In Opposition to “So-Called Freedoms”

September 15, 2004 | 141 comments
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President Hinckley writes this month’s First Presidency Message, In Opposition to Evil. After lamenting society’s “inordinate emphasis on sex and violence,” he writes:

The whole dismal picture indicates a weakening rot seeping into the very fiber of society. Legal restraints against deviant moral behavior are eroding under legislative enactments and court opinions. This is done in the name of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of choice in so-called personal matters. But the bitter fruit of these so-called freedoms has been enslavement to debauching habits and behavior that leads only to destruction. A prophet, speaking long ago, aptly described the process when he said, “And thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell” (2 Nephi 28:21).

He then calls upon members to “oppose the tide of evil” in four ways:

The first is to reform ourselves, and to lead exemplary lives of virtue.

The second is for parents to “do a more effective work in the rearing of children.”

The third is to “earnestly and sincerely and positively express our convictions” to our political representatives and government officials with the responsibility of making and enforcing our laws, and to “speak to those who enact the regulations, the statutes, and the laws—those in government on local, state, and national levels and those who occupy positions of responsibility as administrators of our schools.”

The fourth is to enlist the strength of God, “[f]or we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

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141 Responses to In Opposition to “So-Called Freedoms”

  1. John H on September 15, 2004 at 12:48 am

    “speak to those who enact the regulations, the statutes, and the laws—those in government on local, state, and national levels and those who occupy positions of responsibility as administrators of our schools.�

    I think we should write immediately to Justin Morrill, George Edmunds, and John Randolph Tucker so they can pass laws that outlaw perversion, evil, and prevent people from marrying and living in so-called “free” lifestyles.

  2. Matt Evans on September 15, 2004 at 1:06 am

    John H,

    The contemporary prophets opposed the statutes outlawing polygamy. Those who followed the prophet were right then, and those who follow the living prophet are right today. That’s why modern prophets are so important.

  3. John H on September 15, 2004 at 1:51 am

    Matt,

    It’s your *belief* that those leaders in the nineteenth century and leaders today are correct. I guess I just can’t imagine saying that “those who follow the prophets are right” so authoritatively, as if it’s true just because it is.

    Why is your claim that following Mormon leaders is right any more legitimate than the claim that following the Pope is right, or following the Dalai Lama is right, or even following bin Laden is right? It seems to me that none of us have any evidence or truth beyond our own belief systems that what we do is “right”. I therefore choose to live as best I can by looking at what the “fruits” of one belief or another might be. It becomes fairly evident early on that the beliefs of bin Laden bring pain and death to many, and those that carry out his will are in the same boat you and I are in of having no evidence or proof that the path they’ve chosen is correct.

    The benefits of following other leaders, such as the Pope or Mormon leaders, seem to generally bear “good fruit.” But when it comes to some issues, particularly gay marriage (which is really what President Hinckley is talking about) I don’t believe these things bear good fruit. My own personal analysis of the situation suggests to me that there is more harm done by trying to be restrictive than by allowing same sex unions.

    Is my analysis subjective? Of course. Could I be dead wrong? You bet. But I have the satisfaction of knowing I evaluated something, made my decision, and did the best I could. I’m not relying on an authority figure for whom I have no reason to believe has any more information than I do on this subject. I’m also not painted into a corner the way some might be who simply follow the authority figure. I’m free to reevaluate the situation and alter my opinions if I feel the evidence I have at my disposal warrants it.

  4. Adam Greenwood on September 15, 2004 at 2:14 am

    Let me ask this delicately, John H. Do you consider yourself a Mormon? If so, in what way? Our response to your argument would obviously vary depending on your answer

  5. Aaron Brown on September 15, 2004 at 2:19 am

    Perhaps President Hinkley does have gay marriage in mind, John, but it sounds like his real focus is porn.

    Aaron B

  6. Geoff B on September 15, 2004 at 11:37 am

    Aaron B, I would agree with you that the prophet is not focusing solely on gay marriage. However, I believe his point is part of a larger societal trend away from “judgement-based” laws. All laws are based on judgements of right and wrong. As a society, we have extended the boundaries of things that are legal so that they include legalizing many things that are wrong. The prophet is specifically focusing on “pornographic filth, the inordinate emphasis on sex and violence” that is overtaking our culture.

    We have been carefully led away by flaxen cords into believing that laws should not be “judgemental” of other lifestyles, other ways of living. The prophet’s message, as I read it, is to not let yourself be deceived by this specious argument. His message is a call to do what is right and insist on laws that protect traditional morality.

  7. Luke on September 15, 2004 at 12:12 pm

    The message is an edited version of President Hinckley’s October 1975 General Conference talk.

    These sentences were cut from the original talk: “News stories tell of the production in Denmark of a filthy, erotic, and blasphemous movie to be produced on the life of the Son of God.”

    President Hinckley is referring to Jens Jørgen Thorsen’s movie “The Sex Life of Jesus Christ” (or “The Many Faces of Jesus”). The movie project was originally sponsored by the Danish government. Pope Paul VI lambasted the project. A Danish official called the Catholic Church “reactionary,” which led to protests, including gasoline bombs thrown at the Danish Embassy in Rome. I think the Queen of England weighed in against the movie. Thorsen was barred from entering England when he flew to Heathrow Airport carrying the script. French officials withdrew permission for filming to be done in France. The movie was not made.

    The original version of the talk included this line: “This particular issue was devoted to the rising crime rate, with a graph showing that while the population increased only 11 percent from 1963 to 1973, violent crime had increased a shocking 174 percent.” The violent crime rate today is the lowest it’s been since 1973.

    A reference to bestiality in the 1975 talk was removed.

    Things change, things stay the same.

  8. greenfrog on September 15, 2004 at 12:19 pm

    Interesting historical context.

    (I promise not to ask whether things in 1975 were worse than today.)

    (I promise.)

  9. lyle on September 15, 2004 at 12:25 pm

    Bravo Matt. I made the same allusion & asked the same question in a comment (promtly dismissed of course). Glad to see you hit the nail.

    Why do folks look so hard & so far to avoid the “elephant” in the room? And how can one justify doing nothing about it when the Prophet asks for action thereof?

  10. John H on September 15, 2004 at 1:00 pm

    “Let me ask this delicately, John H. Do you consider yourself a Mormon? If so, in what way? Our response to your argument would obviously vary depending on your answer”

    Adam:

    I’m not sure what my being Mormon has to do with this. I raised what I think are important, if painfully unoriginal, points. Whether or not I consider myself Mormon shouldn’t change what I said.

    But, for the record, I proudly consider myself Mormon. Let’s really hope this doesn’t degenerate into a discussion of what you have to believe to qualify as a “Mormon.”

  11. lyle on September 15, 2004 at 1:07 pm

    John: I think the point is simple. If you sustain Pres. Hinckley, then your stated opinions seem to run contrary to his talk, excerpted by Matt, above. Note: I’m not questioning your faith, but asking how/why one would reconcile/want to reconcile rather than conform, to the above statements.

  12. John H on September 15, 2004 at 1:12 pm

    Adam,

    Sorry, I realized I didn’t respond to the rest of your request – in what way do I consider myself a Mormon.

    I consider myself a Mormon in that I hope for Mormon theology as taught by Joseph Smith, and I consider myself a Mormon as a part of a community of like-minded believers. I’m not a Mormon because I believe it’s the “one true church”, or that it’s my ticket to salvation and celestial glory. I’m a Mormon because I believe there’s simply no way to demonstrate that one belief system is theologically superior or more true than another. Therefore, since I was born a Mormon, I choose to live my life believing in Mormon theology and hoping and having faith that there’s truth there.

    For a while I wondered if I was much of a “Mormon.” I wondered if I belonged. But since then I’ve come to feel a sense of ownership about my Mormonness. I’ve participated in Church callings, I’ve served a mission, I’ve paid my 10%, I’ve read my scriptures, etc. I have just as much a right to the designation “Mormon” as anyone. No one can tell me that I don’t have a claim on that label. Mormon implies far more about us than membership in the Church organization. If the day came that, for whatever reason, my membership was stripped from me, I’d still feel free to call myself a Mormon.

    I consider myself a Mormon because I find things in the Church that lifts and inspires me. I enjoy reading the Book of Mormon, attending meetings, taking the sacrament (I’m sure some will say I have no business doing that! :) ), and being part of a community of believers. It does my soul good, I believe.

    I don’t believe that my divergent opinions about gay marriage, Mormon history, Book of Mormon historicity, etc., suddenly strip away my Mormonness. It’s so intertwined with my soul, it couldn’t be removed without removing my very essence.

  13. John H on September 15, 2004 at 1:19 pm

    “Note: I’m not questioning your faith, but asking how/why one would reconcile/want to reconcile rather than conform, to the above statements.”

    A fair question, Lyle. (Actually, I know you’re not questioning my faith, but I frankly don’t mind if people do question it. I know that I stumbled into T&S a while ago, and I’ve been allowed to stick around despite some pretty unorthodox views of Mormonism. Given that I challenge some pretty fundamental beliefs, I don’t think it’s inappropriate for people to challenge me and my faith from time to time.)

    I reconcile because there’s a need to reconcile. President Hinckley’s statements run absolutely contrary to my own observations and experiences with gays. When President Hinckley tells us not to use tobacco, no reconciliation is necessary because what he says doesn’t run counter to my own personal observations and experiences. I’ve known people who smoked (including my grandfather) and I’ve seen how awful it is.

    But, I know gay people – some who are single, others who are in commited relationships. Nothing about them or their lifestyle strikes me as remotely evil. Since I don’t consider it evil, how can I join President Hinckley’s call to arms? And if I did join it, how would I explain myself to my gay friends? So as I tried to indicate above, I’d rather rely on my own judgment than that of an authority figure, despite having tremendous respect for that authority figure.

    I strongly, strongly believe that in the next life, if judgment comes, I will be judged by how I used my agency. I’d much, much rather be able to tell God I did what I thought was best, even if I was wrong, than tell him I followed other people, so if I did something wrong, it was their fault.

  14. D. Fletcher on September 15, 2004 at 2:18 pm

    John H deserves our highest praise for his bravely eloquent post on his Mormonness.

    I guess that he and I are considered liberal in our approach to the Church and the current battle over SSM.

    But I actually think of myself as conservative in matters sexual. I think that sex outside of marriage should be discouraged. Sex is more than a procreative activity — it is also a re-statement of vows of commitment, and it should be reserved in its fullness with an eternal partner.

    If the Church, through revelation, recognized same-sex marriages, it would be a way of giving certain members of the human race with same-sex attraction a moral perspective, a model of a righteous way of life. It would be inclusive, not exclusive. I’m quite certain that many couples, currently living without the Church, would come back and embrace its values (and the tithing rolls would soar).

    As it is now, there is no moral model for LDS homosexuals, who must simply be considered lost. Since there doesn’t seem to be any changing the attraction (I speak from vast experience), I think it’s a very sad place to be, for the Church and those members. One is forced to choose between one’s commitment to a chosen companion, and one’s commitment to faith. Inevitably, the member is lost to the Church. Very sad.

  15. D. Fletcher on September 15, 2004 at 2:21 pm

    “I strongly, strongly believe that in the next life, if judgment comes, I will be judged by how I used my agency. I’d much, much rather be able to tell God I did what I thought was best, even if I was wrong, than tell him I followed other people, so if I did something wrong, it was their fault.”

    By the way, John H, I believe this to be the moral of the Abraham/Isaac story. God was trying to teach Abraham to think for himself, to use free agency and make a moral choice, even against a commandment.

  16. Geoff B on September 15, 2004 at 2:21 pm

    John, I spend most of my Sundays visiting inactives and trying to get them to church — no matter what their level of commitment to what the Church has to say. At the end of the day, the most important thing is for people to go to the chapel and worship. Every voyage of faith is an individual voyage.

    Having said that, I do believe that a central part of our doctrine is believing in the importance of prophets and trying your best to do what they suggest you do. The history of the church — and indeed the history of all of the scriptures — appears to me to be based on the principle that our wisdom alone is not enough. If we are fortunate enough to have prophets around us, our primary focus should be on following the guidance they give us. Think about Moses (“look at the brass serpent and live”), Isaiah and King Hezekiah, Lehi and the people of Jerusalem, Abinadi and King Noah, and of course Joseph Smith and early members of the Church.

    I believe the early history of the church is especially instructive. The people who prospered amidst the persecution were the ones who followed Joseph Smith and never seriously doubted his prophetic role. The ones who suffered and regretted their decisions were the ones who doubted Joseph Smith as a prophet.

    Well, we have a prophet today. Every time I hear a bit of advice that I don’t agree with, I think of Oliver Cowdery and others who abandoned Jospeh Smith and later regretted it. I believe our primary test is how well we follow the prophet’s guidance. I try very hard to do what the prophet says.

    I guess at the end of the day I truly believe his has more information at his disposal (in terms of revelation and heavenly guidance) than anybody else on the earth. If I truly believe that, why wouldn’t I want to do what he says I should do?

  17. JWL on September 15, 2004 at 2:24 pm

    Sheesh, you guys really like to go at it! I have not seen the Ensign article yet, but it seems that the article itself does not address any specific policy positions. Aside from advocating personal morality, the quoted comments seems to just advocate the following propositions:

    (1) Some matters of sexual morality are appropriately subject to some form of government regulation and

    (2) Latter-day Saints should be politically engaged.

    I know that people in Utah or connected to the Utah cultural/political/social scene have deep inside knowledge as to what the prophet *really* is talking about, but those of us stranded in the mission field hinterland are sometimes forced to just take the prophet’s comments at simple face value. Seems to me that everyone here (John H included, respectfully) is jumping to a lot of conclusions which go beyond the subject text.

    I doubt John H has a problem with proposition #2 above. I would be interested in knowing if he has a problem with proposition #1? I suspect he is not really a hard core absolutist social libertarian. On the other hand, given the generality of President Hinckley’s actual words, can we not agree that John H might reasonably interpret this advice a little differently without accusing him of apostacy?

  18. John H on September 15, 2004 at 2:42 pm

    Geoff,

    If you believe that, then I think you should look to what he says and follow it. But, once again, it requires a reconciliation with the many things leaders and prophets have said in the past that were wrong. If our history has taught us anything, it’s taught us that following Church leaders is not as black and white as you portray it. What about the people that followed the intense rhetoric of Brigham Young and others to massacre the Fancher party? (Note, I’m not accusing Brigham of directly ordering the massacre – I don’t believe he did.)

    I love Joseph the Prophet, but I’m sympathetic to those who chose not to follow his doctrine of polygamy. If you haven’t read the story of Sarah Pratt (check Richard Van Wagoner’s article in Dialogue or Gary Bergera’s book, Conflict in the Quorum), it’s a heartbreaking tale. When I read something like that, it becomes somewhat difficult to be so gung ho about following everything leaders say.

  19. CB on September 15, 2004 at 2:50 pm

    John H – hear, hear.

    We have examples in our history of people acting in opposition to the political opinions of the president of the church. After WWI, president Grant publicly supported the establishment of the League of Nations. J.R. Clark and D.O. Mckay spoke openly against it, and the question of whether they sustained the prophet never came up.

    I was also confused by the tone of the Ensign article until I heard it was a talk given 30 years ago. Most of Gordon B. Hinckley’s talks over the last nine years have advised us to avoid the “hell in a handbasket� pessimism.

  20. Adam Greenwood on September 15, 2004 at 5:46 pm

    John H.,
    My cobloggers (my coblumberjacks?) tell me that your previous comments show the indicia of Mormonness. I must have missed them somehow. Hence my question. I wasn’t sure where you stood.

    I have some serious problems with the sort of Mormonness you espouse (for me, there’s really no point to having a prophet if I take my own conclusions as superior to his pronouncements), but I also have serious reasons to admire what you’re doing, so carry on. Thanks for weighing in.

  21. john fowles on September 15, 2004 at 6:03 pm

    John H. wrote I strongly, strongly believe that in the next life, if judgment comes, I will be judged by how I used my agency. I’d much, much rather be able to tell God I did what I thought was best, even if I was wrong, than tell him I followed other people, so if I did something wrong, it was their fault.

    What if Pres. Hinckley speaks for God as a prophet of God and God really is disgusted at the fact that humans are choosing to engage in homosexual relationships? I think that Adam’s point was to ask you if you don’t think that Pres. Hinckley speaks for God, then what makes you a Mormon.

  22. Steve Evans on September 15, 2004 at 6:12 pm

    “I think that Adam’s point was to ask you if you don’t think that Pres. Hinckley speaks for God, then what makes you a Mormon. ”

    That may well have been Adam’s point, but Adam can speak for himself, I think, and in any event, questioning John H’s right to label himself as mormon goes beyond the comment policy. Besides, do you really want to require people to think that “Pres. Hinckley speaks for God” in order to call themselves Mormon? That may or may not be a fair criterion, but it’s not up to you to lay it down.

  23. John H on September 15, 2004 at 6:14 pm

    John Fowles:

    Then I would be wrong. If God is disgusted that humans engage in gay relationships, then I’m wrong.

    John, if you don’t mind, I’d like to turn the tables on you a bit. Do you believe everything the Prophet says? Do you follow what he says even if you’re skeptical? Do you believe it’s ok to disregard what past prophets have said since they’re gone, even if what they said may not have been repudiated or updated by newer Church leaders?

    I guess my question ultimately is, how do you reconcile the many contradictory, divergent statements from Church leaders over the years? How do you decide when they are speaking as Prophets of God?

  24. john fowles on September 15, 2004 at 7:03 pm

    Yes, I believe everything the Prophet says. I don’t drink caffeine merely because he said that we as Latter-day Saints don’t drink caffeine, despite the fact that I love Coke, Dr. Pepper, and many other caffenated drinks.

    When Pres. Benson says that Communism is of the devil, I believe him.

    I know that prophets are people too with their own opinions on things, but when they announce policy in General Conference or in the Ensign or in Proclamations, then they are speaking in their office and it is the word of God. So if Joseph Smith speculated in a random conversation with someone that there might be people on the moon, it doesn’t bother me too much. And when he introduces polygamy in the name of God, then, despite my conservatism with sexuality, I would be willing to live that way (this was the experience BY had–despite being very averse to the idea, he ended up having some of the most wives of all of the polygamists).

    John, if God told me to cut off Laban’s head, I would do it despite my hatred of murder and blood sins. I am not saying that it would not be difficult, but the fact that God is instructing me to do so should alleviate any cognitive dissonance. Note that I am not talking about a situation in which I think God has told me to cut off Laban’s head, but rather a situation in which God actually does so. Following this hypothetical requires a basic belief that God could direct someone to do that. Absent that belief, there is no situation in which such a mandate is objectively from God and not from a psychopathic mind.

    I am not bothered by the idea that principles of truth and righteousness offend some people. That has always been the case and will always be the case.

    Steve: I was trying to clarify Adam’s point, not insinuating that I am the arbiter of whether John H. has the “right to label himself as mormon.” I assume you know that but you just want to polematize a valid question and side-step the issue at hand: the voice of a living prophet speaking to the ills of our current society, much like Lehi addressing Jerusalem before being rejected.

  25. Adam Greenwood on September 15, 2004 at 7:24 pm

    John Fowles and Steve Evans mutual version of what I was up to is wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong as the day is long, etc. Does this merit an apology, Steve E.? You to if you want, John F., though you’re not really part of the ‘apologies in-crowd.’ :)

  26. john fowles on September 15, 2004 at 7:27 pm

    How was my understanding of your question to John H. wrong? I still don’t see it. You specifically stated that your response to his comment would depend on just how he considered himself a Mormon.

  27. Ashleigh on September 15, 2004 at 7:38 pm

    “Note that I am not talking about a situation in which I think God has told me to cut off Laban’s head, but rather a situation in which God actually does so”

    This kind of statement always presents me with some problems that I’ve never been fully able to resolve. It seems to me that the mind is a tricky and flawed instrument. Many people believe God told them to do things, they believe they hear the voice of God, or they believe that they see God, these are powerful personal experiences, and we generally call this Mental Illness.

    I’ve never been able to resolve in my mind how one would tell the difference. Brains are delicate things, there are an infinite number of ways they malfunction. This being the case, and all of us being mere flawed mortals, I’ve never been able to see a logical solutions that I could believe that would, to a high degree of acuracy assure that a human brain could be trusted to distinguish between “a situation in which I think” and “a situation in which God actually does”.

    Faith of course is the fall back answer, but faith leads all kinds of people to do all kinds of things I don’t agree with. How do I know my faith is any more valid than theirs? It seems circular. There may be an answer, but my small brain has not found it.

  28. Aaron Brown on September 15, 2004 at 7:42 pm

    On the one hand, I think that John H dismisses the Mormon concept of prophetic authority too easily. I understand what motivates his stance — I myself have toyed with this stand at times. Yet when John H says …

    “I’m not relying on an authority figure for whom I have no reason to believe has any more information than I do on this subject”

    … this really does raise the question of what value added John H thinks there is in having a “Prophet” that counsels us on moral and ethical matters. Of course, there is no doubt some kind of conceptual limiting principle John H could concoct that would preclude Prophetic jurisdiction on various matters. But I suspect it wouldn’t be easy to do so convincingly, given the Church’s collective historical understanding of the Prophet’s role, and in any event, John H hasn’t offered such a principle.

    On the other hand, I don’t think John Fowles’ response to John H’s question is sufficient. John H asked:

    “how do you reconcile the many contradictory, divergent statements from Church leaders over the years? How do you decide when they are speaking as Prophets of God?

    John Fowles’ answer is to assert that

    “I know that prophets are people too with their own opinions on things, but when they announce policy in General Conference or in the Ensign or in Proclamations, then they are speaking in their office and it is the word of God. So if Joseph Smith speculated in a random conversation with someone that there might be people on the moon, it doesn’t bother me too much….”

    This doesn’t cut it. Everyone agrees that prophets can and do give their own opinions at times, and most Mormons agree that prophets can and do make definitive, authoritative statements at times. The trick is figuring out how to sort out the two types of statements without doing so in a purely ad hoc fashion. And as much as a “When They Speak at Conference or in the Ensign, They’re Speaking as The Prophet” standard sounds appealing, it just doesn’t work historically. There are too many statements that have been made in those fora that haven’t stood the test of time.

    Thus, I think it would be nice to have a convincing, objective method that can delineate when the Prophet is speaking as “the Prophet” versus when he is speaking as “a Man.” I don’t expect to find one. When pushed to address this issue, Church leaders typically refer people to “The Spirit” as the final arbiter on disputed questions. And as definitive as the Spirit may be in principle, you don’t have to have been around the block that many times to know that the Spirit gets interpreted in all sorts of incompatible ways by its various recipients.

    Aaron B

  29. john fowles on September 15, 2004 at 7:44 pm

    Adam wrote, You to if you want, John F., though you’re not really part of the ‘apologies in-crowd.’ :)

    If not, then I certainly feel like I am, considering the amount of apologizing I’ve found myself doing lately.

  30. Adam Greenwood on September 15, 2004 at 7:49 pm

    Well, see, that’s the problem, John F. The apologies in-crowd, of which Steve and I are founding members, is all about apologizing rarely, meting out each sorrowful word as if it were some precious liquid, while the recipient chortles in triumph. At least, that’s _my_ understanding. Steve?

  31. Greg on September 15, 2004 at 7:56 pm

    John Fowles,

    I’m somewhat confused by your comment above. You seem to limit binding pronouncements to statements of policy given in conference, or the Ensign, or in proclamations. At the same time, however, you report your adherence to prophetic statements that we should avoid caffeine and that Communism is of the devil. But as far as I know, these two issues have never been the subject of official policy announcements or proclamations. So it appears that in practice, you believe that not just statements of policy given in conference, or the Ensign, or in proclamations, are binding, but much more. Could you expand on this?

  32. Steve.Evans on September 15, 2004 at 8:08 pm

    “Steve Evans mutual version of what I was up to ”

    Hey Adam, I specifically was clarifying that’s what you MAY have been trying to say, but that you could speak for yourself (which indeed you did!). No apology for you!! (cue chortling).

    John, I guess the key is to not say things in such a way that others will cause you to regret. That’s the secret to being part of the in-crowd. Saying stuff like “I assume you know that but you just want to polematize a valid question and side-step the issue at hand” is probably not the way to follow this path.

  33. john fowles on September 15, 2004 at 8:13 pm

    The apologies in-crowd, of which Steve and I are founding members, is all about apologizing rarely,

    Ah, I see, well that definitely counts me out. I often step on other people’s toes but then feel bad about it afterwards and apologize.

  34. Adam Greenwood on September 15, 2004 at 8:22 pm

    Ah, but by the time you made your remark I had _already_ clarified my position (as if any clarification were needed. Bah!). You should apologize for being heedless.

  35. Steve.Evans on September 15, 2004 at 8:24 pm

    Being heedless is part of my macho, devil-may-care attitude that the chicks dig. No way that gets an apology. Maybe you should apologize for not sufficiently clarifying your position the first time around.

  36. John H on September 15, 2004 at 8:25 pm

    John Fowles:

    In August 1865, the First Presidency issued a statement rebuking Apostle Orson Pratt for two things. The first was his publication of Lucy Mack Smith’s book, Biographical Sketches. The second was his teaching that God is omniscient – he knows everything. At that time, the First Presidency reiterated that God is still learning new things – progressing in knowledge and learning new truth.

    Bruce R. McConkie gave a famous talk at BYU where he labeled the idea that God progresses in knowledge and learns new truth as a “heresy.â€? McConkie’s father-in-law, Joseph Fielding Smith, also advanced this view – that God is all-knowing. What do you believe, John? Who is right?

    James E. Talmage, J. Reuben Clark, Brigham Young, Joseph F. Smith, and John A. Widtsoe all said that progression between degrees of glory was possible. Melvin J. Ballard, Joseph Fielding Smith, and Bruce R. McConkie said such a thing was impossible. What do you think, John?

    Apostle Boyd K. Packer has publicly stated that Wilford Woodruff did not authorize any new plural marriages following the 1890 manifesto. The evidence that he did authorize these marriage is overwhelming and undeniable. Is President Packer wrong?

    John – who is Jehovah? Joseph Smith taught that Jehovah was God the Father. Brigham Young taught that Jehovah is God the Father, who was the same person as Adam. Today we teach that Jehovah is Christ. Which Church leader do you believe?

    Church leaders used to teach that African-Americans were denied Priesthood blessings because they were cursed. Today, Church leaders insist we don’t know why the Priesthood denial existed. Which is it?

    Church leaders from Joseph Smith to Lorenzo Snow (particularly Wilford Woodruff) repeatedly taught that the Second Coming would occur in their lifetimes, or certainly just a few years after their deaths. How do you explain their comments?

    In 1990, the First Presidency stated that the Church’s view of Book of Mormon geography was that there was only one Hill Cumorah and that Book of Mormon events took place around that hill. Do you agree with that position?

    John, I understand that it’s popular to say that we have living prophets to instruct us for our day, and that’s why teachings change. But some truths seem like they’d be unchanging, to me. The idea of who God and Christ are seem pretty fundamental ideas, yet they’ve changed over the years. The Book of Mormon couldn’t have taken place in both a small location in Mesoamerica and near the Hill Cumorah.

    We’ve just scratched the surface here, John. (I’m relying from memory, but perhaps if I spend some time tonight I can dig up some more examples.) I know Church members like to engage in all sorts of mental gymnastics to find ways around these issues. It seems far easier to believe that Church leaders aren’t necessarily speaking for God, even when we might think they are.

  37. john fowles on September 15, 2004 at 8:35 pm

    Pres. Hinckley said in an interview with 60 minutes, speaking for the Church, that we do not drink caffeine. Until that day, I had thought this was more in the “suggestion” section of the WoW. But when Pres. Hinckley announced that authoritatively, I realized that if I continued to drink caffeine, I would be acting against the prophet’s statement.

    As to President Benson, I think that you are right that he did not condem communism during the years that he was President of the Church, but he did so while a member of the Quorum of the Twelve in his official capacity (not merely as opinion), as e.g. in his 1979 General Conference talk “A Witness and a Warning” in which he stated officially and unequivocally that

    Satan works through human agents. We need only look to some of the ignoble characters in human history who were contemporary to the restoration of the gospel to discover fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. I refer to the infamous founders of Communism and others who follow in their tradition.

    Communism introduced into the world a substitute for true religion. It is a counterfeit of the gospel plan. The false prophets of Communism predict a utopian society. This, they proclaim, will only be brought about as capitalism and free enterprise are overthrown, private property abolished, the family as a social unit eliminated, all classes abolished, all governments overthrown, and a communal ownership of property in a classless, stateless society established. . . .

    Today, we are in a battle for the bodies and souls of man. It is a battle between two opposing systems: freedom and slavery, Christ and anti-Christ. The struggle is more momentous than a decade ago, yet today the conventional wisdom says, “You must learn to live with Communism and to give up your ideas about national sovereignty.� Tell that to the millions—yes, the scores of millions—who have met death or imprisonment under the tyranny of Communism! Such would be the death knell of freedom and all we hold dear. God must ever have a free people to prosper His work and bring about Zion.

    In this talk, Benson quotes a 1936 First Presidency message in which the First Presidency specifically stated, We call upon all Church members completely to eschew Communism.

    So I don’t think that I was going too far out on a limb with my statement that directives against caffeine and Communism were given as official pronouncements and policy, which, under D&C 68:4, proceeds from the mouth of God when it comes from the mouth of His servants.

  38. john fowles on September 15, 2004 at 8:45 pm

    John H.: I don’t have any answers for your list of apparent contradictions except that I believe in the prophet and your list doesn’t change that in any way. Sorry. This is where my testimony kicks in, telling me that the Church is true (and it is the only true Church, as far as real priesthood authority is concerned, which is not to say that there are not truths out there that we haven’t yet embraced as we ourselves progress) regardless of things that might seem like contradictions to our finite minds. I’m just an old-school Latter-day Saint who believes what the prophet says, believes in the BoM both physically and spiritually, believes in priesthood authority and the existence of the Great Apostasy, and tries to be obedient to the prophet even in those things that the world would find utterly stupid, such as WoW, temple worship, garments, and a full-fledged belief in Moroni 10′s list of miracles that follow true believers. Call me naive. Sorry.

  39. Greg on September 15, 2004 at 9:11 pm

    John Fowles,

    I wouldn’t call you naive and I respect your position. But doesn’t believing the prophet also mean believing Joseph Smith’s pronouncement that “a prophet is only a prophet when speaking as such.” Remember the anecdote where Brigham preaches a blistering sermon in the morning, and then rises in the afternoon and says (paraphrasing here), “That was Brigham preaching this morning, now I will speak as the prophet.” In other words, I think the prophets themselves have spoken against the kind of unquestioning fealty you’re arguing for. I would venture that President Hinckley would be surprised to hear that we are taking statements made in press interviews as policy changes.

    For those interested in this issue, I would highly recommend J. Reuben Clark’s address: When Are the Writings or Sermons of Church Leaders Entitled to the Claim of Scripture?

  40. John H on September 15, 2004 at 9:56 pm

    John Fowles:

    I’ll make you a deal. I won’t call you naive (because I don’t think you are) as you seemingly embrace opposing teachings, contradictory things, etc., if you don’t think I’m naive for doing the same thing. :)

    I embrace contradictory things as well – just from a different perspective. For example, as I’ve mentioned here before, it seems clear from all available evidence that Joseph Smith developed the endowment ceremony from the Masonic ceremony. The similarities between the two make this difficult to ignore. But that can’t explain how, when I attend the temple, I feel uplifted and inspired.

    I see many, many problems with Book of Mormon historicity, yet find many spiritually uplifting things. We all embrace contradictions and paradox – I think it’s part of being spiritual people. I suppose I just think it’s important to acknowledge that we’re embracing contradictions or living with paradox, rather than engage in what I’ve called intellectual gymnastics to make sense of everything. We’ve all watched as God answers one person’s prayer to find their car keys, yet ignores another’s to save their child, fatally injured in a car accident. We watch as Elizabeth Smart is found, while other children are found in ditches or shallow graves. I’d rather embrace the contradictions and accept them as part of my spiritual journey instead of pretending they aren’t there and everything fits in a neat little package.

  41. ed on September 15, 2004 at 10:34 pm

    Luke: “The message is an edited version of President Hinckley’s October 1975 General Conference talk.”

    How did you figure this out? I looked at the original talk, and it was interesting to compare them, although they’re pretty close. I’m sure if the talk was written today he would have mentioned the internet.

    I wish they would indicate when they’re (esentially) re-printing an old talk.

  42. Aaron Brown on September 15, 2004 at 10:43 pm

    John Fowles,

    I don’t mean to attack when you’re on the defensive, but I wouldn’t say your response was “naïve� as much as it was simply “non-responsive.� It’s as if you just don’t want to deal with the issue John H is raising. Surely you can develop some sort of nuanced position on prophetic authority (even if it doesn’t ultimately resolve every conceivable issue), rather than just throwing up your hands and declaring we have “finite minds� that can’t grapple with “apparent contradictions.� It seems like it would be a lot easier, psychologically and spiritually, to confront historical realities that challenge our facile formulas than it would be to live with the dissonance that must result from refusing to think critically about data that inconveniently challenges those formulas. I would think it would be better for apologetic purposes, as well as for personal peace of mind. Do you disagree?

    Also, saying that you believe “the Church is true,� as well as in “WoW, temple worship, garments, and a full-fledged belief in Moroni 10’s list of miracles� is all fine and dandy, but it seems to evade the issue. It’s not as if acknowledging the contradictions in John H’s list as “real� (as opposed to only “apparent�) contradictions is inherently incompatible with embracing the Church’s truthfulness, or any number of other orthodox beliefs. It simply requires developing a bit more nuanced position on what the Church’s being “true� (or the Prophet’s being a “Prophet�) actually means. And as John H has said, early Church leaders own descriptions of the nature of the prophetic calling hardly square with the robust, dogmatic theories of prophetic authority that are so popular in the Church nowadays.

    Finally, to simply parrot John H, I am a bit baffled by your reading of President Hinkley’s 60 Minutes statement on caffeine. But I owe BCC a post, so I think I’ll raise my question there….

    Aaron B

  43. john fowles on September 16, 2004 at 12:02 am

    Greg wrote, In other words, I think the prophets themselves have spoken against the kind of unquestioning fealty you’re arguing for.

    I think I made it clear in my earlier comments that I understand that prophets are people too with their own opinions that might be silly or contradictory and that we owe fealty to their words only when speaking in their office.

    John H.: I see your point and acknowledge your different beliefs.

    Aaron B.: You are probably right about being nonresponsive. Because of my testimony, I haven’t lost much sleep over trying to find solutions to these contradictions. That probably appears troublesome, but I am comfortable with it.

    As to Pres. Hinckley’s 60 minutes statement about caffeine, didn’t he say “We don’t drink caffeine”? That seemed pretty unambiguous to me and signaled that I should stop drinking caffeine in order to be true to that statement. I’m not saying that I’ve been perfect in it; I’m just saying that I respect what Pres. Hinckley thinks so much that I decided that I shouldn’t drink caffeine if he is representing to the entire world that Latter-day Saints don’t drink caffeine.

  44. ed on September 16, 2004 at 12:02 am

    The biggest change from the 1975 version of Hinckley’s talk is the removal of a story about a young homosexual man who realized that his sinful ways would never allow him to have a son of his own. This story doesn’t square well with current advice that homosexuals should not attempt to solve their problems by marrying…maybe that’s why they removed it.

  45. David on September 16, 2004 at 2:11 am

    I believe in “hearkening” to the counsel of the prophets, apostles, and other church leaders in the sense of the first definition in Webster’s New World College Dictionary: “to give careful attention, listen carefully.”

    I do not believe in uniformly and simply responding, “How high?”, when asked by church leadership to “Jump”. I do not believe that such counsel automatically trumps all other sources of information or our own conscience, but I do believe requests and advice from church leaders deserve special attention.

    I accord such directions special weight. I accord more weight to a joint pronouncement of the First Presidency than just the President, and even more weight to a joint declaration of the First Presidency and the Twelve. The more leaders who repeatedly and unitedly concur on matters, the more likely it seems to me that they are speaking for God and/or are correct.

    Of course, I do not pay as much attention to off the cuff remarks (including informal press statements) as I do to conference addresses, which are usually a matter of careful consideration, preparation and prayer.

    When the Brethren state that they are not “infallible” and are not “perfect”, I take them at their word. When Brigham Young stated that he was concerned that too many were “settl[ing] down in a state of blind security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation” and that “they [should know] for themselves by the revelations of Jesus Christ that they are led in the right way,” I believe him.

    I suppose one could argue that this should be a one time process; that once one comes to believe “by the whisperings of the Spirit of God to themselves [that] their leaders are walking in the way the Lord dictates,” further inquiry is unnecessary. Or one could argue that “we all know” that if one inquires of God whether we should obey a particular bit of prophetic counsel, God will tell us to do so–so why not skip the asking God, or the D&C 9 studying it out in our own mind. After all, what’s the point? Why bother to ask God when “every faithful Mormon knows” what his answer will be? Why not save time, and simply follow promptly without seeking God’s confirmation or other input?

    Yet Brigham Young (and many others) thought there was value to our seeking God’s confirmation of teachings of the Brethren, and seeking confirmation means being open to the possibility that a teaching or a direction may be incorrect. If our judgment, informed by what seems to be God’s inspiration to us, does not concur with what appears to be prophetic counsel, what should we do?

    I confess that in most (or almost all) such cases, I have chosen to defer to and accept the counsel of Church leaders (although with much less enthusiasm that if I had independently reached the same conclusion) . But I have not done so automatically, and I do not think a person is less “Mormon”, or less faithful, or less devoted, or less believing, who does not resolve the matter the way I have most of the time. And, frankly, I am reluctant to believe that the Lord would punish or withhold blessings from those who, after considerable thought, prayer and careful consideration of counsel from human Church leadership, follow their conscience in a different direction.

  46. Aaron Brown on September 16, 2004 at 2:59 am

    Very well put, David.

    Let me agree specifically with your discussion of confirmation as more than a “one time process.” It has always seemed to me that if the alleged need for spiritual confirmation of prophetic pronouncements is to have any real substance to it, we need to be open to the possibility of prophetic error (even if we think it to be extremely unlikely). If we refuse to entertain that possibility, I think we exhibit the very “reckless confidence” that Young described, and we render the independent spiritual confirmation process totally unnecessary and superfluous.

    Aaron B

  47. obi-wan on September 16, 2004 at 9:50 am

    David –

    Congratulations; that may possibly be the most sensible thing ever said at T&S. Certainly it’s head and shoulders above what I hear at Church on any given Sunday.

  48. Luke on September 16, 2004 at 10:46 am

    Luke: “The message is an edited version of President Hinckley’s October 1975 General Conference talk.�

    Ed: How did you figure this out? I looked at the original talk, and it was interesting to compare them, although they’re pretty close. I’m sure if the talk was written today he would have mentioned the internet.

    Me: I make it a practice to do a word search on lds.org when the First Presidency message comes out. I’ve found that President Monson’s messages are often repeats from past Conference addresses. In the last few years of President Benson’s life, every single FP message from him was a repeat from the past (which is understandable, given his physical and mental state). Often that fact would be noted in the Ensign.

    Thus far in 2004, the January (Faust), February (Hinckley), March (Monson), April (Faust), July (Monson), August (Faust), and September (Hinckley) FP messages have been repeats of previous addresses.

    May has no FP message, and the June FP message was a compilation of thoughts President Hinckley has given in recent years at regional conferences and other meetings.

    Ed: The biggest change from the 1975 version of Hinckley’s talk is the removal of a story about a young homosexual man who realized that his sinful ways would never allow him to have a son of his own. This story doesn’t square well with current advice that homosexuals should not attempt to solve their problems by marrying…maybe that’s why they removed it.

    Me: That’s true. The fact that they cut out the opening paragraphs entirely was certainly the biggest change. I should have noted it.

  49. Jack on September 16, 2004 at 11:00 am

    Good comment David.

    I think it is also possible to be faced with the dichotomy of correct general council and correct specific council, the latter violating the former. For example, Pres. Hinkley has counciled that we should get all the education that we can and that this is the key to temporal succes. I believe this to be good council, and wish I had done better in following it myself as my options in mid-life are severely limited by the lack of education.

    A young couple that I home teach found themselves struggling with this question. The husband was very disinclined to pursuing a formal education while the wife felt otherwise. This became a point of no small frustration in their marraige. They finally decided that they would fast and pray and go to the temple seeking an answer. They got it. I have never seen two people more sure of the witness of the spirit which they received. They were both a-glow as they shared their experience with me. They were comforted and assured that it was not necessary to pursue a formal education.

    This brings up another point. Sometimes there is a hierarchy in council. It could be possible that it was more important for this couple to be one on the issue of education so that it would not become a wedge in their marraige.

    Just some thoughts.

  50. Rosalynde Welch on September 16, 2004 at 11:34 am

    A few eclectic points I’d like to add:

    John H., I don’t fully agree with your position, but I certainly recognize the impulse behind it. Still, I think you too easily assume that accepting the counsel of prophets is a failure of personal conscience, a ceding of agency, the path of least social and rational resistance. This might be the case in socially homogeneous Mormon communities (of which very few, if any, still exist)–but from my position, an occupant of the radicalized outposts of post-graduate academia, choosing to follow prophetic counsel is in fact the path of greatest social and rational resistance, and an active choice of conscience. Prophetic utterances are one form of information among many, none of which (including science, in my view) have any utterly irresistible *external* epistemological priority, so I don’t think that choosing to privilege prophetic utterance over others is intrinsically a failure of agency.

    As for an organizing principle to divide inspired from human prophetic utterances, how about something like this: God is pretty good about making it clear to a prophet (eventually, at least) what should be *done*, but He doesn’t always seem as interested in explaining *why* it should be done or *what* the action signifies, spiritually or temporally. And since the human mind is driven to discover “why”, prophets do their best to come up with the reason for and significance of the action. Thus I personally choose to behave in the way that the current prophet urges me to behave, because I believe that those urgings do represent God’s will. But if I can’t obtain a personal spiritual conviction of the prophet’s explanation for why the behavior is desirable, I don’t feel compelled personally to espouse those views–although neither do I feel justified in abandoning the behavior. Gender roles, gay marriage, polygamy, blacks and the priesthood–I’ve been able to resolve many of my spiritual stumbling blocks, or at least remove them from my personal path, with some version of this principle.

  51. John H on September 16, 2004 at 12:07 pm

    Rosalynde:

    I appreciate your thoughts and perspective. I’d just suggest what I see as one problem with your approach by using one of the examples you listed.

    As has been demonstrated time and time again (by Newell Bringhurst, Lester Bush, Armand Mauss, Darron Smith, Stirling Adams, and Robert Rees), we know exactly why blacks were denied the priesthood. The simple reality is, it had nothing to do with God. These scholars (particularly Bringhurst, Bush, and Mauss) have demonstrated that Joseph Smith ordained black men to the Priesthood, that it was Brigham Young who instituted the ban for political and personal reasons, and that Mormon attitudes towards blacks (ie., curse of Cain, story of Ham, etc.) are adopted from Protestant justifications for Slavery.

    So, if I understand your model correctly, without this information available to us from scholars, we would assume God wants the Priesthood ban in place, but that perhaps Church leaders are being creative in telling us *why* the ban exists. This approach is certainly better than most (which also assume the reasons are correct), but it does leave us with the dilemma of a God who designates African-Americans to inferior status in the Church.

  52. Chris Grant on September 16, 2004 at 12:29 pm

    John H wrote: “we know exactly why blacks were denied the priesthood. The simple reality is, it had nothing to do with God.”

    Your faith in the ability of historians to uncover the past “wie es eigentlich gewesen ist” is remarkable, especially when it comes to those aspects of the past dealing with personal motivations and with the actions of God.

    “the dilemma of a God who designates African-Americans to inferior status in the Church”

    Still looking for a politically correct term for blacks not necessarily located in the United States?

  53. John H on September 16, 2004 at 12:43 pm

    Chris Grant:

    This is a fun, glib way to respond to my post without actually addressing a single issue I raise. How do you explain that Joseph ordained blacks to the priesthood? How do you explain the total lack of any kind of statement from him which attributes a priesthood ban to God? How do you explain the fact that Mormon explanations of the Curse are not unique at all, and come from Protestant justifications for Slavery, including the Curse of Cain, the Curse of Ham, etc.?

  54. Chris Grant on September 16, 2004 at 1:13 pm

    “This is a fun, glib way to respond to my post without actually addressing a single issue I raise.”

    Maybe it doesn’t address an issue you raised, but it does address a couple of issues raised by your post, namely: (1) Why do people so often feel the need to overstate their case? and (2) Why do people let political correctness prevent them from saying what they mean?

    “How do you explain that Joseph ordained blacks to the priesthood? How do you explain the total lack of any kind of statement from him which attributes a priesthood ban to God?”

    How about continuing revelation?

    “How do you explain the fact that Mormon explanations of the Curse are not unique at all, and come from Protestant justifications for Slavery, including the Curse of Cain, the Curse of Ham, etc.?”

    Protestants aren’t wrong about everything?

  55. Rosalynde Welch on September 16, 2004 at 1:16 pm

    John H.,

    Blacks and the priesthood is a tricky one, admittedly, and I’m not sure anything about the situation is a “simple reality.” (Nor, in fact, am I really invested in defending my explanatory model–I’d be thrilled to encounter a more effective model that accommodates my form of faith!) According to my model, we could assume that God wanted the priesthood ban in place roughly during the period that it was, in fact, enforced–after Joseph, until Spencer–or we could even assume that God would have been happy to see the ban lifted earlier, but waited on account of the weakness of the Saints. But we wouldn’t know *why* the ban was in place–we can’t assume that God wanted blacks to occupy an inferior status in the church any more than we can assume now that God wants women to occupy an inferior status in the church. Perhaps there was some other sociological “higher purpose” (to prevent the church from splitting permanently into black and white congregations, for example, as some baptist congregations have), perhaps it was an excruciating test of obedience with admittedly devastaing personal costs. God does not often shy away from devastating personal costs, it seems. And, according to my model, we could (with great relief) dismiss the derivative racist justifications for the ban.

  56. John H on September 16, 2004 at 1:41 pm

    Chris Grant:

    I’ll end the discussion here by saying there’s a forthcoming article in the next issue of Sunstone you might want to check out. It’s called, “How to Explain the Priesthood Ban Without Looking Ridiculous,” by Armand Mauss. It has some suggestions that might be a bit better than saying Protestant were correct in their justifications for kidnapping, enslaving, beating, raping, and selling Africans. But hey, that’s just crazy old me.

  57. David on September 16, 2004 at 1:46 pm

    In the meantime, Brother Mauss’ presentation at http://www.blacklds.org/mauss.html is quite good. I look forward to the Sunstone article.

  58. Nate Oman on September 16, 2004 at 1:48 pm

    John H.: Glancing through these posts, it seems to me that the fundamental problem with your position is that you have nothing but a negative position on the issue of prophetic authority. You do a fine job of puncturing various models. Kudos to you. Gold star for critical thinking.

    The difficult task is to come up with some positive content for the concept of authority. Without coming up with some notion of prophetic authority you will end up jettisoning much of Mormon theology. The trick is to come up with some theory that doesn’t reduce the prophets to well meaning old men; some theory that still concedes to them some meaningful special access to the divine.

  59. Chris Grant on September 16, 2004 at 1:57 pm

    John H wrote:

    “I’ll end the discussion here by saying there’s a forthcoming article in the next issue of Sunstone you might want to check out.”

    Oh, I always read Sunstone. Know your enemy, and all that.

    “It has some suggestions that might be a bit better than saying Protestant were correct in their justifications for kidnapping, enslaving, beating, raping, and selling Africans.”

    I see. So anything that was used to justify the institution of slavery is bad. Therefore, popular sovereignty, property rights, etc. are all bad. And states rights are bad–unless they’re used to justify SSM in Massachusetts.

  60. Aaron Brown on September 16, 2004 at 2:03 pm

    John H,

    As someone with views on the Blacks and the Priesthood question that are quite similar to your own (though I would probably express them less emphatically), I nonetheless think you overstate the definitiveness of Mauss, et al.’s historical conclusions a bit. There’s always going to be any number of apologetic counter-theories regarding the provenance and purpose of the Priesthood ban that can’t be definitively disproven by academic historians. Whether you and I find those counter-theories impossible to swallow is perhaps another question, but the ultimate causal questions will probably always be debatable.

    I look forward to reading Mauss’ new Sunstone piece.

    Aaron B

  61. John H on September 16, 2004 at 2:06 pm

    Nate:

    Wonderful point. I’ll confess I still haven’t come up with a model that does what you suggest is necessary. I know I don’t just consider Church leaders nice old fellas who are doing their best. But I’m certainly not willing to concede they have the kind of access to the divine some want to grant them.

  62. Aaron Brown on September 16, 2004 at 2:11 pm

    Chris,

    Am I correctly interpreting your comments to mean that you fully subscribe to 19th Century Mormon (and non-Mormon) theories about the Curse of Cain being inherited by Black people? If so, I wonder what you make of the fact that current Church leaders won’t even make reference to, much less endorse, these theories anymore. Quite frankly, to say they have been “discarded” (albeit not repudiated) by the current Church leadership doesn’t seem too strong. Is the current leadership just holding these “true” historical rationales close to the vest because they don’t want to be politically (or religiously) incorrect? How do you explain the Church’s unwillingness to stand behind its prior rationales?

    Aaron B

  63. ed on September 16, 2004 at 2:25 pm

    I’m wondering one thing: how is the prophet different from the Bishop? We sustain both as being more than just “well meaning men.” We believe that both have access to revelation for their stewardship. The process of following the spirit described by Bishops I have known does not differ much from the process that Pres. Hinckley and others have described in public statements. Yet doubting/disagreeing with from your Bishop seems to bring less condemnation from orthodox members than doubting/disagreeing direction from the prophet. Should there be a difference, and what is the doctrinal or scriptural basis for this difference?

  64. Chris Grant on September 16, 2004 at 3:14 pm

    John H:

    I accept:

    (1) What Elder McConkie said in his essay on the 1978 revelation that progressives like to quote so selectively and that is cited in Our Heritage the history booklet used the most recent time that Gospel Doctrine focused on the D&C.
    (2) What Elder Bateman said about the revelation in his recent address on the subject.
    (3) The message that (at least for many) is implicit in the wording of OD2 as concerning whether there was a time during which the priesthood ban was appropriate.
    (4) The discussion of the ban that was in the CES D&C manual the last time I looked (circa 1995).

  65. Mark N. on September 17, 2004 at 5:11 am

    John F: “… the issue at hand: the voice of a living prophet speaking to the ills of our current society, much like Lehi addressing Jerusalem before being rejected.”

    I have no problem with prophets speaking to the ills of our current society, and in calling upon each individual to repent. That’s standard operating prophetic procedure, or so it seems to me.

    I do have a problem when the person assumed to be a prophet encourages me and my neighbors to establish laws wherein we take it upon ourselves to restrict the agency of my neighbor or to punish my neighbor in the face of what may only be a hesitation to repent, or behavior caused by an incomplete (for the time being) understanding of certain eternal principles. At that point, I see Priesthood power involved in the act of encouraging me to assume unrighteous dominion over my neighbors, and I feel safe in joining with God in saying “Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.”

    I’m all for railing against evil, but I leave it up to God to decide when and how to punish those who knowingly, or unknowingly, commit evil acts. My job is to warn, not to punish.

  66. Jack on September 17, 2004 at 10:13 am

    Mark N. Do you have specific examples of the prophet counseling us to do such things that limit the agency of another? Surely your not suggesting that establishing laws which upon hold the ten commandments and the like are wrong?

    Doh! I just realized that I spelled councel – council – four times in my last comment.

  67. john fowles on September 17, 2004 at 11:24 am

    Mark N.: Amen to the priesthood of Gordon B. Hinckley? Interesting perspective. . . .

  68. john fowles on September 17, 2004 at 11:34 am

    John H., Aaron B., and Mark N.: The problem I have with your positions is that the role of a living prophet receives no value. You seem to treat the prophet simply as a policymaking politician whose views are intellectually inferior to your own. I still haven’t seen any evidence that you believe that perhaps Gordon B. Hinckley is truly a prophet, seer, and revelator who just might have “access to the divine,” as Nate has said.

    John H. goes further than Aaron B. and Mark N. and seems to espouse a view not that the Church leadership are simply well meaning old men with inferior intellects but rather sinister old men trying to dominate masses of blind sheep with unsustainable justifications for myriad perceived historical wrongs and inaccuracies.

  69. John H on September 17, 2004 at 12:25 pm

    John Fowles:

    Wow! I’m not sure how you gathered “sinister old men trying to dominate masses of blind sheep” from my comments. I never said any such thing. Surely you can give more thought to my comments than that, and acknowledge my different perspective without a need to demonize it.

  70. john fowles on September 17, 2004 at 12:48 pm

    Yes, that was quite exaggerated. Still, how can I capture the feeling that you don’t seem to give the leadership the benefit of the doubt as well-meaning old men?

    And even characterizing you as seeing the brethren as “sinister” isn’t necessarily “demonizing” your different perspective. I can see how unpleasant it was, but isn’t there something to it?

  71. Mark B on September 17, 2004 at 12:56 pm

    Jack.

    Sorry to burst your balloon, but “counsel” is the way some of us spell that word.

    On the other hand, we could simply agree with Mark Twain and “not give a damn for a man that can’t spell a word more than one way.”

    [Now, off to Google to see if anyone else agrees that Twain said that . . .]

  72. Nate Oman on September 17, 2004 at 1:43 pm

    “I’m all for railing against evil, but I leave it up to God to decide when and how to punish those who knowingly, or unknowingly, commit evil acts. My job is to warn, not to punish. ”

    No society in the history of the world has ever adopted this principle consistently. We are always involved in one way or another in coercing others so long as we have a legal system. The question is not whether or not we should do this, but when we should do it. These are hard issues, and this kind of glib sloganizing is thoroughly useless.

  73. Nate W. on September 17, 2004 at 2:32 pm

    Nate,

    I don’t think Mark N. is talking about society, but rather the individual. Societies should be able to enforce their own rules by means of the state. Private individuals shouldn’t be able to enforce society’s rules independently. Likewise, we should warn people about God’s rules, but not try to enforce them on behalf of God.

  74. ed on September 17, 2004 at 3:00 pm

    Go back and read what Mark N. wrote…he disapproves of the church encouraging members to work for laws that restrict individual liberties.

    The principle that laws should never restrict individual liberties is completely unworkable. Therefore grand appeals to such a principle are unhelpful…you need to debate the pros and cons of a specific case.

  75. Matt Jacobsen on September 17, 2004 at 3:17 pm

    I nominate the topic raised between Nate Oman and John H. about the model of prophetic authority and special divine access as its own post. This is something I have struggled to define myself, and I would greatly appreciate hearing others’ thoughts.

  76. Nate Oman on September 17, 2004 at 4:16 pm

    Nate W.: I think that the distinctions that you are making break down rather rapidly if you look at them. Society enforces its rules, but what does that really mean? It means that the preferences of the individuals making up society get aggregated in some way and expressed as law. Invoking “society” vs. “individual” rules or morality does little or no intellectual work. The simple fact of the matter is that law, at bottom, is largely about people saying “X is wrong and the state ought to keep X from occuring.” It hardly follows from this that all laws are justified or that all wrongs should should find some prohibition in the law. It does follow, however, legal or political questions cannot be neatly seperated from moral questions. You simply need a more powerful idea — e.g. the harm principle, the liberal distinction between the right and the good, internalization of negative externalities etc. –than the one advanced by Mark N. What I find annoying is the glib way that Mark N. cries amen to the priesthood of President Hinkley on the basis of what appears to be exceedingly thin thinking.

  77. T. Wray on September 17, 2004 at 5:32 pm

    While I’ve been reading the posts on this blog for some time now, this is the first time I’ve attempted to post. So, you know… go easy on me.

    (Quick intro: I’m mormon, enjoy hearty and respectful discussion, have an all-around interest in mormon culture, mormon history, mormon perspectives, and politics (mormon-related and not), and am studying law at Iowa.)

    Ok…I’ve read the posts on this topic with a lot of interest and thought. With few exceptions, I think all of them are very insightful and valuable. I guess I can’t say that I agree 100% with any particular comment (who can?), but find them truly helpful in thinking about and defining my own views on the subject of prophecy, and knowing when a statement qualifies as such.

    This post is not so much to articulate my own perspective on that subject (which I hope to do later), but comment on the approach and tone to some of what’s been said. I want to preface by saying that I understand that how a post reads, and how the author intended it to read do not always jive.

    Periodically (not frequently), in reading the comments here, I’ve felt pangs of frustration and dissappointment (I really hope that doesn’t sound condescending – it isn’t supposed to). I don’t think those feelings are due to the substance of what a particular poster says, but the tone.

    I think we really ought to avoid comments that question the faith, intelligence, or motivation of another. I guess I’m referring to lines in the vein of “how are you a mormon if you think such and such,” or “your comments on prophecy show your true colors, which I am somehow capable of determining.” Now, I realize nobody has blatantly said as much, but I think the implications are clear. Yes, I acknowledge the possible violation of the first sentence of this paragraph by the sentence preceding this one. But, based on what I’ve already read on this blog, I think most would agree that caustic, sarcastic, or judgmental (some of which smack of self-righteousness to me) replies are of little, if any, worth. I believe it would be constructive, beneficial, and more condusive to mutual edification if we made more of an effort at self-reflection and consciousness before we say what we say. Then again, as Dostoevsky says in “Notes from the Underground, “I swear to you sirs, excessive consciousness is a disease.” My guess is that he is being somewhat tongue-in-cheek. At any rate, I think “excessive” self-reflection before we speak is preferable to a lack of it.

    I don’t claim any originality on this turf, as I know its been addressed before here. I suppose I just felt like reiterrating it; as much as a self-reminder as anything. I’ll go ahead an end with a quote by President Hinckley, as it seems appropriate in light of both this thread’s topic and what I’ve posted:

    “We must work harder to build mutual respect, an attitude of forbearance, with tolerance one for another regardless of the doctrines and philosophies which we may espouse. Concerning these you and I may disagree. But we can do so with respect and civility.” – Gordon B. Hinckley: (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, 665)

    Ok, one more…

    We should, of course, respect the opinions of others, but we should also be unafraid to dissent – if we are informed…Only error fears freedom of expression…People should express their problems and opinions and be unafraid to think without fear of ill consequences – Hugh B. Brown (LDS Apostle and former member of First Presidency) (An Abundant Life: The Memoirs of Hugh B. Brown p.137)

    Thanks for hearing me out. Disagree if you please.

    -Tyson

  78. Nate Oman on September 17, 2004 at 5:56 pm

    Welcome, Tyson. I hope that you comment more. Say hi to Eric Andersen for me…

  79. Benjamin Huff on September 17, 2004 at 8:31 pm

    Hooray! President Hinckley rocks!

    I love the way he starts this message by referring not to p*rnography, but to the everyday contents of his mailbox! Unlike so many of us, he does not accept these commonplaces as innocuous. That we accept them is a sign of how far our perspectives have been distorted by a culture of “laissez-aller”.

  80. john fowles on September 17, 2004 at 9:46 pm

    John H. wrote at the very beginning: Why is your claim that following Mormon leaders is right any more legitimate than the claim that following the Pope is right, or following the Dalai Lama is right, or even following bin Laden is right? It seems to me that none of us have any evidence or truth beyond our own belief systems that what we do is “right”.

    This is the comment that made me so uncomfortable and that prompted Adam’s question to you about in what ways you see yourself as being Mormon (which he claimed that I misunderstood).

    When you said this, John, it made me think that you do not believe that President Hinckley has any special claim to the divine that the Pope and the Dalai Lama and that Bin Laden don’t have. Once that is done away with, then he really is not a literal prophet and just the CEO of an organization, a “well meaning” old man, except in the policy items in which he has a “sinister” agenda, however well intentioned, to suppress the rights of others, such as in the issues of SSM or women and the priesthood, etc. None of these policies actually come from God if you brush away Pres. Hinckley’s special status as the true and living prophet of God on earth in the latter days. If that is the case, then you are right to be filled with indignation that some old man wants to prevent gays from getting “married.” But if he really is a prophet and speaking for God on the issue of SSM, then it is questionable to crusade in favor of SSM when he has explicitly revealed the will of God on the matter.

    You asked how I came to the word “sinister” in my earlier comment. It actually stemmed from your seemingly rational explanation of blacks and the priesthood–that JS gave them the priesthood and the BY took it away for reasons of personal prejudice justified by racist Protestant ideas. I guess that reading what you wrote just seemed inducive to sinister music playing in the background with a black and white shot of an old photograph of BY on the screen and the camera very slowly zooming in on BY’s eyes, as if to peer inside his head and divine the sinister workings of a so-called prophet who hated blacks and wanted to subject women to his polygamous ways.

    I have thought that if we sustain Pres. Hinckley as a prophet, seer, and revelator, then we should be willing to lay aside intellectual misgivings, political/policy preferences, and follow his word with the humility of a little child (who doesn’t criticize or insist on an answer to the contradictions b/n Talmage and McConkie etc.). Academic investigation of these issues is interesting, healthy, and beneficial as long as it doesn’t prevent one from acting with this humility to lay aside personal concerns and follow the prophet (even if he is telling you to take another wife when you would rather die than do such a thing, as was the case with BY). The key is submitting our will to the Lord’s will through his servant the prophet. And the key to that is truly believing that he really is a prophet with a special status that the Pope or Bin Laden do not share.

  81. diogenes on September 17, 2004 at 11:34 pm

    I have thought that if we sustain Pres. Hinckley as a prophet, seer, and revelator, then we should be willing to lay aside intellectual misgivings, political/policy preferences, and follow his word with the humility of a little child (who doesn’t criticize or insist on an answer to the contradictions b/n Talmage and McConkie etc.)

    I take it that you aren’t acquainted with any little children.

  82. John H on September 18, 2004 at 12:02 am

    John Fowles:

    I’m sorry, but your arguments are so circular I’m getting dizzy. We’re back where we were before. You continue to assume that President Hinckley *must* be speaking for the Lord for no other reason than he’s President Hinckley. Yet you quickly brushed aside numerous examples of times when Church leaders disagreed, contradicted each other, etc. about some pretty serious issues (who Jesus Christ is seems pretty important to me).

    When you do manage to address an issue, you pick blacks and the priesthood. But your comments about the sinister implications of saying Brigham Young was the one responsible for the priesthood ban are a classic attempt at shooting the messenger. Notice you don’t deal with the issue at all, and you don’t seem to feel any kind of responsibility to learn more about the issue. Instead, you accuse me of attributing sinister motives to Church leaders, which I never did. You’ve made *me* the topic of discussion, not the issues we’ve been raising. Sorry, I’ve been down this road many times before and I’m not going for the ride this time. Your too offended at the ideas I’ve offered (which have been well-documented by numerous historians, most active, believing members of the Church) to actually bother to find out if what I’ve said has any validity.

    John, I have no problem if you want to just fall back on your testimony, no matter how inconsistent and blatantly puzzling your logic might be (I posted above that I respected that because I think paradox is a part of spirituality), but I don’t think it’s fair to then point fingers at others and expect them to do the same thing. I respect that you’ve had experiences that clearly lead you to espouse certain views. But I’ve chosen another path within the Church that I frankly think is quite tenable and possible within the large tent of Mormonism.

  83. Matt Evans on September 18, 2004 at 12:26 am

    John H wrote: I don’t just consider Church leaders nice old fellas who are doing their best. But I’m certainly not willing to concede they have the kind of access to the divine some want to grant them.

    John H,

    Perhaps many of the commenters (myself included) would better understand your point of view if you offered, in addition to the long lists of examples showing that prophets aren’t infallible, a few examples from the past 50 years where church leaders have demonstrated that they aren’t merely polite men doing their best, but are men with privileged access to the mind of God unavailable to others, even though that access may be far less than some members believe.

  84. David on September 18, 2004 at 2:46 am

    John,

    “I have thought that if we sustain Pres. Hinckley as a prophet, seer, and revelator, then we should be willing to lay aside intellectual misgivings, political/policy preferences, and follow his word with the humility of a little child (who doesn’t criticize or insist on an answer to the contradictions b/n Talmage and McConkie etc.).Academic investigation of these issues is interesting, healthy, and beneficial as long as it doesn’t prevent one from acting with this humility to lay aside personal concerns and follow the prophet (even if he is telling you to take another wife when you would rather die than do such a thing, as was the case with BY). The key is submitting our will to the Lord’s will through his servant the prophet.”

    I commend you, John, not just for your absolute faith in God, but for your absolute (or near absolute) faith in His human servant or servants. I do not sense any conditions on your desire and commitment to do what God’s servants ask you to do, including willingness to make the sort of sacrifice that Abraham nearly made or that some of the early church members were asked (taking another wife or offering their existing wife to the prophet Joseph if asked).

    As I have suggested (comment 45), I do not claim an absolute, or so near absolute, commitment to submitting my will to the Prophet’s, or any other human being’s. I have difficulty enough submitting my will to God’s (on those occasions when I can discern His will).

    Ed raised a good question yesterday (comment 63) whether there is or should be a distinction in our following or sustaining local leaders and our following or sustaining of general authorities (in particular, the Prophet).

    My own view is that the obligation is the same. Our local leaders are human with faults and shortcomings, make errors in judgment, and do not always act with full knowedge and inspiration. [I know that for a fact with respect to at least one person who has served in a variety of local leadership callings--me.] I have difficult believing this is not the case with the general leadership, although I have had little personal interaction with them. Just as I try to be supportive of–but without a commitment of absolute obedience or submission to-local leaders, I try to do the same with respect to general leaders. When I have served in a leadership capacity, I have not expected absolute or unquestioning submission by those whom I served; I would be surprised if many (or if any at all) of the general leadership expected it.

    Matt,

    What do you mean by “privileged access to the mind of God unavailable to others”? My mother told me privately just a few months before the priesthood revelation was announced that she felt a change in policy was coming very soon (I did not believe her, and was still stunned (pleasantly) when it was announced). She told me this at the same time President Kimball was visiting one on one with the members of the First Presidency and the Twelve concerning this issue, and praying regularly in the upper rooms of the temple. I believe that the same God who was in the process of influencing, one by one, the members of the First Presidency and the Twelve, also shared that same comfort and peace concerning the matter with a lay member of the Church. I expect there were other lay members, besides my mother, who may have received spiritual premonitions of the change.

    The order of the Church may be that only the President (or the general leadership) of the Church is entitled to announce binding revelations with respect to the Church and the world. I have not thought, though, that those revelations or similar ones might not be received by those outside the Church’s inner circles.

  85. Jack on September 18, 2004 at 2:58 am

    Knowing the events of church history (or any history for that matter) does not necessarily lead us to understand the intent behind those events unless we have some understanding of the context in which those events occured. And, when it comes to church history in particular, in my opinion we cannot divorce revelation from the context and view the events in a way that makes the remotest kind of sense. Do we know for a fact that Brigham Young was uninspired in his view of the priesthood ban? Can we say that because Joseph Smith ordained two black men to the priesthood that it follows that B.Y. must have been dead wrong? (by the way, I’m certainly glad that J.S. *did* ordain those two. It opens the door to more palatable interpretations other than the “curse”)

    I like this from Rosalynde’s excellent comment above: “God is pretty good about making it clear to a prophet (eventually, at least) what should be *done*, but He doesn’t always seem as interested in explaining *why* it should be done or *what* the action signifies, spiritually or temporally. And since the human mind is driven to discover “why”, prophets do their best to come up with the reason for and significance of the action.”

    Ok, maybe Brigham young was a bigot (by today’s standard), but lets look at this squarely; what do you think would have happened to the church if B.Y. had allowed the blacks to hold the priesthood in his day? Do you really believe that the church membership in those days was ready to link arms with our African American brothers in church leadership? Do you think they were ready to receive counsel from a black priesthood leader? If all of this wasn’t sad enough, do you think the church would have had as much success in its missionary effort among the whites? The world simply wasn’t ready for it – including the blacks. They had lived in shame under white rule for so long that they wouldn’t have known how to lift there heads and serve side by side with the whites even if they (the whites) had the tolerance to allow such mingling.

    An unfair disadvantage to those seeking to challenge the counsel of past church leaders is that they sometimes cannot disprove revelation as a factor in that counsel. So why not entertain the idea of revelation and see where it takes your thinking? You may find some viable solutions other than church leaders being uninspired.

    Oh, and Mark B. thanks for correcting my misspelled spelling correction. Doh!

  86. Matt Evans on September 18, 2004 at 8:13 am

    David,

    The Book of Mormon teaches that seers, as we believe and sustain the apostles to be:

    [Can] know of things which are past, and also of things which are to come, and by them shall all things be revealed, or, rather shall secret things be made manifest, and hidden things which are not known shall be made known by them, and also things shall be made known by them which otherwise could not be known . . . therefore he becometh a great benefit to his fellow beings.”

    Because being a seer is a gift of God, “a gift which is greater can no man have,” it is a distinct and higher gift than the gift of the Holy Ghost, which all members receive. For this reason I believe the apostles have not only the unique role of announcing revelation for the entire church by virtue of their positions, but also the rare gift of receiving privileged revelation by virtue of being seers.

    Your mother’s experience fits this explanation — she had a spiritual witness that a change was coming, but it was the apostles and seers who were receiving the revelation. To provide a different example, someone in upstate New York (like your mother) may have had a spiritual revelation that something important was coming, but it was to Joseph Smith that God gave privileged access to his mind and will, and the details and substance of the change anticipated by others.

  87. Kaimi on September 18, 2004 at 10:25 am

    Matt writes,

    Perhaps many of the commenters (myself included) would better understand your point of view if you offered, in addition to the long lists of examples showing that prophets aren’t infallible, a few examples from the past 50 years where church leaders have demonstrated that they aren’t merely polite men doing their best, but are men with privileged access to the mind of God unavailable to others, even though that access may be far less than some members believe.

    I don’t see how that better explains John’s view. It looks like a red herring at best, and at worst, a challenge to “prove” his faith, which is awfully close to challenging his faith, with all of the implications that brings. (“So you say you agree with the prophets sometimes . . . prove it! Hah! I knew you couldn’t! You’re just a slimy apostate!”).

    After all, it’s not his acceptance of the prophets you and others are taking issue with, its his belief that they can be fallible.

  88. john fowles on September 18, 2004 at 11:40 am

    Kaimi,

    As far as I can tell, no one has taken issue with John H.’s belief that prophets can be fallible. We all know that they are also human beings with their own idiosyncracies.

    I at least have taken issue with John H.’s apparent lack of belief that a prophet actually speaks for God or has any special access to his mind that the Pope doesn’t have. John H. appears to have relegated the prophet’s role to a mere political policymaking role. Since I think that the Restored Gospel assigns a higher value added to the role of a prophet than that, I was pushing for some explanation (and explaining my own perspective). What I got in return was accusation of circular argument (from John H.) and now accusations of setting up straw men from you. So nevermind the substance. I have never espoused the view that John H. cannot believe whatever he wants. I can also believe whatever I want, even if that includes a modicum of incredulity at a Latter-day Saint dismissing the prophet as anything special or peculiar. I was genuinely curious to hear if John H. believes that the prophet ever really does speak for God. I guess you are right that that in some sense is a request for him to prove his faith–but only in the most defensive of minds.

  89. David on September 18, 2004 at 12:10 pm

    My understanding of more broadly available revelation and inspiration is similar to that express as follows: “[F]or God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, but what He will make known unto the Twelve, and even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them, for the day must come when no man need say to his neighbor, Know ye the Lord; for all shall know Him (who remain) from the least to the greatest.” Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith at 149.

    The scripture from Hebrews 8 to which Joseph refers reads:

    “10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:
     Heb. 8:11 
    “11 And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.”

    My understanding is that the principles followed by prophets, seers and revelators in receiving inspiration or revelation is similar to that set forth in D&C 9, which also applies to lay members of the Church.

    All that being said, Matt, you raise a very good point and interesting question, by citing to Ammon’s explanation in Mosiah 8 of the office or gift of “seer”. Ammon also said that “a seer is greater than a prophet . . . [and] that a seer is a revelator and a prophet also.” [If the calling or office of seer is greater than that of prophet (and greater than any other gift), perhaps it would be more respectful to refer to the President of the Church as the "Seer", or the "Prophet, Seer and Revelator," rather than merely the "Prophet".]

    I am interested in what ways, apart from the order of the Church (see TPJS 20-21:”It is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or any one, to receive instruction for those in authority, higher than themselves”), the revelations and inspiration received by the prophets, seers and revelators may differ from the revelations and inspiration that lay members (and other ordinary human beings) receive or may receive. Is there a qualitative difference (e.g., voices or visitations in lieu of a feeling of peace or of inspiration), or a matter of degree (e.g., the feeling might be stronger), or both? Or is it a subject-matter limitation (e.g., the Lord would not reveal His position regarding, say, whether stake 70s quorums would eventually be disbanded to anyone but the general leadership)? If it is a subject-matter limitation, does that mean that the feeling my mother communicated to me in December 1977 that all worthy brethren would soon hold the priesthood [again?], without a racial or lineage limitation, was not from God, because God would not communicate with a lay person on that matter, at least until His will was formally announced?

    For what it is worth, I have made it a practice to follow and sustain Church leaders not because I believe they are necessarily smarter or wiser or more inspired than I (although in many or most instances that is probably true), but because I believe the hand of the Lord is in this Church. It may be true that a prophet, seer and revelator can receive revelation that no one else can, or perhaps just before anyone else can, but that is not the reason I have chosen to follow and sustain human Church leaders (including local leaders). I choose to do so because, based on my life’s experiences, including what I believe are ineffable revelatory intimations Iwhisperings] from the Holy Spirit, that is what I desire to do, and what I believe God wishes me to do. And I do so believing that the hand of the Lord can be present in the lives of leaders and members of other faith traditions.

    To date, my life’s experiences and whisperings have not indicated to me that I must in every instance irrevocably submit my will and my opinions on all issues to a human Church leader’s instructions–no matter what the circumstance. For that reason, I do not feel threatened in any way when fellow Church members take diverging positions on interpretation and implementation matters. And information from Church history regarding errors or sins or disagreements of leaders do not undermine my comfort and conviction in continuing to serve God and neighbor and sustaining general and Church officers and teachers.

  90. John H on September 18, 2004 at 12:33 pm

    Matt, John Fowles:

    One quick example I would cite of President Hinckley receiving unique inspiration would be his marvelous story about the Hong Kong Temple. He is open and honest about receiving a flash of insight. He has gone on record many times of saying he believes revelation is small promptings of the spirit. I find this to be a wonderful explanation.

    John Fowles:

    I’m sorry my friend, but I’m simply amazed at the amount of cognitive dissonance you’re allowing yourself. Let me try and put it this way:

    If you bought fruit from a grocery store, and it was always perfectly ripe and perfectly fresh, you probably wouldn’t feel the need to check the fruit each time you bought it. But what if your neighbor told you they bought some rotten fruit – from the same batch you bought yours from? What if you began hearing other stories that challenged the consistency of the fruit you were buying? Would you really continue to not bother to check it out at all?

    My point with this exceedingly lame analogy is, I’m at an absolute loss as to how you can simply say we put faith in the Prophets when the prophets have been demonstrated to be wrong before. As I briefly pointed out before, Orson Pratt was censured for his doctrinal teachings in the 19th century, yet its his doctrines we believe today – not Brigham Young’s.

    I’m not trying to tell you that you should never follow the prophets, or doubt every little thing that comes your way. I’m simply trying to show you why, when what they say runs so contrary to my own experience, I certainly have plenty of precedents on my side for disagreeing with them.

    For me, it’s as simple as saying, “Your faith is admirable, but what if you’re wrong?” It’s a very simple question, John: What if you’re wrong? You seem to take a very different path from me. If I’m wrong, I’d much rather know I did what I thought was right, than have to tell God I was just doing what I was told.

  91. diogenes on September 18, 2004 at 12:34 pm

    Matt Evans says: For this reason I believe the apostles have not only the unique role of announcing revelation for the entire church by virtue of their positions, but also the rare gift of receiving privileged revelation by virtue of being seers.

    While the former proposition is true by virtue of their office, I cannot see anything in the scripture cited that makes the revelation received by those holding that office necessarily “priveleged.”

    Stated differently, I see nothing in the scripture cited that precludes anyone else, for example David’s mother, from receiving the same degree and kind of revelation received by those holding the formal office of “seer.” Indeed, Joseph Smith suggested on a number of occasions that the members have exactly the same access to revelation as any member of the First Presidency or of the Twelve.

  92. ed on September 18, 2004 at 12:48 pm

    Matt’s comment provides a possible answer to my question “how is the prophet different than the bishop?” It’s because we sustain the prohphet (and apostles) as “seers,” and this is “greater gift” than the bishop has.

    The problem I see with that answer is that the way modern church leaders function (from an outsider’s perspective) is much more like the local bishop than like Joseph Smith. Unlike Joseph, they don’t translate ancient records, report visions, or dictate revelations (not to mention other spiritual gifts like toungues and healings). Instead, they play a primarily administrative and pastoral role, much like local leaders. In the few instances when they describe how they are guided by the spirit, it sounds much like descriptions of local leaders or regular members.

    Nevertheless, since we members sustain the apostles as “prophets, seers, and revelators,” we are prone to interpret their every administrative action as resulting from their special gifts, gifts that go beyond what local leaders receive. How do we know this is the right interpretation?

  93. Chris Grant on September 18, 2004 at 12:48 pm

    John H wrote: “In August 1865, the First Presidency issued a statement rebuking Apostle Orson Pratt for two things. The first was his publication of Lucy Mack Smith’s book, Biographical Sketches. The second was his teaching that God is omniscient – he knows everything.”

    Does this statement also reject the notion that God is “filled with love”?

  94. obi-wan on September 18, 2004 at 12:53 pm

    If I’m wrong, I’d much rather know I did what I thought was right, than have to tell God I was just doing what I was told.

    Bless you, John H. I’ve lived my whole life on that principle, which for some inexplicable reason seems beyond the grasp of most Latter-Day Saints, and it’s rare and wonderful to hear someone else in the Church articulate it.

  95. Chris Grant on September 18, 2004 at 12:57 pm

    John H wrote: “I’m a Mormon because I believe there’s simply no way to demonstrate that one belief system is theologically superior or more true than another. Therefore, since I was born a Mormon, I choose to live my life believing in Mormon theology and hoping and having faith that there’s truth there.”

    This view must have made for an interesting mission. What do you feel about your ancestors’ conversion to Mormonism? Gratitude? Puzzlement? Indifference?

  96. Adam Greenwood on September 18, 2004 at 2:21 pm

    Far from being rare and wonderful:
    If I’m to be found in the wrong at the final judgment, which is inevitable, I’d much rather receive my chastisement along with the Saints and the prophets, than standing off on my own.
    Mormonism, it seems to me, ultimately aspires to bring us into the transcendent, sealed community that exists throughout time and space. We will be bound to each other. That binding, it seems to me, begins now in our families and in the church, by our acknowledging some priority of the community’s views over our own.
    This faith of ours does not, I think, put a lot of stock in the myth of the meteoric soul that blazes its own way, confident that its convictions are, if not right, at least genuine and therefore beyond reproach. Milton’s Lucifer is, for us, still Lucifer.

  97. Guy W. Murray on September 18, 2004 at 2:27 pm

    John H. wrote: “If I’m wrong, I’d much rather know I did what I thought was right, than have to tell God I was just doing what I was told.”

    To which obi-wan replied: “Bless you, John H. I’ve lived my whole life on that principle, which for some inexplicable reason seems beyond the grasp of most Latter-Day Saints, and it’s rare and wonderful to hear someone else in the Church articulate it. ”

    I guess most of us Latter-day Saints just have an inexplicably small grasp.

    Guy

  98. john fowles on September 18, 2004 at 2:34 pm

    If I’m wrong, I’d much rather know I did what I thought was right, than have to tell God I was just doing what I was told.

    John H. and obi-wan:

    This statement is very rational and enlightened. And so from a secular standpoint it is very admirable. But in the Gospel, the goal is to be humble and obedient. The question this statement of yours brings to my mind is how do you avoid the pride of lifting yourself up as the ultimate arbiter of what is right and wrong, when you arguably only have access to your own subjective impressions of the world. Do you maintain that the only way an objective view is possible is through reason? So there is no objective morality or perspective above and beyond what our minds, which are bound by the five senses, can inform? It seems to me that the Gospel transcends such strict empiricism (which I have noted is indeed admirable in a secular, godless world, or in a deist world in which God has recused himself and now just lets the clock that he constructed in the beginning tick away); thus, the role of a prophet is pivotal in guiding us now just as in the previous dispensations of time in which prophets literally led the people.

    I don’t see why my view invites such incredulity about the cognitive dissonance involved. If anything, I subscribe wholly to what Rosalynde expressed above, even though I didn’t express it nearly so articulately (she has a Ph.D., and I a mere JD). That is why cognitive dissonance in the inconsistencies between Pratt and Young’s teachings don’t bother me–because I am interested in their guidance, not their philosophy or pet theories. When they teach doctrine as doctrine, I accept it; more importantly, when they advise on how to live, I try to follow the advise, whether the Adam-God theory lurks in the background or not. I subsribe to the belief that God informs each individual that the Church is true and that once that happens, we can trust in the prophets and stay with the mainstream of the Church; in doing so, we won’t be led astray.

  99. Jack on September 18, 2004 at 2:57 pm

    John H. says: “If I’m wrong, I’d much rather know I did what I thought was right, than have to tell God I was just doing what I was told.”

    obi-wan responds with: “Bless you, John H. I’ve lived my whole life on that principle, which for some inexplicable reason seems beyond the grasp of most Latter-Day Saints, and it’s rare and wonderful to hear someone else in the Church articulate it.”

    IMO, most LDS don’t make a distinction between doing what they feel is right and following the counsel of their leaders because, 1) in most instances there is no moral gap between the two, and 2) believing it their duty to follow the Lord’s counsel, they hearken to the voice of their leaders whom they feel the Lord has chosen in His place to dispense such counsel. (D&C 1:38) Therefore, in most cases, they feel right about following the counsel of their leaders. And further more, in those rare instances when they disagree with a particular directive, most LDS will tell you that by obeying – regardless of their difference in opinion – they were able to reconcile their personal views with the unwanted counsel by either learning that they were wrong or the Lord making things right.

    I think it’s unfortunate that some of our best thinkers view the average member of the church as a spiritual simpleton. You can talk to any LDS who has sincerely tried to walk the walk of the Gospel and hear a personal account of trial and faith, loss and comfort, disenchantment and revelation, confusion and peace of mind, unforgiveness and the healing balm of forgiveness and reconciliation. The list could go on and on. Everyone who has tried to be faithful will at one time or another go through the fire of paradox in their own lives. Why else would we have the account of Abraham’s sacrifice if it were not so? IMO, *all* members who are striving to live the Gospel will learn something of the meaning of that sacrifice – though you probably won’t hear them talking about it much.

    No, my aristocratic friends, these are not spiritual simpletons.

  100. John H on September 18, 2004 at 3:45 pm

    Jack:

    Perhaps you could point me to a comment I’ve made where I’ve called anyone a spiritual simpleton? Or am I automatically arrogant because I dare have a different perspective?

    John Fowles:

    I’ll ask the question again: What if you’re wrong?

  101. Jack on September 18, 2004 at 5:16 pm

    John H:

    It was obi-wan’s response to your comment that set me off.

    However, I think I can find a few implicit jabs at the saints if you want. Here’s a couple:

    “I’d rather embrace the contradictions and accept them as part of my spiritual journey instead of pretending they aren’t there and everything fits in a neat little package.”

    Is this purely rhetorical or are you implying that the average LDS has his/her head burried in the sand?

    “I suppose I just think it’s important to acknowledge that we’re embracing contradictions or living with paradox…”

    I agree with this.

    “We’ve all watched as God answers one person’s prayer to find their car keys, yet ignores another’s to save their child, fatally injured in a car accident.”

    John, I don’t want belabor what might have been just an oversight on your part or a misreading on mine, but if I understand correctly the context from which you were speaking, you are implying that those LDS who disagree with your more liberal view cannot tolerate or simply do not possess the faculties to embrace what may appear to be the arbitrary hand of God in human affairs. While this may be true for some (and very few at that), I think it’s way off when applied to the average member who’s doing his/her best. So very many in this church have suffered greatly and kept the faith without knowing all of the reasons why they were allowed to experience such great trials. And further more, many of those who have endured severe trials still possess enough cheerfullness to acknowledge the hand of God in being led to find their car keys. This to me, implies an intuitive understanding that life is full of paradox and reflects a mature faith.

    As to your question to John Fowles, if I may venture; what if Joseph Smith was wrong? What if none of what he said was inspired? Well, then we would have nothing to talk about would we? At some point we have to acknowledge the hand of God in the affairs of His kingdom. I guess we each need to decide where that point is and take a leap of faith in defending it. For me, acknowledging that the Lord leads His church through His divinely appointed servants is a pretty-good starting point.

  102. obi-wan on September 18, 2004 at 5:31 pm

    John Fowles opines: But in the Gospel, the goal is to be humble and obedient.

    Yes, but obedient to what? I’m sorry, but I don’t believe the Eichmann defense works at the last judgment.

    As for Adam Greenwood anti-Miltonian pean to “better hell with the Saints than heaven alone,” I will simply remind him that the sealed community he is looking for exists only in the highest degree of glory, not in any lower kingdom. Group loyalty is no excuse for marching lockstep off to hell.

  103. Jack on September 18, 2004 at 5:59 pm

    Well, it’s fast becoming obvious that none here, including myself, are contributing very well to establishing that “sealed community”.

  104. T. Wray on September 18, 2004 at 6:51 pm

    Well, since my last post wasn’t torn apart as if by a pack of wild dogs (it was way too middle-of-the-road for that), I think I’ll throw in another two cents.

    It strikes me that both “sides� of the issue here really seem to be articulating true principles. How is that possible? I guess it’s another one of those paradoxes everyone keeps referring to. Not to long ago in priesthood meeting, a lesson on self-reliance initiated a discussion (debate?) about which of the following principles takes doctrinal precedence in the church: communitarianism (if that term is too loaded, then community) or self-reliance; two principles seemingly at odds with each other. On the side of communitarianism were references to charity and the United Order, while on the side of self-reliance were arguments in the veins of agency and personal progression (towards godliness). I think that discussion might be an excellent topic for a new thread. My point in raising it here is, one: it makes for a decent “truth paradox� analogy to the current debate, and two: the current debate can actually be explored within the framework of tension between self-reliance and community. Interesting side note: Based on my experience, Mormons who emphasize self-reliance aspects typically fall in the conservative arena, while those emphasizing community concerns fall in the more liberal arena. Yet on this topic, it seems the roles are reversed. This certainly is not an empirical observation – more casual than anything.

    In his essay “On Spectral Evidence� Eugene England quotes Elder Packer from a BYU devotional address “[S]afety lies in the motto, “’’Follow the Brethren,’ not ‘Follow the Brother’…If ever another course has been followed, trouble has followed as surely as night follows day.’� I think this adds weight to the argument that a statement signed by the Twelve and First Presidency together is more binding than something said by a particular Apostle, or even President. Elder Hugh B. Brown (Apostle and former First Pres. member) states in his memoirs,

    “The only way I know of by which the teachings of any person or group may become binding upon the church is if the teachings have been reviewed by all the brethren, submitted to the highest councils of the church, and then approved by the whole body of the church…I do not doubt that the brethren have often spoken under inspiration and given new emphasis…but that does not become binding upon the church unless and until it is submitted to the scrutiny of the rest of the brethren and later to the vote of the people…Official statements of the First Presidency that have not been submitted to the membership of the church for its approval are matters of temporary policy only.� (p.124) (sorry about the multiple ellipses, I think I stayed very true to the message though)

    Lest you think I am guilty myself of “following the brother� in referencing these two, Doctrine and Covenants 107 seems to support these statements (though I couldn’t find a reference to submission of a statement to the entire membership for vote – anyone know where (and if) you can find this?). Anyway, the point is, living the law of the church does not necessarily mean being “bound� by the particular counsel of a church leader, even if given in General Conference or printed in the Ensign. Although, I agree that it should be given serious heed and at least a presumption of correctness or deference.
    Furthermore, clearly (at least for me) what an Apostle or the President says to a particular congregation, or a particular journalist on television is certainly not “bindingâ€? on the body of the church. I.e. the notion that President Hinckley’s “yesâ€?, given in response to Mr. Wallace’s wording of the WofW, in which Wallace lumped caffeinated soft-drinks into a string of forbidden substances, was somehow a prophetic declaration or new commandment that members shouldn’t drink Coke is totally insupportable – maybe even “looking beyond the mark.â€? Similarly, that many members consider it a commandment (or a threshold for following the prophet) to strictly avoid R-rated movies based on an (or a couple) isolated statements is out of harmony with Doctrine and Covenants and the established order of things.

    This has already gone longer than I intended, so once again (I guess I’ll make it my signature), I’ll end with a quote by an Apostle – typically considered to be of the conservative variety.

    “Now as to the third point, –about men being constantly under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so that all they say and do is an inspiration of God, even the answering of questions. There is nothing in the doctrines of the Church which makes it necessary to believe that, even of men who are high officials of the Church… When we consider the imperfections of men, their passions and prejudices, that mar the Spirit of God in them, happy is the man who can occasionally ascent to the spiritual heights of inspiration and commune with God!… I think it improper to assign every word and every act of a man to an inspiration from the Lord. [N]ot even good men, no, not even though they be prophets or other high officials of the Church, are at all times and in all things inspired of God. It is only occasionally, and at need, that God comes to their aid.
    – B.H. Roberts, “Revelation and Church Government,” Improvement Era, (March, 1905): 358-370

    Having said all that, I ought to clarify that I have no qualms with President Hinckley’s Ensign message and I personally feel that I should support the First Presidency’s stance on the SSM (even though I probably would not have supported a constitutional amendment before). Still, I am in no position to question the faith, loyalty, or motivation of somebody chooses to do otherwise. I do believe that the prophet and apostles are “special witnesses of Christ” and do have unique access in relation to their calling.

    -Tyson

  105. Jack on September 18, 2004 at 7:25 pm

    Great comment Tyson.

    I hope it will aid in pulling this shattered community together. I’m confident that John H., myself and others can agree that it is inappropriate – perhaps even detrimental to our spiritual well being – to hang on every word of our spiritual leaders. How could we expect to become spiritually self-reliant as the Gospel requires if we were never in the position to rely upon our own judgement?

    My apologies to all for my brazeness.

  106. john fowles on September 18, 2004 at 9:27 pm

    obi-wan wrote Yes, but obedient to what? I’m sorry, but I don’t believe the Eichmann defense works at the last judgment.

    Are you comparing our Church leaders to Nazi leadership? That is interesting. . . .

    My point to John H. and to you was that you seem to have no trouble elevating your own subjective judgments, which you follow as if they were an objective moral law within you, above the counsel of a prophet (e.g. in the SSM issue).

    John H.: you have asked me what if I was wrong before, e.g. in the Zelph thread. My answer isn’t really any different now. I don’t see it as a possibility that God did not really appear to JS, that the BoM is not true, and that Pres. Hinckley and the brethren are the mouthpiece of God today. If you presented me with an authenticated JS diary that literally said “I am tricking these dumb people,” then maybe I might consider the possibility that the Restored Gospel is not true. But since I believe that it is true, I also believe that following the prophet is always the right course, particularly when it means staying with the mainstream of the Church. If, for some reason, the prophet were off-base in his united counsel with the rest of the brethren, then I don’t think that God would penalize me or anyone else for following his guidance, since it is our mandate to sustain and follow him. Besides, we are taught that such misleading cannot happen; that God would take the prophet from among us before he would lead us astray. I am willing–either because of inferior intellectual ability, naivite, or faith–to submit my will to the prophet because I trust in this principle, and I trust God, who wouldn’t put a prophet at the head of the Church who would lead us astray.

  107. john fowles on September 18, 2004 at 10:02 pm

    Besides, I’ve made it clear on this thread and elsewhere that I don’t “hang on every word of our spiritual leaders,” as Jack pointed out was not healthy. When it comes to their official counsel, then I believe strict obedience is both expected and healthy.

    I disagree with Tyson that taking Pres. Hinckley’s statement that “we don’t drink caffeine” as an official mandate is “totally unsupportable.” I can easily see where many people don’t see it the same way I do, but saying that my view is “totally unsupportable” is the kind of arrogance that gets people into trouble in these types of discussions. Before Pres. Hinckley made that statement, I thought that avoiding caffeine was left to members’ discretion, that it was more of a recommendation. But Pres. Hinckley, as the head of our Church, represented to the world that we, as a body of saints, do not do it. So in order to make Pres. Hinckley good on his word, I decided to try to stop drinking caffeine. I haven’t done very well at that, but when I drink it, I am aware that I am acting contrary to how the prophet wishes us to present ourselves to the world. This is such a stupid little point, I know, it just made a convenient example.

    Tyson, I have made it clear on this blog before that I personally would never have supported a Constitutional amendment dealing with SSM until the brethren came out with their statement. Now, despite my own legal misgivings about it, I accept the brethren’s support for “a constitutional amendment” to protect traditional marriage.

  108. John H on September 19, 2004 at 12:41 am

    John Fowles:

    The following statement appeared in the Millennial Star, attributed to Joseph Smith. The Star was supervised by Apostles in Britain, working as mission presidents.

    “We have heard men who hold the priesthood remark that they would do anything they were told to do by those who presided over them (even) if they knew it was wrong; but such obedience as this is worse than folly to us; it is slavery in the extreme; and the man who would thus willingly degrade himself, should not claim a rank among intelligent beings, until he turns from this folly. A man of God would despise the idea. Others, in the extreme exercise of their almighty authority have taught that such obedience was necessary, and that no matter what the saints were told to do by their presidents, they should do it without any questions. When Elders of Israel will so far indulge in these extreme notions of obedience as to teach them to the people, it is generally because they have it in their hearts to do wrong themselves.” Millennial Star, Volume 14, Number 38, pp.593-595

    I know it’s a popular notion to believe that we should just do what we’re told today, even if it’s wrong, and God will bless us for being obedient, but I completely reject that idea. What good is free agency if we can’t exercise it to do what is right under all circumstances?

    But today, we’re taught that free agency basically means, “Do whatever Church leaders tell you or you’ll lose your agency!!” Can someone explain to me that logic?

    Here’s a last quote I think is important from Ronald Poelman:“Sometimes, traditions, customs, social practices and personal preferences of individual Church members may, through repeated or common usage be misconstrued as Church procedures or policies. Occasionally, such traditions, customs and practices may even be regarded by some as eternal gospel principles. Under such circumstances those who do not conform to these cultural standards may mistakenly be regarded as unorthodox or even unworthy. In fact, the eternal principles of the gospel and the divinity inspired Church do accommodate a broad spectrum of individual uniqueness and cultural diversity.â€? General Conference, Oct. 1984.

  109. T. Wray on September 19, 2004 at 1:21 am

    john fowles wrote: I disagree with Tyson that taking Pres. Hinckley’s statement that “we don’t drink caffeine� as an official mandate is “totally unsupportable.�

    Your certainly entitled to disagree. But, your quotation of President Hinckley is factually inaccurate. And it is so in a substantively important way. There is no statement “we don’t drink caffeine” by President Hinckley. Maybe you were just paraphrasing? If so, might I recommend not using quotation marks? I don’t mean to be obsessive compulsive about punctuation, but on matters such as quoting authority, I think its very significant.

    Here is the relevant portion of the interview transcript:
    MW [voiceover; footage of Hinckley interview]: Example. Mormons adhere to a very strict health code.
    MW: No alcohol, no tobacco, no coffee, no tea, not even caffeinated soft drinks…
    GBH: Right.
    MW: …eat meat sparingly, exercise…
    GBH: Right.
    MW: …get plenty of sleep.
    GBH: Right. It’s wonderful!

    http://www.spires.net/media/cbs1.html

    I think its substantially off base to represent that as P. Hinckley stating “we don’t drink caffeine.” Further, even if it isn’t, the context of what he said, where he said it, and to whom he was speaking is paramount here. For example, what about all the members who never heard, read, or saw this “60 Minutes Intervew” and its accompanying subtle declaration of a new commandment/doctrine? Tough luck? Let alone the fact that it simply does not fit the revealed model (I discussed above) for establishing new doctrine/policy. In fact, it seems to fit E. J.R. Clark’s model of when statements are not revelation more nicely.

    I apologize for stating my perception that categorizing this interview as a declaration of commandment is “insupportable,” as it was apparently offensive to you. I still feel such a categorization is very difficult to support, but maybe that wording was too strong.

    I’m going to be honest here. I don’t feel comfortable continuing a discussion into which personal attacks are entering. I was careful to only discuss the positions and their merits. “Insupportable,” while possibly too strong, is a reference to a position on an issue. It does not reference you, your general world view, or personality flaws. I think that was clear.

    While I’m sure I’m guilty of arrogance sometimes (maybe frequently?), I do not think you are in a position to make that call. More importantly, I think it introduced into our discussion criticism of a personal nature. So, since I’ve already made a case for my position in a previous post and continuing here might effect further “bad vibes,” I’m concluding my participation on this thread.

    -Tyson

  110. obi-wan on September 19, 2004 at 9:05 am

    Are you comparing our Church leaders to Nazi leadership? That is interesting. . . .

    My point is simply that if you intend to base your actions — good or bad — on the principle of “I was following orders,” then you really should have supported the other plan in premortality. It’s too late to try to avoid moral agency now.

    If you choose to avoid caffeinated drinks out of a personally developed conviction that you ought to do so, fine, but the measure of that action is the degree of thought and diligence you invested in reaching that decision. You can’t blame it on some offhand remark of President Hinkley’s.

  111. John H on September 19, 2004 at 2:38 pm

    “Are you comparing our Church leaders to Nazi leadership? That is interesting. . . .”

    Thanks for a classic example of the straw man fallacy – attacking an argument the person didn’t make instead of dealing with the one they did. He never, ever compared Church leaders to Nazi leaders, and implying such is simply a way to dismiss what was a good point.

  112. Jack on September 19, 2004 at 5:23 pm

    John H.

    I appreciate your (and Tyson’s) desire to keep the debate focused squarely on the issue and away from the individuals envolved.

    However, one must admitt that likening one’s view of the Gospel to “Eichmann['s] defense” is more of a right hook than a jab. Now perhaps, obi-wan read John F’s statement: “…in the Gospel, the goal is to be humble and obedient”, as a condemnation of those who don’t espouse his (John’s) views. I think John Fowles would disagree with that assesment of his comment and I’ll allow him to defend himself on that point. But this much I will say – though the Gospel is certainly about more than just obedience in an ultimate sense, it does’t work without it.

  113. Jack on September 19, 2004 at 5:55 pm

    Yu know, the rangling on this thread is a sure-fire indicator that we don’t agree on the fundimental tenets of the church and therefore mostlikely don’t agree on the foundational principles of the Gospel. (at least their meaning anyway) It is not my intention to indentify who is right or wrong, but perhaps we could at least agree that prophets, apostles and other leaders are still vitally necessary to the community of saints as we are not yet unified in the faith. (Eph.4:11)

  114. Jack on September 19, 2004 at 5:57 pm

    Eph.4:11+ that is.

  115. Nate Oman on September 19, 2004 at 8:21 pm

    “But today, we’re taught that free agency basically means, “Do whatever Church leaders tell you or you’ll lose your agency!!â€? Can someone explain to me that logic?”

    John H.: I honestly can’t remember hearing this taught recently in the Church. What exactly are you referring to? General conference addresses? Ensign articles? Your last person conversation with your stake president? I do recall frequently hearing the claim that sin and disobedience to God leads to a loss of agency.

    A related point: I have to confess that I am a bit confused by the way in which the term agency gets thrown around in these discussions. (And in church doctrine generally.) Is it meant to be a metaphysical claim about the nature of free will, or a normative claim about the status of coercion. If it is a normative claim, then what standard of coercion are we using. Turns out that coercion is a devilishly tricky concept (check out Robert Nozick, “Coercion” in Socratic Puzzles, Harvard UP 1997). Generally we understand coercion in terms of rights. Actions that do not result from a violation or threatened violation of rights are uncoerced. Actions resulting from such violations or threats are coerced. This is may turn out to be a vacuous formulation of coercion, however, because it turns out that the concept of rights rather than voluntariness is doing all of the work. It also means that claims to authority unbacked by threats cannot be coercive. In other words, a statment like “Always obey your stake president” is not, standing alone, coercive. (Unless the statement itself violates some right.) Hence, if angecy is about coerion, then as a logical matter it doesn’t have anything to do with calls for obedience at all. On the other hand, if the concept of obedience to church leaders does implicate the concept of agency, then agency seems to be a normative concept unrelated to coercion. Hence my confusion in this discussion.

  116. D. Fletcher on September 19, 2004 at 10:28 pm

    A friend of mine was excommunicated today. He’s a return missionary who’s been in a gay relationship for 12 years. He’s been inactive in the Church for 15 years. He is flying far beneath the Church radar. Why the sudden need to excommunicate him? Which, by the way, hasn’t been Church policy for a long time. Normally, the Church would ask him if he wanted his name removed from the records, which is a better way to go since there is no record of serious sin. My friend was given no option.

    The Church has become too political, and too personal. How can the Church welcome sinners and yet also excoriate them for not leading “exemplary lives of virtue”? (When I speak of the Church, I speak of the hierarchy who are making the decisions.)

    Free agency is a conundrum, and I’m certainly convinced that those with same-sex attraction made no wrong choice. They were created by God along with all the rest of us. And there is no right choice given to them to make.

    P.S. And now, back to the regularly scheduled programming about things other than same-sex issues.

    :)

  117. greenfrog on September 19, 2004 at 10:58 pm

    I think that there are two basic ways of thinking about our actions here on earth presented by the restored gospel. One perspective considers life to be a test and God to be the proctor as well as the grader. If we mess up something, we count on always being able to explain why we messed up, and then be excused for our failing. This concept draws upon atonement scriptures that suggest that we’re all fouled up anyway, so an incremental mistake made trying to do what is right can’t be much worse.

    The other approach takes life not as a test, but rather as all there is. This concept inheres in the scriptures that tell us that the restoration will restore righteous to righteous, unrighteous to unrighteous, that whatever degree of intelligence we attain in this life will rise with us in the resurrection. This approach teaches that we shouldn’t wait for an eternal reward, because there isn’t one. Note that this doesn’t deny life after death — but it does deny the “test” idea — that if we get enough of the right answers, we’ll be given something that does not inhere in the test “answers” themselves. If this approach is right, the “God will excuse my failings because I intended to be obedient, I just didn’t know what to be obedient to” argument misses the point — if God is constrained to raise us as we died, God can’t do so.

    I’m not sure whether there’s a good way to reconcile the two sets of scriptures or the two approaches to the gospel.

  118. john fowles on September 19, 2004 at 11:35 pm

    On Nate’s point, what about the idea that choosing to obey Church leaders is itself an act of agency. You exercise your free will to follow the prophet. Rosalynde pointed out above that in many circles, this choice is actually the path of greatest resistence (and not the “easy way out” or the “uninformed, unintelligent way out”).

    John H.: Jack made a good point on my behalf in his response. I would just add my satisfaction that I have indeed addressed the substance of this topic with you rather than mere straw men. It is true that I have not resolved your list of contradictions for you. But I have articulated my position on the role of prophets in the restored gospel and my convictions regarding obedience, humility, and faith.

    John H., Tyson, obi-wan, et al: I don’t think that I have exactly propounded the opinion against which you are arguing. John H.’s contribution of that statement of JS from the Millenial Star was very informative and enlightening. The very fact that he quoted it showed me that I have been presenting myself as more extreme than I really am in real life. It is true that if God told me to cut off Laban’s head, I would do it (as long as I was certain about the source of the command). It is also true that, because of my testimony of JS’s First Vision and his calling as a true prophet of God in our dispensation, that if he approached me and commanded me to take another wife, I would feel obligated to do so, despite personal misgivings about the propriety of such a relationship. However, I think that JS’s quote from the Millenial Star still doesn’t fall squarely on the other side (i.e. John H.’s and obi-wan’s side) of ultra-critical of the brethren/presumption against true revelation or inspiration (and thus presumption in favor of mere pragmatic or maybe bigoted–in certain situations–policymaking).

    Tyson: I am sorry that you took such personal offense that I pointed out that your assertion that my posture towards Pres. Hinckley’s exchange about caffeine in the media was “totally unsupportable” came across as arrogant to me. I didn’t intend you any offense (and I don’t really think that pointing something like that out constitutes the ad hominem attack that you seem to have taken it as).

    To all: today in Church I was greatly uplifted and very humbled by the Heber J. Grant lesson (we did lesson 16 in my ward) on forgiving others. It caused me to reflect on this thread, the ideas that have been discussed/argued about, and the feelings they generated in me while in the heat of it all. I realized that I am too judgmental on these types of issues and even if I do think that my own views are ultimately right, there is no need for me to be critical of someone else’s thoughtful and sincere position and no need to fear that position, since it does not threaten my own choices to follow the prophet or not. Only my own pride would cause me to be defensive and to take John H.’s and obi-wan’s position as an insult to my own choice of strict non-criticism and obedience of the brethren. There might indeed be some condescension to your position (so that I may be at least partially justified to become defensive) but I have been able to see John H.’s sincerity in these beliefs of his in numerous exchanges in the past, so I shouldn’t interpret them as looking down on those with beliefs such as my own.

    The lesson from the Heber J. Grant manual discusses the point that rather than condemning others (which I guess I am prone to do through my discussion on such topics), we should strive to improve ourselves (which I could do by seeking a more sympathetic understanding for others’ differing views). The manual reprints a portion of a conference talk given by Pres. Grant in 1920, in which Pres. Grant quotes the song “Should You Feel Inclined To Censure,” Hymns (1985), no. 235. Part of the song struck me particularly, and specifically in relation to this thread as I sat in priesthood this morning:

    Do not form opinions blindly,
    Hastiness to trouble tends,
    Those of whom we thought unkindly
    Oft become our warmest friends.

    I was humbled because I realized that through this thread, I have indeed thought unkindly of John H. and obi-wan. Also, I have found myself forming perhaps ad hominem opinions about them blindly, as Pres. Grant admonishes us through this song not to do (admittedly this goes more towards obi-wan than John H., since John seems more like a real person to me than obi-wan–I guess that stems from the use of the pseudonymn). But the really hard hit, which was pertinent to my arguments on this thread, came from another song, “Let Each Man Learn To Know Himself,” Hymns (1948), no. 91:

    Let each man learn to know himself,
    To gain that knowledge let him labor,
    Improve those failings in himself
    That he condemns so in his neighbor.

    What I learned today in priesthood is that my emphasis should be on reforming and improving myself and not on breaking down the beliefs of others. If that is my focus, then there is a lot that I can learn from John H.’s position and approach. I say this because, from everything that I have been able to tell from John H.’s participation in these discussions, John H. is someone who has done more work in “learning to know himself” and where he stands on every issue than I have done. In doing so, he is a good example and I can learn a lot from that type of introspection. Whether I disagree with his conclusions on doctrinal issues or politics or not is totally irrelevant to this point of valuing the work that he has done in following this admonition of Pres. Grant to learn to know himself through laboring for that knowledge.

    Back to the substance of our discussion, I would just like to clarify some of my earlier thoughts with a statement by Harold B. Lee in General Conference in 1970:

    You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may contradict your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life…. Your safety and ours depends upon whether or not we follow…. Let’s keep our eye on the President of the Church. (Conference Report, October 1970, p. 152-153)

    Also, President Benson gave a talk in 1980 titled Fourteen Fundamentals of Following a Prophet. I am just bringing this up because in reading over it, I realized that it is almost precisely the position that I am trying to articulate. (I guess you could say I have espoused a very Bensonian view of the Restored Gospel.) For example, in this message, President Benson quotes Marion G. Romney’s experience with Pres. Heber J. Grant in which Pres. Romney recalled that

    I remember years ago when I was a bishop I had President Heber J. Grant talk to our ward. After the meeting I drove him home … Standing by me, he put his arm over my shoulder and said: ‘My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it.’ Then with a twinkle in his eye, he said, ‘But you don’t need to worry. The Lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray.’�

    True, this teaching of Heber J. Grant might create some cognitive dissonance with the JS statement in the Millenial Star that John H. quoted above. But I wonder if that would only be on the surface; that is, I wonder if JS would really have anything against Pres. Grant’s perspective. To me, it seems that the real issue here is trusting God, i.e. that he will not let his Church be led astray or fall into apostacy again.

    For what it’s worth, I highly recommend this talk and would invite input as to what you all think of Pres. Benson’s fourteen points (they are indeed very strict, I am warning you).

    Finally, I guess that I should confess that a slippery slope concern of the type that Kaimi has condemned at least partially informs my position on being critical of the brethren/following the prophet. That is, if we begin with such criticism or presumptions on non-revelation, then what is to stop us from ending up where the city of Zarahemla was when Samuel the Lamanite called it to repentance? I am referring to Helaman 13:24-26:

    24 Yea, wo unto this people, because of this time which has arrived, that ye do cast out the prophets, and do mock them, and cast stones at them, and do slay them, and do all manner of iniquity unto them, even as they did of old time.

    25 And now when ye talk, ye say: If our days had been in the days of our fathers of old, we would not have slain the prophets; we would not have stoned them, and cast them out.

    26 Behold ye are worse than they; for as the Lord liveth, if a prophet come among you and declareth unto you the word of the Lord, which testifieth of your sins and iniquities, ye are angry with him, and cast him out and seek all manner of ways to destroy him; yea, you will say that he is a false prophet, and that he is a sinner, and of the devil, because he testifieth that your deeds are evil.

    I am not saying that this is where John H. is at, or anything close. I am just admitting that such a slippery slope worries me, and it seems that the best way to shore up against it is obedience to the prophet who is among us and following his word. I understand Kaimi’s concern with slippery slopes, but can’t help wonder if such a worry is justified.

  119. Jack on September 20, 2004 at 12:29 am

    greenfrog: your comments are always very thought provoking. I can’t just read them once and move on. There’s always something in them that causes me to back up and look at them again.

    I ask this sincerely; does the word “test” appear anywhere in the scriptures as it relates to our mortal probation? We can find the words “try” and “prove” but I don’t know about “test”. Whether or not the dichotomy that you have presented really exists in the restored gospel, I think it has merit in that it evokes thought on what it is that the gospel really requires.

    My own feeling on the idea of the “test” is that it has its roots in the greek heroic journey, where in the hero overcomes all obsticles at all odds and receives all glory. (that’s a shabby modern incapsulization of the journey. I’m no greek scholar) Yes, there are helps along the way, but not the kind of complete rescue that is offered through the atonement. Therefore, we have a hero who learns that he/she’s got what it takes to overcome all primarily on their own. In the gospel we learn that there is none that is good except God. (good in an ultimate sense of perfection or wholeness) This idea leads one to depend on (join with) God who has already overcome all. In this light when speaking of obedience or the ” I intended to be obedient, I just didn’t know what to be obedient to [] argument…” it becomes clear that our obedience is really a faithfulness in and to Christ. Thus, John Fowles can be perfectly right in suggesting that the gospel is about humility and obedience. And by the same token, obi-wan can ask “obedience to what?” in order to clarify that our loyalty must be directed to the Savior when speaking of obedience. Of course, the argument could still continue on how our devotion to the church and its leaders is or is not a manifestation of our commitment to the Savior.

  120. Adam Greenwood on September 20, 2004 at 12:25 pm

    Definitely a puzzler, Greenfrog. My own take, for what it’s worth, is that the Atonement _can_ overcome our mistakes and well-intentioned errors. The caveat is that (1) sometimes our mistakes are less well-intentioned and excusable than we think, in which case we really are making ourselves into something wrongperhaps irrevocably and (2) mistakes, even if excusable or well-intentioned, still have their consequences in our character and being. I think Christ can save us, but not without cost to Him and us.

    I also doubt that Christ will be able to save us if we hold onto our excuse for the mistake. No one’s going to get a lot of repentance and change going if they keep standing before the throne saying ‘I was just following my conscience, using my moral agency,’ or, hoist on my own petard, ‘but all the other Saints were doing the same thing. The prophets never condemned it.’

  121. David on September 20, 2004 at 12:59 pm

    One difference in view largely narrows to what happens if human Church leaders–local or general–ask us to do something that, after sincere study and prayer, we believe is incorrect, and that, in particular, we believe would not merely inconvenience us, but would cause great harm.

    Let me pose three examples from scripture, but modified slightly to interpose a human leadership component:

    Case 1. The bishop asks me to kill an inebriated man to obtain some historical materials. He assures me that it is better that this man die by my hand than that the entire Church dwindle in unbelief. Suppose I–following the order of the Church–appeal to the stake president and to the general councils of the Church, and they do not revoke the bishop’s instruction. And also suppose that, after sincere fasting, prayer and study of the scriptures, I do not receive a confirmation from God that I should kill the inebriated man.

    Following the instruction of a leader in this case would not merely inconvenience me, but would harm another person (probably many people, including his posterity, relatives and friends).

    Case 2. Same facts, but this time the bishop’s direction (which is not revoked upon appeal to the highest human councils of the Church) is that I sacrifice my child by taking his or her life on an altar. After sincere fasting, prayer, and study, I do not receive a confirmation from God that I should do so.

    Observation as to cases 1 and 2. Please note, in both instances, there are a number of possible reasons I would not receive such a confirmation.

    (1) I do not have the faith of Nephi or Abraham.
    (2) The force of my own conservative interpretation of the 10 commandments prevents me from receiving the confirmation. (3) That same lack of faith or my own conviction prevents me from acknowledging to myself that I have received the confirmation.
    (4) God chooses not confirm the instruction because God thinks I should follow the instruction without confirmation from Him, i.e., I should have the faith to follow the Brethren without God’s confirmation of a particular instruction, even if that instruction would greatly harm another human being.
    (5) God chooses not to confirm the instruction in Case 2 because it is a test, and He will stop me from killing my child just in time.
    (6) God chooses not to confirm the instruction because it is wrong, and He expects me to refuse.

    Case 3. My wife and I have lived in the Garden of Eden Ward for many years. During our interview with our new bishop, he tells us among other things, (1) please remember that you should not eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, because if you do, you will die, and (2) please remember you should not put off having a family. In conversation later, my wife and I conclude that we cannot follow both pieces of counsel. We return to our bishop to present the dilemma, and he says simply, “I have nothing to add.” Or we say, “Bishop, we would like to have a family, but we can’t do it without eating of the Tree of Knowledge. We’re thinking about partaking of the Tree of Knowledge.” He responds, “Well, you do have your agency, but remember, I told you not to eat of it, and there are serious consequences, including potentially being expelled from the Garden of Eden Ward.” We appeal to the highest human Church councils, and they do not contradict the bishop’s advice.

    Logically, we conclude that it is more important to start a family beginning by eating of the Tree of Knowledge, even if we die as result. However, we have received counsel from human Church leadership not to eat of that Tree, and we believe we should hearken to every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord or His inspired servants. When we pray about it, God is silent (or he repeat the words of the bishop). If we do as we have concluded, we will have violated a direct instruction of our human Church leadership (an instruction not contradicted by God).

    Further complicating matters, while I am dilly-dallying, trying to decide what to do, my wife follows an invitation from a non-Church member to partake of the fruit, because she has concluded, perhaps based on half-correct information, that that is the right thing to do. Now she is going to be kicked out of the Garden of Eden Ward (maybe out of the Church, although no one has yet threatened that). Is it more important for me to follow a human Church directive that is difficult to reconcile with other directives, or is it more important to risk being expelled from the Garden of Eden Ward, so that I can be with my wife and begin a family? I have my agency, and ultimately I will be responsible and have to answer for my choice.

    What is the proper decision in each of these cases, and why?

    For what it is worth, I have not confronted in my personal life a case along the lines of 1 or 2, where following counsel would go beyond inconvenience and would, in my judgment cause harm, or serious harm to myself or others. I cannot say, with absolute certainty, how I would resolve the dilemma in cases 1 and 2. I would probably refuse (or, more likely, have a nervous breakdown). I certainly would not condemn or think less highly of someone who refused to carry out the directive (and I do not think God would either).

    Some think that continuing to ban same sex marriage would harm others. I do not agree with that proposition. Nevertheless, if a person after considerable thought, prayer, and careful attention to and consideration of scripture and other counsel, feels that supporting the Church’s position would go beyond inconveniencing himself or herself, and would harm others, I fully respect their decision not to support the Church’s position.

    Situation 3 is more common. It is more along the lines of Jack’s suggestion (number 49) that sometimes there is a distinction between general and particular counsel, or it may be consistent with there being “greater” and “lesser” types of counsel. A relatively recent example might be the implementation of prior human Church counsel on birth control. [Does anyone know if a study has been performed on the effects of counsel on birth control and the birth rates in the Church? My recollection is that the birth rate dropped significantly after the Church counsel was changed to its current "between the husband, wife and the Lord" from the prior firm discouragement of postponing or limiting, for non-health reasons, the number of children.]

    Tyson, it warmed my heart for you to refer to B.H. Roberts as “of the conservative variety”. He is one of my heroes, a man unafraid to wrestle with issues and truths from any source or field. I do not agree with his conclusions on all matters, but I admire and respect his forthrightness (including admission of doubts, when he had them) and his standing up for what he believed was right. I have considered him to be a “progressive”, some might refer to him even by the “L” word (he was a Democrat, after all).

    John F, thank you for your conciliatory words. I fully respect your conclusions and your convictions.

    John H, thanks for the reference to the Millenial Star excerpt. I fully respect your conclusions and convictions.

    I appreciate the insights of all who have shared on this thread. I am a better person, and I hope, disciple of Jesus Christ, for having read them

  122. John H on September 20, 2004 at 1:27 pm

    Nate:

    For my comments that agency has basically become a way to remind people to be obedient, I looked up just a few conference talks and Ensign articles. While my comments were an oversimplification of what takes place, after reviewing a few things, I do think the basic spirit of what I said is correct. Often, talks on agency are warnings against not using it improperly, or to justify sin. They include references to what we can do wrong with our agency. The only refernces to what we can do right with our agency include following God and following Church leaders.

    We’ve all heard (I think President Hinckley referred to this in a very recent Ensign article) that if we use our agency to follow the prophets and keep the commandments, we’re really free. But if we use our agency to not do those things, we’re slaves to Satan.

    In the talks I reviewed on agency, it appears rare (though not unheard of) to point out that agency is important to be “anxiously engaged in a good cause” and do what is right when counsel from Church leaders is unavailable. Of course, there is never a talk or article when one counsels that agency can be used to disagree with Church teachings when one feels it is the right thing to do. I don’t expect to see such a statement from Church leaders, but it does serve to underscore the point that when agency is discussed, most often it is in the context of reminding people to follow Church leaders and be obedient.

  123. CB on September 20, 2004 at 1:49 pm

    David, good job.

    I think most of us face decisions like this all the time. For instance:

    1. The prophet has advised us to get out of debt. The prophet has also said that, if possible, it is best for Mom not to work outside the home. Each family will start with different assumptions (age of children, how much debt, etc.), but this is clearly an issue where it is best to withhold judgment, because different families will have different answers.

    2. The church has taken an official position on SSM, and has asked A) that members make their views heard to their elected representatives, and B) that members make an extra effort to fellowship people who are gay, to include them in our circle of friends, and to affirm their dignity as sons and daughters of God.

    It is almost too easy to send an email to my congressman, threaten him with my vote, and feel that I am following church direction, when I am really neglecting half of it. Until we are as good at part B as we are at part A, it is best for us to withhold judgment.

  124. Chris Grant on September 20, 2004 at 1:54 pm

    John H. wrote: “The following statement appeared in the Millennial Star, attributed to Joseph Smith. The Star was supervised by Apostles in Britain, working as mission presidents.”

    I looked up this article in the HBLL, and I can’t see where the article attributes the statement to Joseph Smith. Can you point that out to me? Also, the Editor and Publisher is listed as S.W. Richards. Who was he?

  125. Nate Oman on September 20, 2004 at 2:07 pm

    John: What exactly do you understand agency to mean in these contexts? It seems to me that we are talking not about freedom per se, but rather about something like self-determination or self-definition. However, in these discussions it seems to me that agency tends to get used as a synonym for something like “liberty.” Liberty, in turn, is a concept that is generally taken as being the negative of coercion. Yet I fail to see how any of the situations involving counsel from church leaders involve coercion. (Note: the issue of counsel to work for the adoption of particular kinds of laws does raise issues of liberty and coercion, but it is the laws not the counsel that raises those issues.)

    I am a bit unclear as to what your line of criticism is. Is it that you simply disagree with substantive positions taken by the Church (eg gay marriage)? Is it that you disagree with the notion of leaders taking substantive positions that we are asked to follow? Is is simply a beef about “emphasis”? Frankly, the emphasis discussion doesn’t interest me all that much. Nor am I really all that interested in the first problem, eg specific substantive disagreements.

    I do think that there is a funamental problem with the second line of objections. It seems to me that in order for prophetic authority to mean anything, there must be situations where (1) we are given substantive counsel; (2) that we should follow; (3) that differs from our own substantive views. It is all fine and good to insist on following one’s own conscience and point out the dangers of blind obedience, etc. etc. The problem, however, is that if we only follow the prophets when we agree with them anyway, then it doesn’t seem that there is any value added. Put another way, unless you can come up with some theory that at least part of the time satisfies conditions 1, 2, AND 3, then I don’t see that you have any sort of a concept of prophetic authority. Maybe this is where you ultimately come out, but one at least ought to be aware that jettisoning the concept of authority is a big deal and involves the loss of a key part of Mormon theology. Pointing out the problems of literal or absolute authority or hand-wringing about the current emphasis of Ensign articles at the end of the day seems rather beside the point intellectually.

  126. David on September 20, 2004 at 2:23 pm

    Nate,

    Where does seeking God’s confirmation fit in your three conditions?

  127. Let Us Reason on September 20, 2004 at 4:39 pm

    Model of prophetic authority
    “The trick is to come up with some theory that … still concedes to [prophets] some meaningful special access to the divine.” It seems to me that such a model is actually quite simple… I’d like to propose my model of prophetic authorit…

  128. Grasshopper on September 20, 2004 at 4:41 pm

    See my blog, Let Us Reason, for more on my comment.

  129. ed on September 20, 2004 at 4:49 pm

    Nate Oman: “The problem, however, is that if we only follow the prophets when we agree with them anyway, then it doesn’t seem that there is any value added.”

    I don’t think this is point obvious. Take this example: A mathematician might say he only agrees with mathematical theorems if he can see for himself that they are true. That doesn’t mean there is not value added in publishing theorems.

    It could be that a the value added by a prophet is to point things out and explain things, even if we only accept them when they seem good to us. We plant the seed and see if it enlightens our understanding. Alma doesn’t say “and if the seed doesn’t seem good to you, go ahead and do what I say anyway.”

    When the scriptures talk about disobedience and sin, they usually imply that the person is acting against what they know deep down is right. We don’t have many models of good-faith dissent.

    (I’m not saying Nate is wrong, just something to think about.)

  130. Nate Oman on September 20, 2004 at 5:11 pm

    ed: I think that I wasn’t clear enough in what I was saying. I am not saying that a theory of authority requires per se that we follow prophets in the absence of other reasons for doing so. I only think that we should follow the prophets when we have a good reason for doing so. On the other hand, it seems to me that prophets are most useful when they tell us things that we disagree with or don’t want to hear. It is precisely the cases when I am wrong and they are right that their counsel seems to be the most valuable, yet this will require that by definition I do not agree with their substantive views. What I need is some theory, procedure, etc. that explains to me when I should sit up and pay attention to what the prophets are saying and alter my behavior and beliefs and when I can say, “That is what they think, but on this one I simply disagree.”

  131. ed on September 20, 2004 at 5:33 pm

    Then I agree with you, Nate.

    In most areas of life, the procedure we use is to pay attention to authorities about subjects that they know more about than we do, and about which they’ve been right in the past.

  132. Grasshopper on September 20, 2004 at 5:51 pm

    What I need is some theory, procedure, etc. that explains to me when I should sit up and pay attention to what the prophets are saying and alter my behavior and beliefs and when I can say, “That is what they think, but on this one I simply disagree.�

    As far as I’m concerned, we should pretty much always sit up and pay attention to what the prophets are saying. I think giving little or no thought to what they say definitely doesn’t fall under “hearkening”. When do we alter our behavior and our beliefs? We alter our behavior when we determine, through pondering and prayer, that either a) we are wrong, or b) the consequences of not altering our behavior are undesirable enough that we choose to alter our behavior (or the consequences of altering our behavior are desirable enough). I’m not so sure about when we alter our beliefs, though. It’s not clear to me that altering our beliefs is just something we can “up and do” because somebody else says so. I’m not sure how we go about altering our beliefs, except by trying to always be humble enough to recognize that we could be wrong, and always seeking the spirit of discernment.

  133. Nate Oman on September 20, 2004 at 5:55 pm

    Grasshopper: I basically agree with you. My point in setting forth what I see as the requirements of a theory is not to justify disregarding the Brethren but rather to sharpen what I see as a fairly circular and uninformative discussion about agency v. obedience, etc.

  134. Kristine on September 20, 2004 at 8:46 pm

    Nate, a side quibble: if you’re going to argue for the principle of listening to authority, and afford them some “privileged access” to the mind of God, then I don’t see how you can be uninterested in the question of current emphases in General Conference addresses/Ensign articles by those authorities. After all, part of what’s cool about having such authorities is that you don’t have to have a huge, static body of doctrine and you can pay special attention to whatever is currently deemed relevant by the prophets.

    What am I missing?

  135. Jack on September 20, 2004 at 8:54 pm

    Nate, I agree that this whole thing is a circular argument precisely because agency and obedience have been pitted against each other. (perhaps not intentionally, but it does come across that way in certain instances)

  136. Nate Oman on September 21, 2004 at 7:39 am

    Kristine: Two points. First, the issue of emphasis isn’t as theoretically challenging as the issue of authority per se. Second, questions of emphasis tend to be a bit mushy. Often people think that what they remember is what is getting emphasized, when in fact what they remember is a a function more of what they are interested in than anything else.

  137. Kristine on September 21, 2004 at 11:12 am

    Well, of course questions of emphasis can be mushy. But they don’t have to be–see for instance Shepherd and Shepherd’s (1984?) book on changing emphases in General Conference sermons. I don’t think their method is perfect, but it’s OK for noting general trends. I don’t think you can possibly argue that the frequency with which the “follow the prophet(s)” theme occurs has not dramatically increased in the last 4 decades or so.

    I guess it’s true that the question of emphasis isn’t as theoretically challenging as that of authority, but just because it doesn’t make your socks roll up and down doesn’t mean it isn’t salient to the discussion.

  138. Nate Oman on September 21, 2004 at 11:16 am

    Kristine,

    I didn’t say that the issue wasn’t salient. I just said that I didn’t find it interesting.

    NBO

  139. Mark B on September 21, 2004 at 11:55 am

    Samuel Whitney Richards was president of the British Mission from May 1852 to June 1854. It was under his name that the Church published books, pamphlets, newspapers ( e.g., Millennial Star), etc. in Liverpool during that time. His brother was Franklin D. Richards, who had been ordained an apostle in 1849 and who later served as president of the Quorum of the Twelve.

  140. Chris Grant on September 21, 2004 at 3:59 pm

    Mark B: Thanks for the information on Richards. Do you have any information about the attribution of the quote in question to Joseph Smith?

  141. Mark B on September 21, 2004 at 4:06 pm

    Chris, I don’t have access to the Millennial Star, and have never heard the statement in question.