In Gospel Doctrine class last Sunday, we were talking about obedience. The teacher wrote a quote by President Faust on the board, “Obedience leads to true freedom. The more we obey revealed truth, the more we become liberated.” The Church leadership seems obsessed with obedience. I believe President Faust’s comment is true, but I also believe that unquestioning obedience to Church leaders is unhealthy and spiritually damaging, and only fosters unrighteous dominion at all levels of the Church.
I commented in class that what President Faust taught is a true principle, but that we should emphasize that it is obedience to “revealed truth” that brings freedom, not blind obedience to anything a Church leader says. I commented how members often miss that operative phrase. Obeying the prophet or your bishop is great, when they are teaching truths that have been revealed by God. But we should never undervalue or discredit personal revelation we can receive through studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting, patriarchal blessing, etc. Otherwise, why do we bother reading the scriptures or doing any of those things? If it were not necessary, then we could be like Christians during the Dark Ages who were never allowed to read the Bible, and were forced to rely on the clergy for all their spiritual guidance. This was a perfect setup for unrighteous dominion, and the same could come true in our own day if we do not claim our right to receive personal revelation, even if it contradicts some Church leaders.
In the Church today there has become such an emphasis on following the prophet and obedience to Church leaders that many members forget they can receive personal revelation. And anyone who doesn’t just accept what is taught are shamed for being faithless and heretics. That is not Mormon doctrine, but it has become such a part of Mormon culture.
When members are obsessed with following the prophet (or the bishop, for that matter), it just sets the stage for leaders to exercise unrighteous dominion with no accountability. To me that is more like a dictatorship or a cult than the restored gospel where personal revelation is a cornerstone. Sadly, the doctrine of personal revelation is often not in harmony with Church “culture”. There is this prevalent notion in Mormon culture that if you receive any personal revelation that isn’t in perfect alignment with what Church leaders have said, then that revelation is obviously of the devil. It is ironic, because this is exactly the kind of treatment Joseph Smith received when he told people about his own personal revelation.
Some Church leaders seem to be afraid of or threatened by the general membership receiving personal revelation, especially any revelation that might contradict what they teach. When President Faust said “revealed truth”, if he meant only “what the Q15 says”, then that would itself be a departure from revealed truth. Then it becomes more about how to preserve their authority rather than fulfilling the mission of the Church to bring souls to Christ. This would be a serious indication of unrighteous dominion.
The November 2015 Exclusion Policy is an example of Q15 reaction to the perceived threat of personal revelation. With the increasing numbers of gay members who are feeling moved by personal revelation toward same-sex marriage, the Q15 has responded with the Policy which formally institutes discipline and harassment of any gay members who dare to claim or act upon any such personal revelation.
Many gay members, like myself, and many straight members as well, are realizing that the Church is wrong to forbid and demonize loving, monogamous same-sex marriage. Accepting that Church leaders sometimes get it wrong opens up space where personal revelation can be received unobstructed, leading many of our faithful gay members into same-sex relationships and marriage, where they can thrive and live with authenticity. Unfortunately, many Church leaders feel it is their duty to discipline gay members who follow through with such revelation, thereby shaming and harassing many good people out of the Church.