Clearly I’ve got religion on the brain. I’ve topics on the brain and way more ideas than time to write (the prime evidence of this might be the fact that I posted this without including number 4! but I don’t rush my posts!). We’re gonna stick with Mormonism today. Unlike my last post, which was about the more abstract side of Mormonism, today we’re talking about something more practical and present.
There really isn’t anything more interesting right now than Ordain Women, the relatively small group of LDS women (and men) who are in favor of changing the basic structure of the church to allow for ordination of women to the priesthood.
Now, there have been plenty of responses to this group that have been less than positive. Their activities have caught the church’s attention, and while I think the church has handled the situation fairly well, individuals (and especially LDS bloggers have often responded with some hostility. the counterarguments to O.W. are pretty well summed up in this post that I read the other day. This is one of the fairer posts, but it brings up one of the common points that Mormons use as a counter-argument:
“We believe in prophets, seers, and revelators, but we don’t believe that they are actually seeing or receiving revelation? We believe this is the church of Christ, but we don’t believe that it is being administered according to the will of Christ?”
In other words “Don’t you trust the leaders to do their job?” Mormons believe in revelation, so that means, since the leaders have spoken on the topic, then the book must be closed on the issue, right? well… I think that logic doesn’t make sense if you look at revelation and how it works in the Mormon Church throughout history.
Before I respond to that, let me say that, unlike other protesters/activists that show up around general conference time, Ordain Women have been quiet and civil by all accounts. The only thing they may have done wrong was just showing up after the church asked them not to.
Anyway, We can argue the methods of O.W. all we want, but I think that what they are doing is exactly what has been done previously, and is exactly what needs to be done to have such a change come down the pipe. Don’t believe me? Well here are 5 big revelations in Mormon history that came about because of some disgruntled person/people complaining.
5. Polygamy (The “end” of it)
I thought about leaving this one off for multiple reasons: one was because the church has never said “We no longer believe in polygamy” and the actual practice lasted for quite awhile after then Prophet Wilford Woodruff said “No, we aren’t doing it anymore,” but it still stands that revelation came down the tube, and it was because people were not happy with the Mormon church. Thus, Polygamy squeaks onto my list, although I admit, it’s kinda lame. Here’s the quote from the Official Declaration of the president of the church:
“The question is this: Which is the wisest course for the Latter-day Saints to pursue—to continue to attempt to practice plural marriage, with the laws of the nation against it and the opposition of sixty millions of people, and at the cost of the confiscation and loss of all the Temples, and the stopping of all the ordinances therein, both for the living and the dead, and the imprisonment of the First Presidency and Twelve and the heads of families in the Church, and the confiscation of personal property of the people (all of which of themselves would stop the practice); or, after doing and suffering what we have through our adherence to this principle to cease the practice and submit to the law, and through doing so leave the Prophets, Apostles and fathers at home, so that they can instruct the people and attend to the duties of the Church, and also leave the Temples in the hands of the Saints, so that they can attend to the ordinances of the Gospel, both for the living and the dead?”
So yeah… unhappy people = revelation. And these weren’t even unhappy people within the church who brought this change on! These were people far outside the church! Lets continue.
4. Baptisms for the Dead
This is one of the weirdest Mormon doctrines as far as mainstream Christianity is concerned, and it came about in large part due to a revelation that came to Joseph Smith regarding his older brother Alvin. In a vision he saw his brother in heaven along with a few great ancient prophets. One article describes the circumstances like this:
“This exceptional vision was undoubtedly opened to the Prophet not only because it greatly enlarged the doctrinal understanding of the Saints, but also because it gave special solace and comfort to the grieving Smith family. The untimely death of Alvin had been a great tragedy to the household. Members of the family still grieved about the departure of this beloved son and brother, whose kindness and consideration had been unfailing even as a boy. Alvin’s influence on the Smith family and the events leading to his death can help us understand the context and intent of this choice scripture.”
In other words, baptism for the dead was revealed because of the grief and concern of the Smith family over whether they would see their unbaptized son in the afterlife. Are we seeing a trend in the revelations yet?
3. Word of Wisdom
This revelation was my faaaaaavorite as an LDS missionary. The official health code of the church, I don’t know how many times I taught the principles of this revelation and always summed it up with “hey, look how far ahead of its time this revelation is! Seems pretty prophetic, how accurate it is to our code of healthy eating today, Pretty neat, huh? (Now I was teaching in Spanish, so hopefully I said it better than that) at any rate, how did this revelation come about? Every Mormon knows this story: The wording in the Doctrine and Covenants goes like this:
“Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Kirtland, Ohio, February 27, 1833. As a consequence of the early brethren using tobacco in their meetings, the Prophet was led to ponder upon the matter; consequently, he inquired of the Lord concerning it. This revelation, known as the Word of Wisdom, was the result.”
Who led Joseph to ponder the subject? Only his frustrated wife, who was one of the women tired of cleaning up after disgusting men. So again, Unhappy leads to revelation. seeing the pattern yet?
2. The First Vision and the Book of Mormon
The two foundations of Mormonism came because one person was upset and asking questions. I know this one is probably too obvious, but I had to put it up here, because it simply can’t be ignored. Both of the angelic visits Joseph Smith received were because he had questions. they were both general questions. what church to join prompted the first, and essentially what am I doing wrong brought on the second. I put this here because it’s astounding that a church that literally came into being because someone was dissatisfied with the status-quo has so many members willing to just write off those who are trying to find answers (this idea goes far beyond Ordain Women. People struggle with a number of things, and we all have the tendency to say “hey, just get on board with the leaders! They won’t lead us astray.” Yet here we are)” No need to talk more about these two visions, but I think they belong on the list
1. Priesthood extending to all men.
“Wait, wait, wait… why is this going higher than the first vision? You some kinda whack?” yeah, maybe, but this goes at number 1 because it is easily the most pertinent to today’s discussion. And the parallels are surprising. The 1978 revelation came at the tail end of the American civil rights movement. this post I found describes in detail some of the parallels between blacks and women and the priesthood. It’s not all the same, but two things are: it took a lot of pushing over many years to finally inspire the leaders to take a genuine look at blacks and the priesthood (and perhaps it took that long simply because it took them that long to get past their own preconceived ideas about blacks and the priesthood and accept a revelation like that. We all have our own issues, after all).
If O.W.’s desires are in fact correct, then they are doing exactly the right things to accomplish their goals and get the leaders to sincerely go to the Lord with this concern. As long as they remain civil and positive in getting their message out, I personally have no problem with it. Who knows what will happen. I don’t know the mind of God (though I do know a few powerful female ecclesiastical leaders in other churches, which make me lean in one particular direction on the subject) and I’m not going to put any words in anyone’s mouth. But to O.W. I say, if you feel like the spirit is telling you this is the path you should take, then who am I to say no?
(Lots of other posts have been written on this subject, and many on both sides of the debate have been more well articulated than mine, but I thought I should throw my two cents in anyway. If you want to look more into revelations in the church and how they came about, here’s an interesting concise source from the church website.)