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One thing Mormons are big on is the right to personal revelation. We fully expect that behaving a certain way will allow our creator to personally influence our life decisions.

In theory, it makes sense. Personal revelation could provide a stronger connection to one's deity.

In practice, however, it's a bit of a misnomer because personal revelation isn't personal when it can be casually overridden by church edict. There are lots of examples of this in LDS history.

Personal • "God wants me to go to medical school to become a heart surgeon."

Church • "Every worthy young man should serve a mission."

You can see how this might cause inner turmoil in an impressionable young man.

"Great. Now I have to choose between what heavenly Father wants me to do and serving a mission so everyone else won't think I've been secretly screwing sheep."

Personal • "The Almighty has confirmed that this woman is the love of my life."

Church • "Brother Rattlepate, the Lord wants, nay, the Lord commands you to take three more wives."

Personal • "This man is the kindest, most loving and spiritual man I have ever met, and the Lord has confirmed in my heart that he should be my eternal companion."

Church • "Hold on there. That man's part black and can't take you through the temple. Pray some more and pick somebody else."

It probably comes as no surprise that I almost always side with personal revelation. It's why, when church leaders said "every worthy young man should serve a mission," I served one even though I was completely unworthy.

Do I believe that this was the wrong thing to do? Not even a bit. It saved my life.

I should point out here that I don't believe anyone's personal revelation should dictate ecclesiastical policy for others or even the entire church. I do maintain the right for it to dictate mine.

For example, I follow the Spirit when it tells me that I don't have to wear a tie to church. I also follow it when someone is giving a talk and a still, small voice whispers, "Hang on a sec. That's a load of $#@&."

But these revelations are personal, and it's my job to heed them. I don't expect them to make sense to others. In fact, I hope they don't.

Think about it. Personal revelation should have some uniqueness to it. Nothing would make it more meaningless than to be getting the same "form letter" revelation everyone else is.

Only a fool would believe if I shot a widow or an orphan, that personal revelation would absolve me of culpability for it. No. Killing, stealing, cheating on a spouse — those are all commandments for which there is no acceptable counter-personal revelation.

On the other hand, the "whispering of the Spirit" is where I determine the direction and manner of my own life. Some — indeed, many — might point out that my personal revelations are just arbitrary feelings of my own or, worse, Satan whispering in my ear.

I'm willing to accept the risk. If I remember the pre-existence correctly, automatic conformity in revelation was his evil plan.

How am I able to make these egregious claims? That's easy. Revelation.

Robert Kirby can be reached at or

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