The Mormon Church is not a safe space for open discussions. To prove this point, I want to share an experience that I had last year, while I was attending a gospel doctrine class. This was a typical meeting where everyone, including myself, was half paying attention to the instructor. We were discussing the all common topic of modern day revelation. I observed that we were all mentally comatose and numb to our own spiritual drool.
The class started by pointing out what revelation was and in what forms and ways do revelations appear. We talked about personal revelation and modern day revelation.
After about 30 minutes of hearing all of the same points I heard someone across the room share an example of modern-day revelation and they shared that the Family Proclamation was a perfect example of how inspired the Prophet and the 12 Apostles are. It was at this point that I swallowed my spittle and allowed my eyes to refocus.
Why? Well, I personally am torn by this document. Although the Family Proclamation is a wonderful document, it in my mind is concerning and really isn’t a good example of modern day revelation. This document was not written by the Prophet nor the 12 Apostles, it was a result of court cases that involved defining the definition of the family and a world wide family conference that refused to use the word marriage to describe the family unit.
President Boyd K. Packer described the circumstances behind issuing the Proclamation:
The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve issued a proclamation on the family. I can tell you how that came about. They had a world conference on the family sponsored by the United Nations in Beijing, China. We sent representatives. It was not pleasant what they heard. They called another one in Cairo. Some of our people were there. I read the proceedings of that. The word marriage was not mentioned. It was at a conference on the family, but marriage was not even mentioned.
It was then they announced that they were going to have such a conference here in Salt Lake City. Some of us made the recommendation: “They are coming here. We had better proclaim our position.”
This document does clearly state the churches position on the family and the importance of marriage. It does not revel any new doctrines but instead reinforces our stance on the importance of marriage and the traditional roles of women and men. Unfortunately this document is now used by the media and other groups to prove that the Mormon Church and its members hate gays and all that they stand for.
I personally believe strongly in eternal marriage and eternal families but I don’t believe that Jesus would want us closing our doors to anyone. Nor do I think that we have all of the understanding and revelation on this subject.
I do find it perplexing and concerning that the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith and Jesus himself say nothing about eternal marriage and yet we all act like we have receive everything on the matter.
I completely understand what the bible says about gay relationships but is that doctrine or culture? If this is doctrine then are women suppose to keep quite in the church and just cover their heads?
Also according to Mormon beliefs, any relationship outside an eternal and everlasting relationship is a sinful relationship because only eternal relationships are divine and godly relationships. So are we to shun and ostracize all couples that marry outside the temple? Same goes for those who never marry or are single. We don’t do this today nor should we.
I’m not saying that I think the temple should or would ever have gay marriage ceremonies. I do feel strongly that they have a role and place at church and we should not hold up the Proclamation of the Family as a club to beat them out of our Church. We need to find a way to bring them into the church for they also have divine heritage.
Voice of Decent
So in this Gospel Doctrine class I raised my hand and made a challenging comment because I wanted to truly discuss the concern.
“Is the Proclamation to the Family considered revelation or should we consider it like the creeds of old?”
Well as you can imagine I caught the attention of the entire class. Nearly all of the class actually looked away from their glowing screens long enough to see who made that comment. What soon followed was a slew of one-sided dogmatic opinions. “Well the Prophet signed it and it was sent to all the church so of course it is revelation.” So in other words “Well duh!”
But to my surprise there was one member who also sat in the very back who raised his hand and made a very astute observation. “Not everything that a prophet says is doctrine or revelation. Look at blacks and the priesthood. We really messed that one up didn’t we.”
This thought-provoking comment gave me hope. Hope that I was not the only person in the room that was willing and able to ask a truly meaningful question and get a truly profound discussion on what revelation is and how it is not infallible and can even be wrong.
Unfortunately my glimmer of hope was quickly dashed when my phone received a multitude of messages from my loving and red faced wife. She was completely embarrassed by my question and wanted to make sure I knew it.
She exclaimed, “Dumb comment Seth! Please don’t embarrass me with dumb comments that everyone already knows the answer too. You are not being philosophical. Lisa (My wife’s Best Friend) agrees you were trying to be challenging and antagonistic in such a immature stupid way.”
I sat there frustrated and burdened with the painful situation of wanting to engage in the lesson but not wanting to offending my wife.
However, I couldn’t help myself and had to ask a follow up question to brother to the brother in the back. “I wonder why we canonized the Official Declaration 2 but haven’t canonized the Family Proclamation?”
Once again the room erupted with reinforcing comments. “If we canonized everything the prophet says then we would have volumes of scriptures.”
I wanted to challenge and ask a follow up question, “Is everything that the prophet says considered revelation and worthy of becoming scripture?”
But once again I was cut off by my loving and completely mortified wife, “You need to knock it off. You are not being thought provoking when you ask those kind of dumb questions. Everyone that answered the question you already knew the answer to was trying to bring the spirit back into the room and both Lisa and I could tell they were annoyed with you.”
I conceded and decided to refrain from further participation. It was obvious my comments were not appreciated.
Yeah there is a part of me that admits I was being selfish because I wanted to actually engage in a true discussion. I wanted to hear everyone views and opposing opinions even if they were all one-sided. But I also realize that the current format of Sunday School does not create a safe space for those that have either opposing views or challenging questions that doing have neat and pretty bows tied around them.
I pray that the church would change the format for gospel doctrine. I wish the format challenged every point and counter point and encouraged each lay member to now only have their own opinions but to also allow them to vocalize those opinions and create a safe space to do so.
If I could go back to that lesson, and was given the opportunity to teach the lesson in this new format, it would have gone something like this.
I would start with a brief introduction and explain that I’m not a teacher but a moderator and facilitator. It is my sole responsibility to moderate and help facilitate today’s discussion. I’m not the smartest and most spiritual one in the room but the class as a whole is.
I would write our topic on the board and circle it. But instead of giving an object lesson or some other attention getting example I would explain that this class is a safe space and that opposing views are not only warranted but perfectly normal. I would talk about agency and how agency is the keystone of the plan of salvation. I would also explain how important it is for each and every one of us has made covenants to bear own another’s burdens and to exercise it an not let is shrink and atrophy.
I would say something like, “Each and everyone of you are given the gift of agency and have the been given the right to interpret the scriptures and the doctrine of the church as the holy ghosts testifies to you. I affirm that we claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”
Then I would take out my tool belt and I would break down and take apart the topic we were meant to truly discuss. I would deconstruct every point that was made and examine it, turning it over until every comment angle was observed.
I would say something like, “So if I understand you correctly, every time the prophet speaks, that is revelation?” Then let the class agree or disagree. If the majority of the class agrees then I would take the opposite view point and challenge that assumption because their will be a silent minority that will not agree and their voice needs to be heard and represented.
I would then give an example of a time that a prophet who didn’t conform to their elementary answer and ask the class to use their phones to find other examples.
Once we exhausted and have come to a very gray consensus around when is revelation a revelation we would move on to the next aspect that we should uncover and inspect.
After breaking the main topic down completely, we would then begin to put it all back together and see if it looked exactly the way it did before. Only in this kind of format can we truly have safe and open discussions about the gospel and what it means to have the fullness of the gospel.
To conclude the lesson I would thank the class for their participation and willingness to be vulnerable and share their testimonies with each other. I would then admonish the class to ponder and to pray about the topic and allow the Holy Ghost to continue to testify of truth in every part is their lives.
If every Sunday was like that, I would not only think about church all week long, but I would pine for it unceasingly.
I pray for our leaders to not only be inspired to see that the current teaching format is an unfulfilling spiritual snack. I pray that they will have the vision and revelation to know how to change the format so that every week we are strengthened by a Thanksgiving feast.
This is my prayer Amen.