002-003: Wrestling with Revelation, Personal and Institutional

Among the many topics that spiritual seekers must wrestle with, the concept, uses, and experiences of revelation eclipse most others. We seek to know what’s best for us, what God (however defined) would have us do next, and, often, how can we make this or that right: how might we approach this person we’re in conflict with, who we need to apologize to, or who seems to be moving away from what’s good, true, or beautiful? Yet, in the discernment process we so often wonder, “Is this God I’m sensing, or my own mind? How can I tell?” These questions also loom large when groups come together to seek guidance—and, for this podcast in particular, we are including within the horns of this dilemma a church’s leading quorums and/or other decision-making bodies. No one is spared the often agonizing process of wondering how much we are being influenced by past ideas, patterns, and influences versus being open to new ones—including ones we can’t even yet imagine. All of us, religious leaders included, are human beings with histories, personalities, preferences, egos, fears, limitations, et al, and none of these fully recede when seeking revelatory direction for our or our group’s lives.

Within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the difficulty of “revelation” has recently come to the forefront again through an April 4th reversal of a previous policy that had been in place that had been declared “revelation.” For three-and-a-half years, the LDS First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve, and other governing bodies had declared restrictions of Latter-day Saints in same-sex marriages and their children in terms of membership or other privileges granted to others in the church, and then these ended. Many church members were then left to ask if God’s mind regarding these restrictions suddenly changed, or is this a case where even prophets, seers, and revelators “got it wrong.” Compounding the difficulty of the wrestle with this matter is the fact that this short-term policy/revelation deeply wounded tens of thousands Latter-day Saints, perhaps even causing distress to such a degree that it was a final factor in some choosing to end their own lives, and confused and depressed hundreds of thousands, or even perhaps a million or more, church members who experienced a agonizing split between their own conscience and the personal light they felt they had received regarding the status of same-sex marriages and that which the church’s top leaders claimed to be God’s will on the matter.

In this two-part Latter-day Faith episode, the brilliant Carol Lynn Pearson and Charley Harrell join host Dan Wotherspoon for a broad and deep discussion about revelation and its messiness. Certainly the recent policy change was the discussion’s impetus, but it isn’t the primary focus. Listeners should not expect anything nitty-gritty about this particular instance. Instead, the panelists focus on how revelation has been thought about within not only Mormonism but also throughout the history of other Christians. Charley leads out there, introducing various models that have arisen as faithful persons who believe in God and God’s ability to communicate with and influence us for good have had to come to terms with what is patently evident: revelation has human hands, minds, desires, fears, confusion all over it!

This discussion (comprising much of the first of the two parts) is then followed by a powerful wrestle with the “shadow” that a failure to understand and talk about this messier-than-we’d-love-to-believe matter of receiving clear revelatory messages has cast upon the entire history of Mormonism. (Listeners from other religions, I believe you’ll find many parallels here with your own traditions.) From Mormon beginnings forward, the unnoticed biases, desires, fears, and trust in inherited world views have influenced and warped minds, hearts, and souls as they gave rise to the practice (and theology) of plural marriage, restrictions on full participation and priesthood for Latter-day Saints with black African ancestry, and ongoing issues such as the role of women within the church, this issue regarding LGBT+ members, and the “culture of certainty” and all its harmful effects on individuals and the church itself. The shadow is dark (it’s not been exposed by healing Light) and healing it is and will be difficult. Yet, approach it we must, trusting in God, the power of Truth and Love, and the goodness of our God-permeated souls to show the way, open hearts, and allow us to continue to work toward living fully the Kingdom of God (the way of viewing and prioritizing things as God does) as taught in scripture as being within all of us.

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Author: Dan Wotherspoon

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