Aaron Brown has an interesting post (re-cycled from the ldslaw list) on whether or not we can draw inferences about God’s political priorities from institutional church involvement. Although Aaron is (needlessly in my opinion) coy in his post, the bottom line is that he thinks that the disjunction between Church political priorities and what was really important has been so wide that we shouldn’t draw inferences about God’s preferences from Church statements. (See Aaron’s comments here)
It strikes me that the this “problem” comes up when there is a disjunction between what people believe to be correct and what they would infer to be correct based on some interpretation of God speaking with the prophet. (Notice, I intentionally left the particular method vague.)
Of course, one move — and I think it is the one that people most often make — is to divy up what is inspired from what is not inspired based on their pre-existing views of what is or is not a good idea. For example, “liberal Mormons” (whatever that means) just know that God isn’t REALLY against gay marriage and that the Church’s stance is just the result of a bunch of personal biases on the part of GAs because they don’t think that gay marriage is REALLY wrong. Conservatives might say that the statements on the MX missile weren’t REALLY inspired but were just President Kimball’s “personal” belief because they just knew that the MX was a good idea. This approach, however, reduces the role of the prophecy and institutional revelation to that of simply confirming and strengthening pre-existing biases. Surely, that isn’t what it is supposed to be about.
There are a couple of possible responses to this quandry.
First, you could simply discount ALL political positions taken by the Church. The problem with this approach is two fold. On one hand, you will have a difficult time figuring out what counts as a “political” position and what doesn’t count as a “political” position. Drawing this line, of course, will be infected with the problem of circularity I outline above. The other problem is that it seems odd to say that God would be completely uninterested about ALL political issues, or at least so uninterested as to not tell the prophet anything about it.
Second, you could simply write off the idea of prophecy and institutional authority all together. One could still have some sort of nostalgic or poetic connection to Mormonism, in this case, but you would have to give up on what seem like pretty core doctrines and beliefs. Aside from being spiritually sad, it seems to eliminate all of the interesting questions.
Third, you could come up with some criteria for assigning authority to various statements that is independent of your pre-existing beliefs. The advantage of this approach is that it continues to let prophets fufill the prophetic role of challenging our pre-existing beliefs and calling us to repentence from a position of authority.
The problem, of course, is that formulating the third option is very, very difficult, which is why most of these discussions simply fall into the vacuous, circular pattern.