Monday, December 8, 2008

Wading Through Cultural Waters

What is the difference between culture, tradition and doctrine? A simple enough question with a seemingly simple enough answer - seemingly.

For me, it's to a point where I can't even be certain where one ends and the other begins.

I've found comfort in the past in the thought that with our general authorities, the line is rather clear. I prefer to think and hope it's the members who make it a game of sorts to interpret as they will, to create boundaries where there were none before, to make requirements of things and complicate ideas to the point of no return.

Perhaps this is why we're so stuck on the basics so much. Prayer, scriptures: we all know the Primary answers. It's a way of keeping to the simplicity of the Gospel, right?

I'll tell you what, though: if allowed, I'd totally ban those answers from anything outside Primary. They've become empty and meaningless. Dare I say they hold the same power as the oft repeated "I know this Church is true." Where's the meat behind that? I can pray and have it mean nothing. Nothing. I can be a robot and say and do all the things I'm supposed to - but I won't. Not anymore.


We need to get back to the real basics. Love the Lord thy God. Love thy neighbor as thyself. The Sermon on the Mount.


I love context and digging deep just as much as the next person, but c'mon.

Is it really all or nothing? There is an understandable perception that that's how the Church works. It says jump, you say how high. It says donate as much of your means and time as you are able in support of an issue you cannot stand, and you shove everything aside - everything, no matter what - and do what your leaders ask. No prayer needed when the Prophet speaks.

Follow the prophet, follow the prophet, follow the prophet, he knows the way!

Well, he hasn't necessarily had the clearest of eyes and deepest of perceptions in the past with some issues. The prophet is still a man with his own prejudices, traditions, and ideas that could influence revelation.

It influences ours sometimes, doesn't it? Isn't it sometimes difficult to know the difference between our enthusiasm and the Spirit? Or our own stubbornness for stupor of thought?

One person told me I shouldn't pray for my own answer because the Prophet gave it for me. Those weren't her words verbatim, but that was the message. The Prophet said, so we do. We can trust him.

"The Prophet will never lead us astray."

I'm sorry, but I can't help but think those are some of the most dangerous words uttered in recent times.

Even the Prophet would tell us, I would hope, that we can receive different answers than he'll get. The more cynical say the Church allowed in-house dissenting opinions regarding Prop 8 because they had to in order to diffuse any assertion that our votes were being effectively forced.

I hope that's not the case.

When the Saints followed Brigham Young West, Emma Smith chose to stay behind. Brigham and Emma didn't get along, to say the least - and many Saints criticize her for staying.

Do you?

I don't. I don't know her or her heart nearly well enough.

But is this idea of being one with the church so much that it trumps any personal revelation you may get doctrine or culture?

Million dollar question of the day.


max said...

Million dollar question of a lifetime.

I agree that the interpretation of of Wilford Woodruff preaching "the Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as president of the Church to lead you astray" has created a dangerous type of obedience church members. It's dangerous because it can fuel the "it's either all true or all false" dichotomy and can inhibit both discernment and spiritual growth.

General authorities can make mistakes in policy and doctrine, but we can still believe they aren't "leading the church astray," as in they aren't leading the church down to hell or in some totally wrong direction.

In a way, this puts more weight on our individual shoulders. While that may not be a relief, I'm not sure it's a bad thing.

illogically logical said...

I think when it comes to doctrine the prophet and the other leaders of the church won't lead us astray. I have total faith in that. It doesn't mean that everyone else has to or should. We are all different.

When it comes to prop 8, for reasons of my own, I stand with the prophet. (hopefully no one will harp on that and start a whole different discussion. We all have a right to our own opinions). But I think that every person involved with it, whether they agreed or disagreed had every right and reason to pray about it and really decide where they stand. The Lord knows each of us individually. It's not a one size fits all church. We always have to pray for our own answers.

When it came to my involvement in prop 8, I prayed about it and found my own conclusion. I didn't donate money, I didn't make phone calls, I didn't go door-to-door, and I didn't wave signs on street corners. That wasn't the part that I was supposed to play. I contributed in my own way, even though it was a very small way, but after much prayer I feel like it was what I was supposed to do.

The prophet leads and guides us, but we all are supposed to take that under advisement and then communicate with Lord to see how that applies to us. That is why Emma felt ok about not going with the Saints out West. That is why some Mormons didn't support prop 8. That is why even though I supported prop 8, I don't judge those who didn't. We are all entitled to our own answers through the spirit and not every persons answers will be the same.

L-D Sus said...

Thanks for sharing.

Follow the Sermon on the Mount...I hear ya.

Different people getting different answers to the same question? Happens all the time. But what does that mean about people and what does it mean about the Lord? Hmmmmm. Something more for me to think about.

illogically logical said...

One thing that I forgot to say, and L-D sus reminded me of, is that sometimes we only get the answer that we want because we may not actually be listening to the spirit, or we didn't pray with real intent in the first place.

It's hard to say........

Clean Cut said...

You've hit on the exact question I've been entertaining lately, and even posted about here: Thinking for Yourself and/or Following the Bretheren--A Dichotomy?. However, the case isn't closed, and the conversation needs to continue.

I admire your courage to post on such an important issue and hope that a charitable and insightful discussion can continue. I'm glad you raised the issue. I really like what "Illogically logical" had to say. I'd echo the following statement:

"The prophet leads and guides us, but we all are supposed to take that under advisement and then communicate with Lord to see how that applies to us. That is why Emma felt ok about not going with the Saints out West. That is why some Mormons didn't support prop 8. That is why even though I supported prop 8, I don't judge those who didn't. We are all entitled to our own answers through the spirit and not every persons answers will be the same."

Lisa said...

So glad to know I'm not alone. Can't tell you.

Max: Welcome! Thanks for your comments. And I agree and am okay with having that kind of weight on my shoulders.

illogical: Ah if only more members were like you with Prop 8. I'll echo that last sentiment of yours also (in your first comment)

"sometimes we only get the answer that we want because we may not actually be listening to the spirit, or we didn't pray with real intent in the first place."

That was what I was attempting to get at regarding the prophet's having prejudices and ideas and traditions that predispose them and might make it more difficult for them to receive revelation because, after all, it happens to all of us. It's nothing terrible, it's just part of being human i think.

L-D: Welcome, and yeah. I've been munching on this question for a while now. I wonder if its reconcilable doctrinally.

Clean Cut: Yay! Another new commenter. Welcome.

I'll have to go check out your post definitely. I'm thrilled I'm not the only one thinking about this. It's definitely something that merits intelligent, respectful conversation. I hope, too, that it can continue. I'm sure that even once I move on the subject will come back.

Roland Chambers said...

Thanks for the post Lisa!

I have to agree with you. My understanding is that it's our responsibility to ponder and pray about counsel from the prophet. First, because it is an opportunity to increase our faith and testimony. Second because it's just lazy not to. Unless perhaps you have the spiritual gift of faith, which I believe some people (like my wife) have, and can know right away that the prophet speaks for God and not himself. But "all have not every gift given unto them", and thats the category that I fall into, bless my stubborn heart.

Yet I've had several spiritual experiences from struggling with and praying about counsel the prophet has given us, which has increased my faith. I think obeying the prophet blindly is lazy, dangerous, and wasteful. Also, isnt there more to the scriptures than "the Prophet will never lead us astray"? I think there is some requirement on the part of the members of the church. Would Heavenly Father allow us such a cop out? I think the guy with the easy plan got kicked out of heaven before this whole thing started.

Thanks for a thought provoking thoughts are still provoked.

Kate Edmondson said...

Nephi was told to kill Laban. Abraham was instructed to kill his son. In both of these cases, the Lord asked these men to do something that was against Gospel doctrine. Then were the prophets at the time leading these men astray by teaching not to kill? No. We all have our Abrahamic challenges, and there will often be times in our own life where our faith is challenged by personal revelation. But, that personal revelation trumps everything else. Its scripture for us.

When I receive a personal witness of something and promise with the Lord to follow through, I see that revelation as a covenant as strong and binding as those I made in the temple (and in many ways, much harder to follow, because it often involves going against the grain). I have received revelations that have told me to do things that I perceived to be out of harmony with "church culture," "Mormon culture," "Prophetic revelation," whatever you want to call it. However, every time I have followed through on such a revelation, I have been enormously blessed, both temporally and spiritually.

I think the key is something that you remarked on in an early post, Lisa - that the Prophet teaches principles, but there are going to be exceptions. Principles need to be there for everyone, but as we grow in faith we are naturally going to come to challenges that challenge and/or threaten those principles. The key there is being able to discern between your own voice and that of the Lord. Its not always an obvious call :-)

miyy4u said...

Hm. You raise an interesting question, but I hope you won't take offense at some counterpoints.

Foundational to the restored gospel are a few, basic notions:
1. There is a God, our Heavenly Father, and he is omniscient.
2. There is a truth, constant and independent of all the circumstances and perspectives.
3. There is a true church, headed by God's chosen representatives on earth, put in place to guide us and help us overcome our circumstances and perspectives to know that truth.

While it is true that a prophet and president of the Church is mortal and imperfect (and therefore also subject to his own perspective and circumstances), the nature of his calling--out of all the possible people who could have been called--is that an omniscient Heavenly Father chose him to be a prophet at that time and to lead His people aright.

Discerning between "personal revelation" and my own strongly held and well thought out opinions creeping in is a constant challenge for me. The older I get (I should say, "As I grow in faith", because this isn't always a chronological progression), the better I get at this, by small degrees. As this process continues, I find that many dearly held positions/beliefs need to be jettisoned. They were things that I generally felt to have been confirmed to me by the Spirit, though I probably wouldn't have dared to voice it that way. But they weren't. I was wrong.

Here's the real trick about it: so far, I've never had one of those experiences where I discovered that the prophet was wrong. Hasn't happened yet. Somehow, I suspect that it never will. Call me a zealot, call me a kool-aide drinker, call me what you like... All I can say is that my most rewarding experiences have come from accepting on faith something I found completely wrong-headed--and even repugnant--and later having my faith confirmed and gaining understanding. In retrospect, I am now actually embarrassed by some of those dearly-held positions.

You said something in your post that I found kind of telling, though it is quite possible that I am actually misinterpreting it entirely. If I am, please forgive me. You paraphrased a friend of yours as saying that you didn't need to pray for an answer because the Prophet had already received an answer for you. You then admitted that this is not what they said, but "that's the message". I ask you now: was it really the message?

I don't know what that friend actually did or did not say to you, but I would hope that nobody (however narrow-minded) would say something to you so patently false. Perhaps, however, what your friend was trying to express to you was the notion that if the Prophet says one thing, and your personal revelation directly contradicts that in a way that can't be reconciled by personal circumstances, then one of you is mistaken because both are claiming an infallible source.

The examples cited by Katie of Nephi killing Laban, etc. don't really hold up against this and I think it's pretty obvious why. The Lord doesn't want us taking lives by our own choice, but he reserves the right to do that himself or command us to do it for him. Concerning Proposition 8, why would the Lord command most of the Church to oppose it, but a few select people to support it? It's nonsensical and it doesn't hold up. Proposition 8 is a good thing, or it is not. The First Presidency is right, or Steve Young is.

To deny this dichotomy (Max's word, and one I embrace) is to deny the very essence of what makes us Latter-day Saints and not Protestants. There is a truth, and it isn't different for different people. There's a lot of cultural haze that drifts through "Mormonism" with its funeral potatoes and aw-shucks traditionalism, but when a thoughtful, prayerful declaration arrives with three (or fifteen) signatures, it becomes something a bit different. They met together in the upper room of the Temple as a quorum and prayerfully considered this with the utmost gravity and circumspect attention.

Either you believe that those fifteen men are some of the very best (though still imperfect) men on the planet, hand-picked by God himself specifically for the purpose of not leading us astray, or you don't. Either you believe that a loving Heavenly Father will compensate and cover for their weaknesses in order to lead His Church aright, or you believe that they are merely good men trying their best with the available light... just like any other church.

Having said all of the above, I want to clear something up: I don't judge Steve Young or anybody else for that matter on how well they follow the Prophet. We're all on a path of growing faith and none of us is in a position to be able to judge another's situation. Really, what I'm saying is that I am that person. I have not been perfectly obedient. I have not always sustained the Prophet as I should with my actions, which counts a whole lot more than words. I'm trying to, though. Every five years, I feel like I need to go back and apologize to everybody I know for the previous five years: everything I thought, said, or did. This is the essence of the Gospel and the essence of a broken heart and a contrite spirit.

That, I think, is the REAL reason why the Church allowed, allows, and will continue to allow "dissenting opinions in-house", as you put it. The doctrine was read from the pulpit and we were invited to raise our hands again in October. Nothing more needs to be said, and there certainly is no call for judging one another. This obviously doesn't qualify for an element of basic worthiness, just like gambling and any number of other issues you are never asked about in a temple recommend interview.

I think the Lord, and His prophet, want us to work this out on our knees and in our personal lives... and experience has taught me that this is a very long process and that the answers don't come formatted nicely for HTML.

illogically logical said...

miyy4u---I love what you said.

Lisa said...

miyy4u: Thank you for a respectful, heartfelt response. It's not often someone will respond to these sorts of things in the way you did.

I think the catching point for me and for others is this:

When you have an experience, an experience you've had before in receiving revelation, and it goes "against the Church"...then what?

I know that sometimes our feelings and predispositions perhaps get in the way when we pray for answers. Trust me when I say in the way of Prop 8 I bowed under the pressure and the feelings of being ripped apart.

I have not always felt this way about gay marriage. Back in 2000 I voted for Prop 22. This was a matter of "this feels wrong. politically, ideally...scripturally wrong...and yet, the Prophet has spoken, right?"

I mulled it over in my heart for months. I searched it out. I prayed. Studied. Talked to people - even my bishop. Once I decided to vote no, it was like a revelation in and of itself.

And that's when I thought "Well, apparently you can receive dissenting revelation."

And that's when I was told I couldn't.

For what reason I did have that experience, I don't know. I'd never had it happen before, though I'd struggled and still do greatly with the doctrine of polygamy. I've been a pretty good girl since I was baptized almost a decade ago ("golden convert" here). I feel at a crossroads.

"You then admitted that this is not what [your friend] said, but "that's the message". I ask you now: was it really the message?"

Yes it was. I've known this girl for ten years now - she's rather strict, overly so at times. I love her to death, but yes her message was we don't have to pray about it when the prophet speaks.

Anyway. That's where I'm at, but thank you for your respect and for your comments. I appreciate you stopping by :D

Lisa said...

Tyson: Can't believe I forgot your comment. my apologies :)

"My understanding is that it's our responsibility to ponder and pray about counsel from the prophet. First, because it is an opportunity to increase our faith and testimony. Second because it's just lazy not to."

My sentiments exactly.

I suppose the question then becomes this: People like to say "Yes, the prophet has spoken, and you can pray about it - But! If your prayers lead you to a different conclusion, than the answer to your prayer is wrong."

Does anyone else see the problem with that? I can see why some think there's no use in praying for themselves when the prophet speaks.

Then there are some who say "pray, but only for confirmation" but again - what if you don't get that?

What if?

It puts you between a rock and a hard place.

Thanks for the comment, and I'm glad you like the new layout :D

L-D Sus said...

I have taken some comfort from this Ensign article by Robert Wood. His counsel is to not let questions get in the way of enjoying and embracing what you do know and love about the gospel and the church. When I manage to apply this counsel it actually helps. Not only does it help me enjoy my church experience, but it opens me up to actually enjoying the process of reconciling my questions.

I wish that asking questions -honest questions- wasn't so taboo. Uncertainty allows us to practice faith.

Thanks for providing a forum.

Clean Cut said...

"I suppose the question then becomes this: People like to say "Yes, the prophet has spoken, and you can pray about it - But! If your prayers lead you to a different conclusion, than the answer to your prayer is wrong."

Again, Lisa, you've hit the nail on the head. That's just not sufficient, is it? This is exactly why I've felt that the time is ripe to raise this question and have a discussion that provides not only a more acceptable, but a better accepted answer(s).

Kengo Biddles said...

I don't feel it's a "Prophet says, I do" life that I lead. I consciously think and reflect and pray about the points that are put forward by the Prophet.

I think that it's the culture that tells us we just have to say, "OKAY!" any time we're told to do something from the pulpit.

We can still get our own testimony of things.

And as for Brigham and Emma, I was at a fireside by Emma's Great-whatever-grandson who had joined the church in Nevada who's now, after a lifetime, heavily involved in reaching out to the estranged family of Joseph's descendants.

He said that really, what happened was that the messengers were the ones who screwed things up between Brigham and Emma, and that misunderstanding and bad blood brought on by the stupidity of others is what drove her to repudiate the church in some ways.

(Did y'all know that she was left holding the bag on ALL the Church's debts, because it was all in Joseph's name before his death?)