On Prophesying, Seeing and Revelating

An online friend recently mentioned a Church General Authority quote about covenant-making and agency that suggested the idea of a score-keeping God whose commandments and expectations were sufficiently complicated as to remove actual agency to choose from one’s life.

This  another example of what seem to be the misguided declarations of our highest-ranking clergymen whose words supposedly have the strongest meaning when they speak while on “the Lord’s errand.” Such declarations are supposedly  “copyright” protected by a frequently reinforced but unjustified prohibition of “speaking against the Lord’s anointed” which includes any sort of public disagreement with the anointed one.

I believe it was Grant Palmer in one of the Mormon Stories podcasts who remarked that we don’t seem to encounter much prophesying, seeing and revelating in today’s church, particularly when compared to the revelatory roots that go back to the Church’s earliest days.

In those days Joseph magnified his calling essentially in a constant revelatory manner – whether his pronouncements ultimately became formalized in the Book of Commandments or memorialized in individual journals and fond recollections of conversations early saints had with their prophet.

The point is that Joseph apparently saw no need – even after the Church was organized and a bureaucratic and procedural sense of formality began to be asserted – for a consensus as to Church doctrine and the mind of God regarding theology and belief for members. One example of this is his declaration to the sisters as a Relief Society expressed in the same priesthood terms by which he declared important points to his brethren.

Joseph seemed little interested in some sense of long-term procedure that would eventually evolve into tradition as as to how the Brethren would interact and relate one to another in terms authority, let alone how the Brethren would communicate the mind of God to an almost blindly trusting membership.

By the mid-20th century, however, a stifling bureaucratic leadership fear of speaking too independently the mind of the Lord to the Church seemed to have asserted itself.

As an example, blow-by-blow descriptions of the process of formalizing that 1978 revelatory change regarding universal worthiness to receive the priesthood serves well. One can easily learn that among the apostles there were some who commenced agitating for a change regarding blacks and the priesthood years prior to the 1978 change. Those efforts, particularly in 1969 when Hugh B. Brown led a move for change but who  was “outvoted” by Harold B. Lee and others of the Twelve, reveal the somewhat political nature of contemporary Church revelating. 

Later, however, we read the melodramatic accounts of Spencer W. Kimball, who seemed to have subordinated  his  role as the presiding Church Prophet, Church Seer and Church Revelator to some sort of notion of unanimous consent with the Twelve

– as if the God who called Joseph Smith and  prompted the vast and often spontaneous leadership decisions of Brigham Young now required – in a micro-managed manner – His Prophet and His Apostles to prayerfully submit their ideas corporate fashion to the Boss for approval and endorsement.

The consequence is nothing less than a CEO-and-Board-of-Directors method of running  an organization that by definition ought to be more prompted by the Spirit than be bureaucratically managed with all the charisma of a sterile Petri dish.

Compare that with the on-going revelations of the Community of Christ (formerly RLDS Church) whose Doctrine and Covenants remains to this day a living document frequently nourished by new wisdom. Specifically, the recent addition of their Section 163 by their President as a case in point.

Does that not leave us Utah Mormons in an embarrassing comparative that suggests a doubt as to why the “one true and living Church on the face of the earth” based out of the Everlasting Hills on the Wasatch Front isn’t doing the same thing?

Wouldn’t such a thing – in accordance with the Church’s exclusive claim to the institutional mind of God – be better than that of any other church?

The shameful answer to that question is what is manifested now in every public declaration, preaching and conference-talk from the highest church echelons:

no originality from the Lord’s Anointeds whose calling it is to prophesy, see and reveal.

The parable in which the fearful servant took his talent and buried it out of a fear of and reluctance to “risk” (in this case, trust the Spirit) fits almost to a tee.

The Brethren have self-limited their prophetic callings with an apparent reluctance to be  genuinely revelatory, relying merely on seeking innovative ways to rehash the same simple correlated concepts over and over again. What they have to say for the most part devolves to a kind of “creative cuteness” in finding ways to exhort the membership with catchy notions or turns of phrases reminiscent of the tedious word-play of Neal Maxwell.

The Brethren seem afraid to speak the Mind of God out loud without first meeting to discuss what that Mind might be telling the world. Those  meetings appear to be as much a prayerful consideration of the management and operational decisions of staffs of underling Church bureaucrats to whom they have turned over the responsibility for day-to-day decision making in the Church.

A survey of Conference talks and quotes reveals the tragic consequence of what I consider to be over-correlated Apostolic and General Authority testimonies at the highest level. Like fundamentalist evangelicals of the inerrant-Bible ilk, our Apostles behave as if in fear of being accused or arbitrarily overruled by a Quorum majority regarding a misstep in some matter of doctrinal purity. This is not unlike how the Soviet Politburo operated.

The Presidents and Apostles themselves seem to value conformity beyond all notions of agency. and in doing so, belittle each human being’s natural right to seek, ponder, pray and decide for themselves.

There is nothing profound in pithy little guilt-inducing statements and playing on fear and guilt in order to sound authoritative. Although I obviously cannot define the conscious attitudes  and intents of those who offer up such restricted sermons, I can however opine that based on what is said, leaders often he appear to practice consistently a non-exegetical mode of dispensing only group-approved  ecclesiastical wisdom.

It appears then that the number of creative conformers (who appear limited in both vocabulary and style) to the creative communicators (such as Uchtdorf in a recent conference talk regarding “Stop it!”) is much larger. It is as if there are few who  seem to able to speak from somewhere other than a conformity-based authoritarian pedestal.

As much as Joseph spoke and revealed of the mind of the Lord, Joseph’s theological revelation to the world was not necessarily voluminous, excessively detailed nor comprehensive in its capture of all the work and the glory of God’s intent for mankind.

Granted, the Book of Mormon runs better than 600 pages, but not as a grand and comprehensive compendium of the complete mind of God concerning all religious topics.

Nor do the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price fill in all the blank theological spots left out of the Book of Mormon.

If you’d like a theological comparative take a look at the vast single theological vision Emmanuel Swedenborg offered to the world with  Heaven and Hell. My copy runs better than 450 pages.

Offering sermons deliberately limited to a small number of existing correlated LDS concepts, the Brethren seem able only to find new boring ways of preaching the same old boring topics, running on and on endlessly with eyes single to the principal object of correlation: a conformity best created by phrases that appeal to fear, shame and guilt.

If believing Mormons are to be a revelatory people divinely inspired to good works by a Holy Spirit, ought not that spirit be a free and loving gift from God offered without conditions or limitations based on any notion of worthiness or calling or priesthood?

Genuine religiousness and spiritually have very little day-to-day relationship to theology.

Theology is and has always been nothing more than guess work; theories on why things are, why things happen and where control of those things might exist – if it exists at all.

There is nothing sacred about theology. Most theology ultimately proves to be silliness and folly when taken more than a little seriously with logical extension.

My own opinion is that the principle theological culprit with Christianity is the notion of Original Sin and it’s equally guilty sibling, Atonement – the need for a Redeemer.
If we can admit that theology was always the creation of human guess work, then as mature and  thinking mortals, can we also admit that Original Sin has no basis in fact?

Can we then as mature and thinking adults admit that a need for Atonement and a Redeemer has no basis in fact if there is no Original Sin?

This is not to argue theology, but to extend our own ability to think critically. Can we not extend our own ability to reason out into the real world where we live – where it becomes foolish to think of ourselves as born with an evil inclination that makes our natural humanity an enemy to the God who created us?

Theology for the most part was a means by which religious thinkers sought to make a living and validate a Church role for themselves that for the most part was not necessary beyond the simplicities of religious habit.

When you think about it, do we really need to believe that religion and spirituality have  an overriding – even desperate – need for theology in order to  inculcate and justify a desire to become moral  and compassionate human beings?

In truth, theology is nothing more and nothing less than a religious game of “let’s pretend.”

The winners of this little game seem to have historically earned the right to instruct – even dictate – how others should live and how the community should validate those lives.

I suppose the bottom line for me then is that historically, mere mortal men in the Church, regardless of calling and election, have not been the prophesying, seeing and revelating human beings they were presumably called to be.

Most have essentially revealed themselves as mere elaborators of things others have revealed;

– more mimics than creators and who use a turn of phrase as a masque for sounding inspired. The degree to which such is successful and appreciated or tolerated by hearing congregations is a matter of perspective.

That perspective for both preachers and hearers has been described by Alan Watts in Behold the Spirit in what I consider to be a revelatory way. 

    By practicing spiritual disciplines as well as in trying to acquire faith, most of us are like monkeys. We do not understand the saint’s inner state, and we are trying to attain it by mere mimicry of its outward signs. We copy his actions and ideas, but because they do not really mean anything to us the task is an unproductive drudgery.
    For example, a [talking] monkey, might, with some accuracy, describe an orchestra as a collection of people who blow through metal and wooden tubes, thump upon the skins of pigs and scrape the entrails of dead cats with lengths of horsehair.
    We, of course, can give a fuller and more intelligible description of the work and nature of an orchestra because we understand its true meaning, which is music.
    But to a monkey music means nothing; it is simply a succession of noises produced by blowing, thumping, and scraping. Yet because the monkey is envious of human accomplishments, he may readily be persuaded (until bored) to imitate human actions that mean nothing to him, to go through the motions of playing a trumpet or violin with results far from meaningful and musical. A human being, too, can learn and master all the techniques of music and yet never be an inspired musician.
    So, too, the moral splendour, the interior peace, and the spiritual power of saints and mystics are things which millions of us would like to possess. But it avails nothing to ape the exterior actions or even the interior ideas of such inspired persons unless we understand the meaning which these ideas and actions express.

I could argue that Watts is describing correlated religion in a nutshell, complete with what the ecclesiastical managers seem to believe to be the most direct and powerful way to keep everything as simple and limited as possible.

When the role models can only repetitively demonstrate new ways of saying the same old same old … the blind are leading the blind.

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