Ha! I can beat Nate Oman at pompous blog titles any day (even when I’m just recycling one aspect of his question in less philosophically sophisticated terms!). And I apologize for the gendered language, but “The Siblinghood of Humankind” just ain’t got that swing.
Astute readers (or literate nine-year-olds, really) will have noticed by now that I have a teensy tiny little problem with authority, especially when other people have more of it than I do. It has occurred to me that I have long since passed the age when such authority issues are appropriate, and even the age when they’re appealing in a Rebel-Without-a-Cause sort of way, and that my life might be easier if I would just get over it already. So I’ve been trying hard to figure out just why it is that I can’t cheerfully acknowledge other people’s stewardship over me and get on with the obedience training. Here’s what I’ve come up with:
Church governance is, in theory, conducted by revelation. We also speak often of personal revelation, with the ever-present caveat that one cannot get personal revelation for anything or anyone outside of one’s stewardship. That doesn’t really pose any problems for me–it makes sense to have some structure which avoids the out-and-out chaos of perpetual pentecost.
The trouble for me is that I have some (well, a little) experience with receiving revelation, and my own experience teaches me that it is a messy, frequently ambiguous process. And I’ve quite often gotten it wrong–I can see with the benefit of hindsight that what I had thought was revelation was wishful thinking, indigestion, or misdirection (by the “natural man” or maybe Satan, though I’m always a little unnerved by talk of revelations from “another source” and wouldn’t readily attribute my own missteps to such an a/Adversary). Against this backdrop of experience, it is hard for me to place a high degree of trust in the conclusions others might draw from engaging in the same process.
However, it is equally difficult for me to suppose that other people are so much better at receiving revelation than I am that the process is qualitatively different for them. It’s easy for me to believe that others are *much*, *much* better at it than I am; in fact I rather hope that my own ability to perceive divine whisperings is on the low end of some bell curve! But I have spent enough time around friends and relatives who are doing the kinds of callings that require regular inspiration to know that plenty of people struggle to receive and interpret promptings from the Spirit, even when they’ve been serving in “leadership” positions for a long time. So when someone tells me that “leaders” are receiving revelation about what I should do, I always want to know what *kind* of revelation, and whether it’s clearer than the kind I usually get.
I think what I really resist is the notion that “leaders” are somehow so different in their experience of the divine that they are reliably more trustworthy than I would be in the same leadership position. It doesn’t help, of course, that most leaders are male, and that I won’t likely get a chance to experience the way a bishop or a stake president receives revelation. But still, gender issues aside, it is discomfiting to think that God might communicate more clearly with some of his children than others. I want to think that we are all much more alike than we are different (hence the title of this post), and I don’t like the idea that there might be a hierarchy of understanding God which somehow correlates with the hierarchy of the church.
And if God does communicate with leaders more clearly than with the rest of us (yes, this would be the time to interject the seminary scripture about the Lord speaking with Moses face-to-face), is it impossible or wrong for them to describe the experience to the rest of us? Maybe it wouldn’t really help if President Hinckley said “I saw Christ in the temple last week, and we were talking about women and the priesthood…” but it sure seems like it would.
So, was it just Moses? Is it just prophets? When you’re released as a Stake President and called as an Area Authority, do you get exactly 10 revelation-units (RUs) better at understanding God? Or are authority and revelation not so closely linked? Why doesn’t anyone talk about how revelation comes to leaders?