Revelation by the rooster

It is a week after Easter now, and surely Petrus (Peter, the English call him, but I prefer his more apostolic sounding Latin name) has come back from his great shock, delivered by the rooster; that early morning crowing did put him back with his feet on the ground: he had showed weak when confronted with reality. Of course, he had regretted it deeply, but in the last week he has seen his risen Lord and things were turning out gloriously. Pentecost is still six weeks into the future, with its redemption by the Holy Spirit and we all know that from that moment onwards Petrus would never falter in his faith.

I think he has never forgotten that particular rooster, which revealed that even the ones closest to the Lord could and did make mistakes. That animal cry embodied a reality check, a revelation from below, a call for correction of a mistake. And it worked, in Petrus’ life. Petrus’ real example is that he learned from being corrected and grew: he learned from the rooster.

350 years ago Rembrandt died, so here his rendition of Petrus who denies to know the Nazarene. At the upper right hand corner Jesus looks back at Petrus. The rooster is not in sight yet, but he surely can crow any moment now.

Well, the analogy is clear, we may get messages from above, but we are corrected from below, even sometimes doing the correcting. The last General Conference did not bring a large harvest of changes, but it did provide one major correction, in the treatment of the children of gay couples. This policy, called the PoX in the blogosphere, has been corrected now, in fact just a few years after it was leaked. We have seen corrections in the past in the Church, but they usually took much longer. The policy in question has been defended by several apostles including Nelson, who raised the specter of revelatory procedures, but this was never very convincing. What did happen, in my view is more a ‘revelation by the rooster’. The PoX was one of the most unpopular measures ever taken by the leadership, for reasons we have amply discussed at the time. But a major rooster call did come, for people left the church because of it, and then members at the very heart of the organization: bishops, branch presidents, stake presidents. From the Netherlands I know of three former bishops and one former stake president for whom this policy was one reason to leave the church, with their families. From other members I heard that their families were split over it, highly disturbing family relations. The PoX solved no problems of children, helped against no threats from the outside, but led to a massive bleeding-from-the-top. That did not go unnoticed, not by the members, nor by the leadership. I do not have the numbers for the church as a whole, but estimates run into tens of thousands members of good standing leaving the church. The rooster cried out loudly on this one: reality hit back.

Like with Petrus, we have to laud our leadership for the quick correction, for listening to the rooster and make a spectacular U-turn. It is not very productive to try to salvage the notion of revelation in both instances, that is quite improbable. The generous treatment by Rosalind Welch who tried to do so in her blog needs a paradigm change to account for both the PoX and the present correction, and that is too much honor for the former. At the time I called in my blog for forgiving our leaders for being human – and thus making mistakes –, now they showed that being human can lead to good things as well. Their position is a precarious one, since the authority that comes with the revelatory discourse carries a heavy burden and a huge responsibility: that of never showing oneself wrong. And that is exactly what they did, an action that does not sit easily within the Church structure. It is not the time and place here to speculate how this policy could have ‘happened’, enough ink has been spilled on that, but this ‘revelation by rooster’ is a wake-up call for anyone in ecclesiastical authority to make sure that such measures will never happen again.

So, all the more praise to our leaders for listening to the rooster, for making an obvious U-turn and a much needed correction on themselves. Revelation comes in many ways, also from sheer reality, and here the trampling feet of those who left the church were a wake-up call, a huge rooster crying out loud. If God changed address (Welch’s notion) He now reveals himself definitely at the grass roots level. So, for our leaders, listen to the rooster, for the church, follow the U-turn.

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