LDS Discussions Blog
The Larger Implications of the LGBT Reversal (April 4, 2019)
In what will surely be the biggest shocker of the April 2019 LDS General Conference, the Mormon church has abandoned the November 2015 policy that excluded the children of LGBT from baptism along with labeling those in same-sex marriages apostates. From the official release via Mormon Newsroom:
"At the direction of the First Presidency, President Oaks shared that effective immediately, children of parents who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender may be baptized without First Presidency approval if the custodial parents give permission for the baptism and understand both the doctrine that a baptized child will be taught and the covenants he or she will be expected to make.
A nonmember parent or parents (including LGBT parents) can request that their baby be blessed by a worthy Melchizedek Priesthood holder. These parents need to understand that congregation members will contact them periodically, and that when the child who has been blessed reaches 8 years of age, a Church member will contact them and propose that the child be baptized.
Previously, our Handbook characterized same-gender marriage by a member as apostasy. While we still consider such a marriage to be a serious transgression, it will not be treated as apostasy for purposes of Church discipline. Instead, the immoral conduct in heterosexual or homosexual relationships will be treated in the same way."
Along with this statement comes a very carefully worded caveat from the church: these changes are not doctrine, but policy issues. As affirmed by the Deseret News:
"Church leaders make clear distinctions between church doctrine and church policies and said Thursday's changes are limited to policies, according to a news release on the church's official website."
These statements contain some massive implications for what revelation is, and we covered much of those in a previous blog post called Rebranding Revelation. But in light of the LGBT policy reversal, we want first to highlight that the distinction they are making here completely contradicts the entire concept of revelation.
In 2016, Russell M. Nelson was defending the November 2015 policy as the "will of the Lord:"
"And then we watch the Lord move upon the President of the Church to proclaim the Lord’s will. This prophetic process was followed in 2012 with the change in minimum age for missionaries and again with the recent additions to the Church’s handbook, [...] And then, when the Lord inspired His prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, to declare the mind of the Lord and the will of the Lord, each of us during that sacred moment felt a spiritual confirmation. It was our privilege as Apostles to sustain what had been revealed to President Monson. Revelation from the Lord to His servants is a sacred process, and so is your privilege of receiving personal revelation."
This quote from Nelson opens a lot of problems especially in light of the reversal of the November 2015 policy, and it also presents a lot of insight into what revelation is in context of current Mormon prophets.
First, Russell M. Nelson makes perfectly clear that the 2015 policy regarding LGBT members was revelation. There is no way to get around that, and it's the reason why apologists have had to defend the policy for the last 3.5 years. Nelson also uses the same language to talk about the November 15 revelation that he does currently as prophet - that the lord "inspired" these changes. We saw similar language with the "name change" last year, and while it is in large contradiction to how Joseph Smith claimed revelation, it does illustrate how Nelson views revelation.
Second, and more important, this policy reversal illustrates why spiritual confirmations are not a reliable indicator of truth. We have discussed this in our annotated essays and other blog posts, but all religions rely on spiritual confirmations to declare their church is the true one. We see that with the current LDS church, but we also see it with LDS offshoot churches that still practice polygamy. The video of other religions talking about their spiritual revelations is here, and will start with the polygamist teenager bearing her testimony.
The point is that spiritual confirmations are often our own confirmation bias telling us what we need to do. It is why when we pray about a job, moving to another location, or even a family issue, you will usually get feeling that you were already set on. That's not to downplay spiritual feelings, because they are real, but we have example after example of spiritual confirmations leading people astray, and example after example of people exploiting those spiritual feelings for their own gain.
This same example also explains Nelson's 2018 "name change," which has been expressed as revelation from God. As we discussed on our previous blog post about Rebranding Revelation, Nelson had been insisting on the name change for almost 30 years before he was in a position to make the change himself. While apologists claim that God's revelations are ongoing, it is difficult to reconcile that three prophets between Nelson's initial talk in 1990 and today saw no validity in his request, but the moment he became prophet it was suddenly of concern to God.
And to illustrate how this ties into the concept of revelation, Russell Nelson's wife Wendy gives this description of Nelson as a prophet:
“I have seen him changing in the last ten months,” said Sister Nelson. “It is as though he's been unleashed. He's free to finally do what he came to earth to do. … And also, he's free to follow through with things he's been concerned about but could never do. Now that he's president of [the Church], he can do those things.”
This perfectly explains why Nelson's personal mission in 1990 to rid the church of using the name Mormon became revelation once he was prophet, and also helps to explain why prophets receive spiritual confirmation that the positions they take personally align with what God wants for the church.
Nelson is clear that the apostles of the church all felt the same spiritual feeling that the November 15 policy on gays was from God, even though less than four years later the church is dumping the policy and washing their hands of it. This is an impossible situation for the church, who was under tremendous social pressure to change their policy on gays, just as it recently did with changes to the temple to remove some of the perceived sexism against women.
Which leaves us to analyze what revelation actually is. This reversal again shows us how revelation is more impacted by social pressures (along with pressure from members) than it is about consistency from God. Just highlighting some of the recent 'revelations' in the church:
Reversal of November 2015 policy on gays, which was causing harm to members and generating massive public backlashes and resignations
Changes to the temple ceremony in order to remove sexist elements that had long bothered LDS women
Changes to the temple ceremony to remove penalties that made members uncomfortable as they were viewed as creepy and even barbaric
Lowering the number of hours each Sunday from 3 to 2, which had been piloted and planned for years due to member concerns
Allowing missionaries to call home over a decade after technology allowed for that to happen cheaply, again as early return rates for missionaries had been steadily rising
The point is that the 'prophets, seers, and revelators' of the church have not made a true prophesy since Joseph Smith, and many of those have been proven wrong through history. So when the revelations we do get are reactions to social pressures, it becomes impossible to avoid the elephant in the room: they are not from God.
If you don't believe me, take a quick look at a few early revelations from God through Joseph Smith and early prophets:
When Joseph Smith lost the original 116 pages of the Book of Mormon, God knew that was going to happen so he prepared a second set of plates (with a different focus) thousands of years earlier.
John Taylor claimed a revelation from God in 1886 that polygamy would last forever. "Thus saith the Lord: All commandments that I give must be obeyed by those calling themselves by my name unless they are revoked by me or by my authority, and how can I revoke an everlasting covenant, for I the Lord am everlasting and my everlasting covenants cannot be abrogated nor done away with, but they stand forever." Polygamy would be revoked just six years later for Declaration 1.
It is important to note that Taylor's 1886 revelation was never canonized, but the authenticity is not in dispute either. Apologists have claimed that if Taylor did not present the revelation, he must not have felt it was important enough, but you also must keep in mind that D&C 132 wasn't canonized until decades after it was recorded.
We know that it is very difficult to approach these issues with an open mind, but I promise you that if you can allow yourself to think critically about this policy reversal on LGBT members you will see how it fits perfectly into a pattern that is undeniable. If this church was truly led by God, would you really expect that God would change His mind just 3.5 years later after giving a revelation as controversial as the November 15 policy? It just doesn't make sense that he same God that created a second set of plates, knowing that Joseph Smith would lose the first 116 pages, would also change His mind so abruptly on a policy that the church spent so much political and religious capital implementing.
The answer really becomes clear the more you research the church's revelations and how they always fit into the current mindset of the prophet giving them. This was true on the ban on blacks, polygamy, and now with the LGBT community and the public backlash that it caused.
We did not cover the damage this revelation caused, and how almost certainly that played into the decision to reverse it. There are sadly all too many articles detailing the pain this policy caused, including depression, family tension, and even suicides. The purpose of this post was to look at how this reversal shines a greater light on the way revelation is produced with recent prophets and how that contradicts the way Joseph Smith claimed revelations. As we've outlined church problems in our annotated LDS Gospel Topics essays and other posts, there is a pattern that all points to the conclusion that this is not a church from God, but one created by men who implement policies that they wish to implement whether it's polygamy, banning blacks from the priesthood, or the November 2015 policy.
While I am happy that church members that are a part of the LGBT community will receive some relief from this change, I also know that this reversal gives us a clear insight into how revelation works within the church, and why spiritual confirmations aren't reliable even from the top leaders of this church. Occam's Razor is a very simple yet powerful concept, and the most obvious and likely conclusion here is that these policies are not from God, but from the men claiming to speak for Him.
We've mentioned on many other posts how difficult it is to take in this new information, and we understand how painful it is to process. Please email us anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like more resources to learn about these issues or if you are looking for people that you can safely talk to as you continue your faith journey.