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?”