As an active member of the Church, I believe in personal revelation and depend on it in my life. It was personal revelation, received while in the temple, that led me to the decision to marry my now husband. I also understand that when the Brethren teach the principle of personal revelation (as President Nelson did in his “Five Truths” speech at BYU on September 24, 2019, see Truth #5), they have a different context than which we might all be thinking.
When pertaining to LGBT members seeking to know whether they should date and find love compatible with how God made them, personal revelation becomes very problematic for the Brethren. In response to President Nelson’s Five Truths, below are Five Rules that I think are implicit in all of the Brethren’s teachings on personal revelation. In effect, what they are saying is:
Rule #1: We are prophets and apostles. We are better than you, and we are more spiritual than you. We know what is best for you, better than you do.
Rule #2: God speaks to us and lets us know what his commandments are for you and how you should keep them. But if teaching those commandments makes us appear rigid and uncompassionate, we will just say it is God’s Law and throw God under the bus.
Rule #3: If you don’t keep God’s laws the way we say you should, you will be disciplined and humiliated before the whole Church.
Rule #4: Go ahead, pray about it and seek your own personal revelation, as long as it only confirms what we have already told you.
Rule #5: If you get any personal revelation that is contradictory to what we have told you, refer back to rule #1, because you have been deceived by Satan.
To me, this is tantamount to spiritual abuse. This is the very definition of spiritual abuse.
So how do I stay active in the Church, when I live under the constant threat of possibly being excommunicated, simply because I am married to a man? I do it the same way anyone who has had to be in a relationship with a loved one who is a chronic narcissist. Leaving a loved one who is a narcissistic abuser may not be entirely feasible in many cases, but it can always be a last resort. The way people can survive being in a relationship with narcissists is to set up healthy boundaries, and to hold the abuser accountable. The same principles apply to dealing with a Church leadership that demonstrates the same kind of narcissistic abuse.
Keep in mind that it is always much healthier to focus our efforts on the things we can control. We as general members of the Church have very little power to influence the Brethren. However, we can set boundaries when the people we respect who are in authority, and even loved ones, use the relationship to over-extend their authority or even to abuse.
Boundaries are so important in any relationship and make the relationship more healthy. Setting boundaries and holding people and self accountable are crucial to healthy relationships.
I have boundaries with my husband, with my children, my siblings, etc. I didn’t used to, but now I have healthy boundaries in my relationship with the prophet and other leaders of the Church, and I am much happier and healthier than I ever was. I don’t want to criticize them, but I do want to hold them and myself accountable in my relationship with them.
My observation is that many members of the Church have not yet figured out how to have healthy boundaries with Church leaders, and it makes our Church look like a cult to outsiders. When we members give a blank check to Church leaders and set no boundaries, it puts them unfairly in a dangerous position where abuse of authority is possible. It causes an unhealthy codependent relationship.
Now I don’t want to blame the members for their own abuse, because it is not their fault that they are being abused. Members are constantly bombarded with messages that we have to be obedient to the Church leaders and that we should trust them as we should trust God, so it is not the members fault when they sincerely try to do what the leaders are counseling them to do. Ultimately, it is the perpetrator of the abuse that holds the blame and will be held accountable.
In my opinion, I have to have healthy boundaries with Church leaders and hold them accountable when I see them overstepping those boundaries. If they want me to trust them and heed their counsel, then they need to prove they can be trusted. They earn that trust by respecting healthy boundaries. In the October 2019 Women’s Conference, President Oaks clearly overstepped boundaries of a healthy relationship with Church members, and I hold him accountable.
In his Women’s Conference talk on October 5, 2019, President Oaks twisted around God’s commandments to love into a perverted Pharisaical emphasis on obedience to “God’s Laws” — as Oaks defines them.
He said the second great commandment to love our neighbor means we should treat LGBT people with kindness, but then he said that the first commandment to love God (and obey) supersedes the second commandment. It was as if he was using this to justify excluding and withholding love and acceptance from LGBT members, especially those in same-sex marriages, and even justifying persecuting LGBT people.
He did say specifically that members of the Church should never persecute LGBT people, implicitly blaming the members for all the suffering of LGBT members (classic gaslighting). But then he justifies the actions of the Church to do exactly that by excluding them and by excommunicating them. According to Oaks, it is wrong for members to persecute LGBT people, but it’s ok if the Church does. I see this as gross hypocrisy, using the beautiful teachings of Jesus about love to justify his own bigotry.
Since I am not in a position to influence any change in President Oaks, I have to focus on what is within my power to influence, and that is my own well-being, even if it means I have to not listen to any Oaks or Nelson or Bednar talks for a while. Also, what helps me is writing about it and expressing how these leaders have violated my boundaries. That’s how I process it and do self-care in this emotionally charged situation. This is how I survive a relationship with a narcissist. This is how I survive spiritual abuse.