Is prophetic revelation a messy, imperfect process where doctrines and practices change and evolve over time and even prophets see through a glass darkly (like the rest of us)? Or do prophets and apostles really have the kind of clear, direct pipeline to God that merits unquestioning obedience? It seems like most members and leaders of the church like having it both ways.
The slippery slope goes like this: "If leaders in the past made mistakes (potentially the priesthood ban or something like it) then what about now?" I personally see the problem as part of a direct invitation to take more personal responsibility for our relationship to God. Sort of like when Nephi took things straight to God even though his dad had visions and so forth, and later when his dad "spoke as a man" leaving it up to Nephi to get some personal revelation on where to find some grub.
But what if you take some personal responsibility and you take an issue up with God and arrive at a different conclusion than the prophets? It seems that Mormon culture encourages questioning/asking, but always with the assumption that we will, of course, arrive at "the right answer."
I think the hope is there that we arrive at the "right answer," but in my own experience it hasn't always worked out that way. There have been times when my own answer differed or I didn't feel I received an answer at all either way. Granted this is not a common occurrence and it generally makes things a lot more difficult of course. But at the same time I recognize that I received my answer, not a charge to spread it as far and wide as I can.
Sure, go ahead--ask. But then you will get the right answer and it will be in agreement with whatever the prophet has told us. So what if it doesn't? Does that mean he's not a prophet? Or does that mean we are wrong? It seems like are the only two logical conclusions.
First, I don't know how often a prophet or president of the Church would be in direct communication with God face to face. I believe revelation from God more usually comes, even to our leaders, through the Spirit and is conditioned on the circumstances and capacities of the recipient.
Second, there's an old quote from Brigham Young I've thought a lot about. The crux of Brigham's argument is that we're responsible for ourselves. I know we often hear about the importance of following the counsel of the prophets and I believe that's good advice. I can certainly understand why leaders don't constantly say "but I may be, or probably am, wrong, so take it for what it is worth." I imagine they take their position very seriously and do the best they can. But at the same time, I have to be willing to live with a certain uncertainty in these matters. For me, that's all part of our little test down here:
What a pity it would be if we were led by one man to utter destruction! Are you afraid of this? I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually....This approach can make things more interesting. I see through a glass darkly and I kinda like it.
Let all persons be fervent in prayer, until they know the things of God for themselves and become certain that they are walking in the path that leads to everlasting life; then will envy, the child of ignorance, vanish, and there will be no disposition in any man to place himself above another; for such a feeling meets no countenance in the order of heaven. Jesus Christ never wanted to be different from his father: they were and are one. If a people are led by the revelations of Jesus Christ, and they are cognizant of the fact through their faithfulness, there is no fear but they will be one in Christ Jesus, and see eye to eye. (Brigham Young, 12 January 1862, Journal of Discourses 9:150.)