Monday, December 27, 2010

The Proclamation, President Packer, and Revelation

December 27, 2010
by Tim Barker

I had a conversation with a friend a month or two ago, regarding the subject of continuing revelation, which is, perhaps, the most distinguishing characteristic of Mormonism.  Among other issues discussed, questions arose as to what qualifies as a revelation, and how Latter-day Saints are to recognize or distinguish a revelation from an opinion.  This subject arose because of a change in wording from the discourse delivered by President Boyd K. Packer in General Conference entitled Cleansing the Inner Vessel, compared to the subsequently released printed version.  In his talk, President Packer stated that The Family: A Proclamation to the World, "qualifies according to definition, as a revelation..."  The printed version states that the proclamation "is a guide that members of the Church would do well to read and to follow."  The assumption was that President Packer's change in wording was an apparent correction, indicating that the proclamation was not a revelation, and this would be disconcerting to members who believed that it was.  Other changes in the printed version have received a degree of publicity and criticism, and there has been no shortage of speculation as to President Packer's motives.1  

In response to these circumstances, Scott Trotter, an LDS  church spokesman, stated that "the Monday following every general conference, each speaker has the opportunity to make any edits necessary to clarify differences between what was written and what was delivered or to clarify the speaker's intent.  President Packer has simply clarified his intent."2  The question then, is whether President Packer was correcting the idea that the proclamation was received and given by revelation, or whether he felt that calling the proclamation a guide provided added clarity.  I would suggest that the latter is true and will endeavor to explain why.  Additionally, however, I intend to discuss revelation and opinion, and the Latter-day Saint response in a separate post because it is an important topic deserving attention.

The Family: A Proclamation to World

President Hinckley introduced the proclamation in 1995, stating that "the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles now issue a proclamation to the Church and to the world as a declaration and reaffirmation of standards, doctrines, and practices relative to the family which the prophets, seers, and revelators of this church have repeatedly stated throughout its history."3  Based on this preface, we are to understand that the doctrines and principles contained therein are not necessarily new since they have been taught throughout church history.  Reflecting on the proclamation ten years after its issuance, Elder Ballard stated that "it was then and is now a clarion call to protect and strengthen families and a stern warning in a world where declining values and misplaced priorities threaten to destroy society by undermining its basic unit."  Elder Ballard goes on to say that "the proclamation is a prophetic document, not only because it was issued by prophets but because it was ahead of its time."4  Similarly, President Eyring stated that the proclamation "fits the Lord's promise when he said, Whether by mine own voice, or by the voice of my servants, it is the same (D&C 1:38).""Other general authorities have stated in definite terms that the proclamation is and was inspired of heaven.6

As a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Ballard was present and participated in formulating the proclamation.  He described its coming forth as follows:
...I participated in the process of drafting “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” It was a remarkable experience for all of us. As Church leaders travel the world, we see things—both within the Church and outside the Church. We were troubled by much of what we were seeing. We could see the people of the world wanting to define the family in ways contrary to God’s eternal plan for the happiness of His children.  In the midst of all that was stirring on this subject in the world, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles could see the importance of declaring to the world the revealed, true role of the family in the eternal plan of God. We worked together, through the divinely inspired council system that operates even at the highest levels of the Church, to craft a proclamation that would make the Lord’s position on the family so clear that it could not be misunderstood.  Since the proclamation came out almost 10 years ago, time has overwhelmingly proven its prophetic insight.7
Aside from these comments, President Packer has also commented directly on "that great document," known as the family proclamation.8  He clearly stated that "the Lord has spoken to His servants, and they have framed "The Family: A Proclamation to the World."  After quoting a few paragraphs from its contents, he stated that "these lines taken from "The Family: A Proclamation to the World," to me have taken on the stature of scripture."9  Based on these comments it is apparent that President Packer believes the proclamation to be an inspired document.  The extent of revelation received in connection with the formulation of the revelation hasn't been detailed, but the degree with which the proclamation has been extolled by General Authorities provides some assurance regarding its importance. 

So why would President Packer change the wording?  I have a few suggestions.  General Conference today is much different now than it was 100 years ago.  It is much different now than it was 30 years ago.  100 years ago there were less than 1 million members and 30 years ago there were approximately 5 million members.  Today the church has approximately 14 million members found in 162 countries throughout the world.  In fact, it took over 100 years before the church had 1 million living members, while combined church conversions during the last three years were shy of 900,000.10  The words spoken by church leaders today have to be more carefully chosen than ever before since misinterpretation is a bigger risk on a larger scale.  While the internet and worldwide broadcasts help to alleviate this issue, the fact that members are from a broader base of cultures and there are more languages to translate these messages into indicates that there is a profound need for clarity.  With a younger LDS population than in days past,11 careful choice of verbiage is important in communicating the speaker's intent. 

I suggest that the term "revelation" is more vulnerable to misinterpretation than the term "guide" is, aside from having different implications.  There are more connotations associated with the term revelation.  Stating the proclamation in such strong terms may lead to other questions that should be entertained in its own due time.  A revelation can be anything from a subtle form of inspiration to a full vision. How strong was the revelation?  In what way was it received?  Was it inspiration?  Was it a vision?  Each of these questions are beside the point that the document is inspired, regardless of the form in which the revelation came.  Referring to the proclamation as a guide allows the audience to infer that the document is instructional for understanding and living.  While a revelation would have similar implications, it should be remembered that some revelations are quite informative, whereas, others are more instructive in nature.  The proclamation, as a guide, informs us of doctrines and principles that should be applied in practical terms in making decisions and Christian living. 

As a guide, the proclamation provides us with guidance in family living, understanding of the role of the family, and the definition of a family, and our functions within the family units.  While we can only speculate as to why President Packer changed the verbiage, there is sufficient statements and testimonies regarding the The Family: A Proclamation to the World, that we cannot mistake the source of its inspiration.

1 See ABC News discussion of the matter here.
2 Deseret News, October 8, 2010 (available online here).
3 "Stand Strong Against the Wiles of the World," by President Gordon B. Hinckley, General Conference, October 1995, Ensign, November 1995, 101
4 "What Matters Most is What Lasts Longest," by Elder M. Russell Ballard, General Conference, October 2005, Ensign, November 2005, 41
5 "The Family," by President Henry B. Eyring, Ensign, February 1998, 10
6 For two such examples, see "Search the Prophets," by Elder L. Aldin Porter, Ensign, April 2002, 30; and "Mothers Teaching Children in the Home," by Elder L. Tom Perry, General Conference, April 2010, Ensign, May 2010, 31.  Numerous references to the proclamation as a source of truth and as a guide are continually found in General Conference addresses and other articles prepared for publication (see here).
7 "The Sacred Responsibilities of Parenthood," by Elder M. Russell Ballard, Ensign, March 2006, 26
8 "Fledgling Finches and Family Life," by President Boyd K. Packer, BYU's Campus Education Week, August 18, 2009, available through LDS Church News on August 31, 2009 (online here). 
9 "Children of God, by President Boyd K. Packer,  BYU Women's Conference, May 5, 2006 (available online here).
10 Statistics obtained at the following websites:, and
11 Meaning years of church membership rather than literal age demographics.

1 comment:

  1. After discussing this post with the same friend, he kindly pointed out that I have left the reader to follow a false dilemma in choosing whether 'revelation' or 'guide' is more appropriate. He mentioned that both words could have been used in the subsequent printed version, and he is correct. I speculated as to why the word change was made; however, the overriding point of the post is to show that the proclamation is inspired by revelation. The rest of my post is irrelevant.