“Generous Orthodoxy” and Continuous Revelation

“Generous Orthodoxy” and Continuous Revelation January 22, 2014

I recently came across a phrase from feminist theologian Hannah Bacon that I really liked.  She talked about a “generous orthodoxy,” a term used “to identify orthodoxy as an emerging, incomplete process that is never closed in on itself, always receptive to the voice of the other.” (See Bacon, “A Very Particular Body: Assessing the Doctrine of Incarnation For Affirming the Sacramentality of Female Embodiment,” in Women and the Divine: Touching Transcendence, eds. Gillian Howie and J’annine Jobling (New York: Palgrave Mcmillan, 2009).  Her essay is interesting in its own right, but I was particularly moved by the framework of the project itself.  

Bacon’s description of generous orthodoxy as beginning from the starting point of orthodoxy as unfinished will resonate with Mormon notions of continuous revelation, the idea that God will yet reveal many important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.  The principle that governs Bacon’s notion of an ever-emerging orthodoxy is reception of the “voice of the other.”  This process comes from listening closely, and attention to the ways that orthodoxy, and the culture of orthodoxy, can exclude, injure, and erase some of God’s children.

The Kingdom of God was the central element of Jesus’s teaching, and just as central to the Restoration inaugurated by Joseph Smith.  For both, the Kingdom of God was a place of economic security and justice, with egalitarian tendencies that challenged traditional social hierarchies.  The notion in the 8th Article of Faith that this community is the subject of future revelation is particularly important.  The vision of a more just society that is at the heart of the good news of the Kingdom of God is a privileged site of future revelation.

The Kingdom of God is an unfinished project, one that expands its borders increasingly to bring in especially those who suffer.  Only a kind of sensitivity to the voices of the suffering can enable this expansion.  It is worth noting that the two revelations canonized in the 20th century, OD2 and D&C 138 are just these kinds of expansions.  Generous orthodoxy and continuous revelation both start from a notion of unfinished business and the voice of the other as the key to the Kingdom.

The notion of a generous orthodoxy is the work of those who are committed to the Kingdom of God, who work to speak and listen to the voices that cannot be heard within present orthodoxies.  Rather than the closure of dogmatism or abandonment, the two most popular approaches to the status quo, generous orthodoxy is open to itself through the other.

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