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Things That Don't Make Sense #4: A Prophet Who Does Not Prophesy

Between 1829 and 1844, Joseph Smith received hundreds of revelations. He produced the Book of Mormon, a tome of more than 500 printed pages. Guided by the inspiration he claimed came from God, he revised the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. In the process, he produced the Book of Moses which contains much information not covered in the Genesis account. Many, but not all, of his revelations were compiled and printed and are now contained in the Doctrine & Covenants. And he produced the Book of Abraham, a book apparently received by direct revelation and not through any traditional means of translation. Whatever one may conclude about the source of Joseph Smith’s inspiration, continuing revelation was the principal identifying characteristic of the religion he founded. Joseph Smith said “if we do not get revelations, we do not have the oracles of God; [we] are not the people of God.” HC 5:237.

That such revelation continued in the church from Brigham Young to the present day is a fundamental tenet of the modern church: 

We testify to the world that revelation continues and that the vaults and files of the Church contain these revelations which come month to month and day to day. We testify also that there is, since 1830 when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized, and will continue to be, so long as time shall last, a prophet, recognized of God and his people, who will continue to interpret the mind and will of the Lord. . . .

 

. . . Expecting the spectacular, one may not be fully alerted to the constant flow of revealed communication. I say, in the deepest of humility, but also by the power and force of a burning testimony in my soul, that from the prophet of the Restoration to the prophet of our own year, the communication line is unbroken, the authority is continuous, a light, brilliant and penetrating, continues to shine. The sound of the voice of the Lord is a continuous melody and a thunderous appeal. For nearly a century and a half there has been no interruption. Conference Report at 115 (Apr. 1977);  Ensign at 78 (May 1978) (emphasis added).
 

But stark is the contrast between the revelations promulgated by Joseph Smith in the 15 years or so he served as the leader of the church and the “revelations” received in the last 160 years since his death. The last major revelation to be canonized was announced by church president Spencer Kimball in a press release issued in 1978 extending priesthood ordination to men of black African descent. This revelation ended a practice that had no revelatory basis in the first place.

Gordon Hinckley has been President of the church for ten years. During that time, he has been interviewed numerous times, made appearances on the Larry King television program, appeared on 60 Minutes with Mike Wallace, and has given dozens of official talks in church conferences. He has also provided church magazines with many messages for publication. In none of these fora has President Hinckley ever asserted that he has received the revelations that he presumably ought to be receiving as the “only man on the face of the earth who holds all the keys of priesthood authority.” I can only conclude that either Gordon Hinckley does not receive revelations or that, if he does, he chooses not to share them with a church anxious to receive them and a world in desperate need of the same.

Hinckley has spoken on the matter. His statements on continuing revelation differ from both Joseph Smith’s and Spencer Kimball’s. An excerpt from an interview by David Ransom that was published in Compass, an Australian periodical:

GBH: Now we don't need a lot of continuing revelation. We have a great, basic reservoir of revelation. But if a problem arises, as it does occasionally, a vexatious thing with which we have to deal, we go to the Lord in prayer. We discuss it as a First Presidency and as a Council of the Twelve Apostles. We pray about it and then comes the whisperings of a still small voice. And we know the direction we should take and we proceed accordingly.

 

DR: And this is a revelation?

 

GBH: This is a revelation.

 

DR: How often have you received such revelations?

 

GBH: Oh, I don't know. I feel satisfied that in some circumstances we've had such revelation.

The Hinckley administration’s theme has been “carry on” and has been remarkably free of innovation or dynamism--hallmarks of the religion founded by Joseph Smith. President Hinckley has made pronouncements against such cultural affronts to morality and virtue as women wearing more than one earring per ear, small-stakes home poker games, and tattoos..  If he is receiving revelations, it would appear that Jesus is more interested in the number of earrings the women of the church are wearing than such weighty matters of our time as war and our response to terrorism, political corruption, social injustice, poverty and famine, and human rights, subjects about which Hinckley has said little or nothing of substance.

To his credit he has given some advice and counsel that one might consider wise, such as his counsel to avoid pornography, obtain an education, and get out of debt. Of course, none of these words of wisdom necessarily requires any special revelation from God. Suze Orman tells people to get out of debt and provides advice on how to accomplish it. Is she a prophet? Most people of faith agree that consumption of pornography is not in harmony with a life of faith and devotion. Are they all prophets, too? Is not the value of having a prophet found in the things he reveals that would not otherwise be known? If he merely quotes previous scripture or touts truisms found in the conventional wisdom of the day, how is he any different from all the other religious leaders who speak to their own congregations? What good is having a key to a treasure chest of revelations, if you never use the key to open the box?

Can someone give me one substantive statement from Gordon Hinckley that is new and unavailable from other conventional sources?  What sense does it make to have a prophet who does not prophesy?

Comments

NFlanders

I'd say that now we have Presidents of the Church, as opposed to "prophets." Most of them, after all, are just businessmen, so it's natural that they've come to resemble a CEO and a Board of Directors.

Of course, considering some of the extremely self-serving "revelations" received by Joseph, might not we be better off with a sealed heaven?

Juggler Vain

Apparently we did have "Presidents" and not "Prophets" until the mid-1950's, when David O. McKay was described that way in a headline by the Church News. According to Quinn (The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power p. 363), the timing of the Church News headline reflects an "unprecedented adoration" for McKay that has continued to increase with each of his successors. Prior to 1955, the Church News had only used the term "Prophet" to refer to Joseph Smith and ancient prophets. Now the terms "President" and "Prophet" are basically interchangeable when referring to the guy at the top.

While having a "Prophet" who doesn't prophesy makes little theological sense, it makes a lot of sense in terms of harnessing the power of the Mormon machine against feminism, homosexuality, and intellectualism (and reality).

I agree with Ned that we are better off with a sealed heaven. The fact that our "Prophet" doesn't prophesy helps to clarify what purpose having a prophet actually serves.

NFlanders

I didn't know that about president/prophet, Juggler. Very interesting.

JV is right. Reuben Clark was very big on no excessive adulation or adoration of the Presidents. He would not allowed McKay to be called "prophet" in the Church News, reserving the word, prophet, for JS alone. As Clark became incapacitated and died, the Church News started using the word prophet. I find it nauseating that when the pres enters the room, people stand up. He's just a guy.

HJG was on a train ride with HBB. They were passing through a train station somewhere and members had gathered to sing We Thank the Oh God for a Prophet, and to wave their handkerchiefs at him. HBB said that HJG broke down and said that he didn't deserve that kind of adoration. He felt he was just a man.

Not only do our recent prophets not prophecy, even to the extent of making sure people understand they are not prophecying (thanks Gordon), but Joseph's prophecies were typically less than successful. When they weren't he would blame the Saints for not being righteous enough or whatever lame excuse. In his famed Civil War prophecy, which was a frequent and common discussion point in the nation at that period of time, he prophecied not only that there would be a war and where it would start, but that it would make the downfall and collapse of the U.S. government, at which time the church would take over the governance. Funny how that part is never discussed in the faith promoting stories.

JS's brother Hyrum said that when it relates to prophecies if you get one in ten right, you are doing pretty good. It sound like there was a strong link to God with that kind of success ratios 1:10... I prophecy it will rain next week... Let's check back next week to see if I win or not.

Diane

Great post!

Reformed_Egyptian

And let us not forget GBH's statement that revelations only need come when there is an "agitation".

Such as the need for the 1978 phood revelation or else the Church was in danger of losing it's tax exempt religious status for being a racist organization. Or such as the need for the Church to pretend to do away with polygamy in 1890 to pave the way for Statehood.

Apparently in 2008 there is no "agitation" on the planet for which God feels the need to chat with his True and Living Prophet about, and or to share that chat with the faithful members of His Church.

Well, other than:
- pornography
- multiple small temples
- one set of earrings for the sisters
- a part in the hair for the missionary Elders
- a $2-$6B shopping mall while only spending $43M a year on Humanitarian relief efforts of the poor, sick and afflicted

I for one am glad that God is so focused on the correct priorities that this world needs addressing today. Thank goodness for the agitation of multiple earrings and of missionary Elders not having a part in their hair to garner the interest of our Father in condescending to speak to his Prophet who will never lead us astray!

Thanks Equality for another fine post.

R_E


dpc

I believe there was a recent post on another blog where Brigham Young seemed to be reluctant to self-identify himself as a prophet.

http://www.bycommonconsent.com/2008/01/prophet-seer-and-revelator/

Plus I think that prophesying has less to do with foretelling the future and more to do with testifying of Jesus Christ and revealing God's will.

RE said:

Well, other than:
- pornography
- multiple small temples
- one set of earrings for the sisters
- a part in the hair for the missionary Elders
- a $2-$6B shopping mall while only spending $43M a year on Humanitarian relief efforts of the poor, sick and afflicted

This is a great short list of everything that the current President of the church has said in the past twelve years. Everyone makes a big deal about the things written above, but no disaffected members appear to have the cojones to list other things that President Hinckley has talked about, such as exhortations to obtain education and to forgive others, talks against racism and child/spouse abuse. Perhaps it was an innocent omission?

"- a $2-$6B shopping mall while only spending $43M a year on Humanitarian relief efforts of the poor, sick and afflicted"

I like how the cost of the mall gets inflated with every retelling. Take a course on accounting before you start throwing around figures on how much the church is 'spending'. I'm also unsure where you get the $43M figure from considering the fact that the church does not disclose its financial statements to the public.

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