Friday, October 24, 2014

What Mormons should–and should not–expect from prophets

Julie Smith makes some salient observations on having more realistic and historically accurate expectations of prophets, based on Church teachings in the New Polygamy Essays

"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."


Anonymous said...

It pains me greatly to admit this, but the more time I spend dealing with faith crisis issues and helping others stay in the church, the more I've come to believe that the only effective approach is 'lowered expectations.'

That, in a nutshell, is what the recent church essays are doing. In the short term, the approach can work just fine. In the long term, I worry that most members (myself included) may lose our interest as we realize that the church no longer claims to have any answers.

Clean Cut said...

Anonymous, I just realized I had never thanked you for your comment. I definitely understand what you're talking about with the lowered expectations. Armaund Mauss has called his "modest expectations."

I also like healthy, more "realistic expectations." Is it realistic to expect anyone, including a church made up entirely of human beings, to have all the answers? Especially when even objective truth is always evaluated subjectively? And yet so many of us, including leaders among us, spoke so authoritatively in the past. Knowing how fallible they turn out to be should make us more humble about how truth claims.

As James Faulconer put it in his essay "Living with Fallibility":

"I hope that the recently published documents on LDS history will help us see that prophets don't usually get definitive answers to their questions, and even when the answer is definitive, they don't often, if ever, get definitive directions for how to put into practice what they have been told. Being called and inspired by God doesn't remove the need to figure out what that calling and inspiration mean, nor does it remove the possibility that I will confuse my will and desires for those of God."