Guest Post: Temple Changes and Contributing to the Process of Revelation
By Miriam Sweeney
I’ve worked for the Church as a writer, researcher, and actor. Anytime my teams produced any kind of content—whether we were filming a quick Deseret Industries commercial or writing new material for church curricula—we would be careful to either craft it to meet Correlation standards or frame it in a way that it wouldn’t have to pass by Correlation at all. Correlation was that nitpicky entity that prevented us from completing our projects. Which, in fairness, was entirely unfair. The Correlation Research Division has the all-important role of ensuring the doctrinal accuracy of anything and everything the Church puts out, and I’m sure we’re all grateful that we have gatekeepers to stall doctrinal sloppiness. But however well-meaning and necessary it is, Correlation tends to have the reputation for being a bureaucratic barrier to progress.
And yet, it apparently played a pivotal role in bringing about the 2019 changes to the temple ceremony.
It was the Correlation Research Division of the Church that distributed emailed surveys in the fall of 2018 to active members of the Church who had not attended the temple in a year in order to ask them about their experience. A research division of the Church struck out to investigate why some people feel they are unwelcome in the House of the Lord. Now, just a handful of months later, those blessed participants’ candid responses have led to changes in the temple ceremony that truly emphasize the reality of our divine nature as sons and daughters of God. And, whether all this started with this outreach or this outreach was merely a step in the process, this outreach happened. Our leaders wanted to better understand our lived experiences in order to make informed decisions about how to lead the Church.
So how do they get to call it revelation?
Let’s bring Moses into this conversation. Moses began life in a dramatic way. His escape from the death penalty for Hebrew babies, adoption by the daughter of Pharaoh, and subsequent nursing at his own mother’s breast were miraculous, but they were also the result of the careful orchestration of his mother and clever sister, Miriam. These experiences didn’t set Moses apart as a prophet. According to our account in Exodus, the first event in Moses’s life that was both dramatic and divine was his interaction with a burning bush. From that interaction with Deity, Moses received direct revelation and clear instructions. His first revelation came to him literally ablaze in glory.
Moses belongs in this discussion because of how ridiculously abnormal this form of revelation was and still is. The burning bush was bright, was undeniable, and man, does it make for a cinematic experience. But it’s not the method of communication that God typically uses. In fact, God has explicitly asked us to expect to receive knowledge “line upon line, precept upon precept.” We have been told to “study it out in [our] mind” when we have a question before even petitioning Him. Recent counsel from church leaders has compared the styles of revelation to the sudden flipping of a light switch and the gradual rising of the sun. If we are subject to these processes of gaining knowledge from the Lord, then why wouldn’t our leaders be, too?
Moses essentially wandered into his miraculous experience on Mount Horeb. But that doesn’t seem to be the pattern for common revelation. If we are to study out our ideas before coming to the Lord with questions, then common revelation must be dependent on having ideas to study out in the first place. Common revelation requires context.
Perhaps hearing that some people were uncomfortable with elements of the temple endowment was the impetus for the leaders of the LDS Church to begin to study it out—which, in their case, meant gathering context through surveys and interviews from disenchanted saints through the Correlation Division. Perhaps common, non-bush-burning revelation is a mundane process that combines learning and seeking confirmation.
It is not my nor anyone’s place to dictate how individuals should feel about recent changes to the temple ceremonies. But may I suggest these changes have indirectly shed light on the process of revelation? Revelation is rarely a bush aflame; often, it seems to be the result of studied, informed effort accompanied by a quiet confirmation from divinity that we’re on the right track. And if that’s true even for the leaders of God’s kingdom on earth, then how great must our responsibility be to speak up about our own experiences. I’d like to kiss the palms of every person who participated in that survey that lead to the revelation of the current temple changes. Our perspectives matter, and it may just be our responsibility to contribute to the process of revelation by sharing them.
Miriam lives in Madison, Wisconsin, where she’s always looking for excuses to talk and write about theology, human communication, social policy, and social impact entrepreneurship.