An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

I generally avoid my neighborhood (i.e. unofficial Relief Society) book group the months they choose a Mormon-themed book for the same reason I avoid Relief Society—Mormon religious discussions are mostly irrelevant to me now. But, this week I promised Tina, a dissatisfied book group member, that I would show up and suggest her radical ideas for improving the group—1) Don’t choose a book for the group you haven’t personally read, and 2) Don’t insist that book selections be junior high appropriate. Tina, convinced that uttering comments less than 100% positive might affect her standing in the group, wanted me to be her mouthpiece. Since I have no standing in the group—or in our—ward, I agreed.

I showed up 45 minutes late in order to avoid the discussion of Shattered Dreams, the memoir of a polygamist wife, and the ensuing commentary on Church doctrine. Unfortunately, the book discussion had not progressed into the usual neighborhood news exchange as quickly as usual. When I arrived, a lively debate about personal revelation was going strong.

The author believed she had received personal revelation that the doctrine of plural marriage was the key to salvation and that she should join LeBaron’s cult. My neighbors, of course, rejected the idea that her revelation came from God. When I arrived, they were heavily into a debate on how to tell the difference between revelation from God or from Satan.

A good sister related a story from a former prophet, Harold B. Lee as I recall. In this account, a man comes to the prophet and tells him he has received revelation that the Church is wrong about a teaching or policy. The prophet asks the fellow if he prays, fasts, reads the scriptures, attends his meetings, and pays tithing. The man answers no to every question, then the prophet asks how a man who keeps none of these commandments could receive an answer different from Church leaders who keep all the above. The humbled petitioner hangs his head and mutters, “I guess my revelation came from a different source.”

I’m pretty sure I have quoted that story in Relief Society and Sunday School lessons I’ve given over the past 40 years or so, but I no longer find it relevant. Experience has convinced me that most of what we call revelation comes from within. Probably unconsciously, we human beings litmus test ideas by emotional rather than logical criteria. The people who drank the Kool-aid in Jonestown believed they were following God’s will.

Humans have always developed religious practices—eventually codifying them into creeds and churches. I can’t quite picture God, who is no respecter of persons, consulting a checklist of church activity before sending messages to human petitioners.

I made Tina’s suggestions and left. Next month we’re reading The Help which should be safe. I doubt anyone wants to initiate a dialogue regarding past Church racial policies.

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