When pondering the Church’s recent handbook changes on same-sex marriage, the thing that has made me most distraught has been the public reaction of so many of our brothers and sisters. Modern-day prophets have outlined in hundreds of recent talks how the primary test of our generation will be whether people can follow Church leadership even when it is difficult. How quickly people seem to forget!
Elder Christofferson has made it abundantly clear that the Church’s recent changes in the handbook of instructions are inspired Church policy and in line with the Savior’s teachings.
Regarding the issue of same-sex relationships, Elder Christofferson said:
We’re not going to yield on our efforts to help people find what brings happiness, but we know sin does not. And so we’re going to stand firm there because we don’t want to mislead people. There’s no kindness in misdirecting people and leading them into any misunderstanding about what is true, what is right, what is wrong, what leads to Christ and what leads away from Christ.
If you read many Mormon blogs and other comments on social media these days, it is clear that many people are very quick to question the prophets. In fact, I have read a lot of unfortunate criticism of the prophets from people who should know better. Many of these people have gone through the endowment ceremony and made a covenant to avoid “evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed.” I daresay some of these people are breaking their covenant. I would like to bring to their attention a talk from Elder Oaks that directly addresses this issue. There have been many attempts to prooftext the meaning of the phrase “evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed.” These attempts to minimize the importance of this covenant get it exactly wrong. Elder Oaks makes is clear:
“Criticism is particularly objectionable when it is directed toward Church authorities, general or local. Jude condemns those who ‘speak evil of dignities.’ (Jude 1:8.) Evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed is in a class by itself. It is one thing to depreciate a person who exercises corporate power or even government power. It is quite another thing to criticize or depreciate a person for the performance of an office to which he or she has been called of God. It does not matter that the criticism is true. As Elder George F. Richards, President of the Council of the Twelve, said in a conference address in April 1947,
“‘When we say anything bad about the leaders of the Church, whether true or false, we tend to impair their influence and their usefulness and are thus working against the Lord and his cause.’ (In Conference Report, Apr. 1947, p. 24.)” (Address to Church Educational System teachers, Aug. 16, 1985.)
I would encourage readers to read the entire talk, but I would like to highlight many passages:
Does the commandment to avoid faultfinding and evil speaking apply to Church members’ destructive personal criticism of Church leaders? Of course it does. It applies to criticism of all Church leaders—local or general, male or female. In our relations with all of our Church leaders, we should follow the Apostle Paul’s direction: “Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father.” (1 Tim. 5:1.)
Church leaders need this consideration, since the responsibilities of Church leadership include the correction of others. That function is not popular. As the Lamanite prophet Samuel taught, when a prophet comes among us and speaks of our iniquities, we are made angry. We call him a false prophet and “cast him out and seek all manner of ways to destroy him.” (See Hel. 13:26.) But if a man comes among us and speaks flattering words about our behavior and tells us that it is all right to “walk after the pride of [our] own hearts … and do whatsoever [our] heart desire[s],” “we will not find fault with him.” (See Hel. 13:27, 28.) We will call him a prophet and reward him.
And there is this:
This modern revelation from the Doctrine and Covenants is to the same effect:
“Cursed are all those that shall lift up the heel against mine anointed, saith the Lord, and cry they have sinned when they have not sinned before me, saith the Lord, but have done that which was meet in mine eyes, and which I commanded them.” (D&C 121:16.)
The counsel against speaking evil of Church leaders is not so much for the benefit of the leaders as it is for the spiritual well-being of members who are prone to murmur and find fault. The Church leaders I know are durable people. They made their way successfully in a world of unrestrained criticism before they received their current callings. They have no personal need for protection; they seek no personal immunities from criticism—constructive or destructive. They only seek to declare what they understand to be the word of the Lord to his people.
President David O. McKay said this about what he called “murmurers” and “faultfinders”:
“‘Speak not against the authorities.’ What does it mean? Be not a murmurer; that is what it means. It is one of the most poisonous things that can be introduced into the home of a Latter-day Saint—this murmuring against presidents of stakes, high councilors, Sunday School superintendents, etc. …
“Better stop murmuring and build. Remember that one of the worst means of tearing down an individual is slander. It is one of the most poisonous weapons that the evil one uses. Backbiting and evil speaking throw us into the class of malefactors rather than the class of benefactors.” (Gospel Ideals, Salt Lake City: Improvement Era, 1953, pp. 142–43.)
President McKay’s teaching against speaking evil of others is a principle of Christian behavior that applies to all people. But his companion counsel against “murmuring” is a teaching that applies uniquely to Church members and Church leaders.
Government or corporate officials, who are elected directly or indirectly or appointed by majority vote, must expect that their performance will be subject to critical and public evaluations by their constituents. That is part of the process of informing those who have the right and power of selection or removal. The same is true of popularly elected officers in professional, community, and other private organizations. I suppose that the same is true even of church leaders who are selected by popular vote of members or their representative bodies. Consistent with gospel standards, these evaluations—though critical and public—should be constructive.
A different principle applies in our Church, where the selection of leaders is based on revelation, subject to the sustaining vote of the membership. In our system of Church government, evil speaking and criticism of leaders by members is always negative. Whether the criticism is true or not, as Elder George F. Richards explained, it tends to impair the leaders’ influence and usefulness, thus working against the Lord and his cause. (In Conference Report, Apr. 1947, p. 24, quoted above.)
What could be more clear than Elder Oaks’ counsel?
Well, there is this from Joseph Smith:
“I will give you one of the Keys of the mysteries of the Kingdom. It is an eternal principle, that has existed with God from all eternity: That man who rises up to condemn others, finding fault with the Church, saying that they are out of the way, while he himself is righteous, then know assuredly, that that man is in the high road to apostasy; and if he does not repent, will apostatize, as God lives.” (History of the Church, 3:385; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on July 2, 1839, in Montrose, Iowa; reported by Wilford Woodruff and Willard Richards).
When I see the many criticisms of Church leaders on social media these days, I feel deep sadness for the people who are evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed. I give you my testimony that the Church is led by inspired prophets today. I wish I could impart that testimony to others, but they need to discover or rediscover that truth themselves. I pray that they will.