“The greatest fear I have is that the people of this Church will accept what we say as the will of the Lord without first praying about it and getting the witness within their own hearts that what we say is the word of the Lord.” – Brigham Young
This quote is probably familiar to many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who have participated in online discussions about the church.
Faithful members have had it thrown in their faces by dissidents and detractors on numerous occasions. Dissenters see it as a powerful sound-bite in support of the notion that members of the church must be continually vigilant that the fallible leaders of the church do not lead the church astray.
And as a soundbite it is reasonably effective. But there is one problem: Brigham Young never said it. The quote is completely spurious.
Like everyone else, I took the quote’s accuracy for granted. But, having recently had multiple people cite it in response to my blog posts, and having seen it played like a trump card in past discussions, I became curious. I didn’t question its authenticity. But where did it come from? When did Brigham Young say it? What was the context?
So I decided to look into it.
The Cited Sources
Several of the online citations of the quote attribute the source to two issues of the Deseret News, one published in December 1857 and the other in February of 1862. Fortunately, the University of Utah has digital copies of the weekly editions of the Deseret News from mid 1850 through the end of 1889 available on their website. So I was able to take a look at PDF images of the actual newspaper pages cited as sources for this quote.
Deseret News December 9th, 1857, 317 (PDF)
Deseret News February 12th, 1862, 257 (PDF)
Here are my own transcripts of the relevant sections of Brigham Young’s words from these original sources. Please forgive the length of these excerpts, but it is crucial to provide ample context for the relevant selections.
December 9th, 1857:
“I will liken the Bishops to some of those side pipes laid down to conduct the gas. Take a joint of one of those pipes up, which, in the comparison, we will call a Bishop, and how are the inhabitants of that ward to receive the light? Place him to one side, despise his counsels and how are you to be taught? Will you teach each other? You are not called to do it in that capacity. Your bishop is laid down by the master workman as the conductor of the Holy Ghost to you, if you put that conductor out of its place the connection is broken between you and the fountain of light. If you see a Bishop and his ward in contention and confusion, you may understand that the pipe or conductor which conveys the light of that people is out of its place. Instead of the Bishop’s being wrong and the people right or the people wrong and the Bishop right, they are all wrong; there is little or no right there.
Take any man in this kingdom and if the people say that they will make him a president or a bishop or elect him to fill any other office and the faith of the people is concentrated to receive light through that officer or pipe laid by the power of the priesthood from the throne of God, you might as well try to move the heavens as to receive anything wrong through that conductor. No matter who you elect for an officer, if your faith is concentrated in him through whom to receive the things which he is appointed to administer in, light will come to you. And let a presiding officer or a bishop turn away from righteousness, the Lord Almighty would give him the lock-jaw, if he could not stop his mouth in any other way, or send a fit of numb palsey on him so that he could not act, as sure as the people over whom he presided were right, that they might not be led astray.
If we are one and are concentrated in the Father through the Lord Jesus Christ and through the chain and thread drawn out for us to follow up, we will find the fountain head, and then, if I should ask this people to pray for a certain thing, they would pray for it, but do they now? No, they pray for everything else. I have made that request until I am tired of making it. Many will pray for this, that and the other different from what I had advised them only twenty minutes before. Their faith is not concentrated, as I have frequently told you, though they are improving and will come to a knowledge of the truth.
The First Presidency have of right a great influence over this people, and if we should get out of the way and lead this people to destruction what a pity it would be. How can you know whether we lead you correctly or not? Can you know by any other power than that of the Holy Ghost? I have uniformly exhorted the people to obtain this living Witness each for themselves, then no man on the earth can lead them astray. It is my calling and office to dictate in the affairs of the church and kingdom of God on the earth. That is what you have chosen me to do for many years with br. Heber and others for my counselors, two of whom have passed behind the vail, and I now have a third, br. Daniel H. Wells who is as good a man as ever lived. You have asked me to tell the people what to do to be saved–to be the mouth of God to this people. Does your faith agree with your profession? Let me continue to exhort you, until you can train your hearts, your feelings and your affections to such a degree that when I ask you to pray for a certain object, you can think of it when you go home.”
February 12th, 1862:
“I will say a few words in regard to your belief in being led, guided and directed by one man. Br. Jackman has said that our enemies hate the fact of our being led by one man. Thousands of times my soul has been lifted to God the Father, in the name of Jesus, to make that verily true in every sense of the word, that we may be led by the man Jesus Christ through Joseph Smith the Prophet. You may inquire how we are to know that we are so led. I refer you to the exhortation you have heard so frequently from me. Do not be deceived, any of you; if you are deceived it is because you deceive yourselves. You may know whether you are led right or wrong, as well as you know the way home, for every principle God has revealed carries its own convictions of its truth to the human mind; and there is no calling of God to man on earth but what brings with it the evidences of its authenticity. Let us take a course that leads to the perpetuity of the natural life which God has given us, and honor it. Should we pursue this course faithfully, and never bestow one thought for the life that is to come, we are just as sure of that immortal life as we are of the life we now possess. This, in fact, is the only way in which we can be prepared to inherit that more glorious life.
What a pity it would be it we were lead by one man to utter destruction! Are you afraid of this? I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are lead by him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purpose of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders did they know for themselves by the revelations of Jesus that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves whether their leaders are walking in the path the lord dictates or not. This has been my exhortation continually.
Br. Joseph W. Young remarked this morning, that he wished the people to receive the word of the Lord through his servants, be dictated by them, and have no will of their own. I would express it in this wise: God has placed within us a will, and we should be satisfied to have it controlled by the will of the Almighty. Let the human will be indomitable for right. It has been the custom of parents to break the will until it is weakened, and the noble, godlike powers of the child are reduced to a comparative state of imbecility and cowardice. Let that heaven-born property of human agents be properly tempered and wisely directed, instead of pursuing the opposite course, and it will conquer in the cause of right. Break not the spirit of any person, but guide it to feel that it is its greatest delight and highest ambition to be controlled by the revelations of Jesus Christ, then the will of man becomes godlike in overcoming the evil that is sown in the flesh, until God shall reign within us to will and do of his good pleasure.
Let every person be fervent in prayer, until they know the things of God for themselves and become certain that they are walking in the path that leads to everlasting life; then will envy, the child of ignorance, vanish, and there will be no disposition in any man to place himself above another, for such a feeling meets no countenance in the order of heaven.”
As you can clearly see, the oft-cited quote appears nowhere in these excerpts. While, on a superficial level, some of the phrases in these sources do appear to express similar ideas to those of the quote, the words of the pithy soundbite are not found in the cited sources at all. The phrase attributed to Brigham Young doesn’t appear to have ever been spoken or written by him.
Some will be tempted to argue that even if the quote itself is a fabrication it represents an accurate distillation of what Brigham Young was saying in these passages– that the quote is fake but accurate. But the more extensive selection and context of what President Young said in these original articles seem to contradict that explanation. We’ll discuss the specifics momentarily.
But first, where did the spurious quote come from?
The Real Source
A little more digging and I was able to trace what appears to be the source to an address delivered by the apostle Harold B. Lee to the Seminary and Institute of Religion Faculty at Brigham Young University on July 8th, 1964, entitled “The Place of the Living Prophet, Seer, and Revelator”.
The address is cited multiple times in official church education manuals, but there isn’t a transcript on lds.org. However, I was able to find a transcription in the online files of a religion professor at BYU-Idaho:
The Place of the Living Prophet, Seer, and Revelator (PDF)
Again, I apologize for the lengthy excerpt, but context is key to evaluating the accuracy of the quotation. Here is the passage from the address in which Elder Lee quotes Brigham Young:
I think as someone has rightly said, it is not to be thought that every word spoken by our leaders is inspired. The Prophet Joseph Smith wrote in his personal diary: “This morning I…visited with a brother and sister from Michigan, who thought that ‘a prophet is always a prophet;’ but I told them that a prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such.” It is not to be thought that every word spoken by the General Authorities is inspired, or that they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost in everything they read and write. Now you keep that in mind. I don’t care what his position is, if he writes something or speaks something that goes beyond anything that you can find in the standard church works, unless that one be the prophet, seer, and revelator– please note that one exception– you may immediately say, “Well, that is his own idea.” And if he says something that contradicts what is found in the standard church works (I think that is why we call them “standard”-it is the standard measure of all that men teach), you may know by that same token that it is false, regardless of the position of the man who says it. We can know, or have the assurance that they are speaking under inspiration if we so live that we can have a witness that what they are speaking is the word of the Lord. There is only one safety, and that is that we shall live to have the witness to know. President Brigham Young said something to the effect that “the greatest fear I have is that the people of this Church will accept what we say as the will of the Lord without first praying about it and getting the witness within their own hearts that what we say is the word of the Lord.”
Brigham Young said something further on this. He said, “It pleases me a little to think how anxious this people are for new revelations.” I remember Brother Widtsoe used to tell us about being asked at a conference, “How long has it been since the Church received a revelation?” Brother Widtsoe stroked his chin thoughtfully and he said, “Oh, probably since last Thursday.” That startled his interrogator. However, there are many written revelations that are not in the Doctrine and Covenants. To return to what Brigham Young said on revelation:
It pleases me a little to think how anxious this people are for new revelation. I wish to ask you a question: Do this people know whether they have received any revelation since the death of Joseph, as a people? I can tell you that you receive them continually. It has been observed that the people want revelation. This is a revelation; and were it written, it would then be written revelation, as truly as the revelations which are contained in the book of Doctrine and Covenants. I could give you a revelation upon the subject of paying your tithing and building a temple in the name of the Lord; for the light is in me. I could put these revelations as straight to the line of truth in writing as any revelation you ever read. I could write the mind of the Lord, and you could put it in your pockets. But before we desire more written revelation, let us fulfil the revelations that are already written, and which we have scarcely begun to fulfil.
In other words, what he is saying is that when we are able to live to all the revelations he has given, then we may ask why we are not given more.“
So there it is. The quote in question, word-for-word as it is often cited. But the first thing that stands out is that Elder Lee prefaces these words by saying “President Brigham Young said something to the effect that…” In other words, he was offering a rough paraphrase of what President Young said. That is what the idiomatic phrase “something to the effect that” means. In contrast with this rough paraphrase, almost immediately afterward Elder Lee cites a lengthy word-for-word quote from Brigham Young. So Elder Lee clearly never intended the words in question as a direct quote or the ideas to be a precise summary.
In other words, the quote was never a quote at all.
At some point the words from Elder Lee’s address were picked up out of their context and mistakenly attributed to Brigham Young as if they were a direct quote instead of a rough paraphrase. From there the ‘quote’ was passed around until it entered into the catechism of dissident Mormon folklore as a useful slogan.
Fake But Accurate?
Let’s return now to the notion that the ‘quote’ may be fake but that it is nevertheless an accurate distillation of what President Young was teaching in the cited sources. It is true that a cursory reading of specific portions of these texts could lead to such a conclusion. But with closer examination within the context of the sources, the assertion falls apart.
At least among those who have cited this ‘quote’ in discussion with me, great importance has been given to the fact that President Young apparently said that this was “the greatest fear” that he had concerning the members of the church.
But in the source material, President Young doesn’t use the word “greatest” at all. The word “greatest” is a hyperbolic interpolation from Elder Lee’s paraphrasing.
The passage to which Elder Lee was probably alluding is in the February 1862 source.
What Brigham Young actually said was “I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are lead by him.”
First, notice that, contrary to Elder Lee’s paraphrase, President Young didn’t use the first person to refer to members accepting or praying about “what we say”. He spoke more genericly in the third person of members confidence in “their leaders.”
Dissidents have derived from Elder Lee’s rephrasing an idea that each time prophets and apostles say something their words should be up for re-evaluation and separate confirmation. But that isn’t what Brigham Young said. He spoke only of a more broad inquiry to God regarding whether their leaders are lead by Him.
Secondly, President Young’s fear is expressed in relative terms, not absolute. When he said he is “more afraid” he is comparing his fear to a previously discussed fear. But what is the antecedent fear to which he is referring?
President Young prefaces these remarks saying, “I will say a few words in regard to your belief in being led, guided and directed by one man. Br. Jackman has said that our enemies hate the fact of our being led by one man.” And then he immediately precedes the sentence in question with the words, “What a pity it would be it we were lead by one man to utter destruction! Are you afraid of this? I am more afraid that…”
In other words, Brigham Young was relatively more concerned about the members following their leaders without gaining their own testimony than he was concerned about the possibility of the church being lead astray by its leaders.
Additionally, I want to suggest that, based on the wider context, the sentence “What a pity it would be it we were lead by one man to utter destruction!” should be read not as an expression of President Young’s own sentiment, but as an somewhat sarcastic imitation of the refrain of the enemies of the church who criticize the fact that it is guided by one man (in their estimation to utter destruction), which is the claim that he is addressing. In context, the exclamation point seems to lend itself to this interpretation. This reading also seems to me to be in keeping with Brigham Young’s style of oratory.
In the rest of the source text, he elaborates on this fear that the members not “settle down in a state of blind self-security” and “reckless confidence” in their leaders. He never says it is his “greatest fear”, but it is clearly among his concerns. However, since he is less concerned that the members will be lead astray by their leaders than he is concerned about this, the reason for being concerned about “reckless confidence” in leaders cannot be because they might be lead astray.
His concern appears to be more sophisticated and philosophical than that. He disagrees with the notion that members can be saved by simply following blindly, not because the directions given by apostles and prophets might be wrong, but because following the directions simply mechanically, for extrinsic reasons, undermines their purpose.
If the members obey only because it is their culture or tradition, or because of fear of social consequences, without a personal testimony that they are guided by God through their leaders, then the obedience fails to contribute sufficiently to their salvation and eternal progression. This teaching seems similar to what the prophet Moroni wrote in the Book of Mormon when he said, “For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing. For behold, it is not counted unto him for righteousness.” (Moroni 7:6-7)
Likewise, Brigham Young’s concern seems to be that obedience without testimony cannot produce righteousness. He compares such obedience to the way children had their wills broken by parents in order to produce compliance (a practice that he clearly opposes).
Brigham Young wants righteous members, not just mechanically obedient members. That seems to be the substance of his fear.
So to suggest, as dissidents do, that Brigham Young’s words here are meant as a warning against being lead astray by the leaders of the church depends on taking the quote completely out of context. In context, he was explicitly saying that he was less afraid of that than he was of the members following mechanically purely for extrinsic reasons without gaining a personal witness that the church is lead by God through His prophets.
Turning now to the December 1857 source, we can also see some sentences that could suggest the possibility that the First Presidency of the church could lead the members astray. In particular the paragraph that begins, “The First Presidency have of right a great influence over this people, and if we should get out of the way and lead this people to destruction what a pity it would be. How can you know whether we lead you correctly or not?”
We can hypothesize that the first person language in Elder Lee’s paraphrase came about by mashing up this language from 1857 with the “fear more” language from 1862.
But, again, the wider context of President Young’s remarks gives greater clarity to what this statement means. His teaching is more complicated and sophisticated than the quote suggests when presented out of context.
Earlier in the same sermon, President Young addresses more specifically the issue of members disagreeing with their local Bishop. He allows for the possibility that a bishop might be wrong, but interestingly he places blame partially on the members for not placing enough confidence in their bishop as the conduit for God’s direction to their congregation. He goes so far as to say that if the members had the right kind of faith in their Bishop and the Lord, that God would in fact not permit the Bishop to lead them contrary to His divine will.
So when President Young speaks of what a shame it would be if the First Presidency were to go astray and lead the people to destruction, he is commenting less about the real potential for the prophet and his counselors to lead the church astray, and more, by extension from what he has just taught about bishops, insinuating (perhaps somewhat passive-aggressively) that if the church were to subjunctively be lead astray, it would be because the members of the church collectively failed to have sufficient confidence and faith in the Lord and the First Presidency as the authorized conduit for his will to the church as a whole.
This reading is bolstered by the fact that the First Presidency statement in question is sandwiched in the middle of a missive on how when he, as the prophet, asks the membership to pray for something, they don’t remember to do it. And how he hopes that they will eventually train themselves to the degree that one day they will reach the point where when he asks them to pray, they will remember to do it when they go home. So clearly his focus is more on increased obedience and increased confidence in church leaders based on a personal witness from the Holy Ghost that they are directed by God.
So to characterize the statements in this source, as dissidents do, as teaching that the members should be continually vigilant against false direction from the prophet and apostles relies on taking the statement out of context.
The “Fake but Accurate” argument doesn’t seem to be viable.
The Paraphrase in Context
So what about Elder Lee’s address, from which the fictitious quote is derived?
Dissident members of the church want to use the quote to justify their rejection of some teaching or practice taught by the living prophet and apostles or to agitate for changes. The irony is that even in the context of Elder Lee’s paraphrase the way in which dissidents want to use the quote doesn’t really hold up.
Elder Lee clearly lays out the possibility that some church leaders might be wrong on one thing or another. But in his statement he clearly makes a distinction between the prophet who holds the keys and other church leaders. In fact, that is the whole point of his sermon. He is warning against those, even leaders in the church, who teach things that deviate from the standard works and established teachings of the church. And he is warning against conflating those things said by prophets as their private opinion and those said in their capacity as prophet or apostle. So his warning clearly is directed more at evaluating a bishop, stake president, or general authority who teaches something contrary to established, clear doctrine and not at the possibility that the established teachings of the prophets and apostles could be wrong and can be disregarded as their own opinions.
In other words he is saying that if a general authority were to come hold a meeting in your area and teach that having an abortion is not a sin or that acting on same-sex attraction is not a sin, you can disregard his teaching as his own opinion because it runs contrary to the standard works and the established teachings of the church.
What he is not saying is that members of the church can disregard established teachings of the prophets and apostles on topics like abortion and same-sex attraction as just their own opinion.
Not only that, but in his more extensive quote from President Young, Elder Lee affirms that we need to live up to the revelations we already have before we go asking for new ones.
So those who cite Elder Lee’s rough paraphrase of President Young in defense of their rebellion against the teachings of the living prophets contradict both the spirit and the letter of Elder Lee’s message.
To conclude, I’d like to point out some irony and inconsistencies raised by debunking this quote.
Those who are most likely to have cited this ‘quote’ are also likely to self-identify as Intellectual and Liberal. Many routinely sneer about faithful True Blue Mormons who, in their estimation, base their beliefs on proof-texts, unexamined Mormon cultural constructs, folklore, and superficial understanding of their own history and doctrine.
But Intellectual or Liberal Mormonism is just as susceptible to liberal proof-texting, unexamined liberal cultural constructs, their own set of folklore, and their own tendentious reading of history and doctrine– as I think the examination of this quote demonstrates. It isn’t superior. It is just another interpretive framework.
The other irony here is that the intellectual Mormons who tend to use this quote tend to have strongly negative feelings about both President Young (who they view primarily through a lens that magnifies racism) and Elder Harold B. Lee, who later, as President of the church, instituted the Correlation Program that many of them routinely revile as if it were the source of all they hate in the church. Many seem to largely reject both these prophets.
So when they cite these quotes, it is not because the necessarily afford any real weight or authority to the source of the quote. But they know that the more believing, faithful members with whom they are discussing do give these men’s words great weight because they consider both to be prophets of God. So at a certain level, their citation of these quotes in order to justify their rebellion to the faithful is disturbingly cynical.
In any case, I hope that this essay has established not only that this particular quote is not only fake, but also that it inaccurately represents the teachings of the prophet to whom it is attributed and that it will no longer be cited to defend rebellion against the teachings of our living prophets.
[Cross Posted from Sixteen Small Stones]
New Post: Debunking that Quote about Brigham Young’s Greatest Fear: “The greatest fear I have is … http://t.co/SJHAmV1jVR #LDS #Mormon
TheMillennialStar: Debunking that Quote about Brigham Young’s Greatest Fear http://t.co/k0SlBLefKd #lds #mormon
Good job Jmax. I love a good debunking.
Brigham Young and Harold B Lee are trying to dance around a fundamental paradox in LDS doctrine: leaders can be wrong, but God will never allow the prophet to lead the church astray. When trying to explain either side of the paradox, they give tantalizing quotes that can be used to out of context to provide ammunition to those who support one side of the paradox over another.
Well, Harold B. Lee wouldn’t have misquoted Brigham Young the way he did if it didn’t strengthen the point he was trying to make. So if I ever use the quote in the future (I don’t recall ever using it in the past), I will be sure to attribute it to Harold B. Lee. Maybe I point out that he thought Brigham Young had said it, or maybe I don’t. Haven’t decided.
But everybody will dismiss it because it was just Harold B. Lee who said it and (a) he was only President of the Church for a few years instead of Brigham Young’s decades, (b) he’s only been dead 40+ years instead of 120+ years, and (c) correlation is all his fault. So why listen to him?
But wait, haven’t all the liberal members of the church been led astray by putting so much faith in the words off Pres. Lee who mistakenly paraphrased Pres. Young? 😉
Maybe they should pray and gain a testimony for themselves if the church is being led by God when it teaches about priesthood or marriage.
I don’t believe there is any actual paradox in the idea of fallible leaders that can’t lead the church astray. As J. Max Wilson has written on before, what we really believe is a limited form of fallibility, especially at the highest levels of leadership. The idea that they can be wrong in everything robs us of the ability to have any faith in their words, while the recognition that they can have minor weakness, as is common to the human condition, helps us to exercise greater faith in their words. We know that they might not be perfect, but also not that God is leading them, and so we can move forward trusting in their words, knowing that if any minor course correction is needed the Lord will provide it through those same leaders.
Thanks for the time and effort it took to run the quote down. My opinion is that Christ has set up His church in such a manner so as to make it extremely unlikely for any one man to “lead the church astray.” A stake is led by a stake presidency and 12 high councilors. However, each of them come and go in their positions. While a stake president may serve for 9 or 10 years, his counselors tend to not serve as long, and certainly high councilors may only serve a couple of years before being called to serve in another capacity. Contrast that arrangement with the First Presidency and Q12. They are life long callings, and the President is the most senior apostle. These men spend years and years together in meetings discussing the affairs of the kingdom. While I’m sure they accord the president utmost respect, I have no doubt that each apostle has no problem speaking his mind about doctrine, policy and principle. That church may move slowly but it moves surely through unanimous decision of the FP/Q12. Could “one man” lead the church astray? Maybe. Could 15 prophets, seers and revelators lead the church astray? Highly unlikely. We still need to gain our own testimony of whatever counsel or doctrine is presented. But even when our own testimony is slow in coming, I trust the FP/Q12 are leading the church righteously.
Thanks for a great post. I think there will be frequent times when I’ll have the opportunity to refer liberals who use the debunked quote to this article.
Excellent job, and thanks for it; it must have taken a while to track all those sources down. Like Geoff B, I too love a good debunking.
RE: Scott responding to Nate
That “solution” to the paradox (only small insignificant mistakes are allowed – God would prevent any others) may be what you believe but I don’t think it is supported by the reality of our Church’s history. I think a much more likely explanation is simply that *when* the Leaders of the Church get things wrong (in some sense) it is not counted to the members as sin if they (the members) follow the counsel of the appointed/legitimate Church Leaders.
God will strive with the Leaders of the Church to correct anything which is wrong, or simply to change things which could be done better to meet changing needs. In the first instance the prophets are a filter, they process inspired guidance through what they know. Specifically what they think the scriptures and their knowledge of the Gospel means. For example, in the case of Elder McConkie’s famous talk on the events and process surrounding the revelation concerning the extension of the Priesthood to all worthy male members of the Church, he states that the scripture passage regarding all are the same before the Lord was much more expansive in meaning than the Church Leaders (and many members) had thought. God expanded and changed the Church Leaders’ understanding of that passage (and a lot of other things). In that case errors in thinking (and as a result errors in policy) were dramatically corrected. And in accordance with our “not led astray” philosophy God changed the Church’s course and the members were not led astray.
With respect to the second type of guidance, no correction is needed, just adjustments. For instance, the procedures for receiving a temple recommend have changed significantly over the decades. In the early decades of the Church’s existence they didn’t even exist, then they became a permission slip issued by a stake president, eventually in the 1890s a standardized list of “suggested” questions were sent to the stake presidents, and the process continued to evolve until today it is completely standardized and Bishop’s counselors can conduct most, but not all, of the initial interviews. There was no “error” that was being corrected as that process was first invented and then refined over the decades, rather procedures were simply being changed to meet changing needs.
Prophets and apostles are capable of making mistakes (some far reaching and consequential), the issue then is how to respond. The simplest (and possibly the safest) way is simply to follow the counsel received. That is what we are taught and that is an acceptable (and worthy) approach. However, if a specific member receives conflicting revelation that member must decide how to respond. As the scriptures (and modern prophets) clearly teach there is an incredibly high likelihood the member is mistaken and the supposed “revelation” is actually false – but it is not impossible that it is actually correct. As long as the member does not try to teach others in open opposition to the Church Leaders (where some fall into error and apostasy) and applies the revelation only to themselves, then IF the revelation is accurate they are without sin in the matter.
Regarding the original article thanks for the clarity offered. I conclude (much as I have before) that a spiritual witness is important, if nothing specific is evident then the default should be to assume (in faith) that the leaders are correct, and if a contrary witness is received very careful consideration should be given as to what to do with it – i.e., a member should not act rashly, nor (of course) should they throw out all the rest of the light and knowledge regarding the correctness of the Church as God’s designated/authorized representative organization on the earth today.
What an excellent example of tracking down a skewed quote. I am in awe of how you finally found the key in a source that is virtually unavailable. I feel this is a really good example of using a keen mind and having the help of the Spirit. In different contexts I have often felt guided when I need to accomplish something that will serve the Lord’s purpose. As a side note, I appreciate Brigham Young’s observation on the proper way to teach and guide children.
When I initially read just the post title, I thought that it was going to be this quote (which I assume is real):
“President Brigham Young said: “The worst fear that I have about [members of this Church] is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and his people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the Church and go to hell. This people will stand mobbing, robbing, poverty, and all manner of persecution, and be true. But my greater fear for them is that they cannot stand wealth; and yet they have to be tried with riches, for they will become the richest people on this earth” (in Preston Nibley, Brigham Young: The Man and His Work , 128).”
But, I guess that the “worst” fear and “greatest” fear are not necessarily the same thing. I had misremembered that the quote I had anticipated was actually the worst, not greatest. I do wonder how to rank them among superlatives in this case, though…
By the way, I am not the same Mike that was posting on Meg’s song thread, but have posted on several other threads previously. And there may have been another Mike that has posted here previous to me, as well. I do have to say that it is odd that this site allows multiple posters to use the same screen name. It can lead to all kinds of confusion. I think that most other sites I have visited seem to force posters to not duplicate screen names. Might be something to consider changing.
Great post J Max. I’ve noticed this trend of using selective quotes from leaders to bolster ones position regarding discussions about war even as they often explain away and discount other words. The prophets that say things which agree with the individual’s political leanings are accepted and even trumpeted. I can think of Kimball’s False God’s as a good example.. But then statements that are more supportive of using force are given the standard disqualifiers; and they often use quotes like the one you cited to justify questioning their leader’s position on their pet social issues such as gay marriage or ordain women. So when a prophet agrees with their position or gives them cover for their dissent they have a rather traditional view of the weight of prophets words, but when the prophets disagree with their cherished liberal positions they come up with all sorts of reasons not to listen to them. So overall, I liked the investigation you did, and thought you were spot on with your analysis.
Is it too much to hope that Howard will stop using this quote now? 😉
To be honest, I never thought that quote was all that bad – and I assume President Lee would probably agree. My own model of legitimacy is:
Human Reason < Priesthood Authority < Personal Revelation = Private
If people really did allow themselves to be lead solely by priesthood authority that would be a pretty terrible thing. Since human reason cannot constrain priesthood authority, if people didn't use personal their personal revelation then obedience truly would be blind and quite dangerous.
I think the point is that even the way and context in which Harold B. Lee used the quote doesn’t match with how liberal Mormons throw it around today. That Harold B. Lee said it doesn’t give anybody carte blanche to use it for their own purposes, and imbue it with their own meaning.
I called one of my daughters to discuss this post and she said she was certain that it appeared in the Brigham Young manual and therefore had the imprimatur of the correlation committee. Using my Kindle version of the LDS Library, I searched for the quote using several filters and it doesn’t appear. This could mean she was mistaken or a recent edit removed it. If she is mistaken it is an example of how we can unwittingly perpetuate error.
I don’t see any paradox in balancing pronouncements of leaders with Spirit and scripture. In one of the quotes of President Lee of Brigham Young we are given the one sure source that we should trust and be willing to follow: “the prophet, seer, and revelator” to which we could likely insert the preface ‘current’ but I won’t because I have no authority to do so except in my own heart.
It’s not in the PDF either. I’m pretty sure your daughter was just mistaken about that.
I’ve read the “I am more afraid…” quote so many times over the years, I can quote it virtually verbatim. By contrast, I didn’t recall reading the “My greatest fear…” version ever in my life. A search of both the bloggernacle (using the Mormon Archipelago search) and the internet in general shows that the accurate quotation is quoted far, far more commonly than the inaccurate one, which seems to be relatively little known. Prior to your post, the “The greatest fear…” version appeared all of seven times in the entire bloggernacle, three of them by the same commenter, and none of them in M*.
I wonder if you doth protest too much?
In the several quotes from Brigham Young and President Lee that OP offered the context makes the meaning clear. We are urged to develop sensitivity to the Spirit as we listen to our leaders. It is not meant as an excuse to doubt and question doctrine.
Even if the erroneous quote discussed isn’t as prevalent as some believed, it’s a good discussion of the nuances that one gets if one looks beyond the sound bite. Particularly if the sound bite is a subtly altered version that leaves room for misinterpretation.
Your assuming that my encounters with this quote would be listed in the “bloggernacle” or on google-able sites. I am reacting to personal communications and the experiences of others that I know about. In the wider web it may be employed less than my own experience would suggest. I spend very little time in the bloggernacle itself, other than cross posting to M*. But it does please me that when I refer to Dissident members you associate it with the bloggernacle. 🙂
Your a learned man J. Max Wilson. You should be proud of your self as I see you are.
I guess I am just to simple minded. I read things and take them at face value. I see what Brigham Young said and what Harold B Lee said. I don’t have that ability to twist their words to say what I want them to say just so I can win an argument on line.
I think Brigham Young was a fascinating man and an inspired leader. I appreciate the research you did but don’t feel so comfortable with the mingling of your interpretation. cheers.
Yesterday in conversation, a colleague humorously recited the line:
“Those of you who think you know everything are irritating to those of us who do.”
After which his colleague put up a hand to shield his gesture, and pointed at the first man.
We all had a good belly laugh and moved on.
Smart people do have a tendency to say things that can seem insufferable to those who don’t share the same view.
Here, however, I will mention my preference for someone who posts under their own name (with picture) to someone else who posts in a less public fashion.
Meg, post your email address and I’ll send you a short bio about my self. I did not know this was a popularity contest. I think the merits of a persons post should be based on what is said. If you post your phone number I’ll also consider giving you a call. The more personal information the better, right?
kinglamoni, what do you mean by “I read things and take them at face value”? Surely you come to the text with as many biases as the rest of us. You can’t claim that the “liberal” interpretation is somehow self-evident, otherwise we wouldn’t be having this conversation. J Max provided evidence that Brigham Young never said what he is quoted as saying, and that the context of both Brigham Young’s remarks and Harold B. Lee’s is far too complicated to simply continue believing the “liberal” interpretation. Disagreeing with J Max’s interpretation doesn’t validate the “liberal” interpretation; only counter-evidence will do that.
Jack, what it mean is, i try not to complicate things. I am not defending the liberal interpretation. I am also not defending max’s liberal interpretation. How nice it would have been for max to have presented what he had found and left it to the reader to interpret. I am not saying I know every thing like so many often do. I am not giving an interpretation. I have faith in good peoples sensibilities to do that on their own. The gospel of Jesus Christ should be something even a child can comprehend. Why make it complicated?
King Lamoni, in the future if you would like to post on this site you would be more welcome if you would avoid calling people “proud” and accusing them of twisting words. Actually, what Jmax is doing is the opposite of “twisting.” He is untwisting more than anything else.
In any case, you will need to take a step back and avoid attacking people (posters and commenters) if you would like to continue to comment here. Disagreement is fine. Be polite. Being disagreeable is not fine.
Thanks for understanding.
http://t.co/tjKNk5s0mb This is important stuff. Brigham Young never said he was afraid of members following the brethren. Context, context!
Geoff b , Thank you. Sounds like I hit to close to the mark.
Thanks for the research. I had heard the quote as well over the years, and as with many quotes and sound bites, the original context can make all the difference. If we want to “interpret” anything, we should at least have as much context as we can.
Kinglamoni, I believe the author was providing context more than interpretation.
John Swenson Harvey
I thought your comment was well thought out and spot on. Thanks