In the long comments thread on Karen’s post on women’s issues, Brent has done the inevitable: accused those who criticize the “revealed structure” of the church of faithlessness. Brent gets kudos for stating his opinion forthrightly and eloquently. His is a criticism that gets to the heart of many divisive discussions between Mormons of different temperaments and ideological persuasions, so I am hijacking the comments thread to address the issue separately.
Brent said “I don’t see how one can say he or she is a ‘faithful member’ of the church while attacking the revealed structure of the church.” He was kind enough not to attach my name to this critique, but since I’ve been vocally critical of the current structure of the church, I want to explain why I can also still claim to be a faithful member.
First, I don’t believe that the structure of the church is “revealed,” in the sense that the Handbook of Instructions dropped out of the sky in its present form. I’ve lived through enough bureaucratic changes (take women’s prayers in Sacrament Meeting, for instance) to know that there’s a fair amount of experimentation going on. In fact, Bulletins that correct/modify/amplify the Handbook are sent out on a fairly regular basis. If you’re not female or don’t think it matters whether women get to pray in Sacrament Mtg., we could broaden the list of significant changes that have been made: the abolition of ward Seventies, the addition of several quorums of Seventy at the general level, the inclusion of the Relief Society as a separate group of votes in the sustaining of the prophet in the General Assembly, the change from Regional Representatives to Area Authorities and then Area Authority Seventies, etc., and that’s just in my just-over-three-decade lifetime. Lest anyone argue that these are just tinkering around the edges of administrative issues, let’s not forget the revelation on blacks and the priesthood. If we allow a longer historical period for consideration, there’s the gradual abandonment of the practice of women giving blessings and setting each other apart, the change in the budget structure of the auxiliaries, several correlation movements with varying bureaucracies, some very thorny issues around prophetic succession and seniority in the Quorum of the 12… It’s a long list.
It is not denying the hand of God in these changes to suggest that human beings are very much involved in them, and that those human beings ask the wrong questions sometimes, are on occasion blinded by their own prejudices and misperceptions, and sometimes misinterpret inspiration. The remarkable and faith-promoting part of this story is that God does sometimes (astonishingly often, really) manage to work with flawed human beings to accomplish his work. Faith lies in acting according to the commandments of God and being dedicated to the work of building the Kingdom, not in twisting one’s reasoning faculties into a knot to believe that manifestations of human weakness are somehow divinely sanctioned. The Church is a human institution charged with the task of preparing to usher in the Kingdom of God; it is not yet that Kingdom, and until it is, faithful members have the obligation of trying to envision the Kingdom through the approximation provided by the Church. The fact that we are unified in pursuing that vision does not mean that we won’t each glimpse different facets of it and articulate our perceptions in different voices.