When the church commissions an opinion poll and then, as a result of that poll, concludes that some program or position is popular, or would be accepted by the Saints without complaint – and then adopt that position in a public statement – has a “revelation” been received? I do not think so. I think an opinion has been obtained, and a policy or statement has been adopted. Therefore, I do not think there is one thing wrong with disagreeing with the policy or statement.
When the church endorses something or some position, I do not think it is right to simply “fall in line” behind the statement without also thinking the same issue through and reaching my own conclusion. The first question I ask myself is what the statement is, and does it imply a revelation from the Lord.
I can think of two examples. One was a public announcement that was heralded in the press. The other was the subject of a letter from the First Presidency read in sacrament meetings.
The public announcement was regarding the housing and employment of homosexuals in Salt Lake City, using the force of government sanction to prevent an employer or owner of property from refusing to grant equal access or rights to homosexuals. I’ve previously commented here in a critical way about that announcement. This is an example of how I view things.
Since the church’s position on the matter had absolutely nothing to do with revelation, and the church did not make any attempt to claim the position came through revelation, I do not believe it is immune from question or criticism. Indeed, the defense of the policy to the press involved a public relations/opinion poll driven justification. It was expected to “resonate on the basis of fairness” with all those in the middle, and only offend those at the two ends of the spectrum. This is opinion gathering to inform a position, then announcing the position because of the results of opinion gathering. It is what a politician or a marketing firm would do. It is not at all akin to a revelation, and should not command my respect. I am under no obligation to alter my view based on what the church’s opinion gathering has concluded. If that were the case, then the church’s ability to control everyone’s thinking would be based only upon prevailing opinion at the moment. This is the “tossed about by every wind” concern which Paul addressed in one of his letters. (Eph. 4: 14.) Shifting opinion is not revelation. I am free to point it out, disagree with it, and explain my contrary view.
Another example is the letter from the First Presidency asking speakers in sacrament meetings to no longer ask those in attendance to open their scriptures. No explanation was provided in the letter. It was just an instruction to the Saints to no longer let sacrament meeting speakers tell those in the meeting to open their scriptures and read along. Perhaps it was as a result of someone being irritated by the noise of rustling scriptures. Perhaps it was someone with a hearing aid, whose aid frequency was tuned to pick up the rustling so well that it drowned out the rest of the speaker’s voice. Perhaps it was because the meeting got delayed and disrupted by the folks struggling to find their scriptures, and open them up to the relevant page. I can’t say for certain. But I did raise my eyebrows when the letter was read in advance to the High Council.
My candid reaction to that letter was that it diminished the office of those who signed the letter by the petty micro-managing of opening the scriptures during a sacrament gathering. I wondered in amazement that someone in the Church Office Building got the First Presidency to sign such a letter. I wondered at how, with all that threatens us today, opening scriptures in order to read along in sacrament meetings managed to become so important that the First Presidency would write and send a letter worldwide to be read in the stakes and wards. It was perplexity on stilts.
Beyond that my approach has been twofold: First, I have NEVER asked anyone to open their scriptures in a sacrament meeting since then. However, I have said in talks during sacrament that “I cannot ask you to open your scriptures and read along” in order to call attention to the policy. I have also said, when teaching outside of sacrament meetings, that I was free to ask them to read along in their scriptures “because we are not in a sacrament meeting.” I do this to call attention to the policy. I think to call attention to it is to cause people to wonder at the pettiness and inconsequential nature of a letter from the First Presidency addressing the opening of scriptures in sacrament meeting.
These are just two examples. There are many. As I have said before, I pay very close attention to the church, what is said and done, and how relevant or irrelevant some position, letter, emphasis or program is in an absolute sense. I try to take it all in and reach my own conclusions. Looking at it all, I am quite concerned. Faithful, tithe paying and active, nevertheless quite concerned.
I believe if enough people were similarly concerned that eventually the “opinion polling” might obtain reasonable results. That is, the top would hear about reasonable concerns and learn of reasonable opinions, and then promulgate policies and send out statements accordingly. That, however, will require a great effort to call attention to the things that matter most, and clarity in pointing out the things that do not matter at all. We fret over trifles while things are burning down all around us. I wonder how long it will take for the polling to inform the Saints of the fire burning around them.