What it means to be Mormon, Part 5
By John D. Turner
29 Oct 2007

"We believe all that God has revealed, all that he does now reveal, and we believe that he will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God”. – Articles of Faith, #9

An integral part of Mormon doctrine is a belief in continuous revelation. This means we believe God and his agents still communicate with mankind. This communication can take many forms; inspiration, promptings of the spirit, visions, dreams, even visitations by heavenly beings; whatever method God chooses to use to communicate.

We believe that such revelation is the birthright of anyone who earnestly and sincerely seeks to know the will of God in their lives. Frequently, advice given in counsel by a bishop will include a request for earnest prayer and fasting so that promptings of the spirit can be more easily discerned.

This concept of continuous revelation under-girding our religion causes many outside our faith to squirm uncomfortably, particularly as it pertains to the president of our church. The fact that he holds the office of Prophet, and that we regard him as such, continues to make many wonder; “if he tells Mitt to do something, doesn’t he have to do it?” It is easy enough to say that he won’t tell Mitt to do something in particular, but what if he does?

In May 2007, some of the nation’s leading journalists gathered together in Key West, Florida for the Pew Forum’s biannual Faith Angle Conference on religion, politics, and public life. The transcript of one of the discussions entitled “Mormonism and Democratic Politics: Are They Compatible?” is very long and also very interesting. It covers a wide range of topics, including this one. I don’t think I can put it better than did Dr. Richard Bushman, the emeritus Gouverneur Morris Chair of American History at Columbia University. Dr. Bushman (who also happens to be a member of the LDS Church) was also recently named the Howard W. Hunter Visiting Professor in Mormon Studies at the Claremont Graduate University’s School of Religion. Concerning the Mormon concept of revelation and outsider’s concern with the issue, he states:

“I think it is because of the logic of revelation. It's not necessarily a logic that believers themselves follow, but a logic that unbelievers think is required of believing Mormons. The necessary consequence, unbelievers think, of believing that your prophet is a prophet speaking for God is unquestioning submission.

The fact is that in Mormondom, the revelation doesn't come solely to the president of the church, but rather infuses the whole church. Everyone is to receive revelation for their own positions, whether as a father or a bishop or a Sunday school teacher, or whatever it is. And that extends from church doctrine to political statements.

So, Mormons believe that all of those strong injunctions to follow the prophet are one end of a paradox. The other end, they say, is that they have to decide for themselves whether they believe what they prophet says. So there is legitimacy within the church for taking an independent position, contrary to what the president of the church may say.

I would say that rather than worrying about dictation from Salt Lake City, we should be more concerned about whether or not Mitt Romney is able to use the agency of the government for the idealistic ends that are truly his legacy as a Latter-day Saint. I'll stop at that point.”

Revelation is not limited to the prophet of the Church. All within the Church are able to receive revelation. But it is limited in as far as its scope; that is, a person will only receive revelation on matters that pertain to their sphere of responsibility. I may receive revelation for myself, my family, my church calling, or perhaps something I am in charge of elsewhere. I will not recieve revelation for my ward, my stake, or the Church as a whole.

The church’s official website, in a section on Approaching Mormon Doctrine, defines the bounds of church doctrine for its members. One of the points, about two-thirds of the way down the page states: “Individual members are encouraged to independently strive to receive their own spiritual confirmation of the truthfulness of church doctrine.”

This individual spiritual confirmation is obtained by personal revelation through prayer. Far from being locked into a state of unquestioning submission, we are encouraged to question. This helps ensure we know that what we are told by our prophet is indeed the will of God. Should a prophet ever attempt to lead the Church astray, there would be no spiritual confirmation of that decision. I guess that you could look at this as being in the nature of a “check and balance”, much in the way that the Federal government, specified in the Constitution has checks and balances to guard against abuse of power.

Revelation is essential, because things that were required or important in past generations may not be important or required for future generations. And things that were unknown in past generations and thus not mentioned may become very important today or in generations to come. For example, animal sacrifice was instituted by God in the Old Testament, in similitude of the coming of the Messiah, who would sacrifice himself for the sins of all the people. He came. Now animal sacrifice is no longer necessary. A more modern example might be the counsel we have received from our prophet against watching R rated movies; counsel which only makes sense in a generation where the technology to produce motion pictures exists.

Having served both as a Bishop and a Stake President, Mitt Romney is very much aware of the gift of revelation. I am sure he has used it in his business dealings as well. If you have ever wondered how much time a political leader who professes Christian belief has actually been on his knees before God, in Mitt’s case, you can safely bet that it has been a substantial amount.

While some will find this comforting, to others, particularly on the left, it will just be one more demonstration why Mitt Romney is supremely unfit to be Commander in Chief with his finger on the nuclear trigger. It’s bad enough that he might take orders from the head of his church. What if, instead, he decides to nuke Iran because “the voices in his head told him to?”

Belief in revelation varies across the board. Some Christians embrace it. Others believe that while God exists, He cares nothing of the affairs of men, and to think that He takes a personal interest in you and your problems is ludicrous. Atheists think the entire idea of God itself is demented, and the idea that you believe He gives you guidance and direction is dangerously delusional.

One of the big problems leftists have with George W. Bush is his belief in the power of prayer, and that he receives guidance from God when it comes to running the country. They are going to have the same problem with Mitt. With some evangelicals, it isn’t so much going to be a problem with receiving inspiration, but more a problem with exactly where they think that inspiration is coming from. Many do not consider Mormons to be Christian. These two extremes make up a large chunk of the thirty-odd percent who, when polled, say that they would never vote for a Mormon under any circumstances.

This is not necessarily a show-stopper. A much higher percentage polled say they would never under any circumstances vote for Hillary Clinton. Ditto last election for George W. Bush. Yet Bush still won. And despite similar numbers, Bill Clinton was also elected president twice, both times with less than 50% of the popular vote; many expect that despite her high negative numbers, Hillary will be our next president.

If, after this and my previous article, anyone is still harboring the slightest doubt that Mitt Romney is a political free agent as far as the Church and its doctrines are concerned, one only has to look at Harry Reid (D), the Senate Majority leader, who also happens to be a member in good standing of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Romney and Reid have very different political views. If they are receiving directions from Salt Lake, those directions are highly contradictory.

It is interesting to me to note that, as President of the United States, Mitt Romney’s “sphere of responsibility” (my words, not the Church’s) would encompass the entire country. Thus, by my understanding of my church’s doctrines, he would be entitled to receive revelation pertaining to the temporal well-being of the United States and every citizen thereof. Whether he actually received such revelation, once in office, would depend on his personal worthiness, whether he actually sought such revelation, and whether the Lord had any particular revelation He wished to reveal.

To translate this into more conventional language, replace the word “revelation” with “inspiration”; that is, through prayer, he might be inspired by the Holy Spirit to choose a particular solution to a problem facing the nation. While this version may not be any more palatable to those on the left, it may be more comfortable (and understandable) to Christian believers outside the LDS Church, particularly evangelicals. It really isn’t any different than when George Bush says he prays for inspiration to problems facing the nation.

Notice that I referred to temporal well-being, not spiritual well-being when discussing Mitt’s “sphere of responsibility”. That is because, if elected, Mitt Romney will be Commander-in-Chief, not the Theologian-in-Chief, as Mitt himself has stated on several occasions. The office is a secular office, not ecclesiastical. Please also note that this “sphere of responsibility” is also not in the purview of the prophet of our church, who holds the keys as prophet, seer, and revelator for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, not the United States of America.

There is a huge distinction, as both the Church and Mitt Romney (but obviously not everyone outside the Church), are well aware.