I’d like to share a letter I asked a good friend of mine. I’ll share the response in the comments later. How would you respond to my email?
You describe Joseph Smith’s revelations as foundational and subsequent revelations a directional. Here’s my question:
How did the 20th century prophets ask and not get an answer about blacks/priesthood? David McKay asked and didn’t get any revelation to correct the situation. Yet, Joseph Smith asked questions all the time and got answers even to seemingly unimportant questions like in section D&C 40, which are pretty much pointless but nevertheless God offered a timely response. Why can’t modern prophets get that kind of turnaround with God?
Even the method seems so different.
David McKay’s biography says, “In 1954 President McKay is said to have appointed a special committee of the Twelve to study the issue. They concluded that the priesthood ban had no clear basis in scripture but that Church members were not prepared for change.” (ref)
The committee method is much different than Joseph Smith’s direct method asking himself and getting a response.
I’ve heard a comparison to the Children of Israel having the lower law due to their unpreparedness/rejection of the higher law. However, this was neither a law nor a supported doctrine. It was not implemented by God and then removed by Him like the law of consecration and polygamy.
Even if the priesthood ban was secretly implemented by God through a secret revelation to BY, there would still be problems with the “unprepared” argument. My internal counter argument is that the saints weren’t prepared for either Law of Consecration or polygamy but those got thrust on the saints regardless. So the “lower law” line of thinking is not consistent historically.
The point is this: when I hear foundational vs directional revelation arguments, I find it directional revelation more likely to be social pressure vs revelation. Polygamy was not socially convenient, so it seems more like a revelation. Disavowing it seemed socially convenient. Instituting a ban on blacks/priesthood was socially convenient due to the political climate in Utah. It was the only territory that allowed black slaves (ref). Disavowing previous positions regarding blacks/priesthood seems socially convenient in post civil rights America.
But my own counter argument is that sometimes the Lord lets his people do what is socially convenient, like having a king instead of judges like in 1 Samuel 8. If so, the selective nature of God’s blessings comes back into play.
In other words, I am enamored by the thought of prophetic leadership but am clouded in my understanding of modern prophetic leadership examples. I get that God has a history of being exclusive, and there are plenty of biblical examples, especially Christ’s limited ministry to the Jew and then lifting of the preaching ban to include all Gentiles. But none of that came from parallel social pressure from what I can tell. Maybe I’m wrong.
So as I prepare for this talk about prophets, and I consider the role of modern prophets, I am just trying to come to grips with a concept that I have struggled with for some time. I suppose you may not have the magic answer, but it’s something that I just don’t get.