The Church recently updated the section on “Race and the Priesthood” contained on lds.org. The changes follow the trend that was manifest in the language used to introduce Official Declaration 2, going further in establishing that the reasoning used for the restriction was not inspired and essentially due to pervasive racism amongst the leadership and membership of the Church. The entry is a positive step forward, but brings a more complicated view of prophets than typical held within the Church.
A post on By Common Consent establishes two possible implications to draw from the information provided. The first, for me more compelling and logical, implication is that the restriction was never the will of God and therefore prophets sometimes misspeak and perpetuate practices and ideas that are hurtful and not inspired. The second possible route to take is that the ban was inspired for some unknown reason and that simply the reasons espoused to defend it were incorrect. As I don’t identify with the second, and BCC already covers the differences and reasons to go with option one, I’ll focus on what this means for me, and likely others.
If prophets made mistakes in the past and those mistakes were perpetuated and uncorrected through decades, with incorrect reasons and support espoused from the pulpit, even in General Conference, there may be, and likely are, current trends/beliefs/practices that are taught (even during General Conference) that are not inspired of God. This understanding has become the only way that I can reconcile past practices and beliefs with my understanding of the Gospel. However, it serves to seriously complicate the approach that I have to GC and reading prophetic counsel and guidance.
I believe that prophets are inspired and led by revelation. I believe that God loves everyone, that whatever is best for all humankind is God’s will. These two beliefs mean that I cannot accept the words of every prophet spoken during their tenure as a prophet as doctrine and God’s will. Therefore, to maintain my belief in prophets, I have been driven to develop an alternative approach to determining when they are acting and speaking as a prophet. GC is a decent standard, but historically that platform does not exclude human errors taught as divine.
I have chosen to follow the guidance of J. Reuben Clark and seek the Spirit while prophets are speaking, to have a feeling of confirmation. While some may view this as a method for me or others to simply justify whatever beliefs I want and discount council I do not wish to follow, the reality is much more complex and spiritually challenging. I, and I believe most that share my concerns, truly want to know Truth and wish to come closer to the divine. Choosing to maintain belief and fighting for understanding in the face of ambiguity and confusion is a challenge and a choice that requires constant re-evaluation.
I must rely on the Spirit witnessing to me of the truthfulness of any given statement. Otherwise, I have nothing. I must constantly seek to have the Spirit with me and to know what is from the Spirit and what is not to determine the inspired nature of what is said. While this introduces complexity into historical narratives and understanding what is and is not doctrine, it allows me to hold firm to my belief in the Church as inspired, yet led by fallible people. It requires constant vigilance to determine what is and is not doctrine and what I need to do, but the struggle has been immensely rewarding. I am constantly faced with ambiguity and questions, but have felt a deepening of my faith and strengthening of my reliance on the Spirit. After all, it’s a faith worth fighting for.