire, we need to support SilverRain, so don’t bring it up to him or anyone else.

    Claire: …

  59. From what you described it sounds like the Brethren felt that there was an issue which needed to be addressed: the church had a policy around one form of marriage which deviated from the Lords will on marriage at this time (polygamy), but not a policy around another form which was starting to become main stream. Given how fundamental the nature of marriage is to the church they felt like this should be corrected. So they discussed options, pondered over it, and then prayed about it. I suspect it wasn’t a “What should we do?” kind of prayer, but a “Is it okay if we go forward with this decision” kind of prayer.
    Eventually they must have received a confirmation that they could go forward with it.
    The language of

    And then when the Lord inspired his prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, to declare the mind and the will of the Lord

    Leaves plenty of room in my mind for poetic fluff. The Lord could have enthusiastically endorsed the policy change, or it could have been more along the lines of “If that’s what you want to do”.
    Remember, we don’t believe that the Apostles are infallible. They have to be able to make mistakes. We know that the Lord will allow the leaders of the church to make a certain degree of mistakes in regards to running the church. Just because they’re the leaders of the church doesn’t mean that they’re immune from doing things which don’t turn out to be perfectly correct in the long run.
    So given the description that Elder Nelson gave, I would not chalk this policy up to Revelation.

  60. Like all analogies, it’s not meant to be all-encompassing, but to illustrate a specific point. My point isn’t destroyed just because the analogy I used to try to illustrate doesn’t apply universally to all possible applications.

    Do you have a relevant point, or are you only lashing out at someone who doesn’t agree with you?

  61. There seems to be a certainty among some that homosexual marriage (commited relationship is sinful). I see nothing that would give that certainty in the scriptures. The references in the new testament are not to homosexuality. The non members of Christs time worshiped a God of love, part of that worship was public, and private sex of any kind. A roman orgy was a religious festival.
    In spite of that culture Christ had nothing to say about it.
    If it is not a sin for homosexuals to love each other, with or without sex, then we are back to the leaders teaching their culture as if it is gospel, as has happened in the past, and as it hurts some of Gods children we should question/oppose it.

  62. It’s not that the analogy has limits, it’s that it doesn’t work: giving and geting feedback is part of what it means to be on a team of *any* kind. It’s like saying, “The Church is like a family where the father leads and everyone else trusts that he knows what is best, even if they disagree”. But that’s not a family, at least by post-1950s standards. Or, “The Church is like a partnership where one partner has all the say and the other just has to trust in his partner’s judgment”…so it’s *not* a partnership at all. You’re suggesting tyranny, not a “team”.

  63. Leg me put it one more way: you aren’t suggesting, as you say in your “analogy”, that we are “supporting and developing each team member in their imperfection”, you are suggesting that we support the imperfection itself, the mistake itself as if it were true. If the Brethren are mistaken on this matter, your misuse of the analogy is that we support their mistake, even if we don’t think they are following the “coach”. And if we go to the coach personally and hear him say that it is a mistake (something you mention), then what? Stay silent? Support the mistake anyway because we want to be “team players”, as if supporting the team’s mistakes is a good idea?

  64. Kevin, the point of my analogy is not about feedback, it’s about motivation, trust, and mutual purpose and love. If you want me to select an analogy about the way feedback should work in this case, I’d probably choose one about siblings in a family.

    If I wanted to discuss the nature of the “feedback” that is so eagerly given and the channels which are in the Church for that feedback, I’d discuss principles such as the atonement, stewardship, humility, patience, forgiveness, love unfeigned. I have had some success giving feedback to the Brethren this way. But if you have trouble grasping the perspective of those who support the Brethren when it comes to how we feel about them, you would certainly fail to understand how we act towards them.

    Rather than telling me what I was saying, you may want to try asking me to clarify, and giving me the small amount of respect necessary to trust that I can speak to my own meaning and paradigm better than you can. Though I understand it is easier to simply attribute negative motivations and therefore criticize and dismiss a group of people you apparently cannot understand as “blind,” “unquestioning,” or even “hateful.”

    True Blue, you will find that certainty among those who believe in continuing revelation. Scripture can be interpreted in many ways, but it’s tougher to speak for people who are still around to speak for themselves.

    Lack of evidence is not evidence of lack. There may not be much specifically condemning homosexuality, but there is certainly less which justifies or celebrates it. Yet there is plenty on heterosexual marriage. There is some evidence that homosexuality and marriage is not condoned by God, there is absolutely none to suggest it is.

    By your logic, the Bible can also be pointed to as proof that Jesus could have taken the opportunity to support it but didn’t. After all, Judaism did not allow gay marriage either. Surely if it is so important, he would have said something at some point, even to his apostles. But He didn’t. Which leaves us with the same choice as before: to believe that the Brethren are modern day mouthpieces for God, or to disbelieve it. If they are, then mistakes can be forgiven. If they aren’t, then act as you should towards any false prophet.

    Quite simple, really.

  65. I will say this conversation seems to have reached a point of rapidly diminishing returns. Unless there is something new or some sign of productive conversation, I’m moving on. Thanks for the discussion up to this point.

  66. Silver Rain, you mention that you have had success giving feedback to general authorities of the church. I would be interested in hearing about those experiences.

    I believe the reason why so many people are frustrated is because they feel powerless to influence things they believe are wrong, perhaps even evil. Perhaps if those people can hear some experiences of people who have experiences of successfully altering things in the church through their feedback, there would be more hope and less anger, mistrust, and talk of dictators.

  67. That is probably true, mirrororrim. But most of my experiences are incredibly personal, and not something I intend to offer up for public consumption.

    When I had problems with certain things, I went through the proper channels and continued to patiently go through them until the Spirit had a chance to work on the hearts of the people I worked with and on mine. I doubt that is much to the taste of those who expect the changing to be done swiftly and elsewhere. Humility and patience don’t have much in common with anger and mistrust.

    In my experience, those latter feelings have to be overcome in order to wield the power of change. Who wants to hear that?

  68. That makes sense. I won’t ask you to share anything you feel is too sacred.

    I don’t think you need to assume the worst about people, though. There are many people who are willing to be patient, as long as they feel they are being heard, and can be hopeful that things can move in a better direction. I think many people will stick with a relationship—even an unhealthy one—if they can convince themselves that things are going to change someday. I think often that can be a bad thing, since people can trick themselves into subjecting themselves and those they love to abuse, but sometimes I think it can be positive.

    The Gospel Doctrine lesson I taught today was about Lehi’s and Nephi’s visions of the Tree of Life, and I think a lot of what enables people to hold on in the midst of the mists of darkness is knowing that, even though they cannot see it, they are moving in the right direction. Without knowing that you’re at the right place, even if you’re at the Tree, it is so easy to become ashamed. And it is very easy to become confused, and to think you’re at the Tree, when really you’re inside the Great and Spacious Building, mockingly seeking to deprive others of the Love of God. I think that is what many people worry most about, particularly lately.

  69. I’d say personal, not sacred.

    “There are many people who are willing to be patient, as long as they feel they are being heard….”

    I suppose that’s the point. I have had to learn to be patient even without feeling I was heard by Church leaders. I had to learn to be heard by God and trust Him to do what needed to be done about it. My relationship is with Him far more than with others of His children, whatever their current callings. When I learned that, I started being heard by others who are also trying to serve Him. Countless times, things I have prayed for and consulted with my bishop over have been revealed through seemingly unrelated channels.

  70. For what it’s worth, I finally brought this up with my bishop. When I asked him if he felt it was divinely inspired, he said he didn’t know. That answer comforted me more than anything else has in the last 3 months.

  71. SilverRain: neither “motivation, trust, and mutual purpose and love”, the merely stated (but enexplained) analogy of “siblings”, nor the “principles such as the atonement, stewardship, humility, patience, forgiveness, love unfeigned” in anyway imply that we can’t disagree with the Brethren, and definitely don’t imply that we should support them if they are wrong. Yes, we can sustain them as leaders and support them even if they are fallible (which we all seem to agree is the truth), but we don’t (and shouldn’t) support their errors. I’d love to see how you think an analogy of siblings could serve that function, because, and perhaps it’s been different in your family, my siblings and I give each other negative feedback and express disagreements all the time, and we do it as well with our parents.

    Again, the principle you are trying to demonstrate with all of these examples, namely (and correct me if I’m wrong) that even if the leaders are wrong we should support them in their error and not express dissent, is either blind faith, tyranny, or the harshest kind of authoritarianism. If I’m wrong, please spell out *specifically* where I err and *how* I err.

  72. The family proclamation already reaffirmed the unacceptability of homosexual physical relationships. The latest clarifications are only the fruitage of that underlying statement, and any analysis of them must also account for the proclamation. And that, again, was only a repetition of earlier, revealed, canonized scriptures. And those were only outgrowths of our biological mode of reproduction. All of these must likewise be called into question as “inspired policy” versus “revelation” (a false dichotomy from the outset, only intended to illustrate changes in unfolding or contextually limited revelation, which have always arisen).

    It is certain that our current context will change somehow or another, too. But regardless of whether these changes include advances in fertility technology enabling a single human gender to procreate, it’s startling that so many of you have already made up your minds and resworn your faith-oaths that, no, in fact, anti-reproductive sexuality IS righteous and godly, because “the times are a-changing”. The burden of explaining thorny changes in policy or revelation surely rests upon those intent on overturning seeming universals. Who has revealed this alteration of biological truth to you — your peer group? A political entity? A voice in your minds? Remember the first commandment of ten.

  73. Unless you know of some code there is nothing about gay marriage in the proc. I do see a statement that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God, and is essential to his plan.
    Could you not equally add to that; and gay marriage is also good, or so gay marriage is evil?

    If the Lord said to me, write a proclamation making it clear that gay marriage is unaceptable, I would say it is unacceptable, somewhere in there, wouldn’you. Why did they not?

    Having been to Rome, Athens, Ephesus, and Pompai recently I think if anything needed to be said about sex the Saviour would have. See 71 above.

    The way I explain this to myself, is that the church consists of the Gospel of Christ, programes to help us live the Gospel, and cultural stuff which often includes leaders teaching their views as if they were Gospel. The teachings about gays, and marriage equality, come into this last category.

    I do think claiming revelation is a problem, because it undermines the credibility of the leadership. It will be interesting to see what is said in April conference.

    I think this policy will be gone, perhaps not until Elde Oaks is gone. Thats part of the reason I want to see tradition overturned re succession, and Apostles retiring at 80.

  74. True Blue, There may not be explicit language in the Proclamation on the Family, but then no one was trying to change the definition of marriage and the definition of wife and husband.

    Where is the revelation that changed that? Where is the revelation that changed homosexual acts from a sin to acceptable behavior? Although the word homosexual does not occur in the Bible, the description of homosexual acts was condemned in both the Old and New Testaments.

    Where is the revelation that changed “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”

    Where is the revelation that says a woman can be a husband and a man can be a wife.

    Jesus did not reiterate all of the commandments He had given in the Old Testament. You have to remember that according to LDS theology, Jesus Christ is Jehovah. He was the one that gave the Mosaic law.

    However, fornication was condemned in the New Testament explicitly and implicitly, including by Jesus.

    How in the world does claiming that something was by revelation undermine the credibility of a prophet? That is one of the things they are here for. To receive revelation for the Church.

    The age of the prophet is not the problem. A new generation of prophets will do the same thing that the older generation did. They will receive revelation and formulate policies based upon it. And you will not see the stance on SSM or homosexual acts change. There may be some change in the policy. Policies can be changed due to changing circumstances. But the underlying principles will not change.

  75. Glen, There is no revelation that made homosexual acts a sin, so no change required. As I was saying about the proc. Saying marriage between a man and a woman is good, says nothing about gay marriage, so you quote me the one about leaving your father and mother to cleave unto your wife.

    This is obviosly aproprate for straight people, but says nothing about the 5% who are gay.

    Christ lived in a very sexualised society (greeks and romans worshippedgods of love, with sex- roman orgies) he said nothing, but Paul did, he was objecting to straight people having all sorts of sex.

    The new ruling is attacking married gay people, so fornication is not applicable. The definition of chastity has recently been changed to add between a man and a woman. The eternal version, still used in the temple, includes gay people.

    If as you believe opposition to gays is eternal, then no revelation required, if as I believethere is no opposition to gays in the Gospel, and the present opposition is just the conservative culture of some of the leaders, then claiming prophecy where none existsis at least, taking the name of God in vain.

    The policy will change as the leadership changes.

    Diversity of views within the church!

  76. Well, there you have it: active homosexuality is not a sin, and never has been. This is the crux of the dissension — everything else is window dressing. May our God have mercy on all of us, and protect us and the Church from sin and sophistry. “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” May our God help those who are bound in sin. Patience, mercy, hope, kindness, and so forth.

  77. Thanks for the comments, everyone. Two quick observations before I close comments.

    First, while I included in the opening post the proposal that the difference between policy and revelation is in fact not much of a difference (a “false dichotomy,” as some have termed it in the comments), LDS leaders certainly do seem to see a difference. Elder Nelson stressed the role of revelation in formulating and promulgating the new text added to Handbook 1, and he seems to think the distinction does some conceptual work vis-a-vis the new policies. His view is that this is more than just a policy, it is a revelation, and he seems to think that clarification changes the status of the new text. So we, as Latter-day Saints, really do have to grapple with the distinction between mere policy and revelation, and understand how that distinction applies to the New Policy and the Amended New Policy as discussed in the opening post.

    Second, I recommend my co-blogger Nathaniel’s post “Policy, Doctrine, and Revelation,” which is a response to and further discussion of this post. Perhaps I will even do an additional reply to Nathaniel’s response to this post.

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