Revelation for One and All? (Doctrine & Covenants 67-70)

Monday, June 21, 2021


Channing: Hi! We are Channing and Elise,  and this is The Faithful Feminists podcast.

Elise: But this is not just any Come Follow Me podcast. We do things a little differently here. We offer approachable feminist interpretations of the Come Follow Me manual for those who want to study and understand the scriptures in a framework of equality, social justice, and sisterhood. We are here to show you all the really good ways faith and feminism work together to eliminate and deepen the gospel experience.

Channing: We’ve saved you see on the soft chairs, so join us today for a conversation about Doctrine and Covenants sections 67-70 for the dates June 21st through the 27th. We're so glad you're here.

Elise: Welcome back everyone. We're so pleased that you're here today and we're super excited to jump into these sections. Now, after years of receiving revelations, particularly between the years 1828 and 1831, Joseph Smith thought it might be time to publish these revelations. And so he ends up calling a meeting with the church leaders to talk about it.

These sections address both the testimonies of the church leaders at large and on a more personal level concerning what was then called the Book of Commandments, which is the earliest published volume that later becomes a part of the larger Doctrine and Covenants. In fact, in section 70, we learned that these revelations were considered “worth to the church the riches of the whole earth.”

We always love when the sections start out on a really loving, positive note. And I think that's exactly what we see in section 67. Here, we see that God makes really clear that they hear us. They see us and they are concerned about us. And it reminds me of a line that I remember learning about when we were studying the Old Testament when I was in seminary.

My awesome seminary teacher used to say, look, this is what God would say to you. You are my people and I am your God. And that's the similar type of message that I hear echoed, especially in the first verses section 67. It says, “Behold and hearken, O ye elders of my church, who have assembled yourselves together, whose prayers I have heard and whose hearts I know and whose desires have come up before me.”

Verse two says, “Behold and lo, my eyes are upon you. And the heavens and the earth are in my hands and the riches of eternity, are mine together.” I think this is a really hopeful reminder that God has not forgotten us. God has not forsaken us, has not pushed aside our worries, has not forgotten our deepest desires, even the ones that we cannot yet speak aloud.

This to me feels really intimate and comforting and just really loving a great way to start out the section.

Channing: I always appreciate when the sections start out like this, because it does feel like an inhale; like, okay, I can rest here. I can relax. This is all right. God's got me.

No matter what comes later in the section, I always appreciate having these gems. And I also think too, like when we come across versus like this back to the introduction of the Doctrine and Covenants, where it says, we're looking for the “loving but firm” voice of God. And I feel like this is one of those times where we see the love come through really strongly.

Elise: Yes. Absolutely. And this is a really great touchstone that has   helped ground me throughout these sections when times feel a little bit tricky, a little bit rocky. And one of those tricky places for me shows up in section 67, verse five.

Channing: I agree Elise. That verse says, “Your eyes have been upon my servant, Joseph Smith Jr., and his language you have known, and his imperfections you have known, and you have sought in your hearts knowledge that you might express beyond his language. This, you also know.”

Elise: So at first I'm like, wow, this is amazing.

I really appreciate that this verse recognizes our desire to work things out for ourselves to figure things out, to ask questions and to have a desire. To learn and know more than what we're being offered from church doctrine or from our leaders. This verse even calls to mind faith journeys, because I think often on our faith journeys, we may come to a place where we are really grateful for the church, the doctrine, the leaders who have sustained us even while we see their imperfections.

But at least for me, I feel like I'm now in a space where I see the imperfections, but I'm also nodding to the goodness, but also feeling a desire in my heart to know more, to go beyond, to move outside of binaries and boundaries and opt for something more expansive, something that feels more sincere and genuine and perhaps life giving.

So I'm   in this, I don't know, in between space. And in that way at first glance, I think that the text in this verse is really making space for personal revelation that encourages us to chart our own path and find our own way. But then the next few verses that follow this is especially where things get really tricky.

This is where the text ends up saying. You know, what, why don't you try and prove me wrong? Why don't you take the smartest guy in this meeting and let him try writing a revelation of even one of the simplest things that I've seen that you've seen in these revelations. I bet you can't do it, huh? Right?

These are the verses six through nine. And it makes me think of. I don't know, I just am quite off put by this because it makes me think of someone like a really fantastic artist, handing me all of these paints and painting supplies and saying here you think you can do better than this painting that I just did try it.

I know you can't do it. And if you can't do it, then you have to declare that I'm the best artist ever. And I'm the only true artist to ever live. What are your thoughts about all of that?

Channing: Yeah. I, when I came across those verses too, I was like, wow, I feel really uncomfortable reading this. Like, that was my very first initial gut reaction.

Like honestly I wrote in the outline, I was like, what is this? I do not understand what's going on here. So I was like, I better do some digging. Let's see if Revelations in Context has anything to say about this. And thankfully it does. So I'm going to share a little bit from Revelations in Context, because I think that it will add to our understanding of   what's happening in the background of these verses.

Revelations in Context says, “Joseph Smith also desired that the participants in the conference provide their testimony of the divine origin of the revelations [that we know as the Doctrine and Covenants.] Some were reluctant to do so, leading to the dictation of another revelation, which is now Doctrine and Covenants section 67.

In this revelation, the Lord provided a way for the elders to determine whether the revelations were from God. It says, ‘If there'll be any among you that shall make one like unto the revelations,’ it stated, ‘then you are justified in saying that you do not know that it is true, but if no one could make one like unto it, ye are under condemnation if you do not bear that it is true.’

According to one account, there was a man present at these meetings. His name was William McClellan and he volunteered to try to write his own revelation, but it says ‘he failed miserably.’ The revelations in Context continues: “McClellan, along with other conference attendees, fixed his name to a testimony prepared by Joseph stating that quote ‘God has borne record to our souls through the holy ghost shed forth upon us, that these commandments are given by inspiration of God and are profitable for all things, and are fairly true.’

And so I appreciate having this background understanding of what's happening in the section, because I think it sets the scene for what we're dealing with here. And it doesn't necessarily make me feel any better about what the verses say, because if I think about it a little bit more, part of me actually becomes more uncomfortable knowing the context of the story, because for me and the relationship with God that I have, I have felt really strongly the encouragement to lean into my own personal revelation, to dig and pray and listen to the heart and listen to the spirit to find for myself a testimony of basically anything I'm told or anything that I'm given.

But I see that come into contrast with what's happening in the section where some members of this conference are told like, Hey, if you don't think that this is true, then fine, you try to write your own. And if you can't, then that's your testimony that this is true.

And interestingly enough, the man who did try to write his own book of revelations, William McClellan, he actually was a brand new convert. At the time of this meeting, I think he had been converted maybe only a couple of months, and that's a pretty generous timeline. And so it's interesting to me that the person that they elect as like the wisest or the smartest is also the person who's been a part of the church the least amount of time.

And so he tries to make a Book of Commandments by himself, but the Revelations in Context says that ‘he failed miserably.’ And part of me is like, yeah, I would fail at making scripture too If I just got converted three weeks ago. I probably wouldn't be great at it. And then that's taken as evidence that, well, if William McClellan can't do it, then the rest of us can't either. So then by default, this book might be true or this book is true.

And so I I'm feeling discomfort here within myself because I'm sensing. I don't know, a tension point here. They weren't willing to put their names on a statement saying that they knew that this was true, and the only evidence that they have that it was was that William couldn't write his own copy.

And so part of me is like, I want to push back on this a little bit and I want to have the opportunity to feel out for myself, like, okay, what if I was in this situation? Would I, or should I, forsake my own intuitive connection with the divine in order to align myself with what someone else says or with what somebody else demands?

And for me, I think the answer is no because of where I'm at in my faith journey. I don't want to make a statement that William McClellan, maybe he did finally come to a testimony of the Book of Commandments being true. I don't want to take that away from him if that's actually what happened here, but I don't get a sense that that's actually really how it played out, especially given that William McClellan didn't remain a member of the church for very long afterward.

I'm always very suspicious of Revelations in Context using the smallest portion of somebody's story to further the history of the church instead of looking at the full narrative. So I don't know, those are my thoughts about these verses and I'm hopeful that maybe it adds a little bit of context or adds a little bit more detail that we can sit with and sift on our own, because I definitely don't have the answers here.

Elise: Yeah. I don't know if I have the answers either, but just listening to you, a couple of thoughts that I'm having is one. Maybe unlike you, I haven't thought a whole lot about were these leaders of the church pressured into signing their names on the testimony that these revelations were true.

I think I'm more concerned with the, it seems like there's an underlying claim being made or maybe like a slippery, tricky argument being made that like, there can only be one capital T end all be all truth. Like the revelations are true or they're not, and if they are true, then nothing else could also be true. That’s what I'm picking up on.

And I think for me, like you, that comes in contrast with my personal revelation. Can the Book of Commandments be true and can I be really, really bad at trying to write my own revelations? Yes, absolutely. But can I also seek other truth outside of these revelations? Yes, absolutely. Do I have other skills and other personal spiritual gifts that might lead me to new creations that look different than revelation that look different than this particular understanding of a Joseph Smith’s God? Yes, absolutely.

So I think there's a little bit more space for us to do all of those things. And for me, that fits into my understanding of a more expansive God. So that's where I think the discomfort for me came up in these verses is just about this end all be all capital T truth. And if you can't reproduce it, then therefore it has to be true.

Channing: Right. That makes total sense too. I also love that interpretation of the situation as well. And I feel like that is the same perspective that you and I take to scripture where like two people can approach the same text and walk away with something different.

That's the beauty and the danger of sacred text.

Elise: After we moved through the murky waters of verses six through nine, we show up at verse 10 in section 67. And for me, this verse really highlights some important details and descriptions about privilege and how we should spend our privilege. And a quick refresher on the word privilege, privilege is a set of unearned benefits that are given to people who fit into specific social groups. One important part of privilege is that it is not something that we earn or work for.

Verse 10 says, “and again, verily I say unto you, that it is your privilege and a promise I give unto you that you have been ordained unto this ministry. That in as much as you strip yourselves from jealousies and fears and humble yourselves before me, for you are not sufficiently humble, the veil shall be rent and you shall see me and know that I am not with the carnal, neither natural mind, but with the spirit.”

One of the lines that stands out to me from this verse is the line, the veil shall be rent and you shall see me and know that I am. One of the questions that comes to mind is how does our pride and our privilege thicken the veil between us and God? Or said differently, in what ways does our privilege and our pride distance us, block us, turn us away from the good will of God?

Channing: I feel like we've talked about this on the podcast a lot, but not yet altogether at once. But I feel like it happens in a couple of different ways, right? Like one, if our pride blinds us to our own privilege, to the point where we feel like we're the ones being oppressed. For example, if as a white woman am so uncomfortable by discussions about racism that I then might equate that discomfort with oppression. Instead, if I'm aware of my privilege, if I'm aware of how my privilege shows up in non-white spaces and how it can harm people, then I'm a lot less apt to think that I'm the victim in those conversations and I'm the victim in those spaces. And so I think that the humility that's being talked about in some of these words, especially the part where it says and humble yourselves before me for you're not sufficiently humble.

I think that for me, like that's a part of this verse I could really sit with and just notice in myself. If I truly believe that we are all children of God and that the divine resides in all of us, then if I am not listening to the Other, the person who is different from me, the person who believes different from me, the person who looks and acts and speaks and is different than I am; if I forget that they too are divine, then in some way I am shutting myself off from one. face of God, one representation of God, right?

And so every time I turn away from continuing to open myself and continuing to be vulnerable and curious about how God might show up in my relationships in unexpected ways, then I also simultaneously increase the divide between me and a facet of the divine.

Elise: That that's spot on. That was so well said.

Another thing that I'm thinking about with that verse with the line about humbling ourselves, because we're not sufficiently humble. I think that oftentimes we can have a social justice awakening, and we can be really eager to show up in marginalized spaces and show up ready for the fight, thinking that we have all of the answers or just being really eager and excited, or prideful, right. Thinking that we know better than the people that have been here been fighting long, long, long before us.

And so I think a part of that humility check here is to recognize that we have a lot to learn and that when marginalized groups ask something of us, that we should do it, that we should listen, that we should move over and make space because we are not the center.

Finally the last part of this verse that I really appreciated was the call to strip ourselves of fear. I think sometimes we may be fearful of using and spending our privilege because we know that it requires us to truly sacrifice and change. It means giving up some. And I was talking to our friend, Jasmine from the First Name Basis podcast. She was telling me of an article that she read that talked about how there are now less people who support Black Lives Matter than before the murder of George Floyd because they realize it actually requires them to make long-term, consistent changes. And some people aren't ready for that.

It's more than a hashtag. It's more than a poster or sign in your front yard. It requires consistent action at every turn. And I will ask her for the article so that I can share it all with you, but stripping away the fear of having to sacrifice. I think that the Doctrine and Covenants is actually all about sacrifice for the greater good, so that everyone can flourish so that everyone's needs are met, but not just met, but so that there is surplus and abundance and extra for everyone.

Channing: And it asks us to be good stewards. It asks us to be good stewards of what we already have. And so if I look at my life and I see that I have a little bit extra to give whether that's in time, whether that's in voice, whether that's in finances, like whatever resource I have at my disposal, it should be, according to the Doctrine and Covenants, consecrated to the greater good of my community.

And so sometimes that can mean emailing and calling my senators and telling them, Hey, maybe don't ban critical race theory in public schools, which is happening in Utah. Spending the time and the resources and the energy and the privilege really is what all of those boil down to: making a real and lasting change within our communities, because we only have control over what we have control over, but we also have control over more than we think we do.

As we move forward into section 68, we encounter a lot of conversations about the priesthood. Revelations in Context also offered a good backdrop for this section as well too. It says,

“William McClellan recollected that when he was ordained a high priest, he did not understand the duties of the office. Perhaps that lack of understanding led in part to his request for the revelation that followed, which is now Doctrine and Covenants section 68. This provided McClellan and his companions with information about the duties of high priests and elders to preach the gospel to all the earth.”

We also have from the chapter heading for section 68, that says that “this is a revelation given through Joseph Smith at Hiram Ohio in on November 1st, 1831, in response to a prayer that the mind of the Lord would be made known concerning Orson Hyde, Luke Johnson, and William McClellan.” And at the very end of the section heading, it says, “although part of this revelation was directed to these four men, much of the content pertains to the whole church.” And so to sum that all up in everyday language, section 68 was given in response to specific people with specific questions; like, what am I supposed to do in my calling as a high priest?

And I think that these are important questions with important answers. I strongly believe that questions are good and necessary and probably even more so in the early days of the church, as everybody was trying to figure out how to make everything and everyone worked together for the mutual good of all.

Section 68 contains clarifications about who can hold and claim the priesthood and certain positions which require it. There's a lot of talk about proving one's priesthood lineage, as well as what the sequence or setting up of the authority. For example, a high priest can serve any other priesthood office below the one he currently holds within the structure of the institutional priesthood.

And it probably won't surprise any of you to hear that I really struggled with this chapter. It made me quite angry at first and even still I have some questions and concerns about some of the concepts contained here, but I wanted to acknowledge first the purpose, the intention, and the potential good contained in the chapter before I dug in a little bit deeper.

Much of the Doctrine and Covenants contains revelations that were given an answer to questions asked by individuals that do pertain to the entire church. But this one feels   different to me. And I wanted to talk about why first. This chapter largely focuses on priesthood responsibilities, specifically those of a high priest.

And like I said before, the chapter heading says, “although part of this revelation was directed to these four men, much of the content pertains to the whole church.” And this is exactly where I start to run into some problems because it's really a sticking point for me that if someone claims something to be applicable to the entire church, that should include everyone. A section that is about priesthood cannot be applicable to the whole church because a significant portion of its members are women.

Some people might push back on this and say, well, women, priesthood affects you too. And they aren't wrong. Priesthood does affect me as a woman. Many women in the church could offer up countless circumstances where it has and does. And I might be more apt to celebrate chapters on the priesthood if I could affect it in any way.

But as a woman, the priesthood feels really peripheral to me. Oftentimes I get to these chapters and think so what? Today, on June 18th, 2021, I'm finding it really hard to invest myself in caring about what a high priest does, because those responsibilities don't apply to me.I currently don't have the opportunity to exercise any priesthood responsibilities in the structure of the church.

I also expect that in response to hearing me say that I have a hard time caring about sections, about the priesthood, someone will say something like you can't just write off an entire section all because you're triggered or you just need to understand the priesthood better.

But the problem that I have with this too, is that we, the collective we of the church, have spent so much mental and emotional labor creating a variety of workarounds for women and the priesthood. This probably is pretty irreverent of me to say, but I feel like the church wants its cake and to eat it too. The institution doesn't want to give women real power and influence and it doesn't want to feel bad about it, so the church deflects responsibility elsewhere.

It says that women really do have priesthood power because we access that power in our callings and in the temple, but we just don't hold the priesthood. But here's the thing. One can not use something one does not have. I've said this before and I will say it again.The only connection between priesthood and motherhood is that having the priesthood is like being pregnant. You either have it, or you don't. The end.

In truth, I won't be surprised this week if somebody slides into our DMs on Instagram and tells us to read another book about women in the priesthood, because we wouldn't feel this way, if we really knew what the priesthood was all about, right?

But I'm prepared to leave messages like that on read because I'm tired. The whole admonition to study the priesthood so you know more about it is really hard to get behind. I'm just going to say right here and right now how I really feel about this whole thing. I've been a woman my whole life. I've been a member of the church my whole life. And I've been reading my scriptures for a good portion of that time, like a good girl. And additionally, there are a lot of women out there more studied and informed than I am. If there was a secret to women in the priesthood, surely someone would have figured it out by now and shared it with everybody.

I strongly believe that men who hold the priesthood like to pretend that if women just understood the priesthood better, they would be okay with not having it. But unfortunately I can - and I have - studied the priesthood up, down and all around, and I'm super intrigued and excited about the potential power it gives me. And yet it will never matter because I'm a woman. Unfortunately, knowing about power and the privileges it affords you within an institution is a poor pathetic substitute for actually having the ability to hold and use it.

So that's my first and very long issue with Doctrine and Covenants, section 68.

But it's not the only one. My second sticking point with section 68, is that unlike other revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants, the section is for for individual men, unlike questions like we've come across before, like ‘what should we do to establish Zion? Should we make a printing press? Should we move to Kirtland? Should we move to Missouri?’

These were more like personal priesthood blessings, like father's blessing. And that's okay. I want people to know that they're absolutely entitled to those, but I also question the relevancy of these blessings to the entire church. And so a question that I wanted to present to you Elise, but also to our listeners, is what do we think the dangers are of applying personal revelation to an entire community?

Or maybe even going beyond that, what are the dangers of church leaders applying their personal affiliation to an entire community? Do you have any thoughts on that, Elise?

Elise: I think that's a really great question. And if I was to think about if I was the leader of the entire church and I tried to apply my personal revelation to everyone, it just wouldn't go deep enough for everyone because everyone's experiences are different.

And I also think that I would miss a lot of people's important circumstances, their important identities, their important lived experience, because it is unlike mine. I show up, even in my personal revelation, with my own bias. I show up with life experience that looks a whole lot different than someone living across the country.

And for those reasons, I think that what feels like a really powerful individual revelation for me can often feel like I am dismissing or bypassing other people in their individual experiences. And this is where I would want people to pull from section 67, verse five. Again, the verse that says,

 I know that you've seen my personal revelation and you've also seen my imperfections. And I also know that you have this desire in your heart for something more and different and better and deeper and more expansive than what my specific personal revelation is offering you. And so you should find it.

You should seek after that. You should build a life built on personal revelation, but I don't think that I think it has to be in partnership with community. You have to be able to understand your personal experience but also show up in a community that can help you understand what that means for you and what that personal revelation calls you to do in the shared community with others.

I don't ever think that we are isolated in our personal revelation, though. It may be individual to us. I don't think that we can act on that personal revelation without being in community and recognizing that our personal revelations, our personal gifts, and our spiritual blessings, those things affect other people too.

And so how am I enacting or sharing my revelation with other people? Am I doing it in a way that uplifts and benefits all, or am I doing it in a way that only benefits me?

Channing: I just love that concept. We, I think in religious communities, we will always find ourselves at the intersection of individual and community because we are never only one or the other.

And like that's a difficult tension point. But I also think that the more practice we are in holding those tension points together, the more mature our faith becomes and the more resilient we are and the better able we are to mourn with those that mourn and comfort, those that stand in need of comfort.

So I think you've really highlighted there an important facet of what it means to be a member of the church.

Elise: Overall. I think for me that these sections have brought up some questions. Tension points and murky verses that I've had to grapple with. And I don't even know if I'm getting it all “right.” I'm doing air quotes for it. I don't even think I'm doing all right. But I do find it important that I'm showing up to the scriptures and trying to make something of it. And I think there's a little bit of encouragement that I've found sprinkled through, especially through section 67 and 68, for example, 67 verse 13 says ‘continue in patience until you are perfected.’ Verse 14, “Let not your minds turned back.” And in 68, verse six, “Wherefore be of good cheer. I the Lord am with you and we'll stand by you.”

Channing: Friends. Thanks so much for joining us for this week's episode. We've covered a lot of ground here talking about personal revelation versus general revelation, being willing to be honest about our privilege and our pride and whether or not that's separating us from God and the divine and others, and how the text has really challenged us this week, especially in our very particular tension points.

We're really grateful that you've joined us and spent all the time with us. And we hope that you'll turn to the Doctrine and Covenants this week and spend your own time with the text and gain your own personal revelation from what you find there. We're excited to hear what you think.

We love you so much and we'll see you again next week. Bye!

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