Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Polygamy Essays and Prophetic Revelation

So the new Polygamy Essays went live this morning at here, here, and here.
 At first I only read the first one, which seemed general and ambiguous, but after I read the other two it seems a little ground shaking.  I'm in a facebook group that was discussing it quite lively, mostly over whether it's a fair historical representation.  I have my own quibbles about a few lines and presentations (hello coercion of 14 year olds . . . but that's for later) but I started a new thread with this:
So with the whole polygamy essay going live today..... I'm feeling in the minority -- anyone else out there believe our prophets can be a hot mess and still be instruments in God's hands, they can still be divinely inspired -- and even be dead wrong elsewhere? Joseph is still the prophet that Restored the Gospel. My personal opinion is that polygamy and racial bans aren't from God -- but that doesn't invalidate that was who God chose to do that work that needed to be done.
I told my brother the fact that we can have a prophet that incorrectly restricts priesthood on race actually strengthens my testimony: that even a racist prophet can't stop the work of the Lord from progressing. It may slow it down, but God's still in charge.
 One of my friends commented about where we are getting the idea that our prophets are not a hot mess, that the OT is really consistent on that point.  And I'm still involved in that discussion hours later.  It's an interesting conversation of people wanting to hold our leaders to a higher standard, and perhaps the inevitable disappointment that will accompany when truth is revealed (hello, essays).  Even one of my tweets from general conference highlighted the tension between counsel we receive for personal revelation and following blindly that we were subject to in just one General Conference Session.  This challenge we have of sorting out the way forward is not unique to our generation -- every dispensation has had prophets that were imperfect and complex and each group of people had to deal with this tension.

A friend posted a link to Julie Smith's essay  at Times and Seasons that was posted during this online conversation I was having, and it's brilliant.  After highlighting about a dozen ambiguous passages from the essays about how our church leaders (prophets) were walking blind trying to figure the whole thing out . . . . she concludes:
What I see here is–intentional or not–the articulation of a theology of prophetic revelation that runs precisely opposite to the way that many Mormons (mis)read Amos to say that God will do nothing without first revealing his secrets to the prophets (Amos 3:7) and that whether by God’s voice or the voice of church leaders, it is precisely identical (D & C 1:38). Rather, this suggests that God reveals things line by line (a scripture frequently quoted in these essays), does not reveal all details at once, and leaves some matters to be worked out without divine mandate.

I think the odd confluence of 1950s American corporate culture, historical amnesia, and rapid world-wide growth led Mormonism to advance the idea that a CEO-like prophet got regular memos from God, bullet-pointed with precise operating instructions designed to maximize return for the next quarter. Diligent work by historians, now disseminated instantly and internationally, shows that that vision isn’t quite precise. It is understandable that some will mourn that vision–I know I’d feel much safer led by that bespoke-suited CEO, divine memo in hand, than by some guy with a leather belt eating locusts in the wilderness. And yet, we should thank those historians (some of whom sacrificed their careers, if not their very membership in the Church, in order to publish things very similar to what is hosted on the Church’s own website today) for helping us overcome the cultural conditioning that misled us regarding what prophets are and what they do. The glass through which we see today is a little less dark because of their work, not just on historical matters related to polygamy but also regarding what we should–and should not–expect from prophets.

for further historical readings on polygamy, Dialogue has a great topic page

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