Rejecting the Living Prophets by Following Future Prophets

[Cross posted from Sixteen Small Stones]

kept-my-cupOne of the key doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that we have living prophets and apostles today who are authorized by God to receive revelations for the church and for the world. The scriptures are full of stories of how the people of the church rejected the messages of the living prophets, often justifying themselves by appealing to the words of previous prophets. Even Jesus was rejected by appealing to Moses or Abraham.

As President of the Twelve Apostles, Ezra Taft Benson warned: “Beware of those who would set up the dead prophets against the living prophets, for the living prophets always take precedence.” (Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet, 1980)

Elder Dallin H. Oaks explained further: “…the most important difference between dead prophets and living ones is that those who are dead are not here to receive and declare the Lord’s latest words to his people. If they were, there would be no differences among the messages of the prophets.” (Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall, 1992)

I’ve noticed a troubling parallel among some progressive members of the church: Rejecting living prophets in favor of what they anticipate future prophets will do*.

It works like this: They believe that the living prophets are wrong regarding some policy or doctrine, such as same-sex marriage or women holding priesthood. They are convinced that these teachings are not of God but merely expressions of false cultural traditions. They look at past changes that the church has made, like discontinuing the policy of withholding priesthood from black members, and they extrapolate that the future prophets and apostles will change these other positions as well. Convinced that their words and actions are in harmony with what the future prophets will undoubtedly teach, they proceed to act right now as if the future prophets have already made the change that they anticipate. As a result, at an emotional level they feel like they are following the prophet and that those who disagree with them are rejecting the prophet.

But just like fundamentalists who reject the living prophets by following dead prophets, progressives reject the living prophets by following anticipated future prophets.

In reality the future prophet that they are following is just a projection of their own views in the present. In other words they are setting themselves up as an alternative authority to the current prophet by attributing their contrary positions to a future prophet who does not yet exist. Whether by reason or supposed personal revelation, they are claiming to know which direction the church should take better than the current prophets do.

This is true even if the change they anticipate in the future ends up being correct.

Most readers probably remember Hiram Page, who in the early days of the church began to receive revelations through a seer stone concerning the organization and location of Zion. In the revelation that Joesph Smith received about the matter, the Prophet was instructed to tell Brother Page that the revelations were not of God, that Satan had deceived him, with the explanation that “these things have not been appointed unto him…”.

We often assume that because the revelations were not of God that the information contained in the revelations about the organization and location of Zion must have been clearly false. But that is not what the revelation given by God to Joseph says.  It says that those things had not been “appointed” to Hiram Page and that no one at the time was appointed to receive commandments and revelations for the church except for Joseph Smith, the Prophet.

So even if, hypothetically, Hiram Page’s revelations had been correct about the future location of Zion, because it violated the order of the church and undermined the authority of the Prophet, it was not of God.

Likewise, even if progressive members of the church are correct that the future prophets will change the church’s position regarding same-sex marriage (though I believe it is very, very unlikely) or some other policy, their opposition to the directions of the current, living prophets is still a violation of the order of the church. Like Hiram page they set themselves up as an alternative source to receiving the truth.

We are required to follow the current, living prophet who has the authority and keys, not some future prophet whose future directions we conveniently imagine will match that which we currently believe which is contrary to current teachings.

In a discourse which I have cited in the past, Elder Glen L. Pace compared the church to a locomotive:

“While on the train we can see the world and some of our own members outside laughing and having a great time. They taunt us and coax us to get off. Some throw logs and rocks on the tracks to try and derail it. Other members run alongside the tracks, and while they may never go play in the woods, they just can’t seem to get on the train. Others try to run ahead and too often take the wrong turn.”(Spiritual Revival, 1992)

There is great danger in trying to run ahead of the church according to our own wisdom and light. Following the living prophets provides a framework for members to adjust to changes in the church, even when those changes may be different than their expectations or desires.

This actually happened with Brigham Young when Joseph Smith received the vision recorded in section 76 of the book of Doctrine and Covenants. Brigham Young said that he found the doctrine of the three degrees of glory in the vision so contrary to his traditional understanding of the afterlife that at first he could not understand it. But he did not reject it.

But following what we imagine future prophets will do rather than what living prophets require now provides no framework for dealing with changes in the church unless they always conform to personal expectations.

Those who anticipate that the church will change to accept same-sex marriage or extend the priesthood to women need to ask themselves “What if it never happens? What if, on the contrary, the prophet receives a revelation in which the Lord reaffirms and entrenches the church’s current position, it is unanimously accepted by the presiding councils of the church, and the new revelation is canonized? What then?”

If the answer is that they know that that is not the Lord’s will, then they have set themselves up as a prophet themselves in competition and opposition to the prophets and apostles of the church. Which of course raises the same issues of stewardship and authority that we confront with fundamentalist leaders who place their own revelation and authority in opposition to that of the church. They may be right or they may be wrong, but there should be no illusion about what they are claiming (even if it is obscured by projecting their prophecies onto future prophets).

In the scriptures, rejection of the living prophets has grave consequences. God holds us accountable for our reception or rejection of his living servants and the warnings and directions they give for us now, not what he may or may not require of us in the future.

[* This idea of following presumed future prophets is not my own. Credit goes to my friend Bruce Nielson who first articulated it to me in a conversation.]

NOTE: All comments for this post are moderated by default and a Bite the Wax Tadpole approach to comments applies. Thank you.

UPDATE 03/18/2013 – A follow up to this post and the resulting conversation can be found on my personal blog Sixteen Small Stones:

Watchmen on the Tower – On the Limits of Prophetic Fallibility

63 thoughts on “Rejecting the Living Prophets by Following Future Prophets

  1. Very nicely put! This phenomenon is very similar to those who reject the revelation which has been received in the name of continuing revelation. For example, those who reject what has been said about man’s origins because continuing revelation will undoubtedly overturn what has been said. Now I don’t necessarily have a problem with people taking revelations that were given to people who lived in very different circumstances with a grain of salt, but let’s not pretend that we have revelation on our side when we do so.

  2. For example, those who reject what has been said about man’s origins because continuing revelation will undoubtedly overturn what has been said.

    This is an great observation, Jeff G. Thank you.

  3. I think you bring up an important potential problem. While in my limited experience I see many more problems stemming from reading/worshiping dead prophets, I agree the fixation on future changes could, in theory, be problematic. [Out of curiosity how long do they need to be dead before we can start discounting what they said? :-) ]

    The issue you leave unresolved though is what should a person do who believes they have received confirmation from God through the Holy Ghost that a current practice is wrong? Much like in the military soldiers are commanded to obey an order *except* when that order is unlawful. Then the soldiers actually have a legal duty to disobey the order.

    Within the Church we often praise the idea of following counsel even if we don’t understand (or even believe) it. Because (the theory goes) we believe in the Church, i.e., we believe the current President of the Church is God’s actual *current* authorized representative on the Earth, and that he holds/controls all of the relevant Keys to the work and ministry. I think this is fine as far as it goes, it provides people who do not want to really find out *truth* for themselves an easy out, they can simply say: “I followed the prophets”. In a sense they score brownie points for being obedient, and they can shift the blame for any mistakes which occur to the “prophets”.

    The problem as I see it is when a mistake gets made and it is big enough that it really matters, AND it is one in which a given member of the Church has received a firm witness that a mistake is being made. Then “following the prophets” could potentially count as a sin against the Spirit *in addition* to a positive ledger entry for obedience.

    The Blacks and the Priesthood issue is a good example. God and Joseph got this correct in the Restoration. Black men where ordained (both as elders and high priests – and as a seventy), and one was called as a Branch President, and another as a General Authority. And the second man’s sons and grandsons were ordained (as late as the early 1900s!) as well. Clearly God did not want, in any eternal sense, Blacks to be denied the Priesthood. Yet due to cultural racism Brigham Young instituted the ban 9except for the GA’s direct descendants). Then succeeding generations of Church officials came up with very inventive justifications for it. As a result the Church as a whole taught, and many believed, incredibly racist *and completely false* “doctrines for many decades.

    However, many Church members knew this was wrong, *and said so*. I firmly believe that their stand for eternal truth is of more worth than any disobedience they demonstrated. Now of course the risk is that a given member is deceived and the witness is from Satan rather than God. (Your example of Hiram Page is on point here.) Unfortunately the only two options to know if one is deceived or not are to: 1) wait and see, or 2) pray further for an unmistakable witness. Neither approach is going to endear one to the people who subscribe to the “follow the prophets” approach no matter what.

    I agree the practice of looking tot he future is a dangerous one, in that by definition one is parsing the words of the current President (or the other current prophets/apostles), but in cases of extreme error I personally am willing to take that risk. Obviously this approach is not for everyone.

  4. Trying to live outside the present (in the past, for reactionaries, in the future for some varieties of liberals) is a rejection of mortality. The essence of mortality is the here and now and the way those confines make choice possible but also radically reduce your choice. All of us engage in forms of denial to some degree. Living as a member of the future is one ideologicalized specialty form of it.

    But lets not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Living in hope and in faith is a form of future orientation that does not require severing ties with the duties of the present.

  5. John Swenson Harvey, I would say that it depends what you do with the confirmation you feel you have received. If I had lived in the 1950s and had received a personal confirmation that the priesthood ban was wrong (to give one example), there is absolutely nothing wrong with me telling my family members and close friends, “you know, this priesthood ban doesn’t make sense to me..personally I think it is wrong.” If you are Hugh B. Brown and have a position of authority in the Church, you are perfectly in the right to go to David O McKay and discuss it with him and share your revelation. But it is also easy to imagine a lot of potential actions that could be wrong. Protesting in the middle of sacrament meeting, interrupting gospel doctrine, starting a protest movement among your friends, starting an alternative church, etc. The burden falls on you to show that 1)you support the Church and its prophets and 2)share your personal feelings in a responsible manner.

  6. John Swenson Harvey,

    First of all I think you are making a mistake with your citation of the priesthood restriction. As linked in the post above, see my thoughts at:

    http://www.sixteensmallstones.org/the-long-promised-day-why-the-lds-church-priesthood-ban-is-not-a-hammer-for-your-liberal-wedge-issue/

    While we do not know the reason for the priesthood restriction, and we do know that the speculative reasons offered in the past were wrong, we simply _cannot_ say that the priesthood restriction itself was a mistake or that it was not of God. To do so would be to claim to know the mind of God better than the prophets. It is possible that the ban was instituted under inspiration for reasons that nobody knows. Often the Spirit directs actions but does not reveal the reasons for those actions so that the actions are inspired but the speculations we make for why the actions are required end up being incorrect. Or the ban could have been a mistake based on racism, as you insist.

    But the fact that the Lord did not allow the prophets previous to President Kimball to lift the restriction, even when specifically asked, lends itself to the idea that the Lord at least permitted the restriction to continue for his own reasons.

    So to say unambiguously that it was a mistake is taking on authority to declare the mind of the Lord contrary the prophets.

    Following the prophets is not a cop out, as you imply, for those who want to shift the blame to the prophets. We follow the prophets because the Spirit has confirmed, and continues to affirm their authority.

    If you declare that you have received a revelation contrary to the prophets, let’s be clear about what that means: It means that you are claiming that the prophets have not been guided by God in that matter, and that you are the alternative source of the truth. You are setting yourself up and as alternative prophet.

  7. I think another example is the people in the Book of Mormon who wanted to stop living the law of Moses too early. In this case, they knew of future changes via prophecy but they were still wrong to get ahead of things.

    I think if someone really believes or hopes a change will come, it ought not be publicly discussed or agitated for. I think the best example of this can be Elders Oaks and Holland and how they talk about the priesthood ban. They yearned for a change. They didn’t agree with some of what was said. (I’m paraphrasing here and may not be getting it perfect.)But they trusted God and waited on Him, not taking it upon themselves to publicly write or denounce or speak.

  8. RE: J. Max Wilson’s reply comments: I’ve read the post you cited. I think you have on some severely rose colored glasses when you look at our Church’s history with respect to the Blacks and the Priesthood issue. However, that is only my opinion. We simply have a significant difference of opinion on why the ban came about and whether God was “OK” with its continuance for approximately 100 years.

    The Church itself has admitted it could find *no* revelation instituting the ban – both in 1) the early 1900s when Church leadership decided to not ordain any more descendants of Elijah Abel (the Council of the Twelve conduct a inquiry to determine why the ban existed. It was instructed by the First presidency to examine every record available, *and it could find no revelation or justification for the ban!*) and 2) the new scriptural introduction just announced. But we do have the ordination certificates of the Blacks who were ordained in Joseph’s day – and the records of the sons and grandsons ordained in Brigham’s, Taylors’ , and Woodruff’s days. Which shows there was no functional problem with Blacks being ordained and then those men doing the work of the priesthood. For instance Elijah Abel served four or five missions and was a Traveling Elder, in fact he died while on a mission. Elder McConkie absolutely stated that what said earlier was wrong (but of course he was not ever the President of the Church).

    We also disagree on the effect of some members protesting the ban. Having grown up in the 1960s in Utah County, I can assure you that speaking up about the ban carried grave risks. It was not a trivial protest for a person who believed in the Church. The fact that many were willing to do this must have been noticed by the leaders of the Church. It certainly caught their attention as there are some unbelievably racist General Conference talks which were given during this time defending the ban. So whether or not the actions of a few brave/true members had any significant effect on the church leaders thinking (I doubt it did) the “civil disobedience” brought the issue to the forefront. The visibility of the issue so raised eventually demanded that the Leaders ask God for permission to lift the ban.

    I think we (meaning the Church and the members) can admit that we got something wrong without rejecting the authority of the Church and Prophets. What is critical is that the Priesthood has been restored and the ordinances are valid, the only way that happens on an on-going basis is if the *current* President of the Church continues to hold and exercise the required Keys. I don’t think the various apostles and prophets of our dispensation have had a “perfect” understanding of the mind and will of God in all things in order for the priesthood ordinances to be valid.

  9. I have been in a position where the Spirit of the Lord has revealed to me the incorrect current practice of a priesthood leader. The Spirit has ALWAYS instructed me either to be patient and prepare myself for upcoming change (either in me or in policy,) or to take it to the leader directly.

    I have never been told to share it with others outside of rare, intimate settings. In those unique cases, the Spiritual prompting was clear and direct that I needed to share that revelation with a specific other person.

    The Lord knows full well He is working through imperfect people. And yet, He still does. For a reason. It might do us well to ask ourselves why. We Americans are far too fixated with being right, we often run roughshod over more important things.

  10. JSH: “Elder McConkie absolutely stated that what said earlier was wrong (but of course he was not ever the President of the Church).”

    Can you provide a source for that? The closest I found was where he said in a general conference talk (in the command form of the verb) to _forget_ what was said prior to the revelation, but he never actually stated that what was said before was _wrong_.

  11. Great post, JMax,

    I’m always amazed by those who look towards history as some sort of precedent of the way things should be.

    You can read Jettboy’s post 3 on gender roles, to find those who claim, “Women back in the 1850’s wrote certain things, therefore women today should want to do those same things”, being a form of history-worship, but then reject the women who hold those same roles today.

    It’s as though they totally don’t realize that our world and culture is changing, and that inspired leadership responds to these new challenges.

  12. Elder McConkie said the following, which may or may not be an admission of being wrong, but the entire point of his talk was for *people to recognize that the living prophet was the ultimate authority, which is exactly Jmax’s point*.

    “And all I can say to that is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.”

    http://speeches.byu.edu/?act=viewitem&id=1570

  13. So how can we effect change? The daughter’s of Zelophehad (Numbers 27) could have merely accepted their fate. Instead, they spoke up about something that bothered them. Moses brought the case to the Lord. The Lord revealed a change in the law. This is a clear example of members of the church 1) bringing an issue of pain to light, 2) the prophet seeking revelation from the Lord, and 3) the Lord providing a revelation that changed practices on earth. It seems that many in our church want to skip steps #11 and #2, and simply wait for #3. Anybody who raises a concern for how we treat women or homosexuals is suddenly rejecting the prophets. Were the daughters of Zelophehad rejecting Moses by complaining about the current law?

  14. Jim,

    There is a clear difference between taking concerns and disagreements privately to those who have authority and stirring up dissent in public forums and the news.

    Zelophehad daughters clearly respected the authority of the prophet and took up their concerns with the proper authorities.

    There is a clear difference between public and private dissent. See my previous thoughts here:

    http://www.sixteensmallstones.org/declining-sunstone-an-argument-against-bloggernacle-participation-by-the-faithful/

  15. (Additionally, Jim, petitions for change can be directed to The Lord directly through prayer and fasting and as long as we are willing to reconcile ourselves to His superior wisdom and will, He will either communicate the change to those in authority when he sees fit, or ease our hearts to conform to another view or way.)

  16. The real change we are supposed to effect is the change in our hearts. Liberal activism is no more a model for the life of a disciple than is dogcatching. Not that there’s anything particularly wicked in se about either, but they aren’t the point.

  17. Come on J. Max! Is this spin or a real discussion? Moses was much more accessible than Monson making a public forum a very reasonable choice for today’s Zelophehad daughters

  18. Howard,

    The relative difference in accessibility between Moses vs President Monson is an irrelevant red herring. If Moses had become aware of the matter only through the report of a delegated captain instead of directly it would not have change the dynamics at all.

    While it is true that the modern church is far too large now for the kind of direct access to the prophet that was feasible sometimes in the past, there is no question that the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are thoroughly aware of the issues through both personal communication and delegated channels and that they have sought the will of the Lord on the matter.

    The problem that progressives have is not that prophets do not know of the issue because they insufficiently accessible; it’s that the authorities are very aware of the problem and have sought the will of the Lord on the matter and the progressives do not like the answers that the prophets and apostles (in unanimity) have given. And because they believe that those answers will change in the future, they justify themselves in rejecting the living prophets using to public agitation to apply pressure to the church.

    They want to believe that they are Zelophehad’s daughters, but their response to the prophet’s direction just might make them Korah, Dathan, Abiram.

  19. “While it is true that the modern church is far too large now for the kind of direct access to the prophet that was feasible sometimes in the past….”

    I think this also speaks to the era in which we live. To try to apply the processes of the past to this latter-day work and time risks missing the wonder of living in this final dispensation. We aren’t living in Moses’ time or in Joseph Smith’s time (Emma and the Word of Wisdom is another common example that ‘agitation brings change.’) We are living in different times with different circumstances in a different part of the great unfolding of God’s work over the ages. Emma played a role in those early days of the restoration. In our day, our leaders are talking about hastening the work and taking advantage of all that has been restored through the sacrifices and ministry of those who have gone before.

    I think God cares about the pain and questions of people in the Church who may struggle with different things. But I think the adversary often traps people in an illusion that agitation will bring them peace. I don’t think this is true. I think Adam hit the nail on the head. The change that really brings peace is the change within that can only come through the Atonement. We all need that change.

    I also believe that how the Lord lets the Church grow and progress on the whole is a type of how merciful He is with each of us as well. I think there are probably times when we all feel frustration with the way a large organization can function. There are surely some limitations with that. But that to me is when I think about how my own limitations so often get in the way in my life and yet how so. very. merciful God is with me. I personally believe that the Lord’s reminder that as we judge we will be judged can apply not only to how we may be prone to judge individuals but perhaps also how we judge His church and His leaders. Because in a sense, whenever we are impatient or critical, we deny His mercy and insist that our way is better than letting Him work as He will. And I think it can be all too easy to forget that He’s the One really in charge. He allows weak mortals to do His work, but it is and always has been His work.

  20. Pingback: Living prophets versus “future prophets.” | Junior Ganymede

  21. I believe the prophet and apostles receive revelation for the church and are closer to the mind and will of the Lord than the laity. However, I don’t believe the Lord will immediately correct every action or policy that is not in perfect alignment with His will. I leave open the possibility that our (and the prophet’s) struggle to know the mind and will of the Father is indeed part of the grand scheme.

  22. John Swenson Harvey: “Having grown up in the 1960s in Utah County, I can assure you that speaking up about the ban carried grave risks. It was not a trivial protest for a person who believed in the Church.”

    What nature of “protest” are you talking about? If you mean, vocally encouraging people to ignore or contravene the restriction, then that’s a clearly a kind of insurrection that merits discipline. If you mean, talking publicly about the nature of the restriction and potential drawbacks to it, I don’t see what kind of risks there were. Hugh Nibley published a piece called “The Mormon Cross” that clearly viewed the restriction as unfortunate and undesirable, but he was not disciplined for it; he continued to be published in Church and para-Church publications for the rest of his life. The mere act of “speaking up about the ban” was not problematic at all for a faithful Latter-day Saint to do. It’s only when that speaking takes the form of agitation and protest that problems start.

    Darius Grey, a black member of the Church and the former president of the Genesis Group, is entirely comfortable with the possibility that the Lord directed his prophets to maintain the restriction for decades. He’s taught that possibility many times in class settings.

  23. “Darius Grey, a black member of the Church and the former president of the Genesis Group, is entirely comfortable with the possibility that the Lord directed his prophets to maintain the restriction for decades. He’s taught that possibility many times in class settings.”

    Now, now, Nathan. Don’t go around spreading accuracy like this. You might pull the rug out from progressive Mormons’ favorite meme.

  24. “But just like fundamentalists who reject the living prophets by following dead prophets, progressives reject the living prophets by following anticipated future prophets.”

    Catholic progressives do precisely the same thing (but different terminology of course).

  25. JMax–One of my concerns is that voicing a political opinion is sometimes viewed as dissent against the current prophet. I’m not in favor of storming the temple with torches and pitchforks to demand changes, but I am fully supportive of people being open to express how they feel.

  26. People should most definitely be able to express how they feel. We should also be wise enough to know that unless we have the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, how we feel might not be “right”. I can look a plethora of instances where my feelings encourages incorrect actions.

    For the progressive liberal, it seems feelings trump everything. The banners that get hoisted up by the more progressive sites on the bloggernacle often wave on feeling and scriptural innuendo. They offer seemingly sound and rational rhetoric on issues, but rarely is it dully grounded in what the apostles are doing and saying, or rarely is it based on a scriptural outlook that aligns with prophetic teachings.

    Adam has it right. Our focus is cleansing the inner vessel in becoming a disciple of Christ, but “they” mock as self-righteous many attempts to plead for apostolic,scriptural based discipleship. Instead they do what they want to do and set themselves up as the standard (self-righteous indeed) which is based on a modern progressive political outlook.

    My personal key to the worth of many posts is if its founded in scripture, does it accord with how and what the brethren are teaching, does it bring me nearer to Christ while promoting unity with his servants.

    So much of the bloggernacle is under the guise of binding the wounds of the afflicted, but really seems to be scratching at the perceived blemish until it bleeds and festers. Do their writings encourage unity or justify discord? Do they seek to unite the church with Christ through his ordained servants or do they fracture the church between their standard on one hand and the brethren on the other?

  27. Hello Again,

    I’ve been busy, but I have managed to read the various posts (and some direct responses) in in this thread. I hesitate to reply as I doubt it will serve much useful purpose but I’m so intrigued by the attitudes and assumptions contained in the “conservative” response that I can’t resist.

    First off, I think it would be very instructive to talk about the issue of the implied infallibility (by many of the posters in this thread) of current prophets and apostles in terms of the Priesthood Ban. This is the primary example of a policy where the Church reversed itself 180 degrees. It is the perfect example to explore these issues. I think what the conservative folks in this post ought to do is forget about the general “liberal agendas” for a moment and focus only on the process involved with the Church reversing its policy in this case. I think the situation brings us to an instructive crossroads, and it explains why I doubt this conversation will have much meaning or benefit going forward. but I will attempt to share my viewpoint in the hopes it leads to some benefit with respect to how others might view the “odd” LDS Liberal on a going forward basis. I hope some of the suspicion and antagonism displayed could be slightly tempered with understanding (but I doubt it will occur).

    The assumptions the “liberal” (as represented by myself – and a few others – in this thread) and the “conservative” (as represented by most of the respondents in this thread) posters bring to that specific discussion (the priesthood ban) are so far removed from one another that I am left with the realization that it is likely that no amount of spiritual light, logical analysis, or appeal to common sense can bridge the gap. We can literally see and/or experience the exact same set of facts, or a given situation, and turn around and testify that different things have occurred. Specifically, the conservatives in this case simply start with the prior that *by definition* whatever the current President of the Church/First presidency says is correct, *and* that all prior similar declarations were correct as well. It doesn’t matter if those declarations are in direct contradiction of each other (or appear to be) they are still correct *by definition* because the prophet said so.

    On the other hand, I (the “liberal”) assume that truth is eternal and that *by definition* in a specific case with identical circumstances one specific thing has to be either true or false. It can’t be both. So for example in the quote from Elder McConkie, relayed above by Geoff above, the following phrase is directed at the previous statements made by Church Leaders, which Elder McConkie pleads with people to “forget”: The phrase is: “. . . that is contrary to the present revelation. . . .” The conservatives in this thread have stated that phrase does *not imply* the previous statements were either wrong or that those statements were at odds with the will of God. This is reasoning which I am simply unable to comprehend, it simply fails to proceed through the logical gates in my brain. On its face I can’t make sense of it (I can understand why some people believe it, but I can’t force it to fit into any logical structure which makes sense to me).

    To me, on its face, anything which is contrary to the “present revelation” is *by definition* wrong/false/not of God. Therefore the earlier statements and the policy itself *by definition had to have been false and not in keeping with the will of God. The flip side of my commentary on the Conservative belief above could now be applied to my statement. The conservative would likely say that since I am claiming the prophets to have claimed a false statement to be true, and since by definition the prophets do make false statements, then by deduction I must be the actual false prophet (or at least the person in error). To me, that is essentially the gist of most of the comments relayed in response to my comments in the thread so far.

    So to explain why I think the conservative take on my belief system is incorrect, I offer the following (although I don’t expect it to change anyone’s mind at this point). Why then do I not believe the Priesthood Ban was correct when it was *claimed (by many) to be* the “current revelation” – i.e., when it actually was the official policy of the Church? Meaning from President Young’s day to June 8 (1), 1978? Well precisely because even though it was the official policy it 1) WASN’T revelation, and 2) it wasn’t eternal truth. In actuality/reality the Church ordained black men to the priesthood in the 1800s and early 1900s. It initially admitted there was no revelation to back up the Priesthood Ban policy prior to later claiming (in direct contradiction of known public and private Church records) that is had always been the policy of the Church from the first days of the Restoration (1949 First Presidency Statement). Clearly in instituting the Priesthood Ban the Church had reversed course from what God directed during the Early Restoration period.

    So we are potentially faced with a dilemma, from my “liberal” perspective the Church, as an institution, is clearly capable of making significant mistakes in doctrine and policy, yet as a believing/serving active LDS member I clearly believe the Church is exactly what it claims to be, the authorized representative and vehicle for God and his work on the earth today. As the scriptures state it the *only* true and living Church. How to “reconcile” those facts? For me the critical aspect of the Church is the Restoration of the Priesthood Keys. This enables the required ordinances of salvation to be properly administered on earth and recognized in heaven (what you shall bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven). In addition to conducting that work the Church, of course, helps us to live better lives, organizes the work on the earth, administers the required organization, and helps us to more effectively serve others and spread the Gospel (and I’m sure a million other things). But I don’t think the Church is capable of doing those things perfectly no matter how hard the people within it try to do so.

  28. “The conservative would likely say that since I am claiming the prophets to have claimed a false statement to be true, and since by definition the prophets do make false statements, then by deduction I must be the actual false prophet (or at least the person in error). To me, that is essentially the gist of most of the comments relayed in response to my comments in the thread so far.”

    “But I don’t think the Church is capable of doing those things perfectly no matter how hard the people within it try to do so.”

    I’m pretty certain that no “conservative” on this site believes in prophetic infallibility, nor do we believe that the Church does anything “perfectly”. I can see how that kind of caricature can present itself, but it’s hardly accurate. There is no “infallibility” doctrine in Mormonism. That being said, we *do* believe that Jesus Christ is infallible. We don’t think that the Church is “perfect” — perfection is pending until we get into the eternities. No human organization on earth at all approaches “perfection”. However, as far as organizations go, in my humble view the Church is run fairly well. And the Gospel works.

    We also believe that there was a reason, perhaps known only to God, for the persistence of the ban, and we hold that trying to give “reasons” for revelations can lead us into errors. It’s really that simple. For folks that cannot accept that God may have had His reasons for allowing or tolerating the ban, this is clearly unacceptable. Yet, those of us on the conservative side of things have the benefit of not obsessing over the issue and moving on to other things in life, like not spending years of angst over the ban. (Sorry if that seems curt, but I’ve read so many litanies of complaint over the ban, that sometimes I wonder if those same people ever got over the Doobie Brothers breaking up.)

    By the way, thank you sincerely for seeking a good tone and conversation. We desperately need more of this on the Mormon blogs. I welcome and appreciate your desire to communicate things as you see it.

  29. JSH, from Joseph Smith: “That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another. God said, “Thou shalt not kill;” at another time He said, “Thou shalt utterly destroy.” This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted–by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire….”

    As I said above, it all depends on what your attitude is toward dissent. If you want to quietly dissent and question, then go for it. If your dissent leads you to contention and the increasingly feeling that *you are right and the prophets are wrong* you are on a very, very dangerous road that could very likely affect your own salvation. As a general policy, I don’t offer advice to people who aren’t open to it, but I will say this: I can think of, off the top of my head, more than 100 people who have let small disagreements with Church authorities or policies turn them away from the Church, with very often disastrous consequences for them and their families. My advice is: taken your disagreement with the Church and put it in the mental category of “I don’t understand this” or “I am awaiting further knowledge about this” and then go about your Church business, doing your calling, serving, going to the temple, etc. If you do those things first, good things will happen. This does not mean you cannot question and dissent, but it does mean that you are doing so in a way that will likely yield more positive long-term results.

  30. JSH, thank you for the detailed explanation of your position. I’m going to address one of your points of logic, and illustrate why I think it is a false either/or proposition, or a false dichotomy. It’s where you say:

    To me, on its face, anything which is contrary to the “present revelation” is *by definition* wrong/false/not of God. Therefore the earlier statements and the policy itself *by definition had to have been false and not in keeping with the will of God.

    Your above dichotomy seems to ignore that sometimes the Lord allows his people to live the lesser law, or sometimes adapts his expectations to the abilities of his people to follow them. Also, according to the D&C, sometimes the Lord “decrees”, and then “revokes” if the people don’t follow the decree.

    Examples of this are:

    – When in the desert, the Lord gave (or tried to give) the higher law to the children of Israel, but they wouldn’t have it, so he revoked and gave them the lower Mosaic Law. Does the revocation mean the higher law was wrong?

    – He decreed to take them to the promised land, but when they rebelled, (the spies complaining of the giants thing) he revoked the promise until all but three of the adults died off. Does the revocation mean he lied when he promised to take them into Canaan? The people changed their mind, said they’ll go, and some tried to go in anyway, but the Lord said uh-uh, and they failed. They tried to reclaim the earlier promise, but once the Lord revoked, they lost their opportunity, and it was now forbidden.

    – In his mortal ministry, he taught the higher law, and at or after the resurrection, he revoked the Mosaic law, saying it was then fulfilled. Does that mean the Mosaic Law was wrong? What about the Jewish saints who tried to insist that they and gentile converts keep on living the Mosic Law? It was then forbidden to teach the Mosaic law to converts.

    – The Lord gave the church the law of consecration early in this dispensation. The saints couldn’t live it, (I don’t think I could either) so it was revoked, and tithing was put in it’s place. The law of consecration will come back at a future time, but it currently is “against” the current revelation. Today, people who teach it, or who would try to get others to live it with them, would be told to stop, as it is not a current teaching or practice. Teaching converts to live the law of consecration is now forbidden. But that doesn’t mean the law of consecration wasn’t or isn’t a true principle.

    – Polygamy. Off. On. Off. A true or correct principle, but not a current teaching or practice. Try to live it now and you’re ex’d, ie, it’s forbidden.

    Higher law/lower law, consecration/tithing, polygamy/not polygamy all had their time and place, and may come back again if or when the Lord decrees.

    I believe Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and Spencer Kimball were all prophets. All three instituted or changed things. The Qof12 supported BY and the 1st presidency in his policy on blacks and priesthood. In my view, that made it binding on members. The Qof12 supported SWK on his change, and that makes it binding on us.

    (BTW, I don’t think prophets are required to say “thus saith the Lord” or “I got a revelation” to effect a change.)

    Not only did the Lord “allow” BY to put in the ban, he allowed all subsequent prophets until SWK to continue it. We don’t know why, but….. the Lord is not obligated to explain himself to us.

    I’ve often wondered if this (blacks and priesthood) were a case where, again, the saints were not able or willing to live up to the higher law. Maybe the average saint back then was just too ingrained as a racist to accept a church that ordained blacks. My understanding of history is that the vast majority of caucasians back then really did think that way (that blacks were inferior) , so I think my theory (of saints not being able to “live up to” ordination of blacks) does have some merit or possibility. I admit it’s just speculation. But I’m saying it does seem to fit in with prior patterns of how the Lord deals with us.

    So there is a possibility that, again, the Lord may have revoked something based on the unwillingness of his people to live it. And somewhat like with the children of Israel, maybe he had to wait until racism “died out” to such a degree that he could reinstitute his promise among his people.

    The Lord sees things in the big picture, hundreds and thousands of years in the future. He knows what went on in the pre-mortal existence. He knows how, and is capable of “making up for things” beyond the veil and beyond resurrection. As in all of history, many people can suffer for the decisions of a few. But we don’t know the Lord’s calculus or economy or how he figures and weigh things. We don’t know his detailed strategy or tactics in this chess game of existence, this war of good versus evil. We don’t know of his various pre-mortal deals (covenants, promises) that he might have made with various groups. (I don’t assume that his pre-mortal covenants with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were the only ones.)

    In my opinion, theological “liberals” try to straight-jacket God into being absolutely equitable within the confines of each individual’s mortal life-span. Of course God is absolutely just and equitable, but his scope is not limited to our mortal life-span. God is looking at the entire playing field across the whole eternity of our existence.

    If there had been no ban, it is possible (yes, just speculating again) that church growth would have been severely hampered during all those years, about 130, when most Americans and Europeans were racist, and the church would be much smaller today. And if the church were only a small fraction of what it is today, we wouldn’t have been able to send out as many missionaries and have made inroads into taking the gospel to so many outside the US.

    There’s another principle or pattern that the Lord follows. He usually doesn’t give his people information (truths) until they can handle it. Beause if we rebel against light (truth, information) we come under greater condemnation. Like the two thirds sealed portion of the BoM. We’re not ready for it.

    So I wonder if the reasons for the ban haven’t been formally given because we are not capable of handling that truth. We may not be able to process some truths until a view of both pre-mortal and post-mortal life opens to us. Scriptures say many facts and views of heaven are specifically forbidden or unlawful for us.

    So in the end, I support J Max’s (and Bruce’s) premise: we need to follow the CURRENT prophet and focus on THIS day, and let the dead prophets and dead saints be responsible for THEIR day.

  31. This was a great initial post and even more so the following commentary has been especially insightful. I’m glad I took the time to read everyone’s posts because I truly feel I have been enlightened by everyone’s participation.

    I have felt at many times in my life things similar to what JSH has expressed, but I have also continued to study, fast, pray, ask, and search. Now my understanding on most issues I don’t fully understand is quite in line with the last 3 posts by Michael Towns, Geoff B, and Bookslinger. The most recent comments from you three are right on and very well expressed.

    I also feel that we must follow the current living prophet and we will be safe. The bottom line is if we do so we will never be “wrong” even if in the eyes of the world or mans morality we are considered so. The bottom line is that we do not have the whole picture/plan before us and I don’t even think that the prophets and apostles even have the “whole” picture/plan before them. Even the greats like Moses, Enoch, the brother of Jared (I’m sure Joseph Smith), etc were shown in vision everything pertaining to this earth:

    “And it came to pass that Moses looked, and beheld the world upon which he was created; and Moses beheld the world and the ends thereof, and all the children of men which are, and which were created…(he) beheld the earth, yea, even all of it; and there was not a particle of it which he did not behold, discerning it by the Spirit of God.”

    But still, they don’t get everything revealed to them:

    “I will show thee the workmanship of mine hands; but not all, for my works are without end, and also my words, for they never cease. But only an account of this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, give I unto you. For behold, there are many worlds that have passed away by the word of my power. Wherefore, no man can behold all my works, except he behold all my glory; and no man can behold all my glory, and afterwards remain in the flesh on the earth.”

    Prophets are given what they need to lead, guide, and direct the course of mankind according to God’s will in the time in which they preside.

    Truths are eternal, but perhaps one of the most important truths we can know is what was quoted above by Geoff B from Joseph Smith, “This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted–by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is…”

    Even this phrase shows the depth and understanding Joseph had. I love how he says, “This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted”. Notice he does not say God, or even specifically Heavenly Father, or Christ. He leaves it broad enough to even be inclusive of all Gods, whoever will be. I think only God(s) has the “whole plan” before him so only he can tell us exactly what those eternal truths are in relation to us.

    One of our biggest limitations is time. God obviously uses his unlimited relationship to time (or lack thereof) to bring about his purposes which inevitably leave us at times scratching our heads. There are many instances throughout history where gospel principles are put on “hold” so to speak or enacted all due to timing. This can kind of make the concept of “eternal truths” seem a little vague to us.

    Bookslinger has already brought up the obvious examples of consecration/tithing, polygamy, and observance of the higher/lower law. But others that have to do with timing directly are those of preaching the gospel and priesthood ordinances (specifically temple ordinances). This could also be somewhat related to the whole priesthood ban. Throughout history there have always been groups of people who have not had the blessings of the gospel while others around them did. Even though it is a true and eternal principle that the gospel is for all of God’s children. But maybe just the timing for some is not the same as for others as groups or individuals.

    Another truth is that of each of us needing to be tested “even as Abraham”. Perhaps (and this is just a thought or an opinion) there was no revelation on the ban specifically enacted just to test people if they would still follow the prophets even when it seemed like they were doing wrong by standards of “eternal” principles. Maybe it was to test the saints then or now. Or maybe it was to test the blacks at the time. Who knows, but God and those to whom he has revealed it to.

    Same thing with the whole polygamy thing. I’ve read some of the accounts about Joseph Smith and his particular dealings with this doctrine. It seems like in some instances things were a little shady. He tells some people that it is not in practice, while he’d been practicing it in secret for years. He married young girls perhaps against their own personal will, but their parents gave the permission. He not only married many people, but he even took women that were already married and told the man, “The Lord wants your wife to be sealed to me, and he will give you another”. I mean crazy hard, gut wrenching things. But I believe he was commanded to do these things to really “test” these people in all things. You see the Savior meant what he said when in Luke he says,

    “If any man come to me, and hate (forsake) not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.”

    The promise by him in Matthew is “And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit ceverlasting life.”

    It is true that in the last days that even many of the very elect will be deceived. I have seen it happen to people I know. Who I thought at one time they were so rock solid in their testimonies, but when the heat really gets turned up as it eventually will for all of us we just have to remain safe. We do this by following the current living prophet.

    Eternal truths are Gods and not for us to fully determine based on our limited knowledge. Even prophets don’t have it all, but what they do have is enough that if we follow them and are true to them and their teachings we will eventually get to the point where we will understand it all. I am sure of it.

  32. JSH – you can apply critical theory to church behavior or you can loo, to god through his appointed servant and desire to be united with them. Its perfectly clear they could throw McConkie or even BY under the bus if even at least partially. But their desire for unity trumps even their desire to be send as right by men.

    This is my intent as well. Not to defend to conservative position or make the church right at all cost through rhetorical contortions. But I know the Lord was pleased with his servants by revelation and I further make the bold claim that in my experience when I seek to know god by intently studying the words of his servants I’ve received the ministering of angels. When I’ve attempt to rationalize how they were wrong, I’ve felt intellectually satisfied, but instead of a feeling of light, knowledge and certainty, I’ve replaced it with a feeling of uncertainty.

    Some may claim this is intellectually convenient and its a fine line to walk. But quite frankly my approach is to receive the Lords servants and then attempt to pattern my approach after them with the faith that in doing so I’m coming closer to Christ.

    I don’t claim to know every answer of course, but tearing down past authorities because I don’t know ( in a sense bringing them down to my level or below to make them comprehensible) hasn’t increased my faith or provided me with spiritual miracles.

  33. But really the substance of your post proves this message. Christ is the standard, but we believe he calls prophets and apostles to point to him, and specifically provide order and clarity in doing so. This is not a crutch if I am living a life of discipleship, but I grant it can become a crutch if we don’t live a disciples live.

    You are suggesting that you, others, or even I should make pronouncements about the Lord servants past or present actions. To me its outside the scope of my stewardship to go against how the brethren are teaching.

    Elder Bernard had a nice statement on the mission of the Seventy. They are basically called to teach what the Apostles are having them teach, and so on down the line.

    When I see someone getting all so full of zeal, whether its the progressive commenter or ultra conservative elder who can’t shut up about plural marriage, I think, “do you have authority to teach that? Which modern day apostle are you emulating in teaching that?”

    Conjecture is one thing, and we all do it. But there is so much emphasis on conjecture as reality and even advice on how and what the apostles ought to be teaching it misses the point.

    Their goal is to help us be better disciples of and more like Christ. If the even granted what the progressives want, THEN would you do a better job being a disciple of Christ in your daily life? Are you to tell me that you aren’t trying to emulate Christ because of their failure to announce xyz? Of course not. And it seems the nature of progressivism is like a perversion of discipleship from grace to grace and instead moves from one external issue to the next distracting from the internal change of heart and action that needs to occur. That being the case, its clear to them and me, their priority is to bring souls to christ by teaching on how we can become better disciples.

    They are consistent teaching in ways to inspire us to live virtuous lives filled with the pure love of christ so that we can receive the promise of the constant companionship of the holy ghost and have the heavens revealed unto us.

    Squabbling over the nitty gritty of who said what doesn’t relieve me of my obligation of discipleship and doesn’t change hearts. They seem to be teaching what they know will help us. And others are either saying they should be focusing on something else, and still others say they are teaching incorrectly.

  34. Bottom line… it does not matter. You do what the prophet says, you are okay. It does not matter if something will change in the future or not because we are judged on what is going on RIGHT NOW. I find it humorous that so many people want to have an opinion.

  35. I have found this to be a interesting discussion. Many have been willing to share their understanding and I would hope some have furthered their understanding by careful reading. All of us grow at our own pace and come into understanding as we are ready. Our ability to accept the changes in church policies and adapt to new revelations is part of this growth. There needs to be a true desire to accept the things we do not understand before understanding will come; even then, it may be we live on faith alone. In the mean time, listening to the Prophets, both old and new, searching for righteousness and truth in the world, and honoring and respecting the differences we encounter in others can only lead us towards joy and a fuller life in Christ.

  36. I have thought a lot about the subject of this post and these comments (which I take to be “following the prophet’s counsel because of a spiritual witness and not because it lines up with my own reasoning”). I appreciate the logical consistency of J. Max’s and others’ arguments. I also think JSH has argued well for a middle-way between following the prophet and following your personal witness of God’s eternal truth.

    Reading through J. Max’s argument and those of other posters, I wonder,

    If someone believed these principles, but believed them in relation to an organization without a divinely inspired leader, would the person be able to recognize that they had gone down a wrong path?

    More concretely, if a Muslim believed that his Imam has the authority to correctly interpret God’s word and that he should follow the Imam’s teachings, would the Muslim believer be able to recognize that God does condone the stoning of women and girls who are raped? If a Muslim comes to the correct conclusion that God does not condone the stoning of rape victims because of his own thoughts, experiences and communications with God, but then defers to the authority of his Imam, isn’t this a tragedy for Muslim society?

    I see JSH’s approach as a very reasonable safeguard against hurting others due to man’s limited understanding and scope of view. I don’t see a clear safeguard against inflicting unrighteous pain if one’s own reasoning doesn’t play a part in one’s decisions.

  37. J,
    I think the relationship between believers, prophets and God is hairier than you’re letting on. It’s quite easy to say we should follow men called by God who always spoke his perfect will, devoid of their own frailties and biases. But, since the LDS Church teaches that prophets are fallible (and just as much in need of the grace of Jesus as we are – maybe more), we know that the challenge is much greater and more complex. The fact that past prophets were wrong on a great number of ideas and policies, means something. It has to – otherwise, all the great things they taught and did lose all their value. The real question is, how do you follow a prophet – even when you believe with everything that is in you he is wrong? Even when you can see as plain as day that prophets are capable of making mistakes?

    For example, what are conservative American members supposed to do in light of the FP/Q12 pronouncements on immigration? I know some who really believe that it will be a disaster in the future. Should they speak up? Or, put aside their own opinions and support a view they find abhorrent?

  38. “The fact that past prophets were wrong on a great number of ideas and policies, means something.”

    Define ‘great number’? You make it sound like they are a bunch of bumbling geriatrics, and are lucky to get anything right.

  39. muucavwon,

    Thanks for your very thoughtful reply. Your comment is a model of exactly the kind of approach to disagreement that I appreciate. I wish I had time to respond in depth, but I don’t have much.

    I think that in brief answer I would say that you have created a sort of a false dichotomy in which submission to the prophets means complete and immediate agreement and that following your own perception of right and wrong when it is contrary to prophetic direction means immediate, public repudiation and resistance.

    I have never said that good, faithful members cannot disagree with the leaders of the church on a whole number of things. They can and do. But disagreement should be expressed privately to the authorities or delegated local leaders. Once we have a witness that the church is true and its leaders are prophets, there should be a presumption that they are in fact following the spirit, that they have good reasons for what they do, and that a great deal of deference should be granted to their authority and stewardship. There are appropriate ways to dissent and seek for change. As we privately council with those in authority we can move toward a more perfect understanding.

    Here is the question that I think is essential: Do you believe that God’s ability to make His will for the church and the world known is circumscribed and limited by man’s weakness? Is the God you imagine so impotent that he cannot communicate clearly what he wants to even those whom he has chosen to lead his church?

    Those who claim that the church is being lead astray by fallible human leaders (on the issue of same-sex marriage or something else) are claiming that either,

    1. the prophets are unwilling or incapable of receiving God’s will (ie. that they are not actually prophets)

    2. or that God is powerless to making his will known (ie. not really much of a God)

    If God is capable of making his will known to you, then why not to them? And if his power is limited by their human frailty why is it not limited by your own human frailty?

    There are 15 prophets, seers, and revelators guiding the church, not just one all-powerful pope. They surely disagree personally on all kinds of things. But when leading the church they do all things through council and unanimity.

    Here is an excellent video (though the quality of the recording is poor) in which Elder Eyring describes the way in which the apostles make decisions.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k-GOWeXaavY

    God is powerful enough to make his will clearly known to those that lead his church. They are God’s prophets and he communicates his will to them, and they are authorized to speak on his behalf.

    I know that this doesn’t address directly your hypothetical. But it pushes the question back to the fundamental starting point: If you believe that the prophets are wrong, then are they still prophets?

    Let me emphasize that I think we need to differentiate between knowing WHAT God wants us to do, and WHY he wants it. More often then not revelation is about what we should DO and not WHY we should do it.

    So turning to CJ Douglas’s comment, he proclaims that “The fact that past prophets were wrong on a great number of ideas and policies, means something.”

    But we have to identify exactly how they were wrong. Were they wrong about WHAT the church’s policy or teaching should be? Or where they only wrong about WHY?

    Faith is trust. Faith is the ability to make the right decision with insufficient information. It’s doing the right thing without knowing why it is the right decision.

    I submit that the fallibility of the prophets is over-emphasized while the the fallibility of the critic himself is asymmetrically under-emphasized.

    I think that once you have a personal witness that the prophets are indeed prophets (that is what I assume most people mean when they say that they know the church is true), then you must trust that with very rare exception they get WHAT God wants us to do right (or at least more correct than we do). If you do not have that trust, then you do not have faith that the church is true or that the prophets are real prophets.

    So I submit that CJ Douglas is wrong when he says that past prophets were wrong on a great number of ideas and policies (which he conveniently leaves unstated but I imagine he means polygamy and the priesthood restriction…which is two things, not a great number). Past prophets were wrong about the reasons (the WHY) for a number of church policies or practices (the WHAT). But that does not mean that the policies themselves were mistakes.

    When I was single I dated a wonderful girl who I thought I would marry. One day I knelt to pray about what I should do to make the relationship work best, and the spirit told me very clearly that I needed to break up with her right then. I knew what I was supposed to do and I did it. I immediately went to her and broke up. But in my mind I started looking for the WHY. I had friends who had broken up and the break up acted as a catalyst for them to evaluate what they really wanted and they got back together and got married and I unconsciously believed that was what would happen with us too. But I was wrong. We didn’t get back together. Years later I looked back and in hindsight I was so grateful that it had not worked out as I wanted. I was wrong about the WHY, but right about WHAT God wanted me to do.

    Were prophets and apostles wrong about the reasons for polygamy and the priesthood restriction. Yes. Without a doubt. Speculations that monogamy was bad and polygamy the ideal were wrong. Justifications for the restriction based on speculations about the pre-mortal life or the curse of Cain were wrong.

    But that does not mean that those practices were not what God wanted for the church at those times. God plays a long game and he sees the end from the beginning far better than we can. Often we do things for a wise purpose that only the Lord understands.

    So maybe I had more time to respond than I thought… :)

  40. Define ‘great number’? You make it sound like they are a bunch of bumbling geriatrics, and are lucky to get anything right.

    MT, I believe that all are fallen and lost without Jesus. I also believe that through his grace we can do mighty things. I do not believe, however, that he infringes upon our agency. I believe that making mistakes – even great errors – is one of the best reasons that we chose to gain a body and come to this earth. I do not believe that God strips prophets and apostles of this great opportunity once they have been called. So, suggesting that they are human, is no slap.

    JMW – I appreciate your response and will hopefully be able to respond in detail later. In the meantime – no, I was not just pointing to issues like polygamy and the priesthood ban. I was speaking of the faults of past prophets in broad terms – as in, they were human with God given agency, who partook of the sacrament every week like me and you.

  41. “MT, I believe that all are fallen and lost without Jesus. I also believe that through his grace we can do mighty things.”

    Okay. What does this have to do with my question?

    “So, suggesting that they are human, is no slap.”

    CJ Douglas, please allow me to respectfully suggest that you are equivocating in your responses. Nobody on M* has ever said that prophets and apostles are not “human”. Nor have I ever thought that making the suggestion is a “slap”.

    I think that you need to be more clear about your statements.

    For those of us that tend to the conservative side of things, particularly with respect to obedience and loyalty to the Brethren, we are blissfully aware that prophets are fallible humans. And yet we are still loyal to their leadership because we have a witness that they possess the keys. It’s just that simple.

    However, when you make statements like this (and which you’re clearly trying to backtrack) “The fact that past prophets were wrong on a great number of ideas and policies, means something.”, you are projecting a certain kind of attitude that can easily get read the wrong way.

    I would suggest that you define what you mean by “great number”, “ideas and policies”. Nobody here is going to lose sleep by knowing that the Brethren often have sharp disagreements on a host of issues. We already know that, which is why nobody here is much troubled by it.

  42. Michael,

    You are right that it was easily understood otherwise. But let’s assume that CJ Douglas unintentionally communicated his point poorly rather than suggesting intentional equivocation and backtracking. :)

    CJ,

    Thank you for the clarification. I look forward to your further elaboration.

  43. J.Max

    In response to your questions,

    “Do you believe that God’s ability to make His will for the church and the world known is circumscribed and limited by man’s weakness?”

    No, if my belief system coincides with God’s truth.

    “Is the God you imagine so impotent that he cannot communicate clearly what he wants to even those whom he has chosen to lead his church?”

    No, if God has chosen those leaders to carry out his will.

    Having answered those questions, I run into a more fundamental issue, which you touch on,

    “Faith is trust. Faith is the ability to make the right decision with insufficient information. It’s doing the right thing without knowing why it is the right decision.”

    The fundamental issue is, if the leaders of a false belief applied the arguments you make in this post, the arguments would serve to keep their followers in the false belief.

    Back to my original example, if I were a Mulsim and felt that my religious leaders were treating women in a way that goes against God’s will, if I privately went to the Imam to discuss these issues, and if the Imam responded, “Faith is doing the right thing without knowing why it is the right decision. I don’t know all the reasons why God has commanded that a woman who was raped should be stoned, but I know that He does. You don’t need to privately agree with this, but you should recognize your personal witness of the prophet Muhammad and the Koran, and know that Allah has a greater purpose that we cannot understand”, then I would remain a Muslim that tacitly supports the subjugation and murder of innocent women.

    I don’t think I have been proposing a dichotomy that submission to the prophets means agreement–I am saying that submitting to a religious leader, even while maintaining private disagreement, will keep people in the belief system regardless of whether it is true or false.

    If I were a Warren Jeffs clan-member, and I am disturbed and indignant that Jeffs requests to marry my 14-year-old daughter, but after privately discussing my feelings and concerns with Jeffs he says, “Are you saying as a prophet I am unwilling or incapable of receiving God’s will? Or are you saying that God is powerless to make his will known to me?” and I respond no to both questions, he then can say, “Faith is doing the right thing without knowing why it is the right decision. I don’t know why God wants me to marry your daughter, but I know he does, and I know he has great blessings in store for you if you follow Him in faith.” If I belief in the false prophet, I can’t see that he’s a false prophet using this logic.

    So fundamentally my issue is that, if false prophets used the arguments set forth in your post, their followers would not be able to distinguish them as false prophets, even when their actions were harmful or abusive. If that is the case, I don’t think they are useful or healthy arguments to ascribe to. JSH’s approach seems to significantly reduce the likelihood that a believer gets stuck following a false prophet, and significantly increase the likelihood that a believer follows a true prophet.

  44. Re Brad B. “Bottom line… it does not matter. You do what the prophet says, you are okay. It does not matter if something will change in the future or not because we are judged on what is going on RIGHT NOW. I find it humorous that so many people want to have an opinion.”

    I would be terrified if I heard Muslims saying this in response to other Muslims questioning whether God was really telling an Imam that they should kill themselves to destroy the great Satan America, or if a Jehovah’s Witness friend were considering giving their dying baby a blood transfusion, and I heard all of their Jehovah’s Witness family and friends telling them to do what the Governing Body says and don’t transfuse but have faith.

    In my mind, there has to some stop gap for a person to say, “I can trust my relationship with God enough to say, this is too far.” Without a stop gap, believers in false and harmful systems will not be able to reconsider those false beliefs.

    Why would it be humorous for people to have their own opinions on what is best for themselves and what God has confirmed to them as true? Your last sentence comes across as extremely autocratic.

  45. muucavwon,

    “The fundamental issue is, if the leaders of a false belief applied the arguments you make in this post, the arguments would serve to keep their followers in the false belief.”

    I am saying that submitting to a religious leader, even while maintaining private disagreement, will keep people in the belief system regardless of whether it is true or false.

    But what you are saying is a tautology: if people submit to a religious authority that means that people are submitting to a religious authority.

    Arguments for submission to a true prophet are not arguments for submission to a false prophet. If you believe that the prophet is a false prophet, then you should not follow him.

    The fundamental question has always been whether the prophet is a true prophet or not. That is THE question. Human beings are faith machines. It’s impossible for us to choose not to have faith, we only get to choose what we will have faith in. By its nature faith exposes us to the risk of being misled by the authority in which we have chosen to place our trust. Even when the object of our faith is our self there is always the risk that you are insane and that your own perceptions will betray you.

    …fundamentally my issue is that, if false prophets used the arguments set forth in your post, their followers would not be able to distinguish them as false prophets, even when their actions were harmful or abusive

    But what you say here is plainly wrong. My arguments were never presented as a formula for distinguishing true prophets from false ones. I never said anything to imply that anyone should be obligated to follow a false prophet. What I did argue is that once the question of whether a prophet is a true one has been answered affirmatively, then there is an obligation to follow him. And if you refuse to follow him you are saying that he is not really a prophet.

    That is why in my original post I wrote “They may be right or they may be wrong, but there should be no illusion about what they are claiming (even if it is obscured by projecting their prophecies onto future prophets).”

    Your questions seem to imply that one can never be sure if the prophet is a true one, therefore, hedge your bets just in case. Which simply means, “I do not have enough confidence that the prophet is a true prophet to actually follow him.” But lack of confidence is the same thing as lack of trust, which is lack of faith.

    It is essentially an admission that you don’t have a testimony that the men at the head of the church are prophets and that the church is lead by God.

    It all comes down to how you know what is right and wrong, what is god’s will and what is not. The question of the ages.

    If you believe that the prophets act contrary to God’s will then don’t follow them. But don’t pretend at the same time that you still believe that the church is true and that they are prophets. That would be Pharisaical.

  46. “even when their actions were harmful or abusive.”

    Just to reiterate, this is the crux. How do we know what is right and wrong, what is God’s will and what is not. By what do we measure it?

    Equating good and evil merely with pleasure and pain does not work. Pleasure can be deleterious in the long run and pain can be protective or educational. The needle of inoculation causes pain but it protects from greater suffering. It is better that we pass through sorrow that we may know the good from the evil. The only path to eternal life is through the pain of death.

  47. “I do not have enough confidence that the prophet is a true prophet to actually follow him.”

    I have no shame admitting that this is true to you or to God at the judgement bar, for cases in which the the prophet’s command is to cause pain and suffering to other people.

    ” How do we know what is right and wrong, what is God’s will and what is not?”

    I gauge what is right and wrong based off the amount of benefit or harm an action causes. I do not claim to know what is God’s will or not, but insofar as a person claims that it is God’s will to hurt others and that I should follow that pronouncement in faith, I am much more comfortable risking the consequence of not following God’s will because it came through a human, fallible mouthpiece and the message seems to contradict what I have consistently understood the gospel to be, than risking the consequence of hurting others in a way that is against God’s will, because a fallible, human leader has either accidentally misdirected or intentionally misled.

  48. I gauge what is right and wrong based off the amount of benefit or harm an action causes.

    That is easier said than done. In complex systems cause and effect are not necessarily linear or proportional. What appears to be a local benefit can have unintended negative consequences. What seems to be unquestionably good can have disasterous results in the aggregate. Just look at no fault divorce.

    We use faith to make choices when we don’t have enough information to gauge the consequences; which is most of the time. That is why it has to be done using the Holy Ghost. Because we are not capable of evaluating it in our own.

  49. Jesus’ death caused him a lot of harm but was necessary for us. A long-term perspective in cause and effect — keeping in mind the essential role of faith — is a better stance to take.

  50. J. Max, I agree that it’s easier said than done, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to do the best we can. And in cases where things seriously don’t add up, I’m willing to risk being wrong for the right reasons. I am not willing to prove my faith to God by killing my children. Anytime faith steps into the realm of harming others, we’re moving into the realm of mental illness.

    Geoff B., the difference is Jesus Christ sacrificed himself of his own free will. He didn’t say, “We need a sacrificial lamb to pay for the sins of the world, but I really don’t want to go through that pain. I choose you, Geoff B.! It’s better for everyone in God’s plan that someone performs an atonement, so I’m going to submit you to the worst torture ever imaginable whether you like it or not.”

  51. muucavwon,

    I agree that there are it is often acceptable to risk being wrong for the right reasons. I have no problem with that, especially in such a clear case as being asked to hurt or kill someone. Don’t do it! Run away screaming “false prophet!” if you wish.

    But we’re not talking about such an extreme hypothetical.

    “Anytime faith steps into the realm of harming others, we’re moving into the realm of mental illness.”

    But so much depends on what you mean by “harm.” If you are talking about throwing someone off of a cliff, then what you are saying makes a lot of sense. But what if you are talking about circumcising an 8 day old baby boy? Your statement is so broad that Jewish circumcision would have to be described as the result of mental illness.

    If we only have to follow the prophets when it happens to coincide with what we would anyway, then the very concept of a prophet is incoherent. If prophets are real then we have to allow for the possibility that they will direct us to act contrary to how we would have done.

  52. If we only have to follow the prophets when it happens to coincide with what we would anyway, then the very concept of a prophet is incoherent.

    But there is a fundamental difference in following a prophet’s counsel as it applies to yourself (I choose to not drink coffee even though it might taste good, I choose to pay tithing even though I could use the money to have fun, I choose to not have sex with people other than my wife, even though my lizard brain tells me I’d really enjoy it) and following a prophet’s counsel as it applies to others (I throw my brother’s coffee away when I stay in his house because he shouldn’t be drinking it, I force my wife to pay tithing on her gross income rather than net because I know that’s what she should do, I refuse to let my brother stay overnight at my house with his girlfriend, even if they sleep in separate beds, because I know they have sex outside of marriage).

    Yes, I’ve brought up extreme hypotheticals in previous posts, but your logic in those cases leads to terrifying outcomes. Helmuth Hubener type experiences may not happen for most modern LDS people, but in the cases when they do, I see many people making the wrong decision because they follow your argument, even in the extreme cases. What is the stop-gap you would propose? You said being asked to hurt or kill someone would be a good place to reevaluate whether the prophet is true or false. Is that the limit you would say is healthy to following the prophet? Because that seems a lot more reasonable to me than the post without that qualification.

  53. Michael,

    I’m not back tracking. Actually, I wasn’t giving an answer for “great number” or “ideas and policies”. I was responding to: a bunch of bumbling geriatrics, and are lucky to get anything right. Since your reply seemed to be a deliberate overstatement (to paint my comment as mean and disrespectful as possible), I chose to boil it down to my main view. In essence, I start with the fact that prophets are human and fallible and in desperate need of a Savior (like all of God’s children) and then view their place in the Church through that lens.

    Since you seem to also believe that description of God’s servants, I wonder why then you’re against the idea that
    they are making those mistakes in real time. (Instead of only in hind sight). Stake President and Bishops (and home teachers and RS presidents) are allowed that opportunity – why not prophets?

    If you want specifics on my original comment, I usually start with the lost 116 pages. Reading Section 3, its hard to ignore that Joseph screwed up royally in his stewardship over sacred texts and that God allowed it to happen. (And that he was forgiven and learned a great deal from it!). The Church didn’t crumble after all.

    From there, you can obviously write a book about the various ways that God allowed Joseph to exercise his agency and learn from his mistakes(working through doctrinal and institutional ideas over time).
    Whether its the Kirtland Bank or the destruction of the printing press, speculative doctrines (that we not longer accept) or the botched institution of a practice (polygamy) that may very well have been from God. From there, Brigham presents us with a number of examples. Yes, I think the priesthood ban was not of God. Mostly because of the lack of a revelation or official statement about its institution. Also, and most importantly, because of how contrary the practice is to modern scripture (BoM 2 Nephi 26, D&C Section 84 among others). This is a great example btw of how reading the scriptures can help us know if the prophet is leading the Church toward God on an issue.

    JMax seems to say about the ban and polygamy that the policy was of God, but the teaching/rhetoric etc. about it was misunderstood/false. I would argue that in the case of the priesthood ban, the falsehoods about why we needed the ban were as much a driving force behind the practical implementation of the policy as anything else. Remember, women of African descent were not allowed to participate in saving temple ordinances – most likely because of the bogus teachings about interracial marriage and the various teachings about the place of Africans in the plan of salvation. Either way, it deprived some of God’s children of essential ordinances based only on pigment or ancestry. That’s no small thing. In short, I don’t think it was a coincidence that it started in 19th Century America and ended just shy of the Civil Rights movement.

    Next I move onto the debacle that was the ending of polygamy and on to the 20th Century! From there, I’m happy to admit, that the policy failures were a lot less frequent. That happens when we get older and wiser too. But, I still see a good amount of decisions and/or teachings that were poorly handled/false. For example, that Mormon Doctrine was allowed to persist as a quasi-doctrinal guidebook (even when it theoretically wasn’t), hurt the Church and muddied official teaching for some time. Another example is Pres. Hinckley’s suggestion (over the pulpit)that the war in Iraq was part of the war on terror and ultimately self defense. I think he was influenced heavily by the wide national support of the bogus war at the time and ultimately effected how people have come to accept(or not) the reality and truth behind that conflict. Shall we move onto the scriptures??

    For me, this is all so obvious and tiring to explain. If we view the prophets as existing with the same plan of salvation as you and I (but with a much bigger stewardship) then these example need not be explained.

    The prophets are not absolved from the human experience – even in their calling and stewardship – once they are called and that is the way God intended it.

    You and others respond to that by saying – “Of course they’re human!” But then you proceed to tell me that their human frailties – their need of a Savior because of sin, could in no way effect how they lead God’s church. That God wouldn’t allow it somehow. That in every phase of life – and even in our wards and families he allows us to sin and error, but when it comes to prophets – the agency is taken away. Prophets are no longer allowed free will concerning all or most aspects of their stewardship and calling. I say, of course they strive for his will and are qualified for their calling through grace! But so are we! And that doesn’t prevent us from failing in our callings on a regular basis.

    In fact, my assertion is not terribly controversial. As an institution, we’ve disavowed explicit mistakes made by past prophets. Of course, we usually chalk that up to – he wasn’t speaking as a prophet. And this is where the nonsense begins, because the Mormons who lived during the time of that prophet certainly took it coming from a prophet. Only because its clearly wrong in hind sight, do we decide otherwise.

    So, how to follow the prophets in my view? Take their words seriously, but never take the divinity of them for granted. Consistently petition God through prayer and scripture study for confirmation of their truthfulness. And let me also just say that I think this is exactly how God intended it (as evidenced through the messiness of history).

  54. JMax,

    I may have addressed some of your comments above.

    Back to the main point of your post – I tend to agree that constantly pining for change in the future is not a great way to live ones day to day life in faith. However, we do have to deal with the 9th article of faith – which celebrates the idea of great and important things being revealed in the future. I think we can do that, without necessarily dismissing outright what it being taught today.

    Second, You should know that I’m not secretly implying that because of the 1978 revelation or polygamy, that every liberal gripe will be changed at any point in the future. I’m speaking instead of a more general approach to how we view current prophets and how that is a much greater challenge than you let on – because of the frailties of life that all of us participate in – on every level. Let me also add that its more rewarding too.

  55. muucavwon,

    “What is the stop-gap you would propose?”

    I don’t think that a universal stop-gap is possible or necessarily even desirable. I would probably appeal to casuistry so that each case would have to be evaluated on its own merits rather than try to establish an over arching rule. That would seem to be prudent.

    “But there is a fundamental difference in following a prophet’s counsel as it applies to yourself […] and following a prophet’s counsel as it applies to others…”

    I suggest that this is too reductionist. Implementing the prophet’s counsel in your own life always have implications and effects on others. It’s artificial compartmentalization.

    The issues which you cite are all instances where the implementation is clearly left up to the individual because no specific direction has been given (gross vs net tithing, allowing coffee in the house, should sinners be allowed in your home) so to attribute not letting your brother in your house directly to prophetic command is fallacious.

    I appreciate your friendly and thoughtful discussion, but I think also that you should have disclosed in this conversation that you do not in fact believe that the prophets are prophets. I appreciate your reasonableness, but I feel like at some level you are arguing in bad faith. You should have been forthright about your beliefs and your motives. Since you have personally already answered the question of whether the prophets are true prophets or not in the negative, I don’t think we can get much further since we are working from two contradictory premises. In the future you might consider prefacing your comments with “As an ex-mormon…” Thank you for your participation.

  56. Just a clarification: saying “he wasn’t speaking as a prophet at that time” is totally legit to me. The problem is, we pretty much never say that about the living prophet.

  57. CJ Douglass,

    Thank you for your thoughts. I’ve already spent more time responding today than I can afford.

    Just a couple of quick thoughts:

    “I usually start with the lost 116 pages. Reading Section 3, its hard to ignore that Joseph screwed up royally in his stewardship over sacred texts and that God allowed it to happen.”

    Note, however, that there was no confusion about what God wanted. They pestered him multiple times because they didn’t like his initial answers, and he finally gave them according to their desires, knowing that it would be to their detriment.

    That is inherently different than claiming that they misinterpreted the revelations or mistook their own desires for revelations. Their weakness was that they didn’t want to obey God’s will, not that they were incapable of knowing it.

    Nobody I know of is claiming that the prophet and apostles know that God wants to allow same-sex marriage but dislike the revelation and don’t want to follow it because of personal bigotry.

    If anything, the lesson of the 116 pages presents a warning to those who disagree with the Lord’s directions and pester the prophets about it. Members of the church who disagree with the prophets on same-sex marriage risk playing the part of Martin Harris in asking for another revelation until the Lord relents and grants them according to their desires, to their own condemnation and the detriment of the church. The prophets likely learned their lesson from Joseph’s experience and wouldn’t make the same mistake.

    I’m speaking instead of a more general approach to how we view current prophets and how that is a much greater challenge than you let on – because of the frailties of life that all of us participate in – on every level.

    I have a new post in the works that will address this very issue. Thank you, CJ. I appreciate you reasonable disagreement and discussion. I don’t think we disagree as much as some people might think.

Comments are closed.