A year and a half ago I joined this wonderful thing called the Mormon church. You may have heard of it. Our church differs from others in that we have a living prophet that receives divine revelation, (occasionally) adapting to the changing times.
So the prophet has a tendency of coming out with inflammatory revelation, such as the recent decisions regarding children of gay couples (learn about it here).
I’m not going to touch gay marriage in this post, but I will discuss the peripheral issues that shake out of this topic within the church.
I’ve seen two reactions to this recent development: people convinced that the revelation is wrong have an existential crisis about the veracity of the church, and people convinced that the revelation is true insist that the prophet always knows better than us mortals.
Except the prophet is mortal, too.
Let me offer a grey area: occasionally the prophet is wrong. In his personal life, in his revelation, in anything you can name. How do I know this? Prophets are people, too, and that is just part of the lovely package. Jesus owns the exclusive rights to mortal perfection. Him and only Him. No matter how much a person communes with God, he is still fallible. Even the apostles admit this:
“I suppose the church would be perfect only if it were run by perfect beings. God is perfect, and His doctrine is pure, but He works through us– His imperfect children– and imperfect people make mistakes.”
— Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor of the First Presidency
It should neither shock nor upset us that this is true. Such is the way of His plan. God has promised us that the prophet will not lead the church astray, and to that end, I have faith that any mistakes made along the way will be corrected with due time and diligence.
Now, I’m not arrogant enough to think that I know better that God’s divine spokesperson, but another fundamental tenant of our religion is personal revelation. We all have direct access to God through prayer. We may not have as much regular communication with Heavenly Father as the prophet, but we are all worthwhile human beings and the only prerequisite to receiving divine answers is real intent.
Through this personal revelation we form certain ideas of right and wrong. This is necessary. Without this, how could we have determined that we believe this is the true church of God, distinguished it from the many false prophets of the past? Without individual understanding of right and wrong, agency would be meaningless. We either wouldn’t know what to do or would be expected to follow blindly. I am not saying that right and wrong are subjective. I don’t believe they are. But we can ask God directly whenever we are in doubt. Doing so does not mean we disrespect or undermine the prophet. It means that we take our moral responsibility seriously.
It is my firm belief that a crisis of faith is unnecessary at each and every juncture that we disagree with a particular teaching. Depending on the particular person and situation, these moments of intense questioning can be pivotal in a positive way. They can also be unnecessarily dangerous to our emotional health. It is up to us to decide how we make use of our doubt.
Ninety-eight percent of what we are taught is love, love, acceptance, and more love. In that other two percent, perhaps we are wrong, and in the celestial kingdom we will acquire a better understanding of how and why. Perhaps someone with a divine calling is wrong, and they will realize it. Either way, it does not negate the truth of everything they have said up until that point or everything they will say in the future.
Every government on the planet has made far worse mistakes, and oftentimes they don’t correct those errors. Anyone remember the US supplying ISIS with arms before they became ISIS? Think about the atrocities committed at our hands. And yet we (most of us, at least) don’t move out of the country or create an anarchist state. This is because we value the benefits provided by our government (education, highways, various social services, etc) and (hopefully) recognize the monumental task facing our elected officials in the daily difficult decisions they must make.
Similarly, we can value the benefits of the church (opportunities to serve one another, a brother and sisterhood where we no longer feel alone, consecrated Sundays to refine ourselves into better people) and appreciate the difficulty facing the apostles as they tune out their own predispositions and seek out the word of God. The situation is not entirely analogous because within a government we can use our voice to effect change. I leave it to you to decide just how much you believe your voice could alter decisions like the arms-supplying of ISIS, but the difference exists in philosophy at least. The idea of the standing by the church while it is wrong does not frighten me. I have faith that we will improve continually, as we have done in the past.
We choose whether or not we allow certain issues to scandalize us. We can stand back and gape, walk away in a huff, or seek always to better exemplify the truths we believe in.