The Proper Domain of Revelation

Masters of their domain

Masters of their domain

One of the challenges of scripture [1] is dealing with things that are empirically incorrect.  For example, how does the reader of scripture address the six-day creation?  What of Methuselah and the other early patriarchs living 900+ years?  What of the sun revolving around the earth?  The reader’s reaction to such things speaks volumes about the reader’s religion, social demographics and education [2].  By this point, it is generally recognized that Mormons are not literalists when it comes to scripture – or rather, we are literalists when it suits us.  Six days become six “creative periods”;  Joseph Smith and other early Church leaders spoke specifically to the age of the patriarchs; the JST speaks to the rotation of the earth around the sun.  More importantly, Joseph Smith introduces the concept of prophets speaking as prophets, which introduces a new tool to readers of scripture: prophets speaking when they thought the mic was off [3].

So I’d like to bat a topic around: what is the proper domain of revelation?  That is, what is the proper range of subject matter on which prophets can speak with divine authority?  Are there subjects where prophets are on more shaky ground to invoke divine inspiration?  How are we to tell?

The answer to the domain question will vary depending upon the source.  The scriptures teach that virtually every topic is fair game for divine revelation.  James teaches that if you lack wisdom, ask of God.  In the scriptures, God is the source of all truth and light, and prayer and the Holy Ghost are the proper medium for receiving all truth and light.  Moses learns from God astronomy, biology and other sciences.  Joseph Smith receives revelation on history of peoples in the Americas.  All topics are fair game, with a similar methodology: God bestows answers upon those who inquire diligently of Him.

Science, on the other hand, does not exclude God as a source of truth; it is entirely possible that the Creator told you the secrets of the universe.[4]  That said, learning something from God is no different than learning something from your milkman or from your green grocer: it’s not backed by empirical evidence, experiment or process such that would permit repeatable verification.  So science does not exclude certain domains a priori from divine inquiry but it does expose all received information to similar processes and testing as a matter of validation.

Further, science has little to say (so far) on more metaphysical matters, such as the redemption of the soul, the eternal nature of human relationships or the efficacy of the atonement.  These spiritual affairs do not lend themselves to testing under controlled conditions or the scientific process in general [5].  For some, this means that such spiritual matters are untrustworthy or delusions, but for others it may form a line of demarcation: these are the truly important topics, where science cannot help us, but God can still speak to us.  This may lead us to conclude that this is the sole proper domain of revelation, and that when prophets stray from this they are not speaking within their mantle.  Such a conclusion is not supported by scripture [6].

We could consider a spectrum under which to scrutinize pronouncements from the pulpit: the more they deal with spiritual concerns, the more weight they should hold [7].  Conversely, once prophets start talking about the conversion of moon men or white Lamanite remains, the congregation could afford those notions less weight.  That is all well and good until the temple recommend interview or other litmus test disregards our personally held sprectra; indeed, given the praxis-oriented perspective of Mormonism, having a personal testimony engineered around a spectrum of ‘weighty’ vs ‘unweighty’ matters is a continual minefield.

Further, consider that you might just be wrong, and that you consider something as non-doctrinal that is, in fact, divine revelation from God; what then?  A good example would be the Proclamation of the Family, most of which is innocuous cheering for the Family but some of which deals with thorny concepts like eternal gender or proper roles for men and women; for those that disagree with those issues, it would be tempting to consider the Proclamation (as a whole) as non-scriptural, and those societal aspects as outside the proper domain of revelation.  You can disregard a notion more freely if you are convinced it is not of God and is just dicta.  Unfortunately for you, it seems that the authors of the Proclamation disagree with your personal interpretation and as a result, the Proclamation can be considered ‘pretty much canon’ for all intents and purposes.  See how that works?

Ultimately this is where the exploration of revelation’s domain leads us in Mormonism: it is largely a moot question because of the top-down nature of revealed word.  If President Monson would like to give us revelation on tapioca being the most healthy of the puddings and the most beneficial for the treatment of wounds, he can do so and we as lay members are most likely to accept this as truth.  Of course, we should trust our leaders and be assured that they know the weight of their mantle – that they would not present something as revealed truth if they had not, in fact, received revelation from God on the topic.  This is the basic sort of trust that religion requires in order to work.  

If once in a while our leaders speak on topics where they know nothing, what then?  History will tend to minimize their words (see above re: Zelph and moon men), but that is cold comfort to those in the congregations at the time.  I believe that as the Church has grown in size and in conservativism this has become less of a concern, except when it comes to friction points on hot-button social issues.  Thus we may see occasional pronouncements about the nature of human sexuality or taxation or MX missiles, but I think the days of random musings on the unknown are largely over.  This is almost bad news: it means that when we are given bold pronouncements that foray beyond ‘purely spiritual’ realms, it will be on matters which will drive people crazy and polarize the congregations.  For some, it would almost be preferable to hear about the spaceships of the Lost Tribes and wagonloads of plates.

Thoughts?

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[1] Canon and non-canon alike. Indeed part of the canon-forming process may revolve around excision of disproven materials.  For purposes of this post I’m using ‘scripture’ in a kitchen sink sense.  Moon men and all that.

[2] For example, if you were unaware of any of those things in the Bible you are probably uneducated.

[3] It is not clear that JSJ meant for this concept to be available to readers.  More likely, it was introduced to justify some of his own words and acts.  It’s entirely possible that JSJ would be deeply uncomfortable to hear that readers were reading the Bible and saying, “well in verse X he clearly wasn’t speaking as a prophet.”  The issue of infallibility is a tricky one: see here .

[4] Unless, of course, science leads you to not believe in God in the first place.

[5] No, Virginia, Moroni 10:3-5 is not scientific.

[6] But then again, what else would we expect scriptures to say?

[7] Helpfully (or perhaps spectacularly unhelpfully), JSJ collapsed the spiritual/material distinction when it came to injunctions from the pulpit.  “All matters are spiritual” is a good thing to say to your cub troop when they balk at your revelation on using graphite in pinewood derbys.

Comments

  1. J. Stapley says:

    First, I heartily endorse the idea of tapioca pudding’s ascendance among the puddings. It is really delicious. Jury is still out on wound dressing.

    Back in the day I wrote a thing about the “fourteen fundamentals” where I argued that the Church President has every right to talk about whatever he wants to and that according to canon and tradition, whatever he says is law for the Church, generally speaking. If the Church President wants to talk about evolution, he can, but that in doing so he should be careful, because it is easy to take positions in such areas that time might not vindicate. I’m unaware of people that think the Church President should not talk on certain topics. I am aware of plenty of people that think he would be wrong if he made any number of claims.

    I think people get hung up on who is right and who is wrong (though I am right about tapioca pudding).

  2. Jacob H. says:

    I couldn’t find seebycommonconsent.com. This probably speaks volumes about my education.

  3. Fixed, smart-ass.

  4. I wish there was space for me to take some of the current teachings we have, ponder them in my heart, and categorize them as things that may or may not turn out to be true as truth continues to be revealed . . . without being called an apostate or that I’m stoning my prophets. Just a little breathing room would be nice.

  5. What, then, of the times when church leadership admits that it was wrong even according to the light available at the time? I speak, of course, to the issue of blacks and the Priesthood, on which the Church has essentially admitted that most of what was stated on the matter–especially in the late ’60s–was of decidedly rectal origins?

    It certainly helps that the most vocal actors on the issue are dead, but the attitudes they reified are very much present in the subtle but no less vicious racism displayed by most US Mormons. What are we supposed to do when those we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators clearly have led the church astray?

  6. What does “subtle but no less vicious” mean?

  7. J. Stapley says:

    APM, to be fair US Mormon’s racial attitude have been shown to be as good or better than average US citizens since the 1960s. Still, you are correct, racism is a problem in the Church (see e.g., President Hinkley rebuke of racism in the church a number of years ago). Your question about what we are supposed to do when church leaders have been or are wrong: I believe the answer is to work to have increased empathy and compassion.

  8. Yeah APM I hear you. Though decrying most US Mormons as vicious racists is not gonna get you a lot of mileage in this conversation.

  9. Kristine, feel free to take all the breathing room you want, so long as it’s not regarding one of our hot-button shibboleths.

  10. Elder Bednar’s comment about April 6 being Christ’s literal birth date during General Conference adds to this discussion. I feel like that was his personal belief, but not necessarily an inspired edict. Given that it doesn’t really have doctrinal import, I feel like I have latitude in making that judgement call. If he were making a statement about Jesus’ divine nature or the atonement, I don’t think we (or he) has the same latitude.

  11. Yes, April 6 is another great example.

  12. I hate tapioca almost as much as I hate celebrating Jesus’s birthday on April 6.

  13. Sorry RJ but revelation tells us that both are the best life will ever get.

  14. Kristine says:

    Tapioca?? At least we know who the false prophets are around here.

  15. Tapioca is the true and living pudding, whilst rice pudding is Satan’s counterfeit.

  16. Kristine A., I’ve had some success by stating, “I’m still wrestling with that teaching and haven’t got a testimony of it yet.” Admittedly a passive aggressive approach, but it can work.

    As for pudding, eat your meat! How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat? (And, yes, of course I mean that in the “spiritual meat” sense).

  17. Decades ago, when I was a student at BYU, we cornered some visiting church authorities on the issue of doctrine vs. personal opinion. I believe it was Marion G. Romney who encouraged us to grant the courtesy of allowing the Brethren to have personal opinions. We can’t claim the privileges of questioning, discussion and wonder for ourselves while denying it in our leaders.

  18. I believe there is still a wide chasm between “pretty much canon” and “actual canon.”

    There is a reason the church has not canonized the Family Proclamation. What that reason is we can only speculate.

  19. It’s not for lack of trying, Jay!

  20. Old Man, the difference is that most of us don’t have a few million followers who believe that our every brain fart is Scripture. That kind of power requires a kind of humility that certain GAs haven’t necessarily displayed. (Recall the talk by Elder Holland a few years back, relating some sage advice given him by James E. Faust–namely, to avoid the temptation to become a participant in one’s own cult of personality. The obvious implication was that some of Faust’s colleagues hadn’t.)

  21. Steve, what’s not for lack of trying? Have there been efforts to canonize the Proclamation that I’m not aware of?

  22. Jay, not sure what you’re aware of, but not a General Conference goes by that General Authorities don’t refer to it as an inspired document, etc., etc. For example, in 2010 President Packer said the Proclamation “qualifies according to scriptural definition as a revelation.” He later revised his remarks in the written version as “a guide that members of the church would do well to read and to follow.”

  23. I’m aware of the Church backtracking on Packer’s comments. You’ll also notice if you actually watch the talk that it’s fairly obvious that Packer is going off script when he makes the “revelation” comment. So not only was the suggestion that it is a revelation not made a part of the written record, Packer seemed (to me at least) trying to slip it in on the sly.

    This, to me, would suggest the Church officially wishes to stay away from referring to or implying that the Family Proclamation is anything other than…well…a proclamation.

    To me, that suggests that it’s a little less than “pretty much canon.”

  24. APM, I just accept that the leaders generally do.the best they can at the time. I think most LDS are perfectly capable of discerning that some words are revelation, some are honest opinion, and others are expression of character. I really like the characters… Remember LeGrand Richards? I enjoy noting the imperfection of the human delivery system. It is an amazingly egalitarian system in many ways, when so many think of it as patriarchal or hierarchal. I think I can hear angels chuckling in the background at conference. It makes me so hopeful. Let the humanity and flaws show through!

  25. “So science does not exclude certain domains a priori from divine inquiry but it does expose all received information to similar processes and testing as a matter of validation.”

    For instance, BOM historicity. Inspired teaching: BOM was translated from gold plates inscribed by ancient American inhabitants. Reality Testing: No gold plates to actually examine, no archaeology, no DNA. Related: BoA in no meaningful relation to the papyrus from which it was ostensibly translated. What does this mean? Does it shed light BoM “translation”?

    It’s easy to blow off Zelph & the Moonmen (above) but not so easy when the conflicts involve THE foundational scripture. And like gayness, a doubling-down of fasting & prayer probably won’t help. At the end of it all you’re still … gay.

  26. p, not arguing. Also not interested in conflict.

    Jay, I believe you are fundamentally mistaken about the trajectory of the Proclamation in LDS discourse. Amongst the Q12 it is consistently spoken of in these sorts of terms and is cited as if it were scripture. A cursory search of references to the Proclamation shows this. If it is not formally canon that is only because it has not been presented to the congregation as such for its inclusion.

  27. Your revelation/science essay leads ultimately to that question, Steve. Don’t Zelph me.

  28. Steve, so why doesn’t the church just canonize it already? And why would the church retract Packer’s comments about it being revelation? Why would Packer feel the need to slip in the “revelation” comment instead of writing it into his talk? Why be so careful about it?

    If I’m reading between the lines, I believe there is division among the Q12 as to the nature of the Proclamation.

    Zelophehad’s Daughters had an intriguing post last year (http://zelophehadsdaughters.com/2013/02/19/who-wrote-the-proclamation-on-the-family/) examining those of the Q12/FP who were alive when the Proclamation was released and how many times they have referenced it during General Conference. You’ll notice a stark contrast between, say, Elder Packer and President Monson. Or between Nelson/Ballard and Holland/Eyring.

    So in terms of how often its being cited, it’s not as if it’s really across the board. The current Prophet barely ever talks about it.

    That, combined with the fact that it’s been almost 20 years now and it has still yet to be canonized, to me speaks volumes.

    How many times is C.S. Lewis quoted in conference? Are we close to canonizing Mere Christianity?

    You may disagree, but my divergence from you on this subject is surely not due to ignorance.

  29. I’m with Jay. Packer may have original said “qualifies according to definition, as a revelation”, but the print version was altered to ” is a guide that members of the Church would do well to read and to follow”.

  30. “examining those of the Q12/FP who were alive when the Proclamation was released”

    They all were alive when the Proclamation was released. But I think I got you, and I’d agree that there are probably differing approaches to the Proclamation amongst the Brethren.

    I’ve never said that you were ignorant. Mistaken, not ignorant. If you really think, however, that the Proclamation is more akin to CS Lewis than to canon, then I got nothing for you, bro. Please tell me that was just a throwaway line.

  31. Left Field says:

    I’m still ticked that the 1980 Proclamation got promptly ignored, while the family Proclamation ended up framed on everyone’s wall and repeatedly quoted in conference. When they canonize the 1980 Proclamation, then we can talk about the next one. So there.

  32. Left Field, is that the Proclamation that scrolled in front of the main titles to Galactica: 1980?

  33. Yes, I was being glib with the CS Lewis line. But the larger point stands.

    That is, what is scripture? It seems to me that the church has two definitions of scripture.

    There is “little s” scripture: D&C describes scripture as pretty much anything someone says when moved upon by the Holy Ghost. According to this definition, yes the Proclamation probably qualifies as scripture. But so does the average member’s utterance during Fast and Testimony Meeting. You can be moved upon by the Holy Ghost when quoting C.S. Lewis. So, technically, C.S. Lewis, or a gentile poem, could be considered scripture.

    Then there is “big S” Scripture: this is canonized scripture, what we’re talking about when we say “read your scriptures” or “the scriptures tell us that…” We all recognize the Scriptures to be the canonized standard works.

    In my opinion, when members are commonly talking about the scriptures, they’re talking about the “big S” Scriptures. And, in that sense, the Proclamation does not qualify as Scripture.

    And, in my opinion, when you start conflating “little s” scripture with “big S” Scripture, it only leads to problems.

    There’s a reason there is a canonization process in place. And obviously there’s a reason the Family Proclamation has not undergone that process.

  34. Jay, let me point you in another direction: if the Proclamation is not canon (and we both agree it isn’t), what is it? It is a united proclamation by the Q12 and 1st Presidency, which has been disseminated throughout the church. It is urged that it be displayed in our homes. It is repeatedly cited in General Conference. It is quoted in our lessons and in our talks. Basically, it’s everywhere. So yes, not canon. But like I initially said, it might as well be canon. It gets more time in the spotlight than most of our actual canon. From a practice point of view, there’s not any discernible difference.

  35. Left Field says:
  36. Steve, you may or may not be aware that there are wards (mine being one of them) where excerpts of the Family Proclamation are being read in opening/closing exercises as the “scripture of the week.”

    Current primary curriculum equates the Family Proclamation to the 10 Commandments.

    Personally, I have a problem with the Church teaching that the Proclamation is Scripture without canonizing it. That’s not how the system is supposed to work.

    The name of your blog would seem to indicate that you agree.

  37. Steve, it’s a proclamation. That’s it. It’s a proclamation.

    It’s not scripture. Until such time as it is canonized, it’s pointless (and, in some cases, harmful) to refer to it as scripture.

    I honestly don’t understand why that is such a hard concept.

  38. Jay, you’re just sort of proving my point here.

  39. Which point?

  40. ALL OF THEM

  41. “If once in a while our leaders speak on topics where they know nothing, what then? History will tend to minimize their words (see above re: Zelph and moon men), but that is cold comfort to those in the congregations at the time.” –I guess this is another way of saying that such injudicious remarks, once they have been discredited, will simply be airbrushed from the manuals by CES.

    “…but I think the days of random musings on the unknown are largely over.” –When you see that your predecessors made numerous truth claims that later proved to be false and when you live in an Internet world of instantaneous fact checking, you bet your salamander letter that church leaders will think twice before making bold predictions are radical policy pronouncements. I, for one, welcome this development. I want my leaders to teach me how to live a better life and serve my fellow man. Their views on science, economics, law, etc. are of little interest and, if history is any guide, are often unreliable.

  42. You seem to be convinced that the church collectively recognizes and treats the FP as scripture, but doesn’t feel bothered enough to canonized it, and that not only is this not a problem, but that there is not (nor should there be really) a distinction between “pretty much canon” and “canon.”

    I, on the other hand, am convinced that the brethren are clearly divided as to the essential nature of the Proclamation. I also feel there is an essential distinction between canon and everything that is not canon. If the church wants to call it scripture, canonize it. Until then, referring to and treating anything as scripture that is not canonized is dangerous and to me, indicative of how some members of the Q12 view the general church membership.

    What have I missed?

  43. Jay, what you’ve missed is that I’m not really disagreeing with you. I agree that formal canon matters. I think it’s important. I also think that from a practical standpoint, the proclamation is being treated as canon. I never said that’s not a problem; on the contrary, I think that’s very problematic. So the part in your last comment which is wrong is this: everything in the first paragraph starting with “and that not only…”

    EFF, q, etc.: this is not a thread for haters. Sorry.

  44. Fair enough. I seem to have read things between the lines that weren’t there.

    In any event, this discussion has served to get out of my head and onto (virtual) paper a lot of thoughts I’ve been having over the last few days. So, thanks. I think? ;)

  45. The 1907 proc. had hands raised in GC. Now no one remembers it. Three revelations were made canon in 1838. Then they disappeared. Steve is pretty much right here. The PoF is more canonical than the most stuff in the “standard works.” In fact, it *is* a standard work at this point, in the sense the term was used originally. What will happen to it? It all depends on the paper and virtual printing press. My guess: in a hundred years it will be the object of minor historical interest. Then again, maybe it will be cataloged as OD3.

  46. I’d wager that the brethren are hesitant to canonize the Proclamation on the Family, because once it’s part of the standards works, it’s really hard to make it go away (or significantly alter it) later.

    As it is, the Proclamation has as much influence on our current Mormon thought as if it were canonized, without the riskiness of making it a permanent part of the doctrinal landscape. There’s always the possibility that the content of the Proclamation will change in the coming years, or that it will eventually be de-emphasized to the point of irrelevance.

  47. Bet hedging via. potential plausible deniability.

  48. “If once in a while our leaders speak on topics where they know nothing, what then?”

    Elder Russell M. Nelson hasn’t just spoken about evolution and the big bang occasionally, but repeatedly and consistently for the past 25 years. Plenty of other people appear content to allow him the opportunity to express his “opinions” concerning such matters without calling him on it. The evidence for both theories is simply overwhelming and is becoming significantly more precise with time. I am of the opinion that what is at stake when such pronouncements are made (in general conference no less) is quite nearly every important notion that Mormons hold dear: What is truth? How do we go about finding it? How do we recognize it when we do find it? And how do we share those truths with others?

    Questions about the physical world are in some sense (despite their enormous mathematical, conceptual, and experimental difficulties) significantly easier to address than the metaphysical questions. So when it becomes patently obvious that an authority figure isn’t just a little wrong, but spectacularly and obviously wrong about “easier” questions, it’s easy to maintain grave concerns about any other pronouncements in more difficult domains. It becomes, in my opinion, a huge credibility problem. It is rather unfortunate that such a phenomenal physician would willingly remain woefully ignorant of the universe he inhibits, and that he continues to impose his ignorance on those who regard him as an authority.

  49. Peter LLC says:

    “Why would Packer feel the need to slip in the ‘revelation’ comment instead of writing it into his talk?”

    The image you suggest of President Packer trying to slip one by correlation in the hopes of getting his personal opinion read into the record and thus cemented as doctrine strikes me as an unfair characterization of what may have been unscripted remarks. For one, there is no (un)written order of things that prevents General Conference participants from speaking extemporaneously (except maybe the objections of the interpretation staff who flounder noticeably when they do). In fact, President Packer may very well have felt inspired to depart from his script, and who needs a prophet deaf to the promptings of the spirit? For another, when was the last time a Mormon congregation placed any stock in scripted remarks? Impromptu talks delivered without preparation and with an appeal to the spirit to fill in the gaps are hallmarks of the Mormon Sacrament Meeting, and anyone who tries to read a talk over the pulpit knows how quickly the audience will shift its attention elsewhere. Given this context, it is not at all clear that President Packer violated some norm of prophetic speaking by “going off script.”

  50. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    Implying that there is no unwritten order of things and using Elder Packer as an example just cracked me up. Thanks, Peter.

  51. larryco_ says:

    How’s this for a thought experiment: A few years back I noticed that the wall of a classroom in my son’s seminary class was covered with dates and events from the OT. One read: Noah and the Universal Flood, ca. 2,400 B.C. It then quoted the 2/7 of every animal on earth in the ark, water 15 cubits over the highest mountain peaks, and all other land life on the planet wiped out. Basic info from Genesis.

    Here is something that touches on, not only religious faith stories; but also geology, history, human and animal biology, etc. Considering the evidence one thing is clear: In every way, shape and form – outside of faith – this could not have happened the way it is described.

    So, your the prophet. How do you deal with this when you know that it is given in modern day revelation – POGP and Ether – as having happened pretty much the way the bible describes it?
    When asked, do you support the bible story, modify it, say it’s allegory, or dismiss it entirely (thus, opening up a new can of worms)?

  52. Peter, your points on scripted vs unscripted remarks are well-taken.

    However, the mere fact that Packer’s extemporaneous remarks did NOT make it into the written record is evidence to me that someone pretty high up did not endorse his interpretation of the nature of the Proclamation.

  53. Peter LLC says:

    “the mere fact that Packer’s extemporaneous remarks did NOT make it into the written record is evidence to me that someone pretty high up did not endorse his interpretation of the nature of the Proclamation”

    Yes, indeed. I just don’t believe he was trying to sneak his interpretation through the back door is all.

  54. Interesting post and discussion. Steve asks, “If once in a while our leaders speak on topics where they know nothing, what then?” Dave K responds to the problem of “domain-overreach” by saying, “I’m still wrestling with that teaching and haven’t got a testimony of it yet.” He calls it “a passive aggressive approach, but it can work.”

    I don’t think it’s passive aggressive at all. Exhibit “A”: my dad and the 1978 Official Declaration. Reading in his journal, my dad was, actually, totally bewildered at the 1978 revelation. He had served a mission in Brazil during the 1960′s when they had to daily effectuate policies based on ideas we now know are bad doctrine. It’s not that my dad didn’t accept the revelation at the time — to the contrary, he mentions how it was his right and duty to obtain spiritual confirmation of President Kimball’s direction. But, it was so contrary to what he had been taught repeatedly by Church authorities about blacks and the priesthood, that he was left more than a little confused at the 1978 change. Still, despite the serious cognitive dissonance, he reserved the right to take some time to figure it out and get on board with this change in direction.

    So, I argue that, although it may be “cold comfort” as Steve calls it, each individual Church member has the duty to reserve judgment on new or unsettled matters. And, we should be vocal in creating a culture of respecting members’ free agency on these matters. Responding that “I’m still wrestling with that” or “I don’t have a testimony of that” is the absolute best approach. Passive, maybe. But honest.

    Hopefully Church authorities continue the trend of employing much discretion when faced with the temptation to reach out into domains where there is little canonized doctrinal support.

    Sorry to be so long-winded.

  55. Hunter, and that was in the context of a nearly universally acclaimed development. Imagine dealing with something perceived as negative.

  56. Yeah, Steve. There are a couple lines in the Family Proclamation that I perceive as negative. It’s not that I view the subject matter as outside the purview of the prophets, seers and revelators, but rather, that I haven’t been able to accept those few lines as revelatory. So maybe off topic to your post. Still, I think part of the answer is to actively preach individual free agency, and cultivate a climate where members have space to think, stew, and figure it out.

  57. So effectively Balkanizing the issues, as ever characteristic of discussion herein. This in such stark contrast to what is effectively accomplished at the recent General Conference. Souls are united, the hand of fellowship is extended, and doubts are addressed, rather than exploited for personal accolades.

    I would suggest those who presume to hold court on questioning the propriety of Church leaders in the issues they address would be wiser to reexamine the overall effect on Church members throughout the history of the restoration. This would constitute a far more accurate assessment of the “dominion” of revelation. I do not hesitate to assert that the vast majority of Latter-day Saints would witness with no reservations that they have been well served.

  58. Peter, I think I could get on board with giving Packer a pass on the issue if I didn’t see the church actively trying to push the Family Proclamation as scripture in our curriculum without canonizing it.

    But I do see that happening, and so his unapproved ad-libbing seems suspicious to me.

  59. Jotunn you dumbass, it’s called a thought experiment.

  60. Jay, if it helps, President Packer doesn’t need a pass from you, nor was his ad libbing unapproved. He’s perfectly within his rights to say whatever he likes from the pulpit. Now, there is a review process after the fact prior to print, but characterizing his remarks as somehow far beyond his bounds isn’t accurate. He’s an apostle for crying out loud.

  61. Jay (and Steve),
    I was personally in the conference center media room during the Pres. Packer’s address. I was following along his pre-written words on an advance copy of the text. His spoken version did not deviate one syllable from the pre-written version.

    He was not ad libbing.

  62. Well, gosh, Steve. Thanks for making me aware that my words are nothing more than random musings on an internet blog dedicated to Mormonism and nothing more. I wasn’t aware of that until now. I thought somehow they were binding to Mormon doctrine. Color me disappointed.

  63. You’re welcome!

  64. I’m going to use bold, all-caps font this time, because I want to make sure that this is clearly understood by anyone who happens upon this thread:

    I WAS IN THE MEDIA ROOM, AND I HAD AN ADVANCED COPY OF THE TALK. PRES. PACKER WAS NOT AD LIBBING. HIS WRITTEN TEXT WAS IDENTICAL–DOWN TO THE SYLLABLE–TO THE SPOKEN VERSION. HE WAS NOT OFF-SCRIPT. HE WAS NOT BEING SLY. HE SAID WHAT HE MEANT TO SAY, IN THE PRECISE MANNER HE PLANNED TO SAY IT.

    None of the above is relevant to the original post, but I just want to set the record straight for the comments discussing it.

  65. Fair enough, Scott. I shall henceforth refer to Packer’s comments as “that which was redacted.” Hopefully that will give Steve much less heartburn.

    I’ve so enjoyed this exercise in semantics.

  66. Not as much as we’ve enjoyed it, Jay.

  67. Is redacted the right word? More like replaced. There’s no white-out or whatever…

    (sorry…semantics exercises, etc…)

  68. Edited, I’d say, no?

  69. Here’s what he said over the pulpit (see: https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2010/10/cleansing-the-inner-vessel?lang=eng):

    “Fifteen years ago, with the world in turmoil, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles issued “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” the fifth proclamation in the history of the Church. It qualifies according to the definition as a revelation, and, uh, would do well that the members of the Church to read and follow.”

    (As an aside…look at the last sentence…is that what his transcript really said? Watch the video. He fumbles over his words. So I guess not EVERY syllable was on cue? Could your memory be a bit fuzzy on this, Scott? He clearly fumbles over his words at best. Anyway…)

    Here’s the text version:

    “Fifteen years ago, with the world in turmoil, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles issued “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” the fifth proclamation in the history of the Church. It is a guide that members of the Church would do well to read and to follow.”

    So, certainly the part about it being a revelation (according to definition) was redacted.

  70. Jay, I’ve still got the text at home. I’m not fuzzy on my memory.

  71. Obviously I’m ignoring “uh” and coughs/hacks/gargles.

  72. So the text says “It qualifies according to the definition as a revelation and would do well that the members of the Church to read and follow”?

    Elder Packer needs a proofreader, man.

  73. Grammatical errors delivered over the pulpit are canon and the law of the church.

  74. Wow, I read that whole thread and thought that Steve and Jay are basically saying the same thing. amirite?

    My family has told me I cannot use the word “question” when I refer to church teachings, because we can’t question church teachings. I can say ponder, though. Also they all tell me I’m destroying others’ faith and that we need to teach everyone we have to obey the brethren even if they are wrong. I love my family.

    Seriously one of my favorite parts of General Conference was Elder Perry when during his address he said to the effect, “I know this approach won’t work for everyone, but it worked for me, and I think you should try it!” It was so refreshing to hear a GA actually frame their remarks as general counsel that may or may not work for everyone. Huzzah!

  75. Kristine A, Ummm Yup !

  76. Except I’m totally mistaken. How that’s possible I’m still not sure.

  77. Because, jay: you were wrong.

  78. Kristine A, you may want to revisit Elder Ballard’s talk, I’m not sure your recollection and interpretation jives with what he said. But as always, the Spirit may have spoken to you differently in the context of what he said.

    It is also true that the time during which my grandfather lived was a simpler time, especially regarding the choices between right and wrong. While some very intelligent and insightful people might believe our more complex time demands ever more complex solutions, I am far from convinced they are right. Rather, I am of the frame of mind that today’s complexity demands greater simplicity, like the answer my grandfather gave to my sincere question about how to know the difference between right and wrong. I know what I have to offer today is a simple formula, but I can testify about how well it works for me. I recommend it to you and even challenge you to experiment upon my words, and if you do, I promise that they will lead you to clarity of choice when you are bombarded with choices and that they will lead to simple answers to questions that confuse the learned and those who think they are wise.

  79. Complexity of thought is not a modern invention. It’s been around at least since April 6 of the year zero.

  80. OD, I suppose I was following his advice and simplifying what I heard. You are right, it was more nuanced than that. Actually I think it introduces some complexity if you make sure to quote the paragraph right before it as well:

    “I have had enough years of experience to know that the personalities of horses can be very different and, therefore, some horses can be easier or more difficult to train and that the variety of people is far greater. Each of us is a son or daughter of God, and we have a unique premortal and mortal story. Accordingly, there are very few one-size-fits-all solutions.”

  81. Eric Russell says:

    Huh. Just this Sunday we were talking about how the lost tribes would return in their spaceship on April 6. They will rescue the other tribes who are hidden under the polar caps and join the three Nephites, the apostle John, and Bigfoot Cain. They will then unseal the sealed portion of the plates, which will reveal the Book of Zelph, as written by the prophet Onendagus.

    Avoiding all waterways because they are ruled over by Lucifer, they will work their way along the land, slaying all those who have killed so they may be atoned for. They will then go from house to house, cleansing the people by burning face cards, pouring out diet coke, and divorcing interracial couples.

    They will save the Jews in Israel from destruction at the hands of communists and then gather all the literal descendants of Christ for a meeting in Adam-ondi-Ahman, where they will plan the 24 temples to be built in Independence by the hands of the Tongans and Samoans. Only then will we meet Heavenly Mother, who shall be revealed as Eve, wife to Adam, and the first of many wives.

    The Lord has many other revelations for us, but they are too glorious to be discussed outside the temple.

  82. I fully approve that comment.

  83. small s steve says:

    “If once in a while our leaders speak on topics where they know nothing, what then?”

    The trend I’m observing is that the leaders are starting to distance themselves from the more problematic doctrines and historical/physical truth claims, and are actually starting to return to the basics. If I were a betting man (or at least my own personal prophet) I think we’ll be hearing much more about this fellow named Jesus and much less about Joseph Smith, the BoM, golden plates, and temples.

  84. Thank you, Eric Russell. You made my night.

  85. small s steve, I think you are correct. In reality, we are a young church and, therefore, are prone to making the same mistakes that other churches made in their youth. For example, the Catholic Church came to the painful realization that its credibility can take a big hit when it foolishly pillories scientists for challenging its geocentric model of the universe, so it decided to pretty much leave science to the scientists (now there’s a wild and crazy idea).

    Similarly, our leaders today are much less inclined to speak out against evolution than many of their predecessors. And as you note, they have also begun to downplay some of the more peculiar doctrinal ideas advanced in the past. (Though, I for one, was pretty bummed out when I learned that I wasn’t getting my own planet. Can I at least get a moon?!? An asteroid, maybe?)

    Getting back to the basics is a good thing. For my part, the words of the Savior in the four gospels are without peer.

  86. small s steve: “I think we’ll be hearing much more about this fellow named Jesus and much less about Joseph Smith, the BoM, golden plates, and temples.”

    If you are willing to bet on that, then I have a bridge in Brooklyn that I would like to sell you as well.

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