Revelation: the churchy way to say “idea”

We throw the word “revelation” around quite carelessly in LDS congregations. Are we actually talking about ideas?

At the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), the brethren in leadership use the word revelation the same way I would use the word idea. Much of what they say makes more sense of you substitute the word idea.

Some rank-and-file members have adopted this manner of speaking as well. When I served in a ward Primary presidency, for example, a local stake leader told us that we would have great freedom to run our local Primary program according to our revelation (ideas). As an example, she pointed to our decision to hold one combined singing time with the children instead of separate Junior and Senior Primary singing times like other wards in the stake. I was weirded out by the application of the grand term revelation to this inconsequential administrative decision. We didn’t need revelation for such minutia! We were perfectly capable of using our own judgement for wee little matters within our tiny sphere of very limited authority!

But there is a basis for this terminology within our canon of scripture. We teach the concept of personal revelation using this passage from Doctrine and Covenants, that talks about revelation coming to our minds (thoughts) and our hearts (feelings).

Yea, behold, I will atell you in your mind and in your bheart, by the cHoly Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.

Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation; behold, this is the spirit by which Moses abrought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground.


If you apply the Doctrine & Covenants section 8 test to it, my stake Primary leader’s phrasing made sense. We felt like our Primary was too small to split up; we thought it would be better to keep the kids together as a big group at singing time. Feelings + thoughts = revelation.

The end result, a combined singing time, hardly equates with the parting of the Red Sea. Even so, it is common to use the term revelation to describe prosaic administrative changes at church, especially if these changes were implemented by high-ranking church leaders. Think of the rebranding of the home teaching program as ministering or the update of the Sunday School curriculum to the Come Follow Me format. After all, if an idea came from the brethren, it must have been inspired!

Reading more carefully, the Doctrine and Covenants text doesn’t actually give any and every idea the gravitas of revelation. According to the text, revelations are thoughts and feelings told to us by the Holy Ghost. Although the Holy Ghost speaks through thoughts and feelings, it does not follow that every thought and feeling we have comes from that Holy source. Some ideas are just ideas.

President Russell M. Nelson made national news when he described one of church leaders’ worst ideas as a revelation, the 2015 exclusion policy targeting LGBTQ people and their minor children, a policy so bad it was later reversed. The exclusion policy probably did stem from thoughts and feelings of church leaders. They felt some things. Fear, maybe? Repulsion? They thought it would be easier to preach heterosexuality if gay people weren’t present in our congregations. But such thoughts and feelings don’t sound like the kind that come from the Holy Ghost, according to scripture.

But the afruit of the bSpirit is clovedjoyepeaceflongsufferingggentleness, goodness, hfaith,aMeeknessbtemperance


Some members of the church I know seem to use the term revelation, whether consciously or subconsciously, to shut down discussion: this is my personal revelation, so don’t tell me I’m wrong. I wouldn’t be surprised if higher-ranking members of the church use it the same way. After all, many church leaders have openly expressed a preference that members obey leaders’ counsel without question. See the infamous Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet speech by former church president Ezra Taft Benson, as well as any speech quoting it by any other church leader ever since.

If we translate the word revelation out of church-speak, and use the less presumptuous term idea instead, we find ourselves with something more malleable. Ideas are the stuff we debate in the public forum. Ideas can be refined or discarded.

The next time someone at church tells you about the latest revelation, try making this simple switch in your mind. Let that idea just be an idea. Let yourself consider the idea. Is it a good idea? A bad one? Join in on the brainstorming and suggest your own ideas. 

He had (striked out) a revelation (inserted) an idea.
April Young-Bennett
April Young-Bennett
April Young-Bennett is the author of the Ask a Suffragist book series and host of the Religious Feminism Podcast. Learn more about April at


  1. We really like our surety, don’t we? It’s part of why we fall so easily to affinity fraud.

    I do wonder if “revelation” can get back to being unsure. Or maybe a new word to circumscribe “god said so”

  2. Thank you for this helpful “idea”.

    It seems to me that religious people often tend to shy away from taking ownership of their own thoughts and ideas. Good ideas are labeled as inspiration or revelation, and bad ideas are labeled as temptations. I really doubt our Heavenly Parents prompt us in all thoughts and ideas; they gave us brains and creativity. And not all of our bad or even evil ideas come from Satan; sometimes we’re brilliant and insightful, and sometimes we’re stupid.

  3. Yes to this! I think a significant amount of good works could happen by following your suggestion to “Let that idea just be an idea. Let yourself consider the idea. Is it a good idea? A bad one? Join in on the brainstorming and suggest your own ideas.”

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