Okay, I admit my timing could have been better.
This past Saturday morning, the first day of April Conference, I posted an entry on this blog wherein I announced that I would no longer be tuning in for LDS General Conference. (If you missed it, you can read that entry here.)
I concluded in that article that for me, conference had become dull and tedious, and had failed consistently to provide what most of us assume was its primary purpose; that is, the provision of new revelation directly from the heart and mind of God.
I felt it was time to admit that after some fifty years of watching General Conference, I have never heard nor witnessed a prophet or apostle deliver to the Saints anything resembling an actual revelation. What I felt I was getting was mostly pedantic lectures on the same recycled topics.
Apparently these musings of mine hit on something a lot of other latter-day Saints had been thinking. The comment section at Pure Mormonism began receiving letters expressing agreement, and my email box filled with notes from others similarly dissatisfied with their conference experience. Strangers re-posted my article on Facebook and RSS feeds, and it was discussed on other Mormon-themed message boards. By late that night more than a thousand people had visited this site.
That was on Saturday. By Sunday afternoon I was beginning to hear rumbles of disapproval over what was being seen by some as a blasphemous screed.
So what had happened between Saturday and Sunday?
Easter. That’s what happened. This year general conference fell on Easter.
By all reports (I wasn’t watching, remember), the Easter Sunday sessions were filled with inspiring testimonies of love and appreciation for the atoning sacrifice of the Savior. Any faithful member coming off of that emotional high and then faced with my flippant philippic would be understandably unsettled.
So before you begin selecting stones to lob my way, I’d like the opportunity to confront my accusers.
Allow me once more to clarify: I do not oppose general conference. I don’t wish it to disappear or to have it done away with. I thought I made clear that I think conference still contains much that is valid and useful. I do not deny that at times the speakers are inspired, especially when they are testifying of the Messiah.
I take a back seat to no one in my love and admiration for Jesus, and yes, I can tell when the spirit is communicating to me through another person. I fully appreciate when Church leaders remind me of the infinite love of Christ. I am as inspired and moved by such sermons as you are.
How I Spent My Easter Vacation
As on Christmas eve, Easter Sunday at our home is a day devoted to remembrance of the Lord. Connie and I long ago forswore the sugary trappings of the holiday. We don’t wake up to chocolate bunnies or marshmallow peeps at our house Easter morning.
We usually like to get in a devotional mood by watching one of the classic movies on the life of Christ, and in recent years we have been particularly moved by Mel Gibson’s The Passion Of The Christ. (Incidentally, if you are one of those Mormons who refuses to see this inspiring picture only because it is rated R, I encourage you to use the brain God gave you and stop living in a world of rumor and illusion.)
As I stated previously, Easter is a perfect time to listen to Cleon Skousen’s classic talk on The Atonement, and Connie and I listened to it together.
It isn’t often that general conference falls directly on Easter Sunday, and I rather regret that we did not tune in to hear the talks about the Savior. I’m sure it would have enhanced our Easter experience.
However, none of this diminishes my assertion that in a general sense, general conference is no longer what we long expected it to be. I still don’t see any reason to look forward to conference with breathless anticipation as if that event provides us with something we can get nowhere else. It is still bloated with filler.
A friend of mine who goes by the name of Infinite Bob wrote to caution me about being prideful and dropped this unreferenced bombshell: “Thus Saith the Lord: ‘The current leadership of the church IS divinely inspired.’”
I wish that when he wrote that, he had provided the source of that quote. I have been looking for such an affirmation from God for many, many years.
Let Me Say This About That
Please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t dispute anyone’s belief that the leadership is often inspired. I have witnessed inspiration in some of these men myself. What I was lamenting in my article had nothing to do with inspiration; I was lamenting the dearth of revelation of the kind that as a missionary, I taught my investigators was inherent in our Church. Revelation is an entirely different thing from inspiration. To borrow a phrase from Mark Twain, it is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.
To be sure, revelation is alive and well within the broad church membership. The Holy Ghost still operates within us all individually.
But amidst the plethora of personal revelation among the members of Christ's body, there is a clear paucity of institutional revelation, by which I mean any direct message from God to the body of the church as a whole, or even to the nation and world as was common with prophets of old.
To insist that this kind of revelation occurs all around us is to deny reality as well as the words of the ancient Prophets -and of Christ Himself- who sent us these warnings in an attempt to wake us to the possibility that all may not be particularly well in Zion. If something is amiss, the first step in restoring ourselves to God's good graces is to recognize that the Church as a people, and as an institution, may be in need of repentance.
This recognition of our collective failings requires humility. Humility does not come from continuing to insist we follow blind authority. That would be a definition of prideful traditions.
There are some who have insisted that listening carefully to every conference session results in substantial gains for them personally. I do not doubt that, and I appreciate such testimonies. I would never presume to question how others derive their spiritual sustenance. It’s certainly not my desire to steer anyone away from watching conference if that is their pleasure.
My position was simply that conference no longer works for me as a vessel for the promised meat of the gospel, and that it hasn't met those needs for some time. I further went on to posit some of the reasons why I thought that might be so.
Your experience may be entirely different from mine. But you ought not to claim that everything is the same as it always has been in the Church when it actually isn’t.
The following three statements were entered in my comment section by an anonymous reader. I feel they deserve a response:
First, this member quotes the following scripture as though it settles the question: “D&C 68:4 ‘And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.’"
If we took the meaning from this passage that the writer seems to attribute to it, the Church would be in chaos, for we would have to accept that every guy with the priesthood was the mouthpiece of the Lord at all times.
This early revelation was directed at four specifically named individuals who were about to embark on a mission to proclaim the newly restored gospel before crowds that would almost certainly be hostile. The Lord states in verse 2 that this is to be an example to all who have been ordained to the priesthood. When I was in the Mission Training Center we were taught that this passage could pertain to all of us.
Does this mean that every time I taught a discussion or related the story of the first vision that I would be “the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation?”
You simply can’t overlook that qualifying phrase “when moved upon by the Holy Ghost”.
That clause is key.
It has been my observation that when one is moved upon by the Holy Ghost, it is usually sudden, unexpected, and rare. It is a strong and unmistakable experience, and it doesn’t always occur semi-annually on schedule. That term “moved upon” implies that something powerful is taking place beyond one's own control.
So here’s what we get to ask ourselves. Do we believe that every time a Church officeholder reads his talk off the Teleprompter that he is “moved upon by the Holy Ghost”?
More importantly, does God want us to believe that?
There’s really only one way to know, and that is if the listener is completely in tune with the Holy Ghost himself. It is not enough merely to assume from a man's title that he is speaking “the word of the Lord” in “the voice of the Lord”. It is a lazy latter-day Saint who is content to assume that every heartwarming story and bit of folksy counsel uttered from the pulpit also comes directly from the mouth of the Almighty.
Better we should listen to Nephi’s advice and allow the Holy Ghost confirm it. Constantly. Every single time.
The writer continues: “God's servants do not have to declare their words to be revelation in order for them to be revelation.”
Well, yes they do. They may not necessarily have to use the precise words “thus saith the Lord”, but it’s usually some variant, such as “the Word of the Lord to Amos...” Or “Now hear the word of the Lord...”, or “hearken , O ye people of my church, saith the voice of him who dwells on high...”, or even “here’s something God told me to tell you you good folks.” Without some declaratory preface, how are we supposed to know it’s an actual revelation?
This writer adds, “I'm watching conference right now, and these talks are dripping with inspiration, revelation, and apostolic testimony.”
Inspiration and apostolic testimony, I have no doubt. But I have heard nothing about any new revelation.
Folks, we have to get over this syllogistic thinking. Syllogisms by their very nature lead to false conclusions, and this one is a doozy:
All revelation is inspired.
Conference talks contain inspiration.
Therefore, all conference talks are revelations.
You have been given the gift of the Holy Ghost for a reason, people. Learn to use your powers of discernment.
Is It Or Isn’t It?
In my essay I presented J. J. Dewey defining revelation as “something previously unknown,” a definition which one of my readers flatly rejected.
“That isn't the definition of revelation”, she insisted, “Revelation is communication from God and His spokesmen, regardless of whether or not we already knew it.”
“Find a revelatory source for your definition,” she demanded.
This reader would have done me a favor if she had provided scriptural evidence supporting her own contention rather than demand that I prove the obvious.
The word "revelation" does indeed pertain to making something known that was heretofore unknown or covered up. “By revelation He made known to me the mystery”, Paul told the Church at Ephesus. Revelation is derived from the word "reveal" which comes to us from the Latin word for "unveil", which means "to uncover".
I disagree with the reader’s claim that revelation is "communication from God and his spokesmen". It is communication from God through his spokesmen. All divine revelation originates with God; His spokesmen are not His equals, and cannot make up the revelations they impart to us. If the thoughts are their own they are not revelations, they are opinions. How many times did Paul himself make that clear?
When defining terms commonly used by the Prophet Joseph, I find it helpful to confirm their meanings as they were understood in his day. According to Webster’s 1828 edition (America’s first dictionary, and the prevailing authority in Joseph Smith’s time), revelation is “the act of disclosing or discovering to others what was before unknown to them.
The first English lexicographer, Samuel Johnson, defined revelation in 1755 as “communication of sacred and mysterious truths by a teacher from heaven.” All the major commentaries contain similar descriptions.
If you can read Dewey’s careful explication regarding what is and what is not revelation, and still come away without any understanding of the differences, then I submit that you have chosen to remain in deliberate ignorance. Don't forget that Brigham Young prophesied that the day would come when "this church will be led onto the very brink of hell by the leaders of this people." I wouldn't want to take it all for granted, would you?
How can we boast to the world that modern revelations are everywhere, but when asked for an example we cannot find even one?
“And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie.” (2 Thess 2:11) In other words, “You want to keep fooling yourselves? Have it your way.”
Another reader wrote that I should not be looking for novelty in the words of the leaders and insisted that "revelation can be quite mundane".
I would suggest that if you are hearing something mundane, what you are hearing is not a revelation. You’re probably listening to a conference talk.