Personal Revelation in an Authoritarian Church: Balance of Power or Détente?

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If you have gotten your 40th Anniversary copy of Exponent II, then you know that many past editors were asked to choose their favorite essay from their tenure at the magazine. The essay I have most often shared from my decade of as associate editor is the following piece by a wise woman and dear friend that taught me that “Contention comes not from having different ideas of what is right, but from the effort to prove another person wrong.” 

By E. Victoria Grover first published in The Exponent in Fall 2000

Sooner or later, almost every Latter-day Saint experiences conflict within the framework of his or her religious community. That conflict is particularly challenging when it seems to involve differing interpretations of the will of the Lord. In a religious environment that places great value on both personal revelation and obedience to authority, what are we to do when these two principles clash?

The Church has clear structural and ideological answers to these conflicts when they occur: Either the hierarchy of authority or the principle of stewardship tells us which interpretation will prevail.

But what do we do as individuals when we feel the promptings of the spirit get overruled? When we seem to find ourselves ill-used by someone else’s decision or perhaps even believe we are victims of the injustice within the Church? Whether it’s a matter of how Church welfare resources will be distributed or where new ward boundaries will be drawn, hundreds of decisions are made by those in authority with which we may deeply disagree. How do we deal with this when it happens? What is there for us to learn from these experiences, and where are the dangers? Finally, what is unique about the Mormon view of the dispersement of spiritual power and how can the implicit tension it creates enlighten us as individuals and as a larger community of wards and stakes in Zion?

About ten years ago, I had an interaction with a new bishop that changed the course of my spiritual life forever. In that short meeting, it became rapidly clear that he and I had very different views on fundamental principles of commitment and obligation. Over the next week, I struggled with a flood of feelings surrounding the bishop’s decision and the implications it held for me and my children. I prayed for understanding, and when it didn’t come, I prayed for relief. I felt a pressing weight of confusion, despair, and helplessness each time I thought about the difference between my conception of what was right and the bishop’s and how his decision was now going to affect my life. I felt my anger slice like a hot blade through the very cords that bound me to the ward and to the whole Church. For the first time in my adult life, I could envision the Church going forward without me in it.

I can’t remember at what point during that week I finally received an answer, but I recall the answer very clearly. Alone in my bedroom as I wept and poured out my story of injustice to the Lord yet one more time, I suddenly felt a piercing affirmation coming out of a place of emotional stillness that was not part of me, telling me very simply, “You are right.” Motionless, I listened for the rest of what I wanted to hear—the part about how the bishop was wrong and the wrath of a righteous God would soon fall on him like a thunderbolt! But that message never came. Instead, the Holy Ghost poured love out on me, and in those wonderful minutes of spiritual clarity the absence of any accusation against my bishop spoke volumes. The bishop, right or wrong, was not my concern. Instead, I saw the task of enlarging my heart and strengthening my soul lying before me, and with the assurance of God’s love and the blessings of free agency won for me by Mother Eve, I knew I had all that I needed to move on.

When our ideas or opinions are overruled by others, the first and most natural reaction is to contend with those others on behalf of our heartfelt beliefs. But contention is extremely dangerous because it hardens our hearts and drives away the Holy Ghost. It is possible for people to hold different views of what is right without succumbing to contention. People can state their views, explain them, even point out possible flaws in another person’s thinking, without invoking the spirit of contention.

One way to do this is to clarify in your own mind the purpose of the explanation in light of unconditional respect for the free agency of the person with whom you are speaking. If the purpose of your explanation is tainted by a desire to overcome the other person with your words—to convince, to control, to win–you move into dangerous territory. If, while you are speaking, you feel your respect for the other’s free agency draining out of you, watch for contempt to replace respect and any remnant of charity to disappear. You are now contending, and the purpose of your discussion has changed from explanation of defiance, from enlightenment to domination.

Contention comes not from having different ideas of what is right, but from the effort to prove another person wrong.

For all our talk about tolerance and diversity, contention as a way of sorting out our differences is both honored and glorified in America’s culture. The world often asks us to fit people and their disagreements into the dichotomous arrangement of “right and wrong.” While there certainly are important laws and principles that fit that arrangement—and knowing that we must guard against the danger of trying to rationalize away our very real sins—still, the rule of “right and wrong” serves us poorly in most disagreements with others. Even so, it is what we naturally fall back on whenever conflict occurs. As we start to fall, we grab onto contention to prop us up and support our need to be seen as “the right one” in a dispute. Even when we try to acknowledge valid issues on both sides of an argument, the very fact that we have taken sides push us us into the “us/them” duality and its corollary, which says, “they” are wrong and need to be stopped—or changed—by “we” who are right.

Christ asks his disciples to see conflict with different eyes—with out spiritual eyes—and get off the see-saw that says, “If I’m up you must be down!” he wants us to look at our brothers and sisters as a part of ourselves and realize that contending with them is as foolish as the foot contending with the hand on the same body. I believe Christ would agree with the comic strip philosopher Pogo: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

The Church asks us to gather ourselves together in communities of many different people. Different is difficult and this gathering into communities has created challenges since Joseph Smith first restored the Gospel. The challenge is intensified by our belief in individual personal revelation. It is disciplined by asking our obedience to hierarchical authority. The tension between personal revelation and authority keeps us each vibrantly humming and engaged in both the workings of the Church and the pursuit of our own salvation. I believe the latter task is the more important one for each of us, from President Hinckley on down, and the Church organization serves us best when we keep that fact in mind. Then we realize that it doesn’t really matter whose idea gets acted on in the day-to-day business of running the ward, the stake, or the Church itself.

What is important is how each of us uses the Church community to refine our souls, to come unto Christ, to make our selves perfect and complete. When we come before him, Jesus will not ask us if we won in our disputes with others or even if we were on the right side. Instead, he will ask if we won our struggle against the natural man, the desire to control, the need to be essential, to feel powerful, to be right instead of righteous. If we are called upon to sacrifice on the alter of God our most tender and delicate parts—a piece of our ego—then truly in that act we become one with or Savior.

The philosopher/psychiatrist Sheldon Knopp said that all the significant battles are waged within the self. These are the only battles Christ is truly interested in.

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The Cokeville Miracle Raises Questions about Celebrating Miracles “When We See Them”

David-DorisRm.4 (1)I recently attended a preview of the Cokeville Miracle, a new film about a real elementary school hostage crisis that took place in 1989. The Cokeville Miracle was written and directed by T.C. Christensen, who is best known for the films 17 Miracles and Ephraim’s Rescue. It is produced by Mormons but does not make overt references to the LDS faith. However, to anyone familiar with the LDS faith and culture, the Mormonism in this film will be obviously apparent.

I checked my watch in confusion when the hostage crisis ended in the film.  It didn’t seem like the movie had lasted long enough to be over yet, and it wasn’t.  The movie continues after the crisis ends, following one of the parents of the child hostages as he tries to process the horrific event.  It is refreshing to see a film probe into the aftermath of violence, instead of stopping with the action, but the transition between these two parts of the film is a little rough.  It almost seems like the film is two short films of completely different genres glued together.  The first part of the film feels like a crime/action movie, with the audience looking on omnisciently.  The last half is more like a promotional religious film, told from the perspective of one of the people affected.  The last half of the film almost feels like one person’s testimony, illustrated in video.

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Heavenly Mother’s Day: I Dreamed I Wrote Five Poems

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When Martin Pulido and Caroline Kline announced the A Mother Here Art and Poetry Contest, I wished that I was an artist or a poet. I wanted to add my heart stirrings to the collective swell. Instead I sent the call for entries as close and as far as I could, inviting some of the best and dearest creatives I knew to contribute. In response, one mentioned that she looked forward to my poem. Her assumption that I too would be making an offering gave me pause, and then it gave me the courage to try.

The first stanza came while I walked to a friend’s house. I tapped it into my phone’s note function, and typed it up when I returned home. I thought that I was finished. I had my single poem–my single try to say how much Heavenly Mother meant to me. But that night I had one of those rare dreams you remember upon waking. I had written five Heavenly Mother poems, and I was reading them over a pulpit.

I couldn’t remember the words, but wrote four more stanzas in morning’s light.

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Heavenly Mother’s Day: Are You My Mother? (eBook of LDS quotes and artwork about Heavenly Mother)

Guest post by Evelynne

Evelynne is a mother to three sweet children, a wife to an adorable and adoring husband, a graphic designer and a communications consultant. She is also a Gospel Doctrine Sunday School teacher. With what time is left over she likes to pretend she is a master yogi. She also loves making beautiful things and making things beautiful.

This e-book was created as a part of Evelynne’s ‘Audience, Viewpoint & Commentary’ class at the Billy Blue Design College in Australia. The below post is the introduction to the book

 

This is the story of a little girl’s journey…

My parents joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the year8 before I was born. By the time I came along my mother’s cigarettes were long gone, my father had given up on perfecting his home brew and my two older sisters firmly believed that popcorn came from apricot trees.

I will be forever grateful for being raised in the LDS church. The things I have learned from the gospel have absolutely formed the foundation for life as I know it today. But looking back, I can’t help but see a gaping hole that I wish I could go back and fill.

I recently discovered a far-reaching study published in the journal BYU Studies last year which located more than six hundred references to Heavenly Mother in the writings and speeches of LDS Church leaders1, however as concluded by an internet survey, most Mormons believe that discourse about Heavenly Mother is forbidden or inappropriate.2 I personally have clear memories of asking questions about my Heavenly Mother and being brushed off with statements in line with this thinking.

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Sacred Music: Eliza R Snow and A Mother There

Eliza and MotherThis image is one that will be in the upcoming EXPONENT II COLORING BOOK (look for it later this year).

It is Eliza Roxcy Snow writing her famous hymn: “O My Father”.  Eliza had many roles and callings in the early church including 2nd President of the Relief Society, sister to the Prophet Lorenzo Snow, plural wife of the Prophet Joseph Smith and she was called the Prophetess of the Church by some.  She was also known throughout the region as a poet.

“In Nauvoo, she gained distinction as a Mormon poet [through her] featured [work] in local newspapers … and was called “Zion’s Poetess”.  She wrote 10 of the hymns in our current hymn book including some of my favorites:

  • How Great the Wisdom and the Love
  • In Our Lovely Deseret (sung with great fervor by the Elders on my mission)
  • The Time is Far Spent (another beloved song from mission days)
  • Truth Reflects Upon Our Senses

And, of course, the hymn she is perhaps most known for: O My Father.  This is a beautiful hymn written in 1845, a year after Joseph’s death, directed to our heavenly parents.  This direction is precicely what makes it so well known – it names both our Father and our Mother in Heaven.

Today on Mother’s Day, I pay tribute to both of these women who represent different kinds of mothers.

1. Heavenly Mother created our spirits and gave us life in a heavenly sense. In an earthly reflection of this creation, our mother’s here give life to our physical bodies. I honor the mother of my spirit and the mother of my body.  My earthly mother is good and kind and caring.  She gave me my body and has stayed near me on life’s journey to guide me and love me. This gift has come at a personal sacrifice to her.  Earthly mothers everywhere give of their body, blood, and heart to bring us into the world. A beautiful calling.

2. Eliza Snow did not bare children, but she has been a women of great influence and mentored many.  She used her spiritual gifts well and did great things for the Kingdom of God. This emulation of womanhood can also be called Mother. I honor Eliza, this pioneer Mother who went before me.  I also honor the many women who mentored me and loved me now. I consider them mothers to my spiritual journey.

Today,  I love both “the mother who bore me and the many mothers who bare with me.”

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Heavenly Mother’s Day: Jehovah Speaks Of His Mother In Heaven

 

The Book of Jesus, Chapter 1

Jehovah Speaks of His Mother in Heaven

 

We are all drowned in the Aegean. Vanessa Poutou1. In the beginning I was The Word, creation,

spoken by Mother. I was in Her, and of Her,

and through Her.

 

2. In the beginning, I was Man and Her light

shone on a place in me I couldn’t name:

the Woman place, void and without form;

quiet, lonely, violent.

 

3. She drew me in, held me there while I shook.

She drew me out again, turned my face toward hers,

held memory in her hands. She turned my face

toward light, toward darkness, whispered what

I must see, what I would learn on my knees,

in the garden, before my pain shook olives from the tree.

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June Young Women Lesson: What are the keys of the priesthood?

Traduction en français/Click for French Translation

Introduce the doctrine

The two primary ways by which priesthood authority is distributed are through ordination to priesthood office and through priesthood keys.

The above offices I have given unto you, and the keys thereof, for helps and for governments, for the work of the ministry and the perfecting of my saints. D&C 124:143

priesthood-authority

Click to enlarge.

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