More on Elder Packer and Beards

June 23, 2004 | 58 comments
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The thread following Dan’s post on the church’s apparent (and inconsistent) “tonsorial jihad” has come to focus on the matter of “unwritten policies” and the existence of an “oral law”–something Jim doubts that any culture can exist without. I agree with him–there is and must be a place for mores, for unwritten guides to belief and behavior, in any healthy society. But it’s worth thinking a little more deeply about what this dynamic should and shouldn’t involve, in the church and elsewhere.

Any discussion in the church of whether or not men in ward or stake or temple callings should be expected to be clean-shaven, and other similar matters that seem to exist in that broad gray area between the Standard Works and legends about the Three Nephites, is bound to eventually get around to Elder Packer’s address, “The Unwritten Order of Things”, and this thread isn’t an exception. Elder Packer said his sermon could be described as “The Ordinary Things about the Church Which Every Member Should Know”–implying that there is an order–dealing with where people should sit, and who should speak last in our meetings, and how people ought to dress for church, etc.–that is, or ought to be, simply known to members, passed down and along to children and new members as appropriate. Again, I couldn’t agree more–one of the great failures of contemporary society (though, obviously, there are upsides to this change as well) is that it has come more often than not to ignore the role that customs, manners, traditions, the unspoken consensus, decorum, even shame and peer pressure, play in teaching virtue, making civil relationships possible and thereby strengthening communities. Our church ought to have–and needs to maintain–a strong oral, unwritten agreement on “how things are done” if it is to function properly.

But Elder Packer made, I think, a serious mistake in giving this sermon: namely, he gave it, and it was printed in the Ensign, and now it’s not, strictly speaking, “unwritten” any longer. What Packer considered to be the appropriate unwritten order of conducting meetings has now been turned into a written text that those concerned about the order of conducting meetings will be able to consult. The interpersonal and evolving character of his counsel has been lost, because it’s been printed. I think this is a terribly important point. The spoken, dialogic word is different from the written one, a difference that can be exemplified by looking at the word “policy.” One can imagine an unwritten, oral law, premised on unspoken traditions and received customs; but what could an “unwritten policy” be? The very idea of a policy is that of a standard or order that may be “policed,” enforced throughout a “polity,” because it is a “political” (read: public) determination. Elder Packer made who sits where in meetings–a orally handed-down and thus ever-interpreted custom that consequently had an important communitarian function to play in our wards–into something public, which means he made it (presumably unintentionally) political, the kind of thing that could result in discipline, rather than informal argument and interpersonal dialogue before or after meetings. Because he took it out of the realm of unspoken (publicly, that is) custom and put into General Conference Lecture form, the continued adaptation and evolution of that particular order is no longer organic; when it happens–if it happens–it will be the result of confrontation and debate. Not that the one necessarily and completely excludes the other; clearly there’s a continuum here. But to talk of “unwritten policies,” to blithely tell people what they “ought to know” when one is speaking publicly in a position of authority (as Elder Packer clearly was) and thereby is guaranteed to have one’s counsel about standards transformed into rules (to use Dan’s categories), is, I think, irresponsible to say the least.

Well, you know where this is going. I have a beard. I accept that the current unwritten order of things in the church is that men not have beards. As this particular order gets internalized and argued out in various wards and branches, I’ve found myself in contexts where the beard has mattered and affected my standing in the eyes of fellow members, as well as in contexts where it hasn’t. That’s life in our community, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. However, to the extent that the church is a hierarchical organization, committed to the implementation (as most successful large organizations are) of consistent rules, this unwritten order occasionally gets politicized in unfortunate and unnecessary ways. BYU’s grooming standards (which themselves are kept in place by a hierarchical confusion of unwritten preferences with necessary rules) slowly morph into a general rule for the church as a whole, thus allowing for distinctions and line-drawing where none is really appropriate. In short, it’s not so much that the church shouldn’t care about beards. It’s that the church, so long as it is unable or unwilling to turn beardlessness into something with fundamental doctrinal import, ought not allow that concern to be articulated as an “unwritten policy,” which strikes me as a category error of a fairly high order. If it’s important enough to be a policy, write it down and make it a rule; otherwise, let it be enforced and hashed out informally, like all good customs are.

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58 Responses to More on Elder Packer and Beards

  1. chad too on June 23, 2004 at 2:03 pm

    Keep it growing, Russell. Fight the Power! ;-)

  2. John H on June 23, 2004 at 3:04 pm

    I don’t quite have the respect for this talk that others have shown. To put it bluntly, I can’t stand it. What Elder Packer has tried to do is take stupid stuff that doesn’t matter (whether we sustain “Suzie” instead of “Susan”) and turn it into something sacred or important.

    The most troubling part, to me, was the discussion surrounding funerals. The thought that someone could speak about their loved ones and relatives “too much” at a funeral is just abominable to me – as is the idea that a Church leader would try and be so controlling as to tell people how they can and cannot say goodbye to their spouse, children, parents, etc. Yikes.

    For the most part, thankfully, Bishops, Stake Presidents, and Church leaders seem to have ignored this part of Elder Packer’s talk – at least as I’ve witnessed it. I’ve been to two funerals where members of the First Presidency spoke – they talked about the deceased far more than they talked about the Savior – a major no-no according to Elder Packer. At other funerals the deceased has been the focus (as well they should), while the Savior has been mentioned respectfully.

    Of course, if there is a bishop that thinks he can tell a family how they can say goodbye to their loved ones, there’s a very simple solution: hold the funeral services at a funeral home instead of the Church, and make it abundantly clear that members of the bishopric are not welcome.

  3. lyle on June 23, 2004 at 3:17 pm

    long live the hairy fighers! [inspired by dune]

    russell: re: “BYU’s grooming standards (which themselves are kept in place by a hierarchical confusion of unwritten preferences with necessary rules) slowly morph into a general rule for the church as a whole.”

    -Perhaps this is intended? I’ve heard plenty of talks/scuttle-but about how BYU is a norms setting place, far more than a university. i.e. the 15 & the Lord _intend_ for “BYU’s [x] standards . . . [to] slowly moroph into a genearl rule for the church as a whole” ???

    john h: interesting comment on rebellion in the church. perhaps, per Russell’s comments, the _written_ talk by Elder Packer has now been superceded by the oral/common law…which has overruled that earlier talk. While it might generate public heat…hard to argue that the 1st Presidency is wrong when they go against an Ensign talk by a lower ranking Apostle.

  4. Frank McIntyre on June 23, 2004 at 3:31 pm

    John H.,

    You’ve shown your strong feelings on the subject, but Elder Packer also has strong feelings on the subject. Why do you think you are right and he is wrong in matters relating to Church procedure? This would seem like an area where you are much less likely to be right than him, does it not?

    Also, Elder Packer did not make anything a “major no-no.” Killing, stealing, apostasy; these are all major no-no’s. Elder Packer was talking about how to do things to invite the Spirit more fully into our lives in many little ways. This is a subject about which we perhaps should have some faith and try out his ideas. After all, testimonies come through obedience.

    I haven’t read his talk in a long time, so perhaps I am mischaracterizing it.

    Russell (bearded one),

    It is true that writing down unwritten rules changes them. It may be the case that Elder Packer felt those specific rules could be written down with either some benefit or minimal loss. It also may be that he wished to help us understand a concept– unwritten rules matter— and the only way to do that was with examples. The examples became sacrificial lambs in this case, but now we all understand that unwritten rules exist and are important. Helping us understand that may make it worth the losses you feel may exist.

  5. Kingsley on June 23, 2004 at 3:37 pm

    I was there when he gave the talk, & my impression was of a gentle, easy-going, sometimes humorous & grandfatherly fireside chat. My impression of the funeral thing was that he was saying the greatest thing you can do for the living is remind them of the Good News, that you are going to see your loved one, embodied & full of their old personality, again. Like John H. said, bishops & stake presidents have interpreted the talk sanely, so what’s the big deal?

  6. Kaimi on June 23, 2004 at 3:50 pm

    The whole concept of unwritten rules makes me cringe. I know, there are standards that we accept in life. Practice and custom are fine. But it doesn’t seem that he’s talking about those. They are introduced as such — “I’m talking about sitting on the stand, and such.” But he quickly moves to unwritten rules that go against practice and custom. (Not speaking of the deceased at a funeral?)

    If it’s a rule, we should be following it. We can’t follow what we don’t know. And will we be held accountable for breaking unwritten rules? How exactly are we supposed to learn them?

    Worst of all, it invites unrighteous dominion. It puts an inordinate amount of power into the hands of those who can claim to know the unwritten (secret?) rules. “Yes, brother, you were paying your tithing, obeying the word of wisdom, praying, and attending church. But you broke an _unwritten_ rule.”

    There’s a reason why rules are written down.

  7. John H on June 23, 2004 at 3:54 pm

    Frank: My recollection of the talk, after hearing it then reading it was that Elder Packer took the part about funerals quite seriously. He said that if someone talks about him at his funeral instead of the Savior, he’s going to rise out of his coffin and correct them. Amusing, to be sure. But it also helps underscore the importance of his message to listeners and readers: this is so important I’ll actually rise from the dead to make my point.

    I’ll confess right now that I’m a bit biased towards the talk. There’s little question that I overreact to it, and I suppose I’d be better off in a more measured response (like Russell’s or Kingsley’s). But I have heard of a couple of occasions where there were serious conflicts between family members and bishoprics over funeral services. In one instance, a friend of mine was confronted by the entire bishopric less than 24 hours after his wife was buried. They chastised him because the funeral wasn’t “spiritual enough.”

    It just seems to me that there are times to worry about procedure and times to worry about people. We can worry about procedure when we sustain someone and make sure to use their full name instead of a nickname (though I’ll confess this still sounds like much ado about nothing). But spiritual leaders ought to be their for members of their flock in their greatest times of need. How can we be effective pastors to someone who’s lost a loved one if we’re too worried about rules that don’t really matter?

    As for the idea that he would be more “right” than me in matters of Church procedure, why is that? I know that might sound arrogant, and I don’t mean for it to be. But my perspective is to take each issue as it comes along. Just because something comes from Elder Packer (or any other Church leader), doesn’t mean it’s automatically the right thing for the Church to do.

  8. Kingsley on June 23, 2004 at 4:02 pm

    Why is Pres. Packer responsible for bad interpretations of his talk? Is Pres. Young responsible for Utah fundamentalists? It is quite possible to view the talk as something attempting to maintain a balance, & leave it at that. Bishops go out of their way to make sure there is at least some talk of Christ at funerals, etc. Throw a rock at General Conference & you’ll hit a talk that, overinterpreted or badly interpreted, might lead to all sorts of dire situations.

  9. Thom on June 23, 2004 at 4:08 pm

    John H said: “Just because something comes from Elder Packer (or any other Church leader), doesn’t mean it’s automatically the right thing for the Church to do.”

    Or maybe, just maybe, it does.

    Does the counsel for members be careful in associating themselves with publications like Sunstone fall into this category for you?

  10. Kingsley on June 23, 2004 at 4:08 pm

    John H: Your example of your friend losing his wife is really, really sad. I didn’t mean to shrug off that sort of experience. My point was that misinterpretation, overinterpretation of “what the Brethren said” occurs all the time in the Church & seems to be a typical human failing–& the Brethren have to get the word out anyway.

  11. Thom on June 23, 2004 at 4:14 pm

    John H,

    My sincere apologies for my preceding snarky remark. A failure to self-edit. I sometimes think things that I should not type. I think that my frustration at the other conversation about torture temproarily exhausted my good sense to restrain myself, and I was rude and unkind.

    I hope you will forgive me. Thom

  12. danithew on June 23, 2004 at 4:15 pm

    I’m not sure what to make over the debate with Elder Packer’s talk. I just know that I recently attended a funeral for our last bishop (who was killed in a sudden accident) and it was one of the most moving spiritual events I’ve ever witnessed. Our bishop’s brother spoke and told some humorous, touching and insightful anecdotes regarding his brother’s life. We also had two stake presidents speak (as he was bishop of a young married ward — the bishop’s family attended another ward).

    Both men expressed their deep love and appreciation of our bishop and also managed to preach pure gospel doctrine at the same time.

    This is one of the only LDS funerals I’ve ever been to… but it was one of the most edifying, life-affirming and memorable experiences of my life.

    The highlight of the funeral for me was when our ward choir sang “I Know That My Redeemer Lives.” The Spirit’s influence was palpable during this hymn, especially during the fourth verse.

    My hope is that an LDS funeral could somehow be a tribute to the person who has passed away and also a tribute to the Savior. I certainly experienced this on the occasion I’ve described here.

  13. Nate Oman on June 23, 2004 at 4:19 pm

    ” But my perspective is to take each issue as it comes along. Just because something comes from Elder Packer (or any other Church leader), doesn’t mean it’s automatically the right thing for the Church to do.”

    John: I am affraid that you are going to have to do better than that. These are nice vaguely inconoclasitic and skeptical sentiments, but you are brushing past the issue of authority much too blithely. Given the rather obviously authoritarian (using the term neutrally) structure of the Church and of Mormon theology, you are simply going to HAVE to come up with some sort of real theory of authority, its limits, and its legitimate claims. I am sorry, but “I can just work these issues out for myself” doesn’t seem to cut it.

    Kaimi: You did go to law school right? Contracts, torts, property — these are all unwritten in the sense that the law is not embodied in authoritative written texts. Indeed, it seems to my that the great genius of the common law (arguably the single greatest achievement of the English speaking world) is that it provides a flexible but not too flexible vision of custom and rule that is neither entirely unwritten nor easily reducable to written rules. (The Restatement movement — gag! gag! — not withstanding.)

    Russell: I think that you lay too much emphasis on the fact that things are written. There is a huge difference rhetorically between the way that a sermon gets interpreted and the way that a set of rules or policy guidelines gets interpreted. (If you don’t believe me, I will email you some cases.) It seems to me that your concern ends up being more about the role of authority and less about the role of writting per se. However, it seems to me that the ambigious status of a sermon — as opposed to some formally promulgated rule — creates precisely the kind of flexible ambiguity without loss of authority that you want for norms and mores.

    At the end of the day, perhaps this is just more about beards than about unwritten policies.

    (Full disclosure: I have grown a beard as well.)

  14. Greg on June 23, 2004 at 4:27 pm

    Like I said on the earlier thread, I would share Kaimi’s concern if the unwritten rules involved things that would affect callings or standing in the church. In fact, I left that devotional a bit disturbed about a few of his points and some rigidity I had perceived.

    But looking back now, I think Elder Packer was just giving rules of thumb — trying to give future leaders a “knack” for how to run a meeting or extend a calling. Some tips (accept callings) are better than others (use full names), but the very fact that many are so trifling rightly militates against them be applied to rigidly or uniformly.

    I also don’t think it was a serious misstep to publish the talk. Non-BYU students, people new to the church, or people who don’t have experienced leaders in their unit would likely welcome some direction on these matters (as peripheral as they may be). And as a practical matter, from my experience Elder Packer’s advice has clearly *not* been transformed into rules. I’ve seen bishops sit with their families when not conducting, and I’m usually sustained as “Greg” rather than “Gregory.”

    And won’t Elder Packer’s funeral be a little more suspenseful in light of his statement that “I have told my Brethren in that day when my funeral is held, if any of them who speak talk about me, I will raise up and correct them.” I have a feeling they’ll take the bait.

  15. Dave on June 23, 2004 at 4:38 pm

    There are two ways to frame the problem. First, from the top looking down, most local leaders have pretty good common sense and follow the “we teach principles and let people govern themselves” plan. But a minority of local leaders become quite wrapped up in regulating the conduct of members through rules, from beards to white shirts to funeral programs to how one pronounces “Amen” at the end of prayers. It’s unclear whether “rulemakers” are 5% or 10% or 20% of the pool.

    Second, from the bottom looking up the problem becomes: What’s a member to do if in a branch, ward, or stake run by a rulemonger? What if (choosing reasonable hypotheticals which present the issue at hand) a leader tells you that you can’t baptize your daughter because you have a beard, or you can’t teach Sunday School because you are wearing a blue as opposed to a white shirt? At least if directives are written and accessible to the general membership, as opposed to unwritten or provided only to local leaders, then a member can rely on something other than gut instinct (or common sense or personal inspiration) to guard one’s personal autonomy in matters of personal choice. For members facing such situations (such as the funeral question)it is not just some trivial administrative detail. I blogged on this general theme (also in response to Dan Burk’s post) two days ago:

    http://mormoninquiry.typepad.com/mormon_inquiry/2004/06/unwritten_rules.html

  16. Russell Arben Fox on June 23, 2004 at 4:43 pm

    Frank,

    “It may be the case that Elder Packer felt those specific rules could be written down with either some benefit or minimal loss. It also may be that he wished to help us understand a concept– unwritten rules matter— and the only way to do that was with examples. The examples became sacrificial lambs in this case, but now we all understand that unwritten rules exist and are important.”

    That’s a really interesting point. Of course, one could also be cynical and say that Elder Packer, being especially concerned about, say, funerals, more or less intentionally wanted it to be such that his understanding of the “unwritten order” about funerals could be used as a rule against those who didn’t share his interpretation of said order. Either way, it’s true that all he did was sketch out the principle of customary order, but didn’t fill out the details of that order much; beards, mostly prominently, were not discussed by Packer at all.

    Nate,

    “However, it seems to me that the ambigious status of a sermon — as opposed to some formally promulgated rule — creates precisely the kind of flexible ambiguity without loss of authority that you want for norms and mores.”

    You may be right. But I’m not sure our church has a sufficiently understood or thought-out hermeneutical category within which General Conference addresses may be situated to as to allow for such flexibility. To be sure, examples of flexible ambiguity abound. But so do examples of tangential statements made by general authorities which touch upon “unwritten matters” being received as formal rules. You’re probably correct that what my post was tip-toeing around was the larger and more complicated issue of the nature of authority in lay church that nonetheless has developed a complicated hierarchical and organizational structure, but I’m not sure how otherwise to get a handle on that issue than by taking up the important distinction between codified rules and unwritten customs.

    Kaimi,

    “Worst of all, it invites unrighteous dominion. It puts an inordinate amount of power into the hands of those who can claim to know the unwritten (secret?) rules.”

    Exactly. Which is why those customs and unwritten traditions, as binding as they may be, shouldn’t be construed as “rules.” A custom is, by definition, customary, meaning that it is known and practiced habitually. If something really isn’t known–if it is a secret standard–then it can’t be a custom, and can serve no more purpose that to allow one person to claim to know the “real” rules, to their own benefit of course. (Those who were at BYU in the early 90s will find this a familiar story, since it pretty much sums up what happened when English professor Cecelia Farr’s discovered just before her three-year review that BYU had an “unwritten policy” against faculty being visibly pro-abortion rights.)

    Something I should add: obviously I or some other person may well dislike some of the “ways things get done around here,” and sometimes a few of those ways will actually hurt me in fashion that will demand a rule-based response. (Individual rights qualifying communal presumptions and all that.) But generally speaking, I’d prefer to live in a society–and worship in a church–”governed” (if that’s the right word) at least as much by participatory consensus as by enforced specific rules.

  17. Kaimi on June 23, 2004 at 4:49 pm

    I find it somewhat funny (and perhaps this demonstrate my twisted sense of humor) that one of the more oft-cited areas of “oral law” that I can think of (besides funerals and white shirts) actually has to do with, well, “oral” law. (Of course, there is a supposed letter from someone-or-other in the First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve . . .).

  18. lyle on June 23, 2004 at 4:50 pm

    I demand (lol) an immediate updating of Nate’s bio picture on T&S to reflect his beard! Failure to do so should be treated with the same threats used to coerce other T&S members to produce a bio statement. All in favor?

  19. Frank McIntyre on June 23, 2004 at 4:55 pm

    Dave,

    The Bishop holds the keys to who teaches Sunday School. The Bishop holds the keys to baptism in the ward. These are not matters matters of “personal autonomy”. To make them so is to ignore what it means to hold keys. The Bishop may not be perfectly correct in that God would behave differently but, until released, my understanding is the keys are his to exercise righteously, not yours or mine.

  20. John H on June 23, 2004 at 5:07 pm

    Kingsley: I know you weren’t shrugging off a bad experience. Actually, your point is a very, very good one and an angle I hadn’t looked at before now.

    Thom: No worries – I wasn’t offended.

    I suppose there are many, many issues surrounding this particular topic that could be discussed, including following leaders, what constitutes policy, etc.

    I’m going to continue to focus on the issue of control, since it’s what I have a problem with in this talk. IIRC (I don’t have it in front of me) Elder Packer specifically said that Bishops and Stake Presidents need to maintain strict control over funeral services because we have some funerals where the deceased is talked about more than the Savior. Others seem to have interpreted Elder Packer’s talk as a relatively light-hearted, good-natured reminder of the importance of the Savior and the importance of procedure in the Church. Doing things the proper way helps facilitate the spirit.

    That’s a generous reading of the talk, IMO. I think it ignores that Elder Packer was serious in what he said, and that procedure trumps people. I know he probably doesn’t intend that message, but I think it is an easy interpretation of it. I suspect I’m too much on the other extreme of this talk – too eager to read “control” into it. But as others have brought up, it’s pretty ironic to have a talk and put in writing things that are supposedly “unwritten.” I would humbly suggest this is Elder Packer’s way of making things that are important to him, important to everyone else.

    He has demonstrated many times that procedure is very important to him – from chastising local leaders for not wearing suit coats, to having a woman signing for the deaf at a Stake Priesthood meeting removed because she was a woman. There was no one left to sign for the deaf, and they sat in literal silence.

    I know others are defensive of these sorts of actions, and perhaps rightly so. But personally, it strikes me as a willingness to put rules and procedure before people.

    Nate: I’m not sure what you mean by your earlier response to my comments – could you clarify?

  21. BTD Greg on June 23, 2004 at 5:24 pm

    Just a few random observations:

    The fortunate consensus seems to be that Elder Packer’s talk, despite the imprimatur of publication in the Ensign, is not canonical, and the problems usually arise from the talk’s interpretation, rather than the talk itself. Frankly, I’d never heard of, nor read, the talk before. Reading it, it seemed much more benign than the way it’s been taken. Basically, Elder Packer is asking that we use greater solemnity in our meetings, and giving his thoughts of a few examples where this might be more appropriate. I don’t think it’s heretical to disagree with some of Elder Packer’s specific example if we can take his underlying message to heart.

    As for the somewhat startling (from my perspective) proposition that BYU standards should be used to model the behavior for the rest of the church, I must say I find this quite frightening. One of the things that bothers me, as an outsider who, by choice, never attended BYU, is that the culture tends to be pharisaical. In all sincerity, I find it hard to reconcile some of the attitudes toward nitpicky rules to Jesus’s teachings in the New Testament.

    A friend of mine tells me that a local stake president has taken it upon himself to strictly enforce dress codes in his stake. Apparently, brethren who do not come to church wearing a white shirt and tie, have short hair, etc., will be relieved of their callings. I own a few white shirts, but more often than not wear a green or blue shirt to church. I would gladly give up my church calling to a stake president who insisted that I can’t teach Sunday school without wearing a white church every week.

  22. Davis Bell on June 23, 2004 at 5:50 pm

    If I’m hijacking, tell me. However, this particular issue seems to me to spring from the larger one of “What Criteria Do I Use In Determining When I Should Do What My Church Leaders Ask Me To Do And When I Shouldn’t?”

    On one end of the spectrum, we have who I’ll label conservatives (for lack of a better term); they believe that you should do what a Church leader asks no matter what; doesn’t matter if you like it, or if it makes sense, or if it seems crazy or unfair. The leader is Christ’s steward over you, and his request is Christ’s.

    On the other end, we have what I’ll call the liberals (again, for lack of a better term); they believe that there are precious few hard-and-fast requirements in the Gospel, and that these only come from the canon. Anything that’s not canonized (for example, the Proclamation, or talks in conference by the Prophet) are to be construed as counsel; as often as not these represent the opinion of the leaders, rather than of Christ. As such, they are to be carefully examined, and when found lacking, discarded.

    Of course, those are the extremes; you can find a millin variations in between. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know where the truth lies, and I’d be interested to hear from those who believe they do.

  23. Matt Jacobsen on June 23, 2004 at 5:57 pm

    I think the fact that other Apostles haven’t followed Elder Packer’s unwritten rules about funeral speeches (as one example) is telling. Either the other Apostles are above the unwritten rules, or they offend God when they break them, or the rules don’t really matter, or the Apostles know when and when not to break the rules. If it is the last case, can we have or acquire that same ability to break rules with impunity? Regardless, the fact that GAs disagree may justify John H’s claim that Elder Packer doesn’t always know the best and only way to run the programs of the Church. Whether John H (or anyone else) knows how to do things better is a different question.

    From anecdotal evidence it seems that GAs have a varied opinion on the importance of rules (whether it’s funerals or white shirts or beards or sacrament with the right hand, etc.). My guess is that those with loose opinions about rules are less inclined to talk about rules in General Conference. When the pro-rulers go to the effort of preparing a talk on something important to them, they’re not too likely to introduce it as “Food for thought.” That’s why the talks seem to favor tight rules while members’ personal interactions with GAs are (usually) more casual. I must admit that I love the occasional talk or anecdote that reminds us to lighten up about things that aren’t really that important.

  24. Geoff B on June 23, 2004 at 6:02 pm

    I am finding it pretty hard to believe that there are a number of posters on this board who profess to be LDS and yet think they know better than an Apostle of the Lord. Folks, either the man is an Apostle and when he speaks at a devotional (and it gets printed in Ensign) it is sound, acceptable doctrine or it is not. Saying it was a “mistake” is in my mind equivalent to saying that it might have been a mistake for Joseph Smith to publish the Book of Moses. Elder Packard either holds the Keys to offer this kind of advice or he doesn’t. Second-guessing an apostle is a first step toward apostasy, in my humble opinion. I would ask anybody who has posted opinions second-guessing Elder Packard to ask themselves how many times they question their bishop’s decisions, their stake president’s decisions and the opinions of other authority figures. A believing church member should believe that each of those people is placed in that position by the Lord’s hands. Part of your test as a church member is to see how well you can respect and follow the advice and counsel of those who are put in positions of authority around you. If you believe they are making “serious mistakes” my opinion is that it is you who are making the serious mistake.

  25. John H on June 23, 2004 at 6:26 pm

    Geoff B: The problem is far more complicated, than you make it sound on determining what is “sound doctrine” and what isn’t. This is an age-old issue in the Church.

    Admittedly, we Sunstone types love to cite all the examples of when Church leaders disagreed, or said something in General Conference that was later retracted, etc (and there’s plenty). But that doesn’t do much to add to the debate – other than confirm that it might be a bit naive to assume that anything out of any Church leader’s mouth in the right setting is automatically scripture or doctrine.

    But I think a very interesting issue out there, waiting to be addressed more fully, is the question of how things become policy or doctrine in the Church. It seems there are many influences, included Church leaders and acceptance by Church members.

    BTW, if second-guessing an Apostle is the first step to apostasy, then I must be several hundred miles past apostasy :)

  26. lyle on June 23, 2004 at 6:29 pm

    Davis: Truly a worthy topic & one oft-debated here afore. However, ask Kaimi for the directory, not I! :)

    Want to sponsor a cooperative blogging effort & start a new thread & your site or mine on this subject…so as not to hijack?

  27. Kaimi on June 23, 2004 at 6:30 pm

    Geoff,

    Please don’t make comments that attack the personal righteousness of other commenters.

    If you have questions about the T & S comment policies, they are available here.

  28. Chad Too on June 23, 2004 at 6:36 pm

    Geoff,

    Not to play dueling apostles here, but I think Elder Hugh B. Brown gave some sound advice on this very subject:

    “… And while all Mormons should respect, support, and heed the teachings of the authorities of the church, no one should accept a statement and base his or her testimony upon it, no matter who makes it …”

  29. Nate Oman on June 23, 2004 at 6:50 pm

    John H.: My problem with “Sunstone-types” second guessing authority or pointing out contradictions is not that they are on the road to apostacy. (I tend to do both things myself, and I was recently cited in Sunstone as an example of neferious orthodox anti-intellectualism!) Rather, my beeft is that pointing out the contradictions and doing the second-guessing tends to be the level at which the discussion stops. It seems to me that if one is to understand Mormonism and be a Mormon believer, you have to come up with some way of understanding Apostolic and Prophetic authority. However, when this issue is raised to “Sunstone-types,” they frequently elide the problem by assuming that the inerlocutor is adopting some version of prophetic infallibility and then pointing out the prophetic infallibility is not defensible.

    Guess what? I agree with you! I don’t believe in prophetic infallibility either. However, I simply don’t think that slaying this particular intellectual dragon is all that important or all that big of a deal. It still leaves dangling the question of what prophetic authority entails. If the answer to that question is “nothing,” then I would suggest that you have failed to account for one of the big issues in Mormon theology. Hence, I am fine if we want to dismiss Elder Packer’s talk on the unwritten order of things as so-much insensitive proceduralism. If we are going to do this, though, I would like to know when it is that I ought to worry about what Elder Packer says. In other words, when is it that disagreement with an Apostle or Prophet is not a sufficient reason for rejecting their counsel.

  30. lyle on June 23, 2004 at 6:51 pm

    c2: How does one play dueling apostles? Is it like chess? Can you get holographic images doing evangelical style bible-bashing a la the chess board in Star Wars? That would be kool! :)

  31. Kingsley on June 23, 2004 at 6:55 pm

    Kaimi: Are his comments really that bad? Seems like Geoff’s presenting an important side of the debate, i.e. do we believe these men are Apostles or don’t we. As John H. pointed out, the question’s a complicated one, but you can hardly fault someone for making a decision & sharing it. I didn’t feel like he was attacking anyone’s personal righteousness in the least. How is this different from accusing someone of blindly following the Brethren, etc.? I’ve not seen you swoop down on that sort of comment with the same wounded air.

  32. Chad Too on June 23, 2004 at 6:56 pm

    lyle,
    My advice: Let the wookie win.

  33. Kim Siever on June 23, 2004 at 6:57 pm

    “a friend of mine was confronted by the entire bishopric…they chastised him…”

    Those are pretty loaded, subjective words. Did he actually use those words? If so, did he qualify what he meant by “confront” and “chastise”? I have a hard time parallelling this with how my dad used to confront and chastise me.

  34. lyle on June 23, 2004 at 7:00 pm

    rofl…

    the only question is: which apostle most resembles which star wars character? i’m not sure i want to assign any of the apostles as _the wookie_. perhaps john the baptist? anyone want to make up a e-quiz to determine the answer?

    lol…

  35. Kingsley on June 23, 2004 at 7:12 pm

    Joseph Smith’s Han Solo, Brigham Young’s Chewie.

  36. BTD Greg on June 23, 2004 at 7:17 pm

    I think there’s a slight resemblance between Elder Faust and Harrison Ford. Especially the aging, Calista Flockhart-dating Harrison Ford. Not so much Han Solo, though.

    Obi-Wan has to look like someone…maybe Elder Hales…if he had facial hair.

    Hey- facial hair. I think I just brought this thread back on topic.

  37. dp on June 23, 2004 at 7:19 pm

    Geoff B, welcome to Times and Seasons. I guess you’re new here. :-)

  38. Kaimi on June 23, 2004 at 9:21 pm

    By the way, Russell, I have to object to your use of a title that can so easily are homophonically be read as “Mor-on Elder Packer . . .”

    Could this be a coincidence? Or are you trying indoctrinate us all and turn us into a bunch of crazy communitarians?? We will not be brainwashed! We will not be herded! You will not be our Herder!

    (And did you know that your CV is the #2 google hit for “fox herder”?)

  39. Geoff B on June 23, 2004 at 11:04 pm

    Kaimi, thanks for the link to the T&S commenst policy, but I must disagree with the point of your post. How is it acceptable on an LDS board for the first two posts to say “fight the power” (even if it was tongue in cheek) and “I can’t stand it” yet it is somehow not acceptable for me to point out that such types of comments are heading in the direction of apostasy? So, it is now OK for a poster to rile up an audience against one of the Lord’s apostles, but it is not OK for a member of that same audience to point out that perhaps we might want to consider that he actually IS an apostle of the Lord and perhaps we should try to follow his advice? My point remains the same: church authorities are put in their positions by the Lord. One of our key tests on this Earth is how we respond to those authority figures. That was one of the key lessons for people during Joseph Smith’s time (when criticism of the Prophet very quickly devolved into outright apostasy) and it remains a key lesson today. In my opinion, loyal church members need to learn to make commentaries without criticizing and undermining church leaders. Otherwise, they are on very shaky and dangerous ground.

    dp, thanks for the welcome. I have posted a few other times on other issues. You’ll find I come down on the “conservative” side on most issues, and I’m not ashamed about it.

  40. Geoff B on June 23, 2004 at 11:08 pm

    Kaimi, thanks for the link to the T&S commenst policy, but I must disagree with the point of your post. How is it acceptable on an LDS board for the first two posts to say “fight the power” (even if it was tongue in cheek) and “I can’t stand it” yet it is somehow not acceptable for me to point out that such types of comments are heading in the direction of apostasy? So, it is now OK for a poster to rile up an audience against one of the Lord’s apostles, but it is not OK for a member of that same audience to point out that perhaps we might want to consider that he actually IS an apostle of the Lord and perhaps we should try to follow his advice? My point remains the same: church authorities are put in their positions by the Lord. One of our key tests on this Earth is how we respond to those authority figures. That was one of the key lessons for people during Joseph Smith’s time (when criticism of the Prophet very quickly devolved into outright apostasy) and it remains a key lesson today. In my opinion, loyal church members need to learn to make commentaries without criticizing and undermining church leaders. Otherwise, they are on very shaky and dangerous ground.

    dp, thanks for the welcome. I have posted a few other times on other issues. You’ll find I come down on the “conservative” side on most issues, and I’m not ashamed about it.

    Another point worth mentioning: Joseph Smith was quick to point out that he was an imperfect man and that his comments should only be taken as doctrine when he was acting as a prophet. I have no doubt that Elder Packer makes plenty of mistakes in his personal life and would be the first person to admit it. However, when he is giving a devotional and it is printed in the Ensign, it cannot and should not be described as a “mistake.” There is a reason for such talks, and when he makes these kinds of talks he is acting as an Apostle of the Lord, and his advice should be considered and followed.

  41. dp on June 23, 2004 at 11:23 pm

    Geoff B,

    My point was to lightheartedly suggest that you should get used to reading such viewpoints if you plan on sticking around here at T&S. The readership encompasses a wide variety of views of what is ‘acceptable’. Take it from one who knows.

    Having said that, I too thought it ironic that Kaimi took Geoff to task, regarding his comments on a post wherein yet another person openly kicks against the pricks of beard counsel. With the number of confessions I’ve read recently in the Bloggernacle about people proudly sporting beards I thought of President Benson’s comment regarding cola drinks.

    “Some years ago one of our teachers told his students that he used cola drinks and that it did not prevent him from holding a temple recommend. This was an indication of poor judgement on his part, and it illustrates what I mean by living “on the fringes.” Live the spirit of the commandments.” The Gospel Teacher and His Message, p.15

  42. Kaimi on June 23, 2004 at 11:35 pm

    Geoff,

    I can appreciate that you don’t like the policy, but it’s in place for a reason. We have a lot of readers, and their opinions are quite varied. We get comments from people of all ideological and theological stripes. And we try to create an environment where people can have in depth discussions about the issues raised in blog posts.

    That kind of discussion between diverse participants doesn’t work very well when commenters are continually harrassing other commenters or calling them to repentance. It’s hard enough to keep things civil around here with so many different viewpoints. We just don’t need comments that call others’ righteousness (or at least non-apostasy) into question. And such comments have an awful chilling effect, potentially intimidating others from joining the discussion. Why don’t you try to make your arguments without calling others apostate?

    [Edit: Removed a line that, on rereading, I think was unnecessarily harsh].

  43. Dan Richards on June 23, 2004 at 11:48 pm

    Nate said “Indeed, it seems to m[e] that the great genius of the common law (arguably the single greatest achievement of the English speaking world) is that it provides a flexible but not too flexible vision of custom and rule that is neither entirely unwritten nor easily reducable to written rules.”

    But Nate, when a bone-headed judge gets the common law dead wrong, there is an appeals process in place which usually (or maybe often, … well, sometimes at least) rights the wrong. I’m not sure anything similar exists in the church. If my bishop tells me I can’t baptize my son because I have a beard or, better yet, because I haven’t been wearing white shirts to church recently, I’d like to feel that I could appeal his interpretation of the unwritten order with a decent chance of being taken seriously. There’s recent apostolic authority out there that the white shirt thing, while nice, shouldn’t be taken too far. See Elder Holland here:

    http://library.lds.org/nxt/gateway.dll/Magazines/Ensign/1995.htm/ensign%20november%201995.htm/this%20do%20in%20remembrance%20of%20me.htm

    (Can non-permabloggers create links without putting the whole URL in their post? Ideally, I’d like people to be able to click on the word “here” after “Elder Holland” and bring up the talk, but my efforts to do this have failed.)

    As it is, I might be able to talk to my stake president, but there’s a distinct chance I wouldn’t be able to participate in a vital ordinance for somebody I deeply love, not because I was unworthy, or because I was obstinate or belligerent, but simply because I didn’t know that my bishop would draw that line, and I happened to be fond of the “French Blue” that seems to be all the rage over at Land’s End. This would represent a real, negative impact on a number of lives.

    The funeral things hits close to home. We buried my dad a few years ago, and since he had been bishop almost up until his death the new bishop was dealing with his first funeral. Fortunately for us, he gave my family pretty much free rein in planning the funeral–we had exactly the music and speakers we, and my dad, wanted. Too many others have not been as fortunate. I remember a big brouhaha from several years ago when a church leader disapproved of having the “Tennessee Waltz” played at a funeral. It was the favorite song of an old, semi-active Mormon cowboy, whose family wanted a granddaughter to play it on the violin, if I remember correctly. That song, more than any other, evoked “dad” and “grandpa” to the family, but since it wasn’t a church song, it didn’t make the cut. Many feelings were hurt in the process. I suppose the family could have used a funeral home, but in our neck of rural Utah none of them have the capacity of an LDS chapel, and people aren’t inlcined to shell out the money for a funeral home when the free chapel is the de facto gathering place for the community. While I could understand the instruction not to turn the planning of old-style missionary farewells over to the family, that rule seemed to be more connected with co-opting the congregation’s weekly worship service. If I didn’t want to hear “In the Hollow of thy Hand” again, I didn’t really have an option to stay home if I wanted to partake of the sacrament and consider myself “active.” I’m not sorry to see such meetings disappear. A funeral, on the other hand, is a whole different beast. Surely it is appropriate, if not vital, to preach the good news at a funeral. But a grieving family needs to memorialize the decedent, to publicly celebrate a life well-lived, and should be accomodated in almost every respect. I think John is right, and that most of our leaders get it right most of the time. But we also know from D&C 121 that unrighteous dominion is a real danger, and that, at least for some, the power and control associated with the priesthood can be intoxicating. Where’s the safety mechanism?

    I should note that every bishop I’ve ever had has been exemplary in this regard, and I have been impressed with their sensitivity and their love for their members. I recognize the calling of bishop is supremely difficult to fulfill, and I hope never to be called upon to do it. (Maybe if I keep wearing blue shirts…)

  44. Jim F. on June 23, 2004 at 11:50 pm

    Geoff B: I don’t think anyone on this thread has questioned whether Elder Packer is an Apostle. Neither have they questioned his personal righteousness. In fact, I think you have to stretch quite a bit to interpret anything said on this thread as riling up the audience against one of the Lord’s Apostles. So there is a difference between their comments and the one you made.

    Is it impossible to disagree with an Apostle? It seems that you believe that to be so. If so, why? If not, how would one go about doing so without, in your view, “criticizing and undermining Church leaders”?

    You remind us that the Prophet Joseph said his words should be taken as doctrine only when he was acting as a prophet. Then you seem to assume that a devotional by an Apostle printed in the Ensign is necessarily something that is to be taken as doctrine. What justifies that assumption? That it is printed in an official organ of the Church isn’t enough, since there are printed pieces that differ from one another.

    I have no question that I owe allegiance to the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve, my Stake President, my Bishop, etc. And I don’t owe them that allegiance only when they are right. I have no question that the judgments of one of the Twelve are more likely to be right than my own, so I ought to pay careful attention to them. I run a risk when I deviate from what they say. But it doesn’t follow from any of that that I cannot come to a decision that a particular piece of counsel is mistaken without putting myself on the road to apostasy.

    If I come to such a decision, I must be wise about what I do as a result, especially about what I say to others about my decision. It isn’t my job either to set myself up as an interpreter of the prophets’ words or to try to make my decisions the decisions for others. But such prudence doesn’t preclude the possibility of righteously disagreeing with one of my leaders.

  45. Geoff B on June 23, 2004 at 11:52 pm

    Kaimi, I understood your point but I stand by my comments. It is interesting to point out that you are OK with a commenter criticizing an apostle for concentrating on “stupid” things but you are not OK with a commenter who defends the apostle. Which one of us is being “presumptuous?” I also believe that the whole issue of whether or not criticizing an apostle is apostasy is extremely relevant to this discussion and directly related to Russell’s first post. I don’t believe that you speak for everybody on this board when you say these types of comments are “not the kind of commentary we want around here.”

  46. Geoff B on June 24, 2004 at 12:47 am

    Let me try to make my point in a different way. Presumably many people who post on T&S believe in the Church and believe in building up God’s Kingdom. In fact, many posts here serve the purpose of bolstering people’s testimony, and that’s wonderful. However, posts that question an Apostle’s judgement (ie “serious mistake,” “stupid,” etc.) do not bolster anybody’s testimony. If anything, they provide fodder for people who are questioning the Church and want a reason not to believe.

    Any active member of the Church on this board has gone through the frustrating experience of having a friend leave the Church (ie apostasize) because of silly reasons. I knew several people who left because the thought the bishop could have been nicer to them. Of course, we mature people with strong testimonies realize that whether or not a bishop is nice to us is irrelevant to the question of whether or not the Church is true. But these people were gone from one Sunday to the next.

    Apostasies all start this way: people get together and start criticizing one thing or another. First it’s the fact that the Church doesn’t have a consistent policy on beards, next it’s the “stupid” comments of the Apostles. Pretty soon you don’t really need to go to Church because you’re not really learning anything there after all. And so what if you have a beer or an iced tea once in a while…that doesn’t make you a bad person.

    Let me remind some of the posters on this board of a covenant you may have made regarding avoiding “evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed.” It seems to me we make that covenant for a reason: we are encouraged and counseled at all times to understand that the Church is a house of order, and that means that sometimes decisions are made for reasons we don’t understand. One of our tests is to see whether we can accept these decisions without devolving into criticism of authorities.

    Jim F, if you will re-read my comments you will note they were directed specifically at posts saying the apostle had made a “serious mistake,” and was concentrating on “stupid” things. Those kinds of comments are not appropriate, IMHO, nor do they contribute to creating the right kind of Spirit among church members.

  47. Kaimi on June 24, 2004 at 1:15 am

    Geoff,

    I understand your position. However, let me point out that, in the house of order that is the church, there is no place for members to go around randomly calling other members to repentance. In fact, the scriptures contain some pretty harsh condemnation of just that activity.

    It’s not your place — unless you are the priesthood leader of a particular person — to judge another member or to suggest that another member is on the road to apostasy. You simply don’t know enough about others’ positions to be in a position to make such judgments. And, you haven’t been given a stewardship over othe members, so you don’t have the Spirit to guide you in giving them direction. (It’s the spiritual equivalent of practicing law without a license.)

    If Russell’s bishop or stake president, who do know him on possibly more than a superficial level, and who do have a stewardship over him and the spiritual guidance that comes wth exercising that stewardship, believe that he is on the road to apostasy, then they will undoubtedly bring that topic up with him when they see him. In the mean while, it doesn’t do him or anyone else any good when well-meaning, but not-fully-informed and not-properly-placed-to-counsel members go about steadying the ark.

  48. diogenes on June 24, 2004 at 1:19 am

    “Apostasies all start this way: people get together and start criticizing one thing or another.”

    Well, no, actually apostasies seem to start when somebody likes praise or power more than the truth, and when members rely blindly on that somebody’s assertions rather than on the promptings of the Spirit.

    It’s awfully hard to lead someone out of the Church if they are thinking critically and praying earnestly about whet they’re being told. It’s awfully easy to do so when they follow blindly whatever is said by someone with a particular title.

  49. John H on June 24, 2004 at 1:40 am

    Nate: I think I’m reading you this time, and I think we’re closer in thought than perhaps either realizes. The question you ask (if I am understanding you correctly) is the one that I think every member, whether they realize it or not, has to negotiate: When is a leader’s counsel righteous and ought to be followed, when is it perhaps questionable but they still deserve to be followed, if only out of allegiance, and when, if ever, is it actually contrary enough to righteousness that one ought to reject that counsel.

    I think it’s a shame when sides draw lines in the sand and use the varied statements of Church leaders to suit their own ideology. I think the divergence in thought and opinion can teach us much about God, ourselves, and the Church.

    I made a personal decision some time ago – I’m not even sure I was aware I’d made the decision at the time. Only later did I come to learn how to even frame it: Given the choice between trusting my own moral judgment and trusting that of an authority figure, I will choose my own. I believe that the dictates of free agency compel me to do this.

    Put another way, I would rather do what I think is right, perhaps disobeying a leader in the process, and be wrong, than do what a leader says only because they said it. I find it hard to believe God will respect me and my decisions just because I lucked out and picked the winning team. Will he have as much admiration for the followers of the Pope who do whatever he says? And even if I die and learn that God doesn’t respect me because I chose to do what I thought was best, while rejecting the counsel of others I found questionable, then at the very least, I can respect myself in this life.

    Of course, these kinds of intense moral conflicts between leadership counsel and my own judgement rarely occur, but they still do happen. Often, it is just an issue of something that I think is silly, or unnecessary. I usually defer to the leader out of respect. But even then, conflicts rarely arise, simply because I myself am not in a position where I am forced to choose. For example, I’m not a bishop who is forced to choose which direction I’ll take when a family wants to play some loud, questionable music at a funeral. I have the luxury of sitting back and scowling when things don’t go the way I think they should :)

    As a last example, this is why I’ve chosen to support gay marriage. I have friends who are gay and relatives who are gay. When I see them, when I pray, when I think about the issue, everything inside me tells me the Church’s position is wrong. I know there will be raised eyebrows with that statement – and I don’t pretend to think I’m absolutely right. But it is how I feel. And if I ignored those feelings, I feel like I’d have zero integrity. It puts me in conflict with the Church in some ways, but I’m not about to tell them what to do. I have nothing but respect for their right to make the statements they feel like they need to make, and to create the restrictions to temple attendance and marriage that they feel they need to create.

  50. dp on June 24, 2004 at 3:57 am

    John H,

    If Geoff B. felt things were ‘apostate’ here before, your comment that “the Church’s position is wrong” isn’t likely to decrease the tension. That (and the gay marriage context) is more the type of thing I’d expect to read at exmormon.org, or possibly in Sunstone. But then, I imagine that being labelled apostate from time to time is probably an occupational hazard for you.

    Diogenes says:
    “It’s awfully hard to lead someone out of the Church if they are thinking critically and praying earnestly … It’s awfully easy to do so when they follow blindly whatever is said by someone with a particular title.”
    What if that particular title is President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? And how about Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles?

  51. diogenes on June 24, 2004 at 9:45 am

    Hm — someone like, say, Thomas Marsh or Sidney Rigdon?

    My ancestors went west with the Saints instead of becoming Reorganites because they had cultivated the spiritual and intellectual facility not to follow just any Church leader who was a smooth talker.

    I’ll spare you the many quotes from apostles and prophets in this dispensation counselling against uncritical acceptance of direction from Church leaders (although I note a couple of such quotes have shown up in the thread already). They’re easy enough to find.

  52. Geoff B on June 24, 2004 at 10:30 am

    Kaimi, upon reflection, I think I have been able to spot the reason for your strong response to my post: you apparently interpreted it as a judgement of Russell the person rather than Russell’s ideas. My first post is probably responsible for that, and you are correct that I could have worded it a bit differently. In subsequent posts, I have tried to make it clear that it is the ideas that Russell and others espouse that I am opposing, not the people. I have no stewardship over Russell the person (I don’t know him at all) but I do have a right to judge whether or not it is right and in line with Gospel principles for a person, be it Russell or anybody else, to say an apostle has made a “serious mistake.”

    I would call on those who believe they are in the right to criticize the actions of apostles to question what kind of spirit such criticisms creates. Does it uplift those around you and bring them closer to Christ? What was one of the first things that Jesus said when he came to the Americas? That his church was not one of contention. Contention is of the adversary. Negative criticism leads inevitably to contention.

    I will note once again that Russell’s post elicited immediate signs of contention — “fight the power” and “I can’t stand it” and “stupid.” So, what kind of Spirit did it bring, of Christ or of the opposite of Christ?

    In these last days, we all have to make difficult choices. The counsel we have been given when faced with difficult choices is “follow the prophet.” A prophet, acting with God’s authority, chose Elder Packer as an apostle. My default choice, until proven otherwise by a change by a prophet, is to believe that Elder Packer is speaking the word of the Lord when he is acting in his official capacity as an Apostle. Negative criticism of him leads us away from the Apostle, away from the Prophet and away from Christ.

  53. Frank McIntyre on June 24, 2004 at 10:38 am

    diogenese,

    Unless you think Elder Packer is ready to head a group of Saints off to the hills to form the Re-Re-Re-Organized Church of Whatever, you are probably swimming a little off base in your comparison. Obviously if there is a major split in the Church, one must choose who to follow, and that choice is going to involve a lot of prayer. But this is a far cry from John’s position, wherein (as best I can determine, and john can correct me if I’m wrong) one only follows if people happen to be going the way one is going in any event.

    It is odd to bring up an early Church example like this when we know that many early Church members were specifically and pointedly challenged to live by faith that Joseph really was a prophet in what he asked them to do. As I understand it, ye receive no witness until after the trial off your faith. Thus obedience precedes the testimony, not the other way around.

  54. diogenes on June 24, 2004 at 11:15 am

    Frank McIntyre — Your aphorism begs the question, “Obedience to what?”

    The question posed was whether one should always follow an individual with a title such as “Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve.”

    I gave some clear and dramatic examples of where that would be a bad idea. There are also plenty of common and simple examples of where that would be a bad idea.

    Like every other gospel principle, by learning to exercise discernment in small matters, we become prepared to exercise discernment in dramatic events.

  55. Nate Oman on June 24, 2004 at 11:29 am

    John H.,

    Here is my problem with the way that you have framed your decisions, ie personal moral sense always trumps authoritative counsel:

    It seems to me that the whole concept of prophecy becomes useful precisely in those cases when we think that we are right and we are told that we are wrong. In other words, if we simply think of counsel as something that we follow when we agree with it, and ignore when we disagree with it, then it seems to me that we miss any value added. Now one could simply treat counsel as an argument, something that you will consider and follow if you are persuaded. The problem is that this approach denies the possibility of special authority or access to divine intention, yet these seem like concepts that at least in part define the idea prophecy.

    It is important not to turn my objection into a straw man. I am not arguing for either prophetic infallibility or for abdication of moral responsibility. I am simply saying that there are good reasons for supposing that the position that you sketched out will not really work as a theory of authority.

    At this point, I find the idea of presumptions useful. I think that I tend to operate on some presumption that prophetic counsel — when accompanied by indicia of propheticness, whatever those are — is entitled to some fairly robust presumption of correctness, and I will only abandon it for reasons that I find especially compelling. It seems that without something like this approach, the prophet becomes something like a New York Times collumnist for whom one has unusual affection and respect.

  56. Frank McIntyre on June 24, 2004 at 11:52 am

    So Thomas MArsh as an example gives us what exactly? Don’t follow the President of the Quorum of the 12 when he goes apostate? I’m with you there!

    But Thomas Marsh, as you know, apostatized in the infancy of the Church. He was not endowed with the keys of the Kingdom. The Quorum of the 12 did not take on its full responsibility until Joseph gave them the keys in Nauvoo in the 1840′s. Thomas Marsh presided over a Quorum of the 12 where half of them left the Church. Is this the right group to compare with today’s quorum? Today’s quprum has the keys that that early quorum did not. How many Apostles in this century have left the Church? Certainly few if any.

    How many Presidents of the Quorum who actually had the authority and keys to lead the Church have left the Church? The answer is 0.

    So I think Thomas Marsh is not a good example of the modern Church. But it is true that one must pray about decisions, etc, etc. This does not change the validity of the scripture I quoted, that you receive no witness until after the trial of your faith. Thus how would one know whether Elder Packer’s counsel was correct without trying it? His counsel is not apostate or going to lead one out of the CHurch, so why not try it and see if one gains a testimony?

    To your question, “Obedience to what?” I respond, to the counsel of Church leaders that isn’t being emphatically refuted by other Church leaders (which nicely handles apostasy issues, right?). Until there is such a division, I see little loss in finding out by praying while following the counsel. I see much to be lost by waiting for a sign before obeying every time I disagree.

    In the case of such a division, there may be cause to pray before acting, but such a division would seem to be exactly why we have the reassuring doctrine that the prophet won’t be allowed to lead the Church astray.

    Sing with me now! Follow the prophet, follow the prophet, he knows the way!

    In the end, there probably isn’t that much room between us. We both think prayer is important. ALthough you haven’t stated it, I imagine you also believe that we are blessed by obedience even when we don’t fully understand something.

  57. Frank McIntyre on June 24, 2004 at 12:06 pm

    A T&S guessing game:

    Precisely for which New York Times columnist does Nate have “unusual affection and respect.”

  58. Jeffrey on June 27, 2005 at 3:51 am

    I am a Bishop. I have presided over approximately 15 funerals in the last four years. My goal at funerals has been to always create a Celestial feeling at the service, which has been accomplished by highlighting the Gospel with a mixture of examples of the individual’s life and commitment to the Gospel. I have worked with families to create a program that points to a Celestial service. Yes, there have been many requests to share Telestial or Terrestrial stories or music, but when explained properly that the goal is create a Celestial service where all in attendance can be healed by the Lord’s Spirit, then it is agreed that the higher standard would be most appropriate. In all of President Packer’s examples, he is encouraging us to seek a higher standard and order in our worship and devotion to the Gospel.

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