In a 1997 talk, Elder Gerald Lund spoke of 5 ways you can distinguish between real and counterfeit revelation. For number 5, he stated the following:
5 A person is not given revelation to direct another person unless they have priesthood or family responsibility for that person.
This principle is described by Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as the principle of “stewardship in revelation.” This means that “only the President of the Church receives revelation to guide the entire Church. Only the stake president receives revelation for the special guidance of the stake. The person who receives revelation for the ward is the bishop. … When one person purports to receive revelation for another person outside his or her own area of responsibility … you can be sure that such revelations are not from the Lord” (“Revelation,” New Era,Sept. 1982, 46).
I always found the topic of stewardship and revelation an interesting and somewhat puzzling topic within the LDS church. When this topic is discussed it is usually within the framework that is laid out above: only the President of the Church can receive revelation for the whole church, only the Bishop can receive revelation for the ward, etc. It makes perfect sense that someone in a given calling should receive revelation about organizational decisions related to that calling. However, the question of stewardship and revelation gets a bit trickier when, for example, a Bishop is counceling a member of the ward about personal decisions in her life. Can the Bishop receive revelation for the ward member? Because of the mantle of his calling, is the Bishop privy to revelation about that individual’s life that the individual herself doesn’t have access to? If so, why does God speak to us this way? Why doesn’t God just reveal something directly to the individual instead of revealing it through the Bishop? When I was a missionary, the area authority would visit our mission every few months. Most of the talks that he gave were about specific actions we should do or words we should say in order to get more baptisms. When I had only a couple of weeks left on my mission, the Area Authority came and spoke. He laid out what we all needed to do differently in order to have more success. Later in my apartment, I cried with tears of frustration. I had been working really hard for the last several months without a lot of success. If there was really something I should have been doing differently, why hadn’t God just told me directly?
There are three kinds of stewardship that we commonly talk about within the LDS church: the Bishop’s stewardship over the ward, the husband’s stewardship over the wife, and the parents’ stewardship over their children. I am going to discuss the question of revelation and stewardship within each one of these relationships.
Bishop and Ward Relationship
As I mentioned above, it is assumed that when a Bishop is set apart in his calling he is privy to specific information about how to run the ward that nobody else is privy to. I think most members of the LDS church would agree that this is the case. However, there is the question about whether the Bishop is privy to revelation about an individual’s life that the individual himself is not privy to. Of course this can’t always be the case as individual members pray about and make a wide variety of decisions without consulting the Bishop. Problems in this area seem to arise when the Bishop’s revelation conflicts with an individual member’s revelation about that member’s life. I have heard of cases of individuals praying about a calling that has been extended to them, and feeling inspired that they should not accept the calling. The Bishop then told them that his revelation trumps theirs and thus, they cannot turn down the calling. I have no idea how frequently this has happened (I hope that it is fairly infrequent), but it does illustrate the conflict that is sometimes found between personal revelation and revelation given to a church leader. Another question is whether stewardship and revelation function in the same way for all church callings, or if there is something unique about the Bishop’s calling. It is fairly common that when someone is set apart for a calling, they are blessed that they may receive revelation for that specific calling. But do they also receive revelation for how an individual member should be conducting their personal life? Is the RS president, for example, privy to information about an individual’s life that that individual is not privy to? I admit that when I was growing up I saw stewardship and revelation as uniquely priesthood responsibilities, so I was puzzled about the RS president’s role. Doesn’t she also have stewardship over the sisters in RS? Doesn’t she also receive revelation about or even in some cases for those individuals?
Husband and Wife Relationship
The issue of stewardship and revelation within a marriage is an even more complicated one than that of Bishops and ward members. Growing up in the 1980s, I remember hearing a lot of rhetoric about husbands having stewardships over their families and receiving revelation for their families. The idea, as it was presented to me, was that the husband was privy to revelation that the rest of the family was not privy to. I admit that asking women to covenant to hearken to their husbands makes sense within this framework. However, I was always puzzled by this rhetoric. Couldn’t a wife also receive revelation about her family? How is the revelation that the husband is receiving different from the revelation that the wife is receiving? In my mind, I saw two possible models for this chain of revelation. One is a straight line in which God tells the husband something and then the husband tells the wife. There is plenty of support within the temple ceremony for this model. However, the other model is that of a triangle, in which God talks to both husband and wife and they also talk to each other. This model makes a lot more sense to me and there is plenty of rhetoric within the current church to support it. Anecdotally, a lot of younger members of the church seem to think that husbands and wives receive the same revelation from God instead of a chain of revelation. Do you think the two models (of a line and of a triangle) are incompatible? What are the advantages and disadvantages to each model? As a side note, I have heard plenty of arguments that it is not problematic to ask the wife to follow the husband because we all have stewards over us that we must follow (such as the husband following the Bishop). However, to me it is a lot different to ask the wife to follow the husband than it is to ask the husband to follow the Bishop. First of all, living with someone who has stewardship over you and with whom you make a wide variety of decisions (from the mundane to the very important) is very different than following a Bishop. The Bishop is just not going to have the same level of involvement in your life and thus, is going to give you a lot less direction than a spouse would. Secondly, while all members are asked to follow the Bishop and Stake President etc, women always have an extra layer of command over them. What is the justification for this extra layer? Furthermore, while these other stewardships dissolve after we die, the stewardship of husband over wife remains throughout eternity.
Parent and Child Relationship
I think that most members of the church would agree that parents can receive revelation about how to raise and guide their children. However, similar to the relationship between Bishops and ward members, there is the question of when personal revelation trumps parental revelation. Hopefully as the child grows, they will depend more and more on their personal revelation and less on the revelation that their parents receive for them. But there are sure to be a number of times that the parents will feel strongly about something and the child feels differently. Whose revelation trumps in this case? There is also the question of when the parents’ unique access to revelation for their child ends. Unlike being released from a calling, parents remain parents their entire lives. However, they are (hopefully) not going to have the same level of involvement in their adult child’s life as they did when the child was young. For daughters, we tend to think of the stewardship ending when they get married. The idea is that they move from their father’s to their husband’s stewardship. However, what about women who never marry or marry much later in life? Are they under their father’s stewardship all of that time and does the nature of that stewardship change based on the age and maturity of the child? What about sons? When do they move out of their father’s stewardship? When they marry? Or when they receive the Melchizedek Priesthood? And why is it that men become their own stewards when they grow up while women move from being under one steward to being under another?
When the System is Broken
I don’t know that we have clear doctrinal answers to the questions I raised above. There is definitely a fuzziness to what stewardship means as well as when one person’s revelation should trump another. There are even more questions that arise when you think of individual circumstances that don’t fit within the model. For example, what if you don’t have a righteous Bishop? In that case, one would hope that someone higher up would feel inspired to release him, but that isn’t always the case. It gets even trickier when you think of issues of parenthood and marriage. What if you don’t have righteous parents or don’t have a Priesthood holding father? For women, what if you don’t have a righteous husband or what if you never marry? In the cases where the steward is not in tune to revelation, does God start telling things directly to you? Is an unmarried adult woman her own steward? Is she privy to certain information in that role? And does she lose access to that information when she marries?
Now I will turn it over to you. How do you think stewardships and revelation function within the LDS church? Do you see contradictions in how these issues are discussed? Do you think the rhetoric surrounding these issues has changed over time? How so?