Revelation that Calls for Others to Sacrifice

One of the many, many things I find troubling about D&C 132 is that it’s a revelation in which the recipient is put in a privileged position vis-à-vis significant others his life; in this case, his wife. In it, Joseph is promised all kinds of blessings. To be fair, Emma is as well—but only if she’ll swallow the bitter pill of Joseph taking other wives. Otherwise, she’s warned, she’ll be destroyed.

In general, I think we’re rightly suspicious when people get revelations which are advantageous to them at the expense of others. If I get a revelation that my sister Melyngoch needs to bake me a lot of pies, she might rightly wonder about the source of my revelation. Somewhat more seriously, if a man gets a revelation that his wife needs to be more obedient—something I have in fact encountered, alas—I think that’s worth questioning. If sacrifices are to be made and difficult things are to be done, it’s much more plausible if that revelation comes to people directly.

What makes this tricky at times, I realize, is the issue of stewardship. Latter-day Saints generally believe that a person can get revelation for those under their stewardship—parents for children, a bishop for his ward, the prophet for the entire church. And yet. Would it raise eyebrows if a bishop consistently got revelation for his ward that was painful counsel for them to follow, but didn’t affect him personally? I’m not saying that couldn’t be authentic revelation—I can imagine situations in which it might well be. But I think revelation, especially revelation that calls for hard things, is generally more credible when it comes through someone who is affected by it—not privileged by it.

You probably know where I’m going with this. I think one of the things that makes it harder to accept what the General Authorities have to say about gender and sexual orientation is that it doesn’t hit them personally. There’s a difference between saying, we as a church need to do better, with reading the Book of Mormon, being less prideful, loving our neighbor, and so forth—and saying, you particular group of people need to do an especially difficult thing that doesn’t apply to us. I want to be careful, because I do realize that given our understanding of stewardship, that’s the only way the message can be relayed. I’m not saying that straight white men can’t get revelation for a more diverse group of people, if that’s the responsibility they have. But because the process of getting revelation is murky for all of us and mediated through our own life experience and culture, I think it’s legitimate for those who are getting hit the hardest by it to speak up, to make sure church leaders know about their situation and just what this is doing to them. There are those who will say, of course the leaders know, but I’m not convinced this is always the case.

But setting aside the issue of revelation to church leaders, I think this is particularly applicable to the way in which we treat each other. I’ve seen far too many people talk glibly about wheat and tares in a way that dismisses the experience of those who are actually getting affected by something. It’s easy to talk about following the Brethren and hold yourself up as a model of obedience when you’re not actually the one dealing with the consequences of a church decision. To give a minor example: if you’re a woman with two pairs of earrings and you hear that you’re supposed to take one out and you decide to follow that counsel, I respect that. But if I hear men bear testimony of how important it is for women to wear one pair of earrings, I’m going to be a little annoyed.

And on a much more serious and larger issue, hearing people who aren’t affected by the latest church policies related to gay couples talk about how amazing and important these policies are, to the point sometimes of saying that those who disagree shouldn’t be involved in the church anyway—that’s hard to swallow. Again, if you’re going to support the church, I can respect that. But I respect it a whole lot more if you show evidence that you’ve really grappled with the painful effects this is having. There are those who’ve dismissed this whole affair as overblown, a tempest in teapot. But if you’ve encountered the very real despair and hopelessness that this has produced for so many, you probably find it harder to make that case.

It’s true that not all LGBTQ members are opposed to the church’s recent decisions. But from what I’ve seen, the vast majority of them—those who are directly affected by this policy—have serious reservations about it. That’s a mild way of putting it, actually; it’s a community that is completely devastated. And I’m asking, seriously, what do we make of that, when the people who are actually affected by a policy find it so incredibly hurtful—and the ones who are preaching its virtues, are on the whole not the ones affected by it? As a gay Mormon, I find myself wondering—do our voices matter at all? As John Adams sings in 1776: “Is anybody there? Does anybody care?”

12 comments

  1. Why are you assuming none of the apostles are LGBTQIetc? If those concepts mean anything real, then it’s perfectly possible for people to be affected who don’t choose to build their public identity or outward appearance around it. The pressure for everyone to be “out” or tormented if they aren’t is awfully new compared to the age of the apostles.




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  2. Anonymous, that’s fair; in fact, the odds are that we have or have had LGBTQ apostles. But if that’s the case, they’ve opted to be closeted and/or in mixed-orientation marriages, so the policies they’re implementing wouldn’t affect them.




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  3. “The pressure for everyone to be “out” or tormented if they aren’t is awfully new compared to the age of the apostles.”

    Also, I’m not persuaded that the psychological stress of being LGBTQ only arises from a cultural narrative that tells people that they’re supposed to be “tormented.” The pressure of living in a society in which being LGBTQ is non-normative is inevitably going to impact people—maybe even more so if they’re the age of the apostles, in fact, because the culture they grew up in was more rejecting.




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  4. Lynnette, I think this is a very important point. I have heard people say–in reference to LGBT individuals having to live without an intimate companion–that we all have crosses to bear; life is hard for everyone.

    But this situation is different from most other crosses I can think of. The source of the cross is a commandment (rather than chance or misfortune or sin), the commandment only applies to LGBT individuals, and the commandment is being given by people who are not affected by it.

    I can understand that many people believe the commandment comes from God, but given the conditions I described, and given our long societal history of prejudice against and even persecution of LGBT individuals, I believe this commandment deserves careful scrutiny and continuous evaluation by our leaders, because maybe we got it wrong.

    Anyway, I hope they keep asking for further light and knowledge.




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  5. This is such an excellent point you make, Lynnette. The issue I’m reminded of where it comes up is with Church leaders’ apparent lack of interest in Heavenly Mother and women’s place in the next life. They’re men, so it’s not an active concern for them to work out what the next life will look like for them. They already have a pretty good idea. The best example of this I can think of is President Hinckley’s talk “Daughters of God,” where he addresses a teenage girl who wrote to President Benson with concerns about women’s place in the scriptures, the Church, and the afterlife. President Hinckley says a lot about how he’s sure it will all be fine, and is pretty much dismissive of the girls’ concerns. He says things like “I am satisfied that . . .” and “I am confident that . . .” It’s not surprising. He’s a man. It’s not how he’ll spend eternity that an open question. Of course he’s okay accepting vague thoughts about women as comforting enough. He doesn’t have skin in the game.

    His dismissiveness gets echoed down at the rank-and-file level too. Lots of men on the blogs just wave their hands at the question of Heavenly Mother or treat discussions of her as an interesting intellectual exercise. This problem is explained so well by Cynthia L. in a comment here at ZD last month:

    Yet I get white hot rage when others (cough*male theology scholars*cough) seem blase about the existence of a Mother, or approach the debate about whether a search of the LDS historical record yields enough evidence to conclusively support Her existence with a casual, semi-detached, intellectualizing air.

    It matters to me because of what you said in #1. I don’t care about Heavenly Mother for Her sake, but for mine. The discussion about HM is important because I need to know if when I die I just go into the void like the atheists believe, or whether women exist in the afterlife. If we believe that earth life is boot camp training for exaltation, which means becoming deity (with a physical body) with your own planet, and there is no evidence in the temple film that women participate in those exalted activities of creation, and only flimsy evidence in the historical record, then we aren’t really sure if women have a path forward post-mortality. Then we aren’t really sure if I am a full human, because full humans (men) are agents for the purpose of that boot camp training. You know who else’s post-mortal existence we have only scattered evidence and authority quotations to support? Our beloved pet dogs and cats.

    Tangentially, this also reminds me of politicians who pass laws that carefully carve out space for them (the politicians) as an exception. The (American) Do Not Call list is a great example. If you put your phone number in the database, businesses aren’t supposed to call you unless they have an existing relationship with you. Oh, but of course it’s okay for politicians to call you whenever they want about their oh-so-important campaigning. We can’t limit that! It would be un-American!




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  6. “hearing people who aren’t affected by the latest church policies related to gay couples talk about how amazing and important these policies are, to the point sometimes of saying that those who disagree shouldn’t be involved in the church anyway—that’s hard to swallow. Again, if you’re going to support the church, I can respect that. But I respect it a whole lot more if you show evidence that you’ve really grappled with the painful effects this is having. There are those who’ve dismissed this whole affair as overblown, a tempest in teapot. But if you’ve encountered the very real despair and hopelessness that this has produced for so many, you probably find it harder to make that case.”

    Yes. All of this. I 100% agree with your thoughts here and appreciate your willingness to share these truths.




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  7. The gospel calls each one of into a life of sacrifice. Indeed, at some point(s) along the way we will — all of us — be challenged to sacrifice everything. And as long as those challenges are coming through proper channels then it falls on each one of us to do our best to rise to the task. Some sacrifices may seem unfair or unbalanced. But we need to remember that God knows His people and will tailor our individual sacrifices in such a way that they will tug at our very heartstrings.




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  8. Jack,
    According to LDS doctrine I don’t have to sacrifice everything. Yes I have to sacrifice alot (sin, riches, selfishness) but I don’t have to sacrifice my marriage and my family. In fact, if my husband is righteous I believe LDS doctrine would consider it a sin to sacrifice my marriage. So no, we are not all called to sacrifice everything. Only some are.




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  9. “But I respect it a whole lot more if you show evidence that you’ve really grappled with the painful effects this is having.”

    What would you consider to be acceptable evidence of that understanding?

    Seriously, in so many of these exchanges the statement is made that we should NOT support it if we are true Christians or whatever.

    Can you please point to an example or give some ideas on how to show evidence of understanding the painful effects, while still declining to oppose the policy?




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  10. Jack, I find that too often the people who preach about the need to sacrifice everything are the ones who don’t actually have to sacrifice everything–at least, not their belief that they are a person in the eyes of God, and not their chance at an intimate relationship with someone to whom they are sexually attracted. I think it’s unfair to resort to “well, everyone has to sacrifice” when it turns out that some people have to sacrifice a lot more.

    That’s a good question, Naismith. I think what I find helpful is simple acknowledgment that this is something that hurts people, even if you support it. I really struggle with the glib explanations about how this is all for the best. I have friends who support the policy, who contacted me just to let me know that they were thinking of me and that this was hard, without feeling the need to explain to me why it was good. That meant a lot to me.




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  11. Thanks for the response.

    “I really struggle with the glib explanations about how this is all for the best.”

    Oh, wow. That is so true on a variety of issues. Nobody wants to be told that, ever.




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