Personal Revelation and Sustaining Prophets

riley-briggs-172-unsplash

Rachel Allred lives in California and loves her husband, her toddler, and ice cream (not necessarily in that order).  She generally tries to make the world a more empathetic place.

I literally started crying in the cab Thursday. It was a Lyft. The driver asked if I was okay; I told him I was.

I knew The Policy was wrong. I knew it, I knew it, I knew it. I felt like death when it was announced. My heart sank. My lungs filled with lead. My mind started screaming. My soul recoiled. I don’t know how else to say it. I was just completely numb.  I walked around in a vaguely ragey, disbelieving fog for days.

That weekend in November 2015, my beloved husband and I (this was back when he went to church; I’ve wondered since if the policy was the beginning of the end) went to a thrift store to buy clothes with rainbow patterns.  We specifically chose a thrift store whose proceeds are donated to LGBTQ support organizations. We wore our rainbows to church that Sunday. We went with subtle patterns. Too subtle, maybe, because we had to tell people that’s what we were doing, but I was playing the organ so at least some people noticed.  

I disagreed with The Policy in November 2015, I disagreed with The Policy when I woke up Thursday morning, and I’ve disagreed with the policy every day in the middle. My conscience said it was flatly wrong.

I grew up elsewhere, but I was attending college in California during Prop 8. I stopped going to on-campus FHE (which I already didn’t like) when all we did was phone bank for Prop 8. I couldn’t do it. Eventually I regretted moving to California for college. When I voted, it was hell.

I believed that gay marriage should be legal in 2008, I believe gay marriage should be legal now, and I’ve believed it every day in between.

But I haven’t stopped feeling guilty any day for the last 11 years. Because … if I believe that the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are prophets, seers and revelators, wasn’t it rebellion against God to disagree?  Or, at least, wasn’t it rebellion to act on my disagreement? Did the difference between my opinions and my actions matter? Was God looking at my heart, or did my actions speak louder than my thoughts? On November 4, 2008, did I believe in a prophet or did I believe in my conscience? On November 5, 2015, did I believe in a prophet or did I believe in my conscience? Like so many millions of others, I couldn’t support one without torpedoing my belief in the other.

So which was it?

Was it rebellion against God if the parents of the kids that Elisha sent bears to eat believed that wasn’t a just consequence for disrespecting a prophet?

Was it rebellion against God for Sariah to believe that Lehi should take it easier on sending their sons out into the wilderness? For Aaron’s conscience to be uncomfortable with Ammon boasting? For Jesus to tell Peter “Get thee behind me, Satan” when Peter’s at-all-costs zeal carried him away?

Thursday morning, when The Policy Change was announced, I felt alive. All little children can be blessed and baptized.  Same-sex marriage is no longer considered apostate. The church genuinely seems to be making an effort to ameliorate divisive rhetoric around these issues. My heart rose. My lungs filled with air I almost didn’t recognize. My mind started rejoicing. My soul soared. I don’t know how else to say it.

I also felt the still, small voice of the Spirit whisper with an abundance of love in my heart, “you were right.”

I had thought I had to choose between church leader statements and my own conscience.  Either I destroyed myself to agree with them, or their opinion needed to be right consistently, no disagreement or patience or grace allowed.

Reflecting on the past 11 years, I’ve learned to own the times I know I’m right.  When I own that, I’ve found I can give others the grace and patience to receive their own revelation, at their own time.  To learn to make the right choice through making the wrong choice (like Peter).  To make the wrong choice for the right reason (like Ammon). To repent (like Elisha, presumably).  To grow and change (like between November 2015 and Thursday). And to know that sometimes we’re just going to believe differently (like Sariah and Lehi), and that’s okay.

Extending grace and patience comes at a cost. That’s important. To all the individuals whose families and lives and faith have been torn apart, the children who have already been forced out of the faith their parents hoped to raise them in, the teens and adults who have been bludgeoned by diminishing, belittling rhetoric for 11 years, Thursday’s reconciliation effort doesn’t heal that hurt, doesn’t right that wrong.

That’s the tricky thing about grace: I think Elisha had to answer for those children’s lives. I think Lehi was accountable for the toll his decisions took on Sariah. I think Peter was responsible for misrepresenting Jesus in saying he could never be killed (the thing that prompted “get thee behind me, Satan”). And so on.

Owning that my conscience can be right, and my leaders can be wrong (and sustaining them through that) means giving them the grace to be accountable for their wrongs and still be prophets, seers and revelators.  It means widening my belief in the Atonement of Jesus Christ to account for not only the sins, misdeeds, mistakes and hurts of every individual human soul, but also for the institutional mistakes the church makes when invoking His authority — along with all their snowballing effects and intersecting consequences.

This, I think, is my access point to the grace and patience required to sustain prophets, seers and leaders through their humanity. After suffering the hurts of those wronged by leaders’ choices, after paying for the choices which were made in His name by His authority, Jesus Christ lays the burden at His own feet, and carries it in the scars on his hands.  Christ embraces the suffering in this divine/mortal church called in his name: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

And I think I believe that, as God, His empathy is so deep, His healing is so pervasive, His reconciliation so complete that even the sometimes-wrongly-wielded power invested in the prophethood, seership and revelation of the Elishas, Ammons, Lehis, Peters, and First Presidencies and Quorums of the Twelve Apostles of this world can be included alongside the sins, mistakes, misdeeds and hurts of the rest of us on an eternal timescale. Prophets are humans, and they along with their institutional leadership, and along with the rest of us, can become whole through faith, repentance, and the covenants that enable all of us to access God’s grace.

In retrospect, I haven’t actually sustained my leaders in good conscience for 11 years, but that is because I have been suspending the use of my conscience. I think I sustain them now, because I won’t suspend my conscience anymore.

I literally started crying in the cab Thursday morning. I cried because prophets can change their leadership. I cried because The Policy doesn’t have to hurt anyone new.

Photo by Riley Briggs on Unsplash

 

Comments

  1. Bob Powelson says:

    It would appear that there is a lot of rationalization of error in the above comment.

    Same sex marriage is either adultery or fornication. The prohibition on baptising the children of such unions was ameliorated by the change. I agree with that. But to raise hopes that same sex marriage is somehow more acceptable is wrong.

  2. Carolyn says:

    Bob: I think the author’s entire point is to say she disagrees, but she’s realized it’s spiritually OK to disagree.

  3. Old Man says:

    I agree with Bob. In order for LGBTQ couples to have their children blessed or baptized, their are certain concessions or commitments they must make. One is a recognition that the children will be taught that homosexual acts are sinful. This new policy appears to be easier on the children. But I doubt that any LGBT couples would make such a commitment. In reality, not much has changed. But the argument is no longer apostasy but the law of chastity.

    I suppose that pressure will increase on gay marriage supporters within the Church of Jesus Christ. How long can one go on encouraging an act or lifestyle, which according to the new policy, is clearly a violation of the law of chastity and aligned with adultery? Try advocating for adultery in Gisoel Doctrine and see how far that gets you!

  4. pamelaweste says:

    Old man, what about the priesthood ban? That doctrine was wrong. But members believed it, and advocated it. Some members even still believe the it was of God. But it wasn’t.

  5. rcb1820 says:

    Thank you for expressing my feelings toward conscience and loyalty perfectly. For 40 years, I struggled with the priesthood ban, vaccinating between blind institutional support and listening to my conscience. I too cried in 1978 when the revelation came and the accursed nav was lifted. Now, here we are again, having to carry the cross again of a conflicted conscience. Here’s what I wrote in response to Thursdays stunning announcement: It appears God teaches “correct principles” (all are alike to Them) and leaves it to our leaders to interpret and implement. Sometimes fallible leaders interpret and implement imperfectly and have to reverse course to align themselves with the correct principles.

  6. Just not sure what to make of God changing his mind again. It’s getting harder and harder to believe.

  7. Flymetothemoon says:

    I’m sorry, you lost me at not thinking gay marriage is a sin. I thought your post was going to be about the issue of forbidding little children to come to Christ as a result of their parents choices which is what the policy in effect did. While a more nuanced issue than many allow for, I really see both sides of the original policy and have sympathy for both.

    However, for a church member to be against the position of marriage being between a man and a woman, that IS apostasy.

    Don’t want to push Prop 8 on people? I get it. Love for our brothers and sisters with same sex attraction. I’m with you.

    Thinking you can suggest gay marriage is fine is not in harmony with the teachings of the church. It’s a black and white matter.

  8. “It’s a black and white matter.”

    The priesthood and temple ban was a black and white matter.

    “for a church member to be against the position of marriage being between a man and a woman, that IS apostasy”

    You’re disagreeing with the First Presidency. Which of you is right?

  9. Carolyn says:

    I think it’d be helpful here to recap my post from yesterday.

    Prophesy = testifying of Christ
    Heresy = purporting to preach of Christ, but failing to actually follow his gospel
    Apostasy = rejecting Christ altogether

    https://bycommonconsent.com/2019/04/05/heresy-and-prophesy/

    None of those definitions turn on agreement or disagreement with an institutional church. Rather, the institutional church’s own actions must be evaluated by the light of Christ and personal revelation.

  10. Oh dear, Old Man and Flymetothemoon. If there is one thing that the whiplash of the last three years has taught me, it’s that I ought to be awfully careful about the certainty with which I attach labels like “black and white matter,” “sin,” and “violation.” If what our own prophet terms a revelation is rolled back three years later, that does not bode well for any of our certainties about what is and isn’t the mind of God. We’re all trying the best we can, I’m sure.

    As for me, I can’t fathom a God who wouldn’t smile on the marriage of two people committed to each other and to making the world better together. But I understand there are those who feel differently than I do about it, including many of the people I go to church with and the institutional Church itself. I hope that one day (soon) this will change. I realize that may never happen.

    But after listening to the pain and the stories of my LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters, I can’t, in good conscience, hope for anything less.

    And Rachel, I’m right there with you. Beautifully expressed.

  11. We should love all even when our beliefs differ. One of the reasons the policy of baptizing children of a LBGT parent/parents was changed was to help eliminate the negative feelings between the church and the LBGT community. A lot of credit needs to go to the brethren for doing all they can to increase a positive feeling between the two camps without changing the doctrine.
    We sometimes forget that going against the commandments of God has an effect on our communities and our nation. The warning is found within “The Family- A Proclamation to the World”. The scriptures are filled with examples of warnings which the people did not believe. The consequences of not heeding the prophets is real. I believe the warning.

  12. Ben Britton says:

    Let your conscience be your guide!

  13. Flymetothemoon says:

    Just want to clarify from my previous comment. From this weeks announcement:

    “Previously, our handbook characterized same-gender marriage by a member as apostasy. While we still consider such a marriage to be a serious transgression, it will not be treated as apostasy for purposes of Church discipline. Instead, the immoral conduct in heterosexual or homosexual relationships will be treated in the same way.”

    The key for me is that same sex marriage remains clearly defined as serious transgression. My previous comments were about when we take a position that it is not, or that it shouldn’t be that is what puts us in opposition to the leadership of the church.

  14. GEOFF -AUS says:

    Fly, Is there a difference between serious transgression and sin? I’m sure there will be a sermon on that. Instead, the immoral conduct in heterosexual or homosexual relationships will be treated in the same way.”
    The first time I read the statement, I thought it was saying we are not happy (serious transgression) but we will treat, the immoral conduct in heterosexual or homosexual relationships will be treated in the same way.” meant we are no longer opposing gay marriage.
    The law of chastity in the temple says having sex only with the person you are married to is living the law of chastity. So if you are married, gay or straight, and faithfull, you are being moral.

    As there is no scripture or revelation saying gay marriage is against the gospel, I am hoping the statement will be clarified to bring the church into conformity with the gospel of Christ. There seems to me to be an inconsistency between the same definition of chastity, and serious transgression, which needs clarification.

  15. Old Man says:

    Flymetothemoon:
    I agree. The Church has opened the door for children of gay couples to get baptized, IF and ONLY IF the gay parents agree that the child will be taught the Gospel, including church teachings on homosexual acts being transgressions. There is little ambiguity on that point. This is not the change the activists wanted. It puts the decision squarely on the shoulders of gay parents.

    It also places the social pressure there as well. There will be divorced parents and also grandparents now pressing for gay couples to allow the baptism of their children. The Church is not the bad guy. The adults have fair warning. The Church as taken heat in the media for the previous policy. They know the feelings of church leaders regarding gay marriage. Church leaders will not call them “apostate” but instead refer to homosexuals unions as “serious sin,” comparable to “adultery.” Will gay couples allow the teaching of their children? Not likely.

  16. Kristine says:

    Old Man–what do you mean about divorced parents?

  17. Old Man, I suggest that rather than speak for what gay married couples will and won’t do or allow, you should become friends with some gay married couples, especially those who want to remain in the church. Sit with them. Ask them about their life experiences. Love them. Respect their journey as their own.

  18. I think the church leaders finally realized there is ‘no right way to do the wrong thing.’ See what I did there? The policy was the wrong way. No matter how they tried to justify it, it was the wrong thing. Unfortunately, many people were hurt along the way. I’m still waiting for the leaders to acknowledge the pain and suffering the policy caused and at least make an attempt at reconciliation.

    I think we should all be more like Rachel and refuse to suspend our conscience, even if it goes against church leadership or anyone else who claims authority.

  19. wreddyornot says:

    I try my best to be faithful to God (and I don’t believe in what seems to be the predominant HF and a pedestalized, silenced HM configuration, but in an egalitarian pairing). I follow Jesus Christ. I do so by trying my best to study, learn, and listen to and follow the whisperings of the HG and to my conscience. I, of course, also listen to the apostles and prophets, for they at times inspire me to make inquiries that I should and might not otherwise make and to seek for new knowledge and to test out what I believe against their “prophecies” and “revelations”. They often call me to repent of valid sins that I abundantly have. I, however, do not follow them; I follow Jesus Christ. I listen to the HG and to my conscience.

    Quite often we, the leaders of the Church patriarchy and I, are on the same page, going the same trajectory. Sometimes we are not. They are in the lead and out in front of me for a lot of the issues. I do make a lot of errors, and I often need correction. My observation is, at times, so do they. Yet I admire their devotions, sacrifice, and hard work. They give more than I do.

    I turned 30 on June 8 1978, but well before that date, I had felt the whisperings of the HG as well as my conscience telling me that the exclusion of blacks was wrong. The same feelings go for the POX before its recent retraction, and before it, for various pronouncements relative to LGBTI+ issues as well as inequalities between males and females in the Proclamation on the Family. I also note it has not been canonized or subjected to common consent.

    I have much to learn, but I am asking, seeking, and knocking, as well as listening to the still small voice and to my conscience. I follow Christ. I appreciate Rachel’s sensitive and important posting.

  20. RachelAllred123 says:

    @rcb1820: Thanks for sharing that. I’d never thought of framing it in terms of “correct principles” but that rings so true.
    @Kyle: Literally my exact thought when I heard that this morning!
    @Geoff: I noted that framing, as well.

  21. RachelAllred123 says:

    @Bob Powelson and @Flymetothemoon: I can appreciate your points of view. To be clear, I don’t maintain that I’m “right” about most of my opinions; in this post, just the 2015 policy. When I know I’m right and a leader is wrong, though, I think I can still sustain them in an Elisha/kids’ parents situation, where I sustain my leaders despite disagreeing with them, because I recognize they’re human and, painful as it is, the Atonement applies to their humanity in leadership.

    When it comes to things I don’t know I’m right about, but disagree with, I sustain my leaders hoping we’re all acting in good faith and knowing the Atonement will apply to the places we are wrong. Two examples:

    Maybe, like Sariah with Lehi, my view is a human, valid and compassionate effort to sustain my baptismal and temple covenants that reaches toward a different righteous and worthwhile goal, or maybe it’s incomplete based on a bigger picture I can’t see. The Atonement can handle that. And I sustain my leaders through accepting that we have legitimately different views and/or that maybe I’m wrong.

    Maybe, like Aaron with Ammon, my view is pretty close to the truth as seen by a reasonable person (perhaps they are too close to the situation to see how others see it?), and voicing it gives the other person a chance to grow as a leader. Great! That’s at the heart of a lot of good leader-follower relationships, and the Atonement definitely covers that! In that case, I’m sustaining my leader through disagreeing.

  22. Another Anon says:

    I thought this was a near perfect post. It captured the exact place I’ve been aspiring to find for three years now—how do I reconcile my revulsion at the policy with my desire to somehow still sustain the church leaders who enacted it. This is a better version of how that might be possible than anything I’ve yet read. Thank you for this.

  23. Consider the logic of the Q15 claiming, specifically, to be “prophets, seers, and revelators.” Add that they and church manuals very often refer to their speaking for God and being led by revelation. Add that according to our new president revelations from God are coming really often to him in the middle of the night (including the original Nov 15 “policy” at issue here).

    Ergo, either God just changed his mind–again (consider a long history of notable “policy” changes on polygamy, evolution, birth control, priesthood ban, feminism/misogyny)–or, his “prophets, seers, and revelators” simply changed *their* minds but are blaming it on God to make it OK.

  24. Is exclusion still in place for polygamous families? Does anyone “know they are right” about how to handle that? (Sincere question.)

  25. Rompa Dor says:

    I think this is fantastic!

    It follows Article of Faith 11, “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”

    It allows for both sides to be right as long as they are following their consciences. It means that both sides of Prop 8 were right. Both sides of the 2015 policy were right. It means BOTH the leaders who set policy are right AND the followers who disagree are right.

    It means that the people who are now on the same side with the prophet are right. It also means that the people who disagree with the new policy are right.

    As long as they’re following their consciences, of course.

  26. Mark N. says:

    Certainty is the enemy of truth. But everybody still wants certainty. “Please tell me What It’s All About, because I don’t know.”

    Guess what? Nobody knows, despite all of the “I know with every fiber of my being”s that have ever been uttered in a testimony meeting. Or should it really be called False Witness meeting?

    After a lifetime of believing in the golden plates fairy tale, I’ve decided to put away childish things. It’s a comforting story, of course. Nobody really dies. Certainly, nobody really goes to hell; it doesn’t exist. You actually can *know* The Truth. And we’re all very certain about it.

    The only thing I’m certain of any longer is that real certainty can’t be had at any price.

  27. Jennifer says:

    Rachel, I am right there with you. I felt such despair on that first Thursday, and such relief that the policy was rescinded. Where does that leave us? Where we were in November 2015, but with a lot of pain between the two Thursdays. I continue to pray for light and knowledge for all concerned. Thanks for your thoughtful post.

  28. GEOFF -AUS says:

    When the pox was first leaked, the leaders were still claiming they were opposing gay marriage, because it was an attack on straight marriage. Years on it is appearent that gay marriage, and straight marriage are coexisting without damage to straight marriage. So they can’t go back to that position credibly.
    Why are they still opposing gay marriage? Could it be the culture of the leaders as was the case with the priesthood ban? How soon can they allow the church to get in line with the gospel?

  29. Mike Scott says:

    All revelation to any mortal must first pass through the filter of his or her own prejudices thus opening it up to error. I feel this was the case with African Americans and the Priesthood. Brigham just couldn’t see past their color. I feel that this was the same case with this “policy”.
    I fell back on the words of the Saviour Himself which were unequivocal; “Suffer the little children to come unto Me and forbid them not, for such is the Kingdom of Heaven”. (Mark 10:14, Matthew 19:14, Luke 18:16) The Saviour reaffirmed this principle when He said, “And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in Me, it is better that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea”. (Mark 9:42, Matthew 18:6, Luke 17:2, D.&C. 121:22)
    It is cogent to note that the Saviour, despite the Jewish dislike for the Samaritans, never forbade their or their children’s baptism.
    It is my conviction, that the love of God is profoundly more expansive than any of we mortals can fully comprehend. After all, the central message of the Gospels is that, “God is love”, and that in order to emulate our Father in Heaven we must develop a genuine sense of love as expansive as His, i.e. without any qualifications or asterisks.
    Before my baptism, I participated on the “Match on Washington” with a group of young people from my Congregationalist church. Thus after joining the Church, I was deeply disappointed with
    this racist proscription but kept my counsel. I had received Divine confirmation regarding the Prophet Joseph, the Restoration, and the veracity of the Book of Mormon. Yet I knew that the time would come when the Lord would correct this error, but only after sufficient number of Saints were
    ready to accept it.
    I am happy to see this change come so that innocent children can be taught the Gospel, be baptized, and be blessed to receive the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If the overwhelming theme of this past General Conference is any indicator, they will most assuredly need it.

  30. Franklin says:

    One problem. Church leaders never admit when they are wrong, and they never apologize for their mistakes. So they are incapable of repentance for the institutional mistakes they make. I wish this weren’t so, but maintaining the illusion of infallibility is far more important to them than following gospel principles at an institutional level.

  31. I feel very similarly. The single reason I can tolerate going to church is that I’ve let go entirely of the notion that I’m supposed to defer to someone else’s understanding of truth by virtue of their position. Now I feel compelled to listen to carefully all around me since anyone may have something prophetic and revelatory to share, and I expect to hear lots of things in church (and during conference) that I believe are false. I sustain leaders in the way I sustain everyone on the earth–I support their right and privilege to seek and relay truth as best they can–which is far different from going along with them when my conscience is unpersuaded. As far as I can tell, the point of all us being here is to collaboratively use our Divine-given light to gradually discern truth and live truth–not to identify the “right” leader and pressure ourselves and others to listen to him or be lost forever.

  32. Samurai6 says:

    I’m very glad for the policy change. It was a point of disagreement between me and family members and ward members. I think it largely became a test of whether you are willing to take the position or even entertain the thought of not supporting the institution. I have grown comfortable with the discomfort of having a different opinion. Those who were not, created reasons.

    I also appreciate this post because the reaction is similar to mine. In contrast, a number of friends (of the Facebook variety) and others ffor whom this issue was the final straw in their church affiliation, are now writing a great deal about revelatory inconsistency, lack of apology etc. For some reason, their response is frustrating. I think it is for two reasons: (1) I don’t think there is a position on gay marriage (short of the big change) or any derivative issue thereof, that could be presented by the church in any way that would actually satisfy them at this point. So the criticism about how this change was made etc. is more opportunistic than substantive. (2) Many of these folks were long the “liberal” (for lack of a better term) and thoughtful Mormon type that had disdain for simplistic binary explanations. And now they hold up exactly such explanations of binary revelation and critique them in a way that appears designed to be persuasive towards only a non-faith, non-affiliation option. Their belief is not/was not based on such a model so who is the audience and what is the purpose of these comments? I guess it just feels disingenuous to me.

  33. Speaking of issues of certainty, has there really been enough time/experience to know what effects same sex marriage has had on straight marriage and/or children of same sex marriages? I think it’s much too soon to be making declarations that such marriages have had no negative impact on society. (And BTW, I’m not claiming it has had a negative impact. I just don’t think anybody knows at this point).

  34. I need to clarify my comment. The question really goes to what impact same sex marriage will turn out to have.