Survey-driven Revelation?

I’ve struggled for a little while about asking those of you in the bloggernacle who read FPR about this topic for some time, but I resolved that I really, really want your opinion on it. I know what my file leader’s response to some of these issues would be, but your opinion is the one to which I most adhere, and to which I listen best. It’s also a carefully calculated opinion, and is generally well thought out. I like that about you, bloggernacle. You’re smart and courteous.

We change our rituals and ceremonies on occaision, for reasons which are largely nebulous. Some say it’s because of sociological changes, others due to direct revelation, others say it’s in order to speed up the posthumous ceremony process. Regardless of why they might change, the fact is that they change. And when they do, something is usually trimmed off. Something new is rarely added, unless it’s some form of clarification or alternate way of doing what was once done in the past.

In my own temple-going lifetime, the changes in 1990 were the most drastic. Again, details aside, much was trimmed off which was probably uncomfortable for many people. In fact, it has come to my attention that this is perhaps why some of those elements were trimmed off. People were uncomfortable.

A good friend of mine pointed out to me that the 1990 changes (and perhaps even the February 2005 changes to the initiatory) were survey-driven changes. Folks in certain regions were polled on what they thought about this or that, and then changes were made. My own grandparents were among those who were polled. Before I knew about the surveys, I remember asking Grandpa about the changes, and why the church would do such a thing. His response: “Progress!” He said that this is what the Lord revealed. It made me wonder: if we keep “progressing,” will the Lord continue to “bless” us by trimming away his ceremonies until they’re all gone? Probably not. I learned a few years later that he was polled about the 1990 changes before they went into effect. It seems that even though Grandpa was polled, he still thought that it was revelation which kickstarted the changes. Enter the paradox.

So it makes me wonder: Are our rituals susceptible to our own wills? If so, what changes can we expect in the future?

  • Rob Osborn

    From my own experience it seems that the phrase of “mans ways are not God’s ways” are the best way that God relates to man. Now this seems paradoxial but God teaches us through “our understanding” line upon line until we know all the mysteries of “his Kingdom”. One of the teachings in the temple that has yet to find itself into our gospel manuals is that we progress through the 2 lower Kingdoms along with the earth and end up in the Celestial Kingdom and that it is only through this order that man can gain the sufficient knowledge to be able to possess the Celestial kingdom.

    Just think how much different the temple experience will be when Christ reigns on the earth during the Terrestrial Kingdom era! The endowment ceremony wording will obviously have to change as we will no longer be living in the “Telestial world” but in the Terrestrial world. This life here in the Telestial kingdom is more of a “preparatory gospel” kind of life designed to prepare men to be obedient and subdue and/or bridal our carnal desires and passions.

    The Temple endowment ceremonies will continue to change as the veil of unbelief/ understanding gets thinner and thinner. We have come a long way from biblical times in our temple ceremony and we will continue to change as man starts to figure things out. We as a church may not always do everything perfectly right including sequence and wording in the temple and we need to stand assured that the changes that come I believe are revelation from God to change the error of “mans ways” Check out this scripture in answere to your post-

    8 Behold, great and marvelous are the works of the Lord. How unsearchable are the depths of the mysteries of him; and it is impossible that man should find out all his ways. And no man knoweth of his ways save it be revealed unto him; wherefore, brethren, despise not the revelations of God.

    (Book of Mormon | Jacob 4:8)

  • http://www.newcoolthang.com/ Geoff J

    Hey David,

    Who said the changes came by revelation? Were there any official announcments to that effect?

  • http://faithprorumor.weblogs.us/ David J

    Geoff, were there any official announcements that it was survey-driven?

    I just see the revelation card thrown around a lot. It seems that this was the way it was given to JS, so therefore this is the way it is modified thereafter, or so the logic goes.

    Geoff, it’s late. Go to bed! ;)

  • http://www.newcoolthang.com/ Geoff J

    Hehe. It was later for you than for me (I’m in PDT so it wasn’t even midnight here…)

    The reason I asked that question is that I’m not convinced it matters if the changes were influenced by research and surveys. There seem to be several assumptions you have made about the way these things are supposed to work but you haven’t spelled them out in the post. For instance you seem to be implying that any changes to the details of the ordinance must originate from God… is that correct? Is there a good reason why we shouldn’t assume such changes originate with church leaders and then get confirmed/approved/ratified by God?

  • http://mormonstories.org John Dehlin

    A colleage of mine here at USU told me that he was part of the survey/research team that did the field work (“Why are you uncomfortable going to the temple?”) which were a lead up to the 1990 temple ceremony changes.

    He’s been a stake president at least twice, I believe.

    Of course this doesn’t mean that the survey let to the changes, but I’m pretty confident that the church does surveys in its decision-making process–even for ordinances.

  • http://faithprorumor.weblogs.us/ David J

    you seem to be implying that any changes to the details of the ordinance must originate from God… is that correct?

    I don’t think it’s my assumption. I think it’s an innocent assumption made by most faithful Mormons, like my Grandpappy. When I heard of the survey-driven changes, I was vexed at first, but then relieved. I always thought that God doesn’t unrestore what he restored, unless we’re doing something wrong (3 Nephi 16?). Perhaps the survey-driven revelation thing is a sign of how things are done in SLC. Who knows.

    Is there a good reason why we shouldn’t assume such changes originate with church leaders and then get confirmed/approved/ratified by God?

    Well, the first good reason that comes to mind is that this isn’t the usual pattern (the Iron Rod folks would cite Amos 3:7 here). This is what drove me to write this. The pattern just doesn’t fit what we’re told or what the lore/traditions relate regarding temples and temple worship. It’s tough to state it like this because it paints a picture that looks like this: “This is our church, we’re gonna do it like this. So God, are you in?”

    The temptation, I suppose, is to find a happy medium, as you did with your last point: God is still heavily involved, but so is the human element as an outcome of the survey. I think that might be a good way to view it.

  • danwheel

    Why does God need to be the one always initiating revelation? Didn’t Joseph Smith get most of his revelations only after going to the Lord with problems or questions?

    I can see things playing out this way: The Brethren are concerned about temple attendance and wonder if there is anything they can do to improve it. They set up a committee to investigate this issue. The committee talks to Stake Presidents, District and Mission Presidents, Temple Presidents, and regular members to solicit their feeling and ideas. The committee takes this information and puts together a plan of action and submits it to the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. If these governing bodies feel the Spirit approves of the plan, they go ahead and implement it. Otherwise they turn the issue back over to the committee for a different plan. This cycle continues until the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve approve of a plan by unanimous vote as guided by the Holy Ghost.

    While the following may be apocryphal, my father told me this is how the Seventy were reorganized back in the ’70s. When Joseph Fielding Smith became the Prophet, he tasked the Presidency of the Seventy to make a recommendation of how to reorganize the Seventy for the growing church in accordance with D&C 107. They made a recommendation and President Smith accepted it, but he died before it could be implemented. When Harold B. Lee took over as Prophet, he told the Presidency of the Seventy to come up with another plan for reorganizing the Seventy. They did come up with another plan, and President Lee accepted it, but he also died before it could be implemented. When Spencer W. Kimball became Prophet he also asked the Presidency of the Seventy to come up with another plan for reorganizing the Seventy. After having gone through this process twice already, and having it end each time with the death of the Prophet, they were hesitant to go through it again; but they pressed forward in faith, presented a plan, it was accepted by President Kimball, he didn’t die, and it was implemented.

    In the end I think it’s more important to believe the Church is governed by revelation, than in the process by which the revelation in received.

  • danwheel

    I think understanding the correct way to administer the temple ordinances clearly falls under D&C 46:15:
    “And again, to some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know the differences of administration, as it will be pleasing unto the same Lord, according as the Lord will, suiting his mercies according to the conditions of the children of men.”

    As far as the Brethren taking surveys about possible changes, I think that’s just part of due diligence. It’s in harmony with the “study it out in your mind” principle of receiving revelation. I’m actually gladdened to hear how they do take the thoughts and considerations of the members into account instead of just thinking they always know best.

    As long as they get a confirmation by the Holy Ghost that their decisions are right before making the changes final, it’s all right by me.

  • http://www.newcoolthang.com/ Geoff J

    David: Perhaps the survey-driven revelation thing is a sign of how things are done in SLC.

    I assume so since it perfectly matches the pattern described in D&C 9. The leadership senses a problem; They study it out in their minds and gather as much data as possible and come up with potential solutions; They then turn to God for approval. I don’t see how that pattern is at odds with Amos 3:7 as you implied though.

    Further, I don’t think it is safe to assume that every detail of every ordinance was “restored”. Sure, priesthood authority and general temple ordinances along with many doctrines were restored but that does not mean that the details of ordinances are exactly the same in all ages. So I don’t think anything is “unrestored” when there are changes in details.

  • admin

    A lot of comments are getting hung up in moderation today. I apologize. I’ll keep checking in to make sure you all get heard.

  • Matt W.

    My Mission President was very fond of saying “Inspiration is 90% Information”, applied to the concept of being saved after all we can do. I think that applies to this case.

  • danwheel

    Oops, in my comment above I should have said First Council of the Seventy instead of the Presidency of the Seventy. My bad.

  • Jonathan N

    Most of the revelations in the D&C, and actually in all the scriptures, came in response to a question or meditation/pondering. The survey seems similar in nature; i.e., it reflects an identification of a problem (people not going to the temple) and then pondering about it. The 1990 changes weren’t as extensive as previous changes, anyway, but I don’t know whether the previous changes followed surveys.

    Changes in other church programs seem to follow a similar pattern. People simply think of better ways to do things, with varying degrees of revelation, experience, and just plain problem solving.

  • Mogget

    I’d be interested in seeing the actual questions on the survey.

    Were specific changes ennumerated, to be rated by the respondants?

    Were some particular ideas simply “off the table?”

    Did respondants get to suggests changes they thought appropriate?

    I’d also be interested in the demographics of the survey.

    All long-time members?
    All men?
    All in senior leadership positions?
    Of what age?

    I can easily imagine, for example, a very distinct difference in what women vrs. men might answer on certain questions.

  • http://www.splendidsun.com J. Stapley

    The evolution of the temple rituals is fascinating. Some of the largest changes (those initiated by George F. Richards) were done by him with frequent council with the First Presidency (and their ultimate imprimus). My understanding of the 2005 changes were directly from President Hinckly – no survey. The 1990 changes definately were.

    I’m grateful to have seen so many changes in my lifetime. It shows that the Lord is willing work with his people (and it is a splendid rebuttal to those who think that Adam had the same endowment that we do – we don’t even have the same endowment that we did).

    As to how the revelations occur – I can’t think of a single instance in our church where a revelation was forced upon a prophet. It was all by inquiry. And perhaps we might shave some meaningful things off along the way. I miss the old iniatory ritual; but I’ll tell you what…I would not have cared for the original one.

  • jose

    The principles of the endowment are eternal; the presentation is not and is subject to change from dispensation to dispensation or decade to decade. The principles are received from God by revelation; the presentation (including script) is the product of the Brethern trying as best as they can to represent the covenants and doctrine in a way that is instructional and enlightening. “As best as they can” may include using symbols/oaths already understood by 19th century Nauvoo men or surveys and committees–common 20th century business marketing and organizational practices.

    Work by committee and polling does not exclude revelation. I agree with Geoff J that this fits the mode of prophetic translation described in D&C 9. I don’t think Moroni wrote (or God dictated) in King James English, or equivalent. That was the mode of scripture in Joseph’s day and so that is the style of language Joseph used for translation and revelation. God did not object. Similarly, a committee can make a recommendation and the recommendation approved if those in authority feel God is in accordance. What a wonderful process of revelation that places such burden of investigation on the petitioner.

  • Steve M.

    Mogget sez: I was deleting spam and I accidently deleted this post. I’ve now recovered the post itself and the name of the author, but not the email or other info.

    I think the fact that the ceremonies have been changed so many times since their introduction is evidence that their real value doesn’t lie in the outward actions or symbols, but in what they represent. As long as changes to the actions, wording, and symbols of rituals don’t undermine their core meaning, I don’t think we should be so resistant to these changes, whether they come by revelation, surveys, or whatever.

  • http://faithprorumor.weblogs.us/ David J

    All interesting remarks.

    This fascinates me because as a missionary, I believe I was told that one of the reasons some of the old ceremonies (like baptism for the dead) were lost and/or changed was due to the people changing them without direct mandate from God. If we’re right in assuming that changes are from the ground up (and not from up to the ground, so to speak), perhaps our views of apostasy ought to be reconsidered, especially in a liturgical context.


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