This article is written for two audiences. The first audience is anyone, Mormon or not, who may stumble across this blog and find interest in understanding how Utah’s unique socio-religious base affects the political scene. The second audience is anyone who has, or knows someone who has, seemingly received “personal revelation” from God to act in a particular way and then lambastes everyone for not acting in that expressed way.
A person cannot interact in the political scene in Utah without knowing the Mormon lingo. Mormon scripture and words from the General Authorities of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are used as much of a political tool to justify one’s personal political preference in Utah as any person outside of Utah might invoke political philosophers, Party leaders, or the law to promote their own beliefs. As a politically active Latter-day Saint living in Utah, I see this mixture of politics and religion on a daily basis in political discussion.
Growing up as a child in Utah County (one of the most “conservative” counties in the country), it was not uncommon to hear how people had prayed about what political Party they should join and “receive an answer” to join the Republican Party (it is a common socio-religious notion in Utah that “you cannot be a good Mormon and vote Democrat” – a position rejected by the Church). There are, however, plenty of good resources demonstrating how good and upstanding Mormons can be Democrat (one of the better articles found here).
Now that there is a viable Mormon candidate a breath away from holding the highest political position in the country, it is not uncommon to hear how people have prayed and received “personal revelation” to vote for Mitt Romney.
I cannot discredit what God has supposedly told any other person. Whether someone has or hasn’t received any “revelation” from God is between them and their Creator.
On this subject I recently came across two surprising statements on Facebook that reflect many misunderstandings of Mormon theology that deal with personal revelation and, therefore, with politics. I will address each comment independently.
“My Personal Revelation so far is to Vote for Mitt”
Here is the first comment as it was posted on Facebook,
Woman A: “Thanks for this. My personal revelation so far is to vote for Mitt. I am concerned over friends who say they’ve received personal revelation to write in RPaul–I’m concerned this is a distraction to what should be. The HG doesn’t give two different answers, and I wonder if some of these can recognize when they are being misled. I have had personal experience to help me see how well the counterfeiter can work, and am concerned others have not. Apparently there is quite the LDS RPaul following. I don’t like that Hatch is involved, but know there is more underfoot than we can comprehend–but the Lord does know!”
This paragraph is problematic for several reasons, especially when considering how the Church deals and speaks concerning personal revelation.
Principle vs. Application
While principles are eternal, everlasting, and unchanging, applications to those principles are not. Applications to gospel principles will often vary per individual and by social convention. In fact, applications to eternal principles often change. As President Henry B. Eyring once noted,
Our Heavenly Father has at different periods in the Earth’s history adjusted what he asked of his children because of choices they made.
The Church has worked hard to make many applications to various gospel principles uniform, but in many regards the applications are left to the individual. In advising its members to become more politically active, the Church has left the application of certain principles to the individual. As then Elder Harold B. Lee once stated,
All through the last political campaign they were saying, “Why doesn’t the Church tell us how we should vote?” If the Church had done that, we would have a lot of Democrats or Republicans who would have wanted to apostatize. We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers and magistrates. We are told to obey the laws of God and we will have no need to break the laws of the land. When they would ask me who to vote for in the coming election, I would tell them to read Mosiah 29 and Section 134 of the Doctrine and Covenants, pray about that, and any Latter-day Saint could know who to vote for in any given election. It is just as simple as that.
Elder Harold B. Lee offers the understanding that voting is an application, and the principles upon which we should live according to that are contained within various verses of scripture. I see no problem with members bearing witness and testimony of the principles they know are true (in fact I argue here and here that they should), but where a person ventures into dictating God’s will and application of a principle onto another – that is where problems start.
It is wrong for any person to promote their individual and personal revelation to act in a particular application as a universal axiom of how all people must act under God. It is presumptuous to assume that the Lord cannot, or will not, direct another of his children to act in a different application than myself (albeit, there are principles that let us know that the Lord will not ask us to act in certain ways). By way of example, Elder Ezra Taft Benson, quoting Orson F. Whitney, even gave a situation where the Lord would directly keep some from “receiv[ing] a testimony of the truth” in this life, as the Lord would direct them in other ways because they could do more for the kingdom of God outside the Church than within it.
“Perhaps the Lord needs such men on the outside of His Church to help it along,” said the late Elder Orson F. Whitney of the Quorum of the Twelve. “They are among its auxiliaries, and can do more good for the cause where the Lord has placed them, than anywhere else. … Hence, some are drawn into the fold and receive a testimony of the truth; while others remain unconverted … the beauties and glories of the gospel being veiled temporarily from their view, for a wise purpose. The Lord will open their eyes in His own due time. God is using more than one people for the accomplishment of His great and marvelous work. The Latter-day Saints cannot do it all. It is too vast, too arduous for any one people. … We have no quarrel with the Gentiles. They are our partners in a certain sense” (Conference Report, April 1928, p. 59.).
Now, let us suppose that a person who can do more for the kingdom of God outside of the Church than within it prays to know whether the LDS Chuch is “true”, or whether the Book of Mormon is “true”, or anything is “true” that might lead them to joining the Church — when it is the will of the Lord for them to act outside of the Church. The Holy Ghost, as a witness, will certainly lead them towards the will of the Lord to act according to God’s will — although this action is not to join the Church (for God’s own purposes). If Woman A’s claim is true that the Holy Ghost “will not give two different answers”, then she is certainly pitting her understanding against that as expressed by two prophetic witnesses.
We often confuse application for principle, and voting is very much an application – not a principle. For a man to say that another person who does not follow his personal revelation of a particular application is deceived is, places him on very, very shaky ground.
Personal revelation is just that, personal. I cannot contend whether either of these women have or haven’t received personal revelation on face value – such is between them and God. As a Ron Paul supporter (who has prayed about the situation and received my own confirmation), I have absolutely no problem with believing that God may also instruct another to vote differently than I have felt inspired to and vote for Romney (or even Obama, Goode, or Johnson).
I sincerely and whole-heartily question the source of anyone’s supposed “personal revelation”, however, when they argue that the Spirit of God revealed to them to act in a certain way and so everyone else must act in such a way else they are deceived. This falls into the arena of receiving revelation to act for another person, a practice directly counter LDS belief. As Elder Dallin H. Oaks said,
When one person purports to receive revelation for another person outside his or her own area of responsibility—such as a Church member who claims to have revelation to guide the entire Church or a person who claims to have a revelation to guide another person over whom he or she has no presiding authority according to the order of the Church—you can be sure that such revelations are not from the Lord.
Now, granted, I doubt Woman A sees herself as “purport[ing] to receive revelation for another person”, but this is the reality of her claim. She is not speaking of eternal principles, but she is addressing her supposedly divine answer in application and projecting it onto others – to which she is holding all who do not follow that application as “deceived”. While I do not have a problem accepting that any person can receive an answer from God to vote for Romney, I do reject that this woman – because she has overstepped the bounds of personal revelation – has actually received any meaningful revelation beyond her own fancy, especially where anyone outside of her person and stewardship is concerned.
We receive revelation for ourselves and those under our own stewardship and responsibility, pertaining to the portion of the vineyard in which we are laboring and according to what light, knowledge, and truth we have already received and accepted. The only person on Earth, according to the Church’s teachings, that receives universal revelation for the Church at large – i.e. a universal revelation pertaining to where the Church is at – is the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator of the Church.
“I Feel the Same… POWERFUL Burning in the Bosom… When Romney Spoke…”
Here is the second comment,
Response from Woman B: “I feel the same as you and had a POWERFUL burning in the bosom experience when Romney spoke at the convention. I know your friends are misled, as I had a similar experience in supporting Ross Perot and only afterward realized that it would have been better to vote for the lesser of two evils, even though he was the best candidate in my eyes because our system with the electoral college does not allow third-party candidates to be elected, no matter what the popular vote is. Tell them to encourage RPaul to run in the future, but to be careful their actions do not keep Obama in office. Romney is going to need every bit of support in order to oust him. And that is CLEARLY what the Lord wants. I am not the only one who has had this experience of getting a very strong burning witness to vote for Romney.”
This statement has the same basic problems addressed in the first, with the added problems pertaining to “voting for the lesser of two evils” and a fundamental misunderstanding of the Electoral College.
“Burning in the Bosom”
For the non-Mormon, such a phrase as this is extremely peculiar – borderline crazy. Perhaps it is, but it is in reference to a scripture in the LDS-based Doctrine and Covenants that describes how one might feel the Spirit of God in their life.
But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong… (D&C 9:8-9).
By using this phrase, Woman B is implying that (1) she has studied the issues out in her mind (apparently by listening to his convention speech) and (2) that, because she had such a feeling, that supporting Mitt Romney is right. She proceeds to bear testimony of what she knows, in that she knows that Ron Paul supporters are misled. Her evidence for this is her experience in supporting Ross Perot, as she has learned to ever “vote for the lesser of two evils” (somehow then placing Mitt Romney into the category of a “lesser evil”, of which the Lord told her that he is actually right – regardless of being somewhat evil – because of burning in said “bosom”). To seal the conversation, she then proceeds to rip in to the Electoral College as a way of justifying the “lesser of two evils” position, and concludes that supporting Mitt Romney is “clearly what the Lord wants”. The logic and evidence given herein has placed me clearly in a stupor of thought regarding what the Lord wants so “clearly”.
The argument given herein is completely false and shows a complete lack of knowledge concerning the Electoral College process. There is nothing t all about the Electoral College that would prevent a third-party candidate from winning. In fact, Abraham Lincoln won the Electoral College with a third-party candidacy. I am led to wonder if this “burning in the bosom” testament applies to her wrongful claims about the Electoral College. It does Romney no good for people to cite reasons for voting for him that are simply not true.
Taking the Name of God in Vain
It is sad that people will claim God’s authority to justify something that is not true. We are commanded to not take the name of God in vain, and we largely interpret this command as applying against the expletive use of God’s name. There is, however, a far more prevalent – yet far more subtle – way of taking God’s name in vain, and that is by promoting something in his name (or by his supposed witness) that God would never condone.
In such a way, both Woman A and Woman B have taken the name of God in vain, as they have both asserted God’s supposed personal witness to them to act in a particular application as a moral foundation to hold all people to. If, by their supposed divine witness, someone does not vote for Romney, then they are not doing God’s will – for supporting Romney is “clearly what the Lord wants” (even though, according to the LDS theology, God’s will for all people is given by his Prophet).
Vote for Who You Want, But Leave Personal Revelation out of It
As a Ron Paul supporter, it is wrong for me to say that because I have had spiritual experiences that have lead me to support Ron Paul that all people should. None of us labor in the same part of the vineyard, and the application of our voices, talents, abilities, and expressions to the eternal principles of the gospel will vary depending on countless factors. There are some divinely established applications that Latter-day Saints follow, surely; however, when it comes to voting, God does not have a candidate.
The Holy Ghost will reveal to each of us line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little. An answer to prayer does not inherently constitute the revelation of a celestial principle. A telestial person who cannot yet comprehend celestial things in purity will receive revelation pertaining to what light and knowledge they have received and accepted. Where the Spirit is the guide, that is the end of the discussion – for a person who follows the Spirit in all things will become internally and externally consistent (of which, by these quotations, the arguments presented by both women are not).
The best we can do as Latter-day Saints is to check to principles, look at the guidelines laid down by the Church, and then prayerfully act according to our light and knowledge. It is presumptuous to assume that one of us has all light and knowledge. We may admonish each other to adhere to certain basic, unchanging, eternal, and everlasting principles, but where matters of application are concerned – leave it between the individual and their Creator.