I have been diverting myself by debating with several of Zelophehad’s Daughters and their friends over the past few days. The ZDers are mostly a group of intelligent and well-educated Mormon women (many of whom are actually sisters) who like to talk about, well, Mormon women’s issues. After two too-long threads we arrived at a disagreement on what what the ultimate “trump card” (their term) is when it comes to understanding metaphysical truths (aka the ultimate realities of existence).
The general topic of the latest debate specifically was this subject: Is God a sexist? In other words, does God see women as the property or possessions of their husbands?
(No, I’m not kidding. Some of them really are deeply concerned that this is the case. I can only imagine how distressing taking such a metaphysical nightmare seriously would be.)
Anyway, I suggested a simple solution to find the answer to this question: Go ask God. You know — take James 1:5 seriously when it says:
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally
That is of course what the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, did when he had deep metaphysical and theological questions and I submit that turning directly to God with our questions and problems is the Mormon way. In other words, we’re all about personal revelation in this church.
Now I recognize that actually breaking through the veil to even get answers to yes or no questions can be hard for some people so I suggested in that thread (as a back up to seeking the answer to this question directly from God) that there is nothing in LDS scriptures or liturgy that must be interpreted to mean that women are in any way second class citizens in the universe (though clearly several of the ZD gals prefer to read them that way for whatever reason). I further suggested that reading something other than equality between men and women in the eternities requires one to deeply discount the repeated statements in recent decades by modern prophets and apostles on the egalitarian nature of the relationship between men and women in marriage in the eternities. It seemed to me that the response I got back the that line of thinking was something along the lines of “we prefer thinking we are oppressed…” — but maybe that is just my jaded impression.
Anyway, the latest beef they had with my position was that they don’t think personal revelation really is our ultimate trump card on these sorts of things. In other words, a few people basically said “Even if God does tell me that he is not a sexist and that women hold an equal place in the universe in the universe as men I don’t think I could really trust that personal revelation”. Specifically, Ziff (a literal brother to the sisters I believe) said:
personal revelation does not actually function as the ultimate trump card, as you seem to be arguing that it does.
I don’t think Ziff and others who expressed this opinion could be more wrong.
Let me explain…
Everything in our religious lives must come back to personal revelation or our religious effort is largely in vain. Jesus made it clear that life eternal is to know God, not to know about God. We can only know God through dialogue and personal interaction — just like we can only know each other through such interactions. Of course lots of people live religious lives without ever actually personally getting to know God, but of such people Jesus said:
22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. (Matt 7: 22-23)
In other words, living religiously is not good enough in this life. We have to develop a personal relationship with God and Christ while here and that requires revelation and inspiration.
Now rather than focus all sorts of energy on how we all can get better at receiving answers to hard questions about women directly from God, the ZD folks like to occasionally spend time griping about the so-called sexist language of our scriptures and liturgy. But what makes any of us feel certain that our scriptures and liturgy are anything more than pure fiction to begin with? What makes any of us even deeply believe there is a God? Answer: personal revelations on these subjects. How can any of us know if we are being taught truth in General Conference or in Sunday School or anywhere else? Only through personal revelation. And of course personal revelation usually comes to us in the form of inspiration from the still, small voice of the Holy Ghost.
So of course personal revelation is the ultimate trump card. If Joseph Smith didn’t treat it as such he would have just become a good Methodist rather that the prophet of the restoration. How many converts would this church have if personal revelation wasn’t the ultimate epistemological trump card? Very few, I imagine, because people usually only join us weird Mormons after God himself has made it clear to them through his Holy Spirit that he wants them to join us.
Yeah, yeah — I know our inspiration can be vague and confusing at times. But we can get more revelation/inspiration and thus more clarity every single day of our lives. When we take the sacrament weekly what is God’s promise to us if we keep our covenants and always remember Jesus? That we can always have his spirit to be with us. If we don’t have that spirit with us then we are largely wasting our Mormonism in my mind.
So yes — personal revelation is the ultimate epistemological trump card for us.