Arguments and Authority

April 26, 2006 | 141 comments
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The March 2006 issue of The New Era features an article on the Lord’s prayer, wherein we can read the following:

The Savior used thee, thou, thy, and thine instead of you, your, and yours when He prayed. We should do the same.

Alert readers will not find it hard to spot the flaw in this argument.

I’m sure we could come up with lots of other examples of faulty arguments we’ve heard used in the church (even some additional ones supporting the use of thee and thou). But that is not my purpose in this post. Instead I want to ask: when a flawed argument is used to support a teaching, does this make the teaching less authoritative?

As Nate Oman has often, reminds us we can’t understand Mormonism without taking account of the concept of authority. The idea that we must give special weight to teachings from official church sources is at the core of Mormon belief. But surely not all teachings are equally authoritative. Leaders are not infallible, and a prophet is only prophet when he is speaking as one. Nate poses some hard questions about these issues; I wish to pose a more limited one. Does the use of flawed arguments by authoritative sources give the hearers the right (or even responsibility) to discount or disregard the authority of those sources?

It is not uncommon for church leaders to support their teachings with arguments. This often involve more or less straightforward interpretation of canonized texts, but it may also involve drawing conclusions from doctrinal premises, or from history, current events, science, or common sense.

One could argue that the use of a flawed argument to support a teaching lessen it’s authority. In fact, one could argue that the use of any argument, flawed or not, reveals that the source of the teaching is not revelation, but personal interpretation or extrapolation. If a leader says “thus saith the Lord,” or even “I feel inspired,” then it’s clear that he (it’s usually “he”) is invoking inspiration as the source of authority. If instead he uses some form of argument, it would seem that he is invoking the logic of the argument as the source of authority. Furthermore, if the argument appears flawed, one might conclude that this is evidence that the teaching was not made under inspiration.

The opposite argument can also be made. Perhaps arguments are provided in an attempt to convince the weak and faithless, but for the truly faithful they are beside the point. The authority of a statement derives from the position of the person speaking, and perhaps where and to whom, not from the rhetoric used. God might let a few imperfect arguments slip through, but He will not allow the church lead us astray.

Of course it would also be possible to give different answers depending on whether the flawed argument comes from a local leader, an general authority, or an anonymous correlated publication.

It seems to me that we do in fact give less authoritative weight to teachings supported by flawed arguments. This can be easily seen in hindsight: for example, prophets taught for years an essentially hemispheric view of the BOM narrative. Current apologists feel free to discount those views as a misreading of the BOM text. Another example might be some arguments formerly used to support the priesthood ban.

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141 Responses to Arguments and Authority

  1. Boris Max on April 26, 2006 at 11:20 am

    All argument seeks to persuade an audience. If they are persuasive, then the arguments are a success. If they are not persuasive, they are rhetorical failures. Witness Michael Moore and Rush Limbaugh–no strangers to flawed arguments–and their respective fan bases. If a church leader offers an argument that gets most of the intended audience to act, then the presence of structural or factual flaws does not matter.

    Of course, for those audience members who can spot these structural or factual flaws there may very well be a localized rhetorical failure, e.g., some smartmouth English professor not bothering to use thou in prayers. But since the Church as a whole has been convinced, the argument is still a rhetorical success. At this point, the smartmouthed prof might want to remember that sustaining leaders often means not saying “that’s the stupidest thing I’ve heard in at least two weeks” in response to an argument that is, in point of fact, the stupidest thing she’s heard in at least two weeks.

  2. CEF on April 26, 2006 at 11:47 am

    I would like to see someone start a post something to the affect, Where Have All The Prophets Gone? I don’t see much if any evidence of the kind of leadership (Prophetic/Apostolic) that we claim to have.

    On the other hand, reliance on authority figures, is one of the seven blocks to critical thinking. What is a member of the Church to do? :}

  3. gst on April 26, 2006 at 11:48 am

    The New Era article cites to a talk by Elder Oaks to support it’s argument (i.e., that we use “thee” and “thou” because of how they were used anciently, in this case by the Savior). Unfortunately, the Oaks talk directly disavows the very argument it is cited to support:

    “In our day the words thee, thou, thy, and thine are suitable for the language of prayer, not because of how they were used anciently, but because they are currently obsolete in common English discourse. Being unused in everyday communications, they are now available as a distinctive form of address in English, appropriate to symbolize respect, closeness, and reverence for the one being addressed.”

    The New Era needs some first-year law students to do some cite-checking.

  4. Jared on April 26, 2006 at 11:59 am

    Somtimes I think it can be a challenge to identify exactly what the authority is defending.

    Consider this argument: God tells us to have faith in him. Some people think that God is still progressing in knowledge. However, if God is progressing in knowledge then we can’t really have faith in him. Therefore, God must literally know all things.

    Is this argument about whether God knows all things, or is it really about the need to have faith in God?

    This type of thing can make discussion of disagreements difficult because different people will assign prophetic emphasis to different parts of the argument. (Some will not even conceed a flaw in the argument because they give the whole thing–premises and conclusion–prophetic status.)

  5. Nate T. on April 26, 2006 at 12:01 pm

    And we all know critical thinking should trump all. Perhaps we should think critically about critical thinking.

    Back to the point. In studying Chinese history I noticed somthing intresting about Imperial Chinese Law. Namely, it was based on borad principles and exceptions were dealt with as exceptions, not somting the negated or lessed the law or principle. Western concepts often work in the opposite way. The smallest problem causes the negation of a principle or law.

    I perfer the Chinese way of looking at this problem. Teachings connect to braod principles, i.e. showing repect for God leads to using repectful terms for Him which leads to the thees and thous. Creating a faulty arguement about the use of thees and thous does not diminish the fact that we whould respect God or that using respectful language is a good way of doing this.

    The problem may lie in that there is little in the modern English language that is respectful in that sense, when compared to other languages like Japanese, Chinese, and probably Korean. We thus have to reach for the language we need and then problems are created.

  6. Ima Hogg on April 26, 2006 at 12:07 pm

    “The Savior used thee, thou, thy, and thine instead of you, your, and yours when He prayed. We should do the same.”

    Well, as Ma Barker, late governor of the great state of Texas observed, “If the King’s English was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me.”

  7. Talon on April 26, 2006 at 12:43 pm

    “In our day the words thee, thou, thy, and thine are suitable for the language of prayer, not because of how they were used anciently, but because they are currently obsolete in common English discourse. Being unused in everyday communications, they are now available as a distinctive form of address in English, appropriate to symbolize respect, closeness, and reverence for the one being addressed.�

    Do the millions of members in other countries have to search the depths of their own native languages for unused words/phrases in order to communicate with diety “properly”?

  8. DHofmann on April 26, 2006 at 12:48 pm

    Wouldn’t “His Holiness” be even more honorific than “thee” and “thou”?

  9. Nate T. on April 26, 2006 at 12:56 pm

    #5 “Do the millions of members in other countries have to search the depths of their own native languages for unused words/phrases in order to communicate with diety “properlyâ€??”

    No because language, epcially pronouns, showing the highest respect exist more readily in cultures that emphisise hirarchy over equality. See #5.

  10. greenfrog on April 26, 2006 at 1:00 pm

    In my view, authority is a characteristic that each individual ascribes to a “speaker” (whether a person, an entity, or otherwise). It is not something inherent in the speaker.

    Whether flawed argument affects one’s view of an authority depends on the reason one invests such a speaker with authority in the first place. If the reason is the individual’s belief that the speaker is more likely to be correct about a subject than the individual is, then the detection of flawed argument by the speaker may significantly reduce the degree of authority the individual assigns to the speaker. It would be odd were the situation otherwise.

    If, however, one invests a speaker with authority because one believes that yielding one’s will and decision-making to another is a kind of transcendent virtue, then the flawed argument by the speaker is probably irrelevant. I say “probably” because it’s not entirely impossible that someone who invests authority as a way to subject their will to another could view irrational instructions by the speaker as a way of overcoming the individual’s attachment to the individual’s own rationality. I don’t mean to describe this kind of approach in a disrespectful way. I am aware of some who hold differing degrees of this kind of devotion within the LDS Church, and I am aware of a variety of other religious traditions where this kind of approach is even more prevalent.

  11. Nicole J. on April 26, 2006 at 1:18 pm

    5 “Do the millions of members in other countries have to search the depths of their own native languages for unused words/phrases in order to communicate with diety “properly�?�

    8″No because language, epcially pronouns, showing the highest respect exist more readily in cultures that emphisise hirarchy over equality. See #5.”

    However, in many languages that use two sets of pronouns (a formal set and a familiar set), church members are taught to pray using the familiar pronouns, not the more formal respectful pronouns. In Spanish for example, members address God as tu, not Usted.

  12. Kat on April 26, 2006 at 1:46 pm

    #5 and #8: I don’t know much about the Asian languages you mention, but as far as European languages go, most use the familiar pronoun form and verb conjugations in prayer. The formal forms of speech suggest distance–you’d use them with a stranger. The informal forms suggest a close or familial relationship–which is what we want to have with God.

  13. Mathew on April 26, 2006 at 1:57 pm

    Nate T..

    Many languages which take heirarchy into account as a part of everyday usaage rely on familiar rather than formal pronouns to address deity. German, Russian and, I have been told, French are three examples. Thee and thou are themselves were, at one time, familiar pronouns. You can read more about this here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thou#History

  14. Ben S. on April 26, 2006 at 2:11 pm

    “when a flawed argument is used to support a teaching, does this make the teaching less authoritative?”

    An excellent question, one I think about a lot. My definite answer is “sometimes.” There are some clear (but unimportant) misuses of scripture in the church, such as using Jeremiah 16:16 as a missionary scripture. Sure, it uses the word “fishers” which evokes Jesus’ calling the apostles “fishers of men.” V. 16 begins a new paragraph (Masoretic marking, anyway) talks about God calling the Babylonians, who would hunt down the Israelites because of their iniquity, and the Israelites would not be able to hide in caves or elsewhere.

    Does this undermine the missionary program? Not by a long shot. But it sure doesn’t add anything to it.

  15. danithew on April 26, 2006 at 2:22 pm

    We will often begin to use our intellect to measure the worth of an argument before we are even aware that the analytical process is going on. Perhaps the real question is when we will and will not choose to attenuate our reason and rely instead on faith. There may be times when we should rely on reason and other times we should rely on faith. And there are probably times when it doesn’t really matter.

  16. D. Fletcher on April 26, 2006 at 3:56 pm

    I actually find it hilarious that one of our leaders would make such a ridiculous argument. It may be appropriate to use “thee” and “thou” but not because the Savior used them. I do think the flaw here makes his argument less authoritative, and makes me want to subversively use “you” and “you’s.”

    :)

  17. Blake on April 26, 2006 at 4:04 pm

    Ed: You’re clearly correct. “Jesus prayed in Aramaic, we should do the same” would seem to me to be an analogous argument. However, I’ve always taken this use to mean that we should use the familiar or intimate language of prayer to speak to our Father, our Heavenly Papa, but I’ve seen statements by several GAs that we use this language to show respect and appropriate distance (because it has become a very formal way of speaking in English I suppose). Go figure.

  18. Jim F. on April 26, 2006 at 4:07 pm

    greenfrog: In my view, authority is a characteristic that each individual ascribes to a “speaker.�

    That is a version of the standard view of authority, but I think it is not sufficiently nuanced. While it is true that authorities don’t get their authority by virture of some innate characteristic that each has, it is also true that to be an authority is almost always to occupy a position within a culture, society, etc., a position in relation to other persons, things, and practices. The individual doesn’t make that network up any more than he or she makes up the meaning of words. So, just as I don’t think that the meaning of words is something that each individual ascribes to those words, I don’t think that the authority of some persons, etc. is something that the individual merely makes up.

  19. Nathaniel Givens on April 26, 2006 at 4:17 pm

    Re #5 and #8

    I’m not a linguist, but I can speak about my experiences with German and Hungarian – especially Hungarian. Hungarian has both an arcane form of language preserved in the Bible and (like German) a modern formalization. The arcane Hungarian is found in the version of the Bible that the Church uses in Hungary and is roughly equivalent to King James English – although perhaps a bit farther removed from modern Hungarian.

    According to the logic of the argument above, members should use this arcane for of Hungarian (I say “arcane” because it is not in nearly as common usage in modern Hungary as King James / Shakespearean English is in modern America) and possibly even a form of formalization when praying.

    However, members do not do this. Hungarian culture dictates praying to God in the informal mode. Thanks is given “to you (informal)” (neked) and not “to thee” (onnek, neki, or maganak). I believe German does the same – using the informal rather than the formal even though a formal mode is built into the language. So whereas Hungarian has both an arcane and a formal mode to use in prayer – neither is actually used at all. And yet for some reason in English (which has no such formal mode) we insist on using the arcane English in the same way that Hungarians could use their own language.

    I would argue passionately that they have it right and we have it wrong. In the first place just look at the structure of formalization in both German and Hungarian. It is achieve through use of 3rd person conjugation with modified 3rd person pronouns. In fact the quickest formalization in Hungarian of “to you” is “neki” which is identical to “to he/she/it”. In other words: formalization is the antithesis of familiarity. I find this to be in disturbing contradistinction to Nephi’s familiarization of the Savior as “my Jesus”.

    In addition to establish unnecessary distance between ourselves and our Father, “thee”, “thou” and “thine” also give us the curse of “prayer-speak”. For those unfamiliar with their proper usage, the attempt either ends in gramatical chaos or, in an effort to stay safe, in such abominable refrains as “the sick and afflicted” and “that no harm or accident may befall them”. This effort to use “thee” and “thine” inexorably leads to a excessive ornamentation of our prayers even when we’re talking about catching a cold or driving a car. And for those more practiced in weilding the arcane pronouns the result is almost always sermonesque prayers that are the very death of all sincerity.

    The best prayers I’ve heard – in terms of feeling as though God was in the room listening – are frequently those utttered by children who are more interested in talking to God than in grammatical niceties or new members who are devoid of Mormonisms grammatical baggage. I prefer praying in Hungarian myself for no other reason than that I finally have the chance to say “you” to God without feeling a twinge of guilt for violating the standards set forth by the general authorities – I believe mistakenly.

    And so at long last I come back from my tangent into presenting an argument against the general authorities (or in this case the New Era – which is not the same thing at all) and give my 2 cents on the actual topic at hand: arguments and authority. What I’d like to point out is this: we are commanded to obey the prophets and church leaders. We are not commanded to agree with them.

    It is, I believe, possible to disagree with church leaders without being disobedient. Not only possible – but essential. Church leaders are there for many reasons, but none of those reasons involve becoming substitues for our own moral agency. No matter what the prophets or general authorities say, it is imperitive that we never attempt to cede our own self-determination to them under the guise of obediance. Furthermore the General Authorities are people to and they make mistakes. While it is not our place to correct them it is perhaps our obligation and duty to express whatever reservations we may feel with their decisions as humbly – and as earnestly – as possible. I believe it is a mistake to believe that the Lord works in a top-down manner. Whenever the Lord wishes to command, it will come from the prophet on down. But the D&C make it crystal clear that the Lord is not pleased when he has to micromange. He does not want us to be commanded in all things. And in those things we are not commanded, the Church should function in a more bottom-up approach – with ideas and opinions rising from the members.

    I may go to the grave opposing some chruch policies. I can list many of them right now. But I also follow each and every one of those policies as best I can. I live in a state of constant tension between my own personal understanding of what is right and my covenenat to obey church leaders. Some see this as a design flaw of the church. I see it as an essential part of the mission statement.

    -nathaniel

    (besides – I’m still young. At this rate, I’m sure to get some leadership callings at some point. And then the virus will infect the host…)

  20. Ed Johnson on April 26, 2006 at 4:48 pm

    Everyone should note, if you haven’t already, that the quote at the beginning of the post comes from an unsigned New Era article, and not from any Elder Oaks or any other specific church leader. I would be surprised to hear one of the GAs make such an obviously fallacious argument. However, as Ben points out, they sometimes do make arguments that are fallacious in more subtle ways.

    My point was not to discuss the use of thee and thou, but to discuss the role of arguments in authority. I just thought this anecdote made an amusing introduction to the topic.

    As long as we’re on the subject, though, a couple of days ago I saw a billboard for PNC Bank, that said something like “your checking acount should giveth, not taketh away.” This is pretty typical…I’ve come accross similar mistakes on TV shows and other places. Even educated people seem to have trouble conjugating KJV style verbs, unless they’ve grown up reading the KJV.

  21. DavidH on April 26, 2006 at 5:00 pm

    Sorry, Ed, one more comment on the substance.

    I do not think there is any rational basis for the preference of “thee and thine”.

    Elder Oaks’ talk boils down to “the Brethren want us to pray this way because that is the way Joseph Smith did it,” and perhaps because it sets us apart from other faiths.

    Their usage in English prayer, I think, creates more distance, rather than closeness, between us and God. And I think many members and perhaps some leaders like it that way: “Those who truly love the Lord and who worship the Father in the name of the Son by the power of the Spirit, according to the approved patterns, maintain a reverential barrier between themselves and all the members of the Godhead. . . .It is a fine and sacred line, but clearly there is a difference between a personal and intimate relationship with the Lord, which is improper, and one of worshipful adoration, which yet maintains the required reserve between us and him who has bought us with his blood.” Elder Bruce R. McConkie http://speeches.byu.edu/reader/reader.php?id=6843

    Using archaic pronouns certainly makes it more difficult to create the disfavored “personal and intimate relationship” with God. In some ways, it makes it more difficult to pray at all, or at least to feel like God cares about us in a personal way. But see Merrill J. Bateman, “A Pattern for All,â€? Ensign, Nov. 2005, 74 (“The Atonement was an intimate, personal experience in which Jesus came to know how to help each of us.”)

    I pray publicly using “thee and thou” because we have been directed to do so, and to avoid upsetting congregation members (and leaders) who are accustomed to that form. But in the confines of my mind, God and I are on a friendlier basis, and He is a “you” not a “thou”.

    I notice that significant numbers of ward members pray publicly using “you”, and even more mix the “thee and thou” with “you” in the same prayer. I also note that a favorite hymn, “I’ll Go Where You Want Me To Go” uses the modern “you” (this may be another correlation “whoops” for Ronan to add at that other blog). And at least a few of the “Not Your Mother’s LDS Music” numbers by Deseret Books also use “you” (another whoops?).

  22. norm on April 26, 2006 at 5:11 pm

    Thou/thee/thy/thine, etc. = “. . . Being unused in everyday communications, they are now available as a distinctive form of address in English, appropriate to symbolize respect, closeness, and reverence for the one being addressed.â€?

    Usage of thou/thee is directly related to usage of du/dich/dir in German (and the similar forms in other Germanic languages).

    Well, I don’t speak Hungarian. But I will say, that as to KJV English, Oaks is mistaken–sorta. “Thou/thee/thy/thine” don’t communicate respect/reverence (in the sense given to Kings by commoners–although this mistake is frequently made in everything from commercials to movies written long after the fact). You/ye are used in the formal/reverent sense; thou/thee indicate familiarity and equality of stature. The former is used for strangers and gentle society (but also can be disrespectful in the same sense as “my distinguished colleague from West Virginia” or “the gentleman from South Carolina” etc).

    Thou means closeness and respect only if we mean that we speak to bosom-buddies, brothers, or playmates more respectfully than others. (So my opinion–not trying to be dogmatic) If ‘you’ is the way we talk to sisters & friends in our present-day, then that’s the way we ought to address God–UNLESS to us individually thou/thee communicates a special closeness rather than distance. For me, thou does feel closer–perhaps as a result of always talking with God that way, and talking with him familially, as a close friend & confidant, rather than as a king. I think there are ways for me to recognize the servant-master relationship or kingly status of God–but prayers for me are about closeness. In part, Oaks seems to address this. But I think he misses the boat.

  23. norm on April 26, 2006 at 5:16 pm

    I guess, then, the disagreement I have is that the real (he says ‘ancient’) usage IS important. And that I should not change my relationship with God to be more distant: merely using a distinct way of talking with God does not necessarily mean that it should turn on its head the origin of that way of addressing God.

    In fact, I find Oaks’ argument absurd. It’s analogous to the following:
    “we no longer use candles commonly. They are mostly reserved for ceremony. Therefore, in using them for ritual purposes, rather than remember their light-giving ancient significance, we should realize & emphasize how much darker they are than the modern fluorescent, neon and incandescent lights to which we are accustomed. Only in recognizing this distinct darkness can we properly understand those ancient rituals.”

    (waiting for lightning…)

  24. Sarah on April 26, 2006 at 5:22 pm

    I know that they translated the hymnal into Russian using Ты (informal) in songs such as “Did You Think to Pray,” “How Great Thou Art,” and “Lord, I Would Follow Thee” (technically there they used Тобой, but that’s just a declined version of Ты) I didn’t spot Ð’Ñ‹ (formal/plural) in any of the hymns I checked (not many, it’s time for dinner,) and when I searched through my file with the Russian Book of Mormon scripture mastery, I only found “Ð’Ñ‹” in 2 Nephi 32:8-9 (“Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ,”) Jacob 2:18-19 (“But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God,”) Mosiah 2:17 (“when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God,”) and other uses of “ye”/”you” in reference to the listener/reader. Ironically, it also uses the informal in that same context, e.g. Alma 37:6-7 (Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me”) and Alma 41:10 (“Behold, I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness.”) If I had more interest in the subject, I’d drag out my Russian Book of Mormon and try to see how they translated prayers, but it seems to me that the originally informal “thee” is translated as “Ñ‚Ñ‹,” and “Ð’Ñ‹” is reserved for plurals only. “Ye” seems to have been translated based on whether the speaker was speaking to a group or an individual.

    For myself, I pray in public in the today-formal “thee” and “thou,” but mostly out of social convention. I see it as being on the same level as being more formally polite with your grandmother while sitting at a White House banquet than while sitting on a couch in your own living room: it’s expected, and the words take on additional meaning due to the context (a bit like how shouting that you love someone in the middle of a public square is different than saying it in an empty room.) But the public formality of the banquet hall wouldn’t be as helpful to either party in private, and might be a sign of too much distance between the speaker and listener. It’s all very tricky to explain, but I don’t think it’s odd to say “you” and “your” in a personal prayer. Of course, my family is also known to add the proviso “as much as it is possible under the circumstances” at the end of a “nourish and strengthen our bodies,” when blessing junk food or desserts or what have you; maybe we’re just borderline apostates no matter what.

  25. Melinda on April 26, 2006 at 5:37 pm

    I never thought about separating the correctness of the doctrine from the logical strength of the argument given in support of it. My uneducated assumption is that they’d better have a good reason if they’re going to give a reason. Otherwise, they should just claim it’s revelation and leave it at that.

    This viewpoint has been strengthened by my recent readings in 19th Century writings arguing in favor of polygamy. The reasons the Brethren came up with in favor of polygamy have logical holes in them big enough to drive a truck through. They are also based on 19th Century viewpoints with very little knowledge of the outside world or history. For example, it appears that 19th Century leaders unanimously thought that the Fall of the Roman Empire was caused by monogamy and its accompanying social ills such as prostitution, and that women in the polygamic nations of Asia and Africa had a higher status and better living conditions than women in monogamic nations in Europe. Monogamy degrades women is the general consensus.

    They should have just stuck to the idea that polygamy was a revelation and they’d live it no matter what and said amen.

    So yes, in my opinion, offering faulty reasoning in support of a doctrine weakens the doctrine itself.

  26. Kimball L. Hunt on April 26, 2006 at 6:35 pm

    The sole “diff” tween a theocracy of Brigham and that of the M. ibn Abd al Wahab-ite House of Sa`ud is that army called Johnston’s. And oil. Of which, come to think: Is the Claremont Islamic chair or are there institutes elsewhere in the field of (that bugaboo of bugaboos to Asiatic ears) “orientalism” funded in part by Saudis? Are the parallel mechanism where Protestants (/orthodox Jews? /devout Catholics?) fund and influence Claremont scholarship suspect?

  27. Kimball L. Hunt on April 26, 2006 at 6:35 pm

    Submitted to the wrong thread. Sorry

  28. Mark Butler on April 26, 2006 at 6:42 pm

    I agree with Melinda that faulty reasoning (especially from an official source) in support of a doctrine weakens it considerably. On the other hand, well thought out arguments from widely shared principles can strengthen a doctrine immensely. C.S. Lewis was a master of that kind of thing, and although there are certainly glaringly obvious weak spots (by modern standards at any rate) many of the nineteenth century Mormon leaders were too.

    The Mormon religion did not prosper by introducing something foreign, incredible, and obtuse, but rather by clearing out the theological baggage of creedal Christendom in favor of something much more easily understood and appreciated, innovative, and flexible. The number one risk of hard line theology is freezing normative doctrine in the theological reasoning of past generations, instead of allowing the lessons of history to properly reflect on our understanding of God and his work and character.

    More practically, overselling either revelation or logical argument has very serious risks. The former because changing something purportedly derived from direct revelation reeks of opportunism and inconsistency, and the latter because people assume that the argument itself is sound simply because an authority said it, doctrinalizing not just the precept, but the rationale as well. The non-normative analogical “aid to understanding” middle road is much safer unless one is on unusually solid ground.

  29. mullingandmusing (m&m) on April 26, 2006 at 7:03 pm

    actually find it hilarious that one of our leaders would make such a ridiculous argument. It may be appropriate to use “thee� and “thou� but not because the Savior used them. I do think the flaw here makes his argument less authoritative, and makes me want to subversively use “you� and “you’s.�

    I think it is interesting that this posting was posted using the example of the New Era article because it isn’t an article written by anyone with formal authority. It was written by the editors of the magazine. Doesn’t that make the argument for this post flawed?

  30. MikeInWeHo on April 26, 2006 at 7:15 pm

    Does anybody in authority sign off on the content of official Church magazines? Certainly in the correlated era there must be some line of direct control beyond the editors. At the very least, they report to somebody in the leadership.

  31. Julie M. Smith on April 26, 2006 at 7:17 pm

    I think this statement from Elder Oaks is interesting in that it draws the line between the commandment and the reasons for it:

    … It’s not the pattern of the Lord to give reasons. We can put reasons to commandments. When we do we’re on our own. Some people put reasons to [the priesthood ban] and they turned out to be spectacularly wrong. There is a lesson in that. … The lesson I’ve drawn from that, I decided a long time ago that I had faith in the command and I had no faith in the reasons that had been suggested for it. … I’m referring to reasons given by general authorities and reasons elaborated upon [those reasons] by others. The whole set of reasons seemed to me to be unnecessary risk taking. … Let’s [not] make the mistake that’s been made in the past, here and in other areas, trying to put reasons to revelation. The reasons turn out to be man-made to a great extent. The revelations are what we sustain as the will of the Lord and that’s where safety lies.

    He’s talking about the priesthood ban, but could we not say that we are commanded today to use formal language in prayer–without reasons given–but this doesn’t stop people (including woefully sloppy New Era editors) from making reasons up?

  32. Frank McIntyre on April 26, 2006 at 7:44 pm

    That’s a great quote by Elder Oaks. Do you have the cite handy?

  33. DKL on April 26, 2006 at 7:48 pm

    danithew, I think Ed (if this is the real Ed) has posed an interesting question, because I don’t believe that we are supposed to attenuate our reason and give it over to faith. There are way too many definitions of faith floating around the church, even pernicious circular ones that say that you can’t do anything wrong out of faith. But Talmage’s definition I lake best makes the faith vs reason conflict a category mistake. What he calls faith, Hume calls passion. The motivator for action. Reason is what determines the most reasonable course, and faith is what is required to act on it.

    There are, of course, good reasons to do bad things and bad reasons to do good things. It’s up to each of us to determine the best things to do using the best reasoning we can. Sometimes the best reason we can come up with is “so and so says it,” and that can be perfectly valid reason if it’s enough to make us comfortable acting on it.

  34. Julie M. Smith on April 26, 2006 at 7:58 pm

    Frank, it is from an AP interview in 1988 that ran in the Provo Herald. It was quoted by Br. Millet in a Religious Educator article, “What Is Out Doctrine?”

  35. Razorfish on April 26, 2006 at 8:14 pm

    Blind Obedience

    Re #31.

    That’s an interesting quote and perspective. I think collectively as a Church we are well conditioned to act this way. We believe in authority, revelation, and don’t question the inspired doctrine as it is taught by our leaders. And as Oaks says, “this is where safety lies.”

    While I agree with this, my concern is this is only a good idea if “you’ve got the Truth.” If I extrapolate this principle to every religion, faith teacher, or religious cult, this becomes a very dangerous precedent. Safety would lie in scrutinizing, examining, and testing teachings and doctrine with as much intellectual rigour as possible.

    The 9 / 11 hijackers teach this principle clear enough. Their last words before driving planes into buildings was “God is Great”. My point is we should expect everyone (in or outside the Church) to not accept blindly teachings or doctrine that clearly contradicts common sense. I understand (and accept Elder Oak’s teaching), but I don’t feel comfortable that non-LDS people would likewise adopt similiar positions of faith-obedience in their religious worldview.

    And if that’s the case – should they expect more from us (as a Church) as well?

  36. Ed Johnson on April 26, 2006 at 8:28 pm

    I agree with Frank, that’s a very interesting quote from Elder Oaks.

    So how does it relate to the question in the post? If the Lord doesn’t give reasons, how are we to react when his spokesmen give reasons? It sounds like whenever a leader gives a reason, we can conclude that he is speaking for himself only. But when the reasoning is closely tied in to the teaching or policy itself, does it really make sense to conclude that the teaching or policy is fully divine while the reasoning is fully human? The church leaders themselves seldom make such a distinction (except perhaps in hindsight, as with Elder Oaks).

  37. Wilfried on April 26, 2006 at 9:11 pm

    I know the thread is not about pronouns, but since the initial example generated some comments in that respect, just a quick clarification.

    Nicole J mentions (11): “However, in many languages that use two sets of pronouns (a formal set and a familiar set), church members are taught to pray using the familiar pronouns, not the more formal respectful pronouns. In Spanish for example, members address God as tu, not Usted.”

    Actually, in the history of Romance languages, coming from Latin, the use of pronouns to differentiate between familiarity and politeness, is pretty complex and has known many variations over the centuries. The “Tu of majesty”, expressing politeness and distance, was a usual form in the Middle Ages. Our present use of “Tu” to address God is a remnant of that usage, reinforced by the Biblical language, and corresponds with the English Thee, Thou (which is etymologically tied to “Tu” from a common Indo-European root). But the distinction has been blurred in languages like French and Spanish because of lingual evolution and thus people may now sense that “tu” (which meanwhile lost its capital) expresses familiarity. Historically, not so.

  38. greenfrog on April 26, 2006 at 9:44 pm

    Jim F wrote: That is a version of the standard view of authority, but I think it is not sufficiently nuanced.

    My ignorance is likely showing — I wasn’t aware of a standard or non-standard view. Can you suggest some readings to provide me with some background?

    While it is true that authorities don’t get their authority by virture of some innate characteristic that each has, it is also true that to be an authority is almost always to occupy a position within a culture, society, etc., a position in relation to other persons, things, and practices.

    Is the “position” you refer to something other than expertise? I can think of persons whom I view as authorities by virtue of their knowledge, some by virtue of their greater access to information, some by virtue of their experience, some by virtue of my experience with them. None of those characteristics is necessarily correllated with a particular position in a social hierarchy.

    In my listing of two reasons to respond to authority, I omitted the third one I perceive, because I didn’t think it directly relevant to the LDS Church, though I suppose it could be: one might choose to follow the instruction of another person, even if the individual would have reached a different conclusion about the action to be taken, if the individual believed that the other person was able to impose extrinsic punishment or reward for compliance (versus the intrinsic good of the objective of the action in question). I can readily see how authority within a social hierarchy could be applied to the rewarder/punisher. But that seems a strange model of authority to apply to the Church. Maybe I’m not thinking about this clearly.

    The individual doesn’t make that network up any more than he or she makes up the meaning of words. So, just as I don’t think that the meaning of words is something that each individual ascribes to those words, I don’t think that the authority of some persons, etc. is something that the individual merely makes up.

    I don’t think of ascribing authority to a person as something I “make up.” I think it’s a function of experience and response. While I suppose it could be purely a function of analytical thinking, I almost never even approximate purely analytical thinking. Instead, in most cases, I engage in an amalgam of critical thinking, instinctual response, intuitive connection-making, and emotional investment. But I still think (naively) that the result of that process (ascription of authority) is a characteristic of my response, rather than some more objective function of the person’s place in hierarchy. Can you say more?

  39. Tweedlebug on April 26, 2006 at 11:05 pm

    In the days of the KJV, the grammar was as follows:

    THOU: singular, INFORMAL, nomanative (the subject of a sentence)
    THEE: singular, INFORMAL, objective (in the predicate of a sentence)
    THY/THINE: singular, INFORMAL, genitive
    THINE: singular, INFORMAL, possessive
    YE: plural or FORMAL singular, nominative
    YOU: plural or FORMAL singular, objective
    YOUR: plural or FORMAL singular, genitive
    YOURS: plural or FORMAL singular, possessive

    Sources to back me up:
    - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thou
    - http://www.kencollins.com/why-05.htm (see paragraphs 7,8, and especially the note at bottom)
    - http://www.reference.com/browse/wiki/T-V_distinction
    - http://www.cloudnet.com/~renfest/renspeak.htm
    - http://parablemania.ektopos.com/archives/2004/05/thee_and_thou.html
    - and others

    So, as has been mentioned in multiple ways already, the problem in this case is related not just to the question of authority but to faulty, or at least shaky, premises. I suppose you could try to make the case that because the common modern (mis)interpretation of “thee” and “thou” is that they indicate formality, the correct interpretation is that they are indeed formal nowadays, even if they didn’t used to be. But in my mind that’s a stretch.

    - -

    To address your real question more directly (the question of authority), I think our oft-recited mantras of “follow the prophet”, “this is the only true church” and “I have a testimony” are unfortunately frequently misused and abused in the extreme. They lead us “by a flaxen cord” into misguided self-assurance that we fail to see it for what it is: naivete and close-mindedness.

    Do we really think that the leaders of the church have answers to all of the questions that we need answers to? I don’t for a minute think that the leaders have even *asked* all of the questions that we need answers to.

    Christ tells the Nephites in the Book of Mormon that his disciples in the Old World did not learn about the existence of the Nephites because his disciples didn’t ask. They didn’t pursue that line of questioning, so they didn’t get an answer. Why couldn’t it be the same today? I think there are a lot of pieces of knowledge and/or sets of instructions that we could receive if the church leadership had the bravery to really want to get the answers. It would definitely take bravery. I am not in their position, and I don’t envy the heavy burden they must carry, but I’m certain there are answers that we could have if the leadership (and the common membership) did more to be prepared for and to seek after those answers.

    Church leaders are not infallible, and they never have claimed to be. Joseph Smith himself was brought before church councils on multiple occasions as a result of accusations against him. Some of his accusers stayed faithful to the church. Others did not. I’m not suggesting that we return to the sometimes chaotic (dis)organization of the church during that period, or that we should relish the though of bringing church leaders before councils. My point is simply that it was done, and it was done publicly. Not only that, but Joseph Smith himself was the one who set up the system to do just that.

    People in positions of leadership within our church are deserving of our respect and support, but our current trends show that we have willingly flirted with turning them into modern day demi-gods like the ancient Pharaohs, Roman Emperors, Holy Roman (Papal) Emperors, Japanese Emperors, and others.

    Somehow we must strike a balance between learning truth through priesthood officers and learning truth through the Holy Ghost… and other means available to us, including reason, logic, experimentation, common consent, etc.

  40. Sarah on April 26, 2006 at 11:11 pm

    It might be easiest to say that when a person who has authority over you says “the Lord told me this is the way to go,” the only contextually appropriate recourse is to pray about it yourself (or otherwise appeal to those in authority over the one who told you that) — but if the person says “I think you should do this because of X, Y, and Z,” it’s entirely appropriate to bring your own reasoning ability and say “Reasons X and Y genuinely aren’t applicable in my situation, and Reason Z is actually wrong.” It would behoove you to then add in “of course, there could be other good reasons to do what they want anyway, and they just didn’t express those to me,” and pray about it too. After all, no one lengthy message is going to be equally applicable to everyone — maybe thee and thou weren’t formal three languages and 20 centuries ago, but you should be using formal language now for another reason which you yourself are perfectly entitled to inquire about, and more than capable of discovering.

    (note, though, New Era disparagers, that this particular reasoning about “thee” and “thou” came from Dallin H. Oaks, and is backed up by quotes from Spencer W. Kimball, L. Tom Perry, and someone I’ve not heard of but seemed to be a known name in 1983, President Stephen L. Richards.)

  41. mullingandmusing (m&m) on April 26, 2006 at 11:19 pm

    Does anybody in authority sign off on the content of official Church magazines? Certainly in the correlated era there must be some line of direct control beyond the editors. At the very least, they report to somebody in the leadership.

    This is the job of the Correlation Committee. They act under the direction of the leadership, but are given autonomy to do what they need to do. The Spirit signs off on the content.

  42. Mark Butler on April 26, 2006 at 11:26 pm

    Sarah (#39), should we exalt obvious mistakes just because they come from an authoritative source? Some logical rules are so fundamental that without them language would have no meaning at all. Unless we are going to become the kind of mystery religion early Mormon preachers were so fond of ridiculing, simple coherence doesn’t seem too much to ask.

  43. mullingandmusing (m&m) on April 26, 2006 at 11:42 pm

    #40 p.s. And obviously, sometimes the Spirit doesn’t feel a need to correct an error in argument. :)

    I see this magazine article as a simple view of one of the editors. It may be flawed, but it’s obviously something that works for that person or people. I’m not sure it’s a life-ending kind of error, nor should it be something to make someone throw the magazine in the trash.

  44. Greg B. on April 27, 2006 at 8:40 am

    I don’t know if this runs contrary to Julie’s comment and Elder Oaks remark that “It’s not the pattern of the Lord to give reasons.” But the Lord offers reasons for all sorts of things and the scriptures–especially the Gospels and the Book of Mormon–were written expressly for the purpose of reasoning with their intended audiences. I think reasons and reasoning are very important to the Lord–if for no other reason than that he recognizes reasons are necessary for us. I find the spirit of D & C 50 is a good guide. Verses 9-12 read: “Wherefore, let every man beware lest he do that which is not in truth and righteousness before me. And now come, saith the Lord, by the Spirit, unto the elders of his church, and let us reason together, that ye may understand; Let us reason even as a man reasoneth one with another face to face. Now, when a man reasoneth he is understood of man, because he reasoneth as a man; even so will I, the Lord, reason with you that you may aunderstand.”

  45. John Taber on April 27, 2006 at 9:22 am

    #43. I see this magazine article as a simple view of one of the editors. It may be flawed, but it’s obviously something that works for that person or people. I’m not sure it’s a life-ending kind of error, nor should it be something to make someone throw the magazine in the trash.

    I see it as a Utah-centered mistake, myself.

    A more serious error on the editors’ part was made a couple of years ago when they drove home the idea that if you believe in evolution, you can’t believe in God, ergo good LDS youth don’t believe in evolution.

  46. DKL on April 27, 2006 at 9:51 am

    John Taber: A more serious error on the editors’ part was made a couple of years ago when they drove home the idea that if you believe in evolution, you can’t believe in God, ergo good LDS youth don’t believe in evolution.

    This implies that feminists and ethnic minorities aren’t the only ones that are sometimes the object of careless, yet distancing, statements from church sources. Perhaps we evolutionists should spend more time agonizing about our status in the church. Once we tackle that priority, maybe we should protest at temple square.

    Unfortunately, the argument also implies that good LDS youth must believe in God. Where will it end?

  47. Stephen Hardy on April 27, 2006 at 10:08 am

    Does anyone have any other good examples of using flawed logic? I have several which I think of from time to time:

    We are told that we are a “peculiar” people, which seems to suggest that we should “stand out” in a crowd. However, the scripture cited, In Peter 2:9 is a reminder that we are a “purchased” people, that is purchased and bought by the blood of the Christ. Now it may be true that we should stand out from our culture… but this scripture reference doesn’t support that idea. This is one of many examples of the KJV apparently mis-leading us. The verse is translated “correctly”, that is, using a more modern word that “peculiar” in most other versions. Does anyone else sort of cringe when our GA’s cite this one?

    The other instance that comes to mind is Jesus’ interview with Nicodemus, when Jesus talks about being born of the water and spirit. When I read it, I believe that Jesus is saying that we must be born of water (that is, experience physical birth) and then we must be born of the spirit. There are plenty of other places to find support for baptism, but I never use this one because I don’t believe that Jesus is talking about baptism here.

  48. Nate T. on April 27, 2006 at 10:47 am

    #11,13 etc.

    I am not too familiar with European languages beyond English so thank you for sharing.

    I do know in Chinese one uses the respective pronoun nin (as opposed to ni, the regular form of the second person pronoun) and from what I understand the Japanese prayers use the highest respective forms otherwise used for the Emperor and Kami (Shinto Gods). It would not seem as natural in these languages, speaking generally, to use a more familiar tone when speaking to God. It has to do with the Confucian idea of showing respect to those who deserve it.

    Perhaps it is the because of my love for Confucianism that I take this argument as valid. Who deserves more respect than God?

    Our culture seems to say the only close relationships one can have are with people who treat each other as equals, but I find that hierarchical relationships can also be close ones. Respect does not dictate emotional distance. I still feel close to my Heavenly Father when I use nin in my Chinese prayers, just as a loving son would if he used the terms while addressing his father on a special occasion. The father feels the respect his son has for him and thus draws the bonds of the relationship closer. Instead of emphasizing the distance between the two it actually reinforces the emotional bond between them (xiao in Chinese, which is sometimes translated fieal piety or fiealty).

    I am not trying to put down those that do not use respective terms in prayers. Rather, I am trying to explain why it is important to me.

  49. Julie M. Smith on April 27, 2006 at 11:25 am

    Greg B.,

    I’m not convinced that that ‘reasoning together’ and providing reasons for commandments are exactly the same thing, but perhaps you could convince me. Can you think of many examples where the Lord says, “Thou shalt X because _____”? We are often told of the consequences of Xing or not Xing (blessings or curses), but I am not convinced that those are always the same thing as reasons for commandments. For example, we should honor parents so that (i.e., a blessing that results) our days are long on the earth, but the *reason* or *rationale* for honoring parents isn’t to increase longevity.

  50. Blake on April 27, 2006 at 11:29 am

    The issue (at least as I see it) with respect to use of prayer-language is not how it was once used in the English court, by the citzens of medieval England or even how the terms appear in Greek and Hebrew. The question is: “how do we pray?” Do we address our Father with a different form of language that sets it apart from every-day language? That is, BTW, the meaning of “sacred”, set apart for a distinct use. Do we use it to be intimate or to create distance? I suspect that our individual practices vary. I love the “Thou” form of language because it is set apart and because it creates a form of familiarity for me — probably due to my actual use of the familiar form in Italian and German when I pray. However, notice that “familiar” really means that I treat my prayer speaking as a mode of “family discourse,” or the kind of speaking I do in the intimate relationship of my own family. I believe that Christ’s use of the term “‘abba” (while not wholly unique to him) as a term of endearment, a caritative or term of love for one’s own father or papa. That is what I believe serves me best in prayer-language by using the “Thou” form of speech — both the respect that I have for my own father and mother — and also the love and intimate relationship of family ties that bind us.

  51. gst on April 27, 2006 at 11:36 am

    I wonder if the injunction works both ways–should we avoid “thee” and “thou” except when addressing diety? I just watched A Clockwork Orange again last night, in which futuristic street thugs adopted a garbled form of the usage: “How art thou, thou globby bottle of cheap stinking chip oil? …Ya eunuch jelly thou!”

  52. Nathan on April 27, 2006 at 12:18 pm

    The New Era is focused to the young men and young women of the church, many of which will not engage in such critical thinking. Heck, if they were critical thinkers, I don’t think we would have the New Era as they could read along the Ensign just fine. Rather, simple teachings, no matter the logic, being correct, are still correct. What I find more interesting is how far we have taken this. They were teaching the YM and YW to pray – And then supported the language, not the reasoning, by Elder Oaks talk.

    I don’t find this logic that flawed.

    Sometimes I wonder why we find this kind of stuff to talk about any way – it’s really just worthless banter. And I’m dumb enough to play along.

  53. Greg B. on April 27, 2006 at 1:11 pm

    Julie,

    You’re right. Most of the stated “reasons� for commandments, policies, or suggested actions in the scriptures come to us from the mouths of prophets. However, the same prophets do occasionally testify that the words they write are the Lord’s own. We can choose from many examples of the Lord offering reasons. For example, here are two:

    The word of wisdom (D&C 89) against imbibing strong drink is offered “In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days.â€? The word of wisdom is necessary, apparently, because of these designs–the reasons–and not because alcohol consumption is inherently wrong.

    Young Joseph Smith inquired as to which sect to join (JS History). The Lord answered “none of them, for they were all wrong…that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that ‘they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof’.â€? It may not be the full answer (we don’t know all the Lord told Joseph at this time), but the Lord clearly saw fit to explain to Joseph the reasons why he forbade him from joining.

  54. Nate Oman on April 27, 2006 at 1:43 pm

    This whole question reminds me of Holmes’ dictum that the genius of the common law is that it decides the case first and works out the reasoning afterwards. Mormon doctrine strikes me as being very similar. Both practice and ratio juris can be in flux, and frequently the practice preceeds the ratio discendi. Holmes thought that this was not a problem because he had a Darwinian view of law: history threw up legal rules for often quite arbitrary or irrational reasons. The rules survived, however, to the extent that they were socially useful. Bad rules got narrowed, reinterpreted, or discarded according to “the felt necessities of the time.”

    I suspect that there is a similar process in Mormon doctrine and practice, although I am not quite sure how to make sense out of the evolutionary mechanism.

  55. Wacky Hermit on April 27, 2006 at 4:18 pm

    Why should speakers of any one language have to use the same language in prayer? And why should any one person be tied to one usage? Personally, I use both “thee/thou” and “you/your” in my prayers, according to what effect is needed at the time. If I need to feel like I’m talking to my father, I use more familiar language. If I need to show some respect, I use more formal language. I can tell what I need because it’s usually exactly the opposite of how I’m feeling at the time. ;)

  56. Doug on April 27, 2006 at 4:38 pm

    I would say not that “a prophet is only prophet when he is speaking as one” but that sometimes prophets are prophesying and sometimes they are not. Because of the concept of priesthood authority, it makes sense that the prophet gets to say when he is speaking for the Lord, rather than leaving it up to other people or another system for making that determination (excepting of course the first instance where one obtains his or her testimony that the prophet is indeed a prophet).

    Of course, there are contextual clues as well…if I were waiting on President Hinckley at a resturaunt I would not view his menu order or pleasantries as prophecy.

    Still, when I returned to the kitchen, I would say to the cooks: “did you see the prophet out there!” and I would be right.

  57. Mark Butler on April 28, 2006 at 3:37 am

    There is very little scriptural discourse that is anything other than a documentation of reasons – reasons why the Lord has taken certain actions in the past or will take certain actions in the future, reasons why we should believe in God, reasons why we should behave morally and ethically, reasons why we should avoid various sins, reasons in support of various doctrinal precepts, and on and on.

    This pattern is so dominant that the exception proves the rule. Scriptural material that is not in the form of a persuasive argument is an anomaly. Even most prophetic material is attached to the framework of reward for the righteous, and punishment for the wicked – one of the most basic religious arguments there is.

    Injunctions without reasons are almost non-existent – even the injunctions without reasons are usually documented in terms of reasons revealed later. Sure they are problematic, but they are also unusually rare. We could call the Scriptures “The Lord’s book of reasons” with no injustice. Even the preface to the Book of Mormon is cast in terms of reasons. With a few notable exceptions, scriptural injunctions without documented reasons are in reference to moral principles that are sufficiently self evident so as to not require further support. Everything else tends to follow the form of an argument, from the Sermon on the Mount to the words of Isaiah.

  58. TrailerTrash on April 28, 2006 at 7:50 am

    I have enjoyed this thread. I just thought that it should be noted that in Greek, the words translated as “thou” and “you” are simply the singular and plural. They have nothing to do with the level of respect that the pronouns carry in other languages.

  59. TrailerTrash on April 28, 2006 at 8:01 am

    With regard to the issue of what to do with flawed arguments, I suspect that I usually do something like what Nate Oman (#54) talked about. I usually assume the conclusion of the argument is correct, and find a different, more convincing way of arriving there.

    As for using “thou”-form in prayers, I always do it out of habit, not choice really. However, when I pray with non-Mormons (which I have the occassion to do rather frequently), they often comment on how strange it is that I use “thou”. My point is that using the “thou”-form not only has the effect of creating respectable distance between us and God, but also between Mormons and regular people. It feeds into a narrative of us being ignorant and weird. Now, I try to pray using “you” whenever I am in a group of non-Mormons.

  60. mullingandmusing (m&m) on April 28, 2006 at 2:45 pm

    Because of the concept of priesthood authority, it makes sense that the prophet gets to say when he is speaking for the Lord, rather than leaving it up to other people or another system for making that determination (excepting of course the first instance where one obtains his or her testimony that the prophet is indeed a prophet).

    But it has also been said that a prophet does not have to say “thus saith the Lord” to be speaking prophetically. (See, for example, Ezra Taft Benson, “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet,â€? Tambuli, June 1981, 1)

  61. Toby Read on April 28, 2006 at 4:21 pm

    Thee, thou, thine…these are beautiful words that make prayer special in English, and while I personally prefer their use, no one knows exactly what words Jesus used. He was probably speaking in Aramaic, the first Gospels were written in Greek, the King James translation, beautiful as it is, is probably not the best translation…in the end, the only thing that really matters is what is in the heart.

  62. Costanza on April 28, 2006 at 5:54 pm

    I would be careful citing the 14 Fundamentals talk, especially because the prophet at the time the talk was given, SWK, apparently had some serious questions about it.

  63. mullingandmusing (m&m) on April 28, 2006 at 6:18 pm

    62 — And your evidence for this is….???

  64. Mark Butler on April 28, 2006 at 6:35 pm

    Whatever the President of the Church’s theoretical authority in all things is, the Church in practice has long left most political issues to individual judgment. By long, well deserved reputation Ezra Taft Benson placed political matters on a much higher rung than the more conventional religious issues, and thus was viewed as planning to reverse that practice wholesale, back to the days when Church leaders told members how to vote in specific elections.

    It would be surprising to me if President Kimball did not have qualms about cultivating that perception. He certainly did not have that inclination, and President Hinckley regularly denies it. The opposite position is regularly affirmed, and for good reason, considering that much of the Church’s ability to send missionaries to other countries depends on it, namely the policy of general non-interference in secular and political disputes.

  65. DKL on April 28, 2006 at 8:56 pm

    m&m, I don’t know about Spencer Kimball’s take on the 14 Fundamentals, but there is, I think, some tension between that talk and the notion we’re supposed to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. To my mind, there’s a good reason why anti-mormons site that speech so often. It places Ezra Benson on the wrong side of history; like his statement at a BYU fireside in 1976 to the effect that historic realism is “slander and defamation,” and like Bruce McConkie’s statement that Mormons who espouse evolution are advancing “false and devilish” heresy, it’s an embarrassment to many thinking Mormons.

  66. mullingandmusing (m&m) on April 28, 2006 at 9:44 pm

    64, 65–
    Are we even talking about the same thing? I didn’t say anything about politics…don’t know where that came from. Maybe I’m missing something….

    DKL, can you help me understand what part of the talk anti-mormons have fun with? What does that talk do to contradict the idea of working out our salvation with fear and trembling?

  67. DKL on April 29, 2006 at 2:03 am

    m&m, do a google search for the following terms:

    Ezra Benson “14 Fundamentals”

    You’ll find that transcripts of the talk in a lot of places, many of them anti-mormon. There is a variety of commentary provided, but they don’t put it up there because it reflects well on how Mormons are perceived to approach their religion.

    Here are the 14 points:

    1. The prophet is the only man who speaks for the Lord in everything.

    This is false as it stands, because it is an overstatement. It should read “The prophet is the only man who can speak for the Lord in everything.” It’s pretty clear that the prophet does not, in fact, speak for the Lord in everything. That’s one reason why different prophets say different things.

    2. The living prophet is more vital to us than the standard works.

    This is one of the main points of the restoration.

    3. The living prophet is more important to us than a dead prophet.

    Same as #2.

    4. The prophet will never lead the Church astray.

    This is too vague to be definitely true of false. Brigham Young certainly did not “lead the church astray” in any strong sense, but he certainly did teach the Adam-God doctrine.

    5. The prophet is not required to have any particular earthly training or credentials to speak on any subject or act on any matter at any time.

    This is false as it stands, because it is an overstatement. It should read, “The prophet is not required to have any particular earthly training or credentials to receive revelation on any subject or act on any matter at any time.”

    6. The prophet does not have to say “Thus saith the Lord” to give us scripture.

    Not much to argue with here, but my only question is, “What’s the point in saying this?” If we have a prophet is only an infallible leader when he’s acting as prophet, and then he removes any way to determine prospectively whether he’s acting as a prophet, he greatly diminishes his utility as a prophet.

    7. The prophet tells us what we need to know, not always what we want to know.

    I suppose this depends on the audience.

    8. The prophet is not limited by men’s reasoning.

    OK

    9. The prophet can receive revelation on any matter, temporal or spiritual.

    True

    10. The prophet may be involved in civic matters.

    This isn’t a terribly meaningful statement. The question is how involved and in what capacity. I suppose in theory, the prophet could put together a Mormon Platform that the Mormon church officially backed in extraordinary circumstances (e.g., periods of intense persecution).

    11. The two groups who have the greatest difficulty in following the prophet are the proud who are learned and the proud who are rich.

    I suppose that the group that is third most likely to have difficulty following the prophet are the proud who are ignorant.

    Of course, not all rich people or learned people have trouble following the prophet. The problem is that “pride” here is almost certainly determined by whether you have difficulty. So that he’s basically saying, “The two groups who have the greatest difficulty in following the prophet are the learned who have difficulty and the proud who have difficulty.”

    Not really meaningful stuff. Reminds me of the drug addiction joke: Accuser says, “You’re an addict.” Accused says, “No, I’m not.” Accuser says, “Denial is the first sign.”

    12. The prophet will not necessarily be popular with the world or the worldly.

    True. This is also true of American presidents.

    13. The prophet and his counselors make up the First Presidency–the highest quorum in the Church.

    I’m not clear on this one. There is some vagueness in the terms. As a procedural matter, the presiding bishop can excommunicate the prophet (by assembling a court of 12 high priests). The twelve and the seventy when acting unanimously are equal in authority to the first presidency. I don’t know to what extant inter-quorum politics play a role.

    14. The prophet and the presidency–the living prophet and the First Presidency–follow them and be blessed; reject them and suffer.

    Is he talking to members or to other GAs? The problem is that the notion of “following them” is a pretty vague one. Am I failing to follow the prophet by critiquing this talk as if it were one that were simply given at stake conference? I’ve heard an apostles criticized for using poor word choice to emphasize that leering men think dirty thoughts about women. Is that failing to “follow the prophet”? This is a bit like saying, “The working man deserves a fair shake.” It sounds OK, but outside of some very obvious examples, it just doesn’t have many concrete applications.

    In summary, the basic problem with the talk is that it provides fodder for those who wish to deduce the right course of action based purely on the words of the prophets. As though (a) there’s no room for disagreement, and (b) the course of one’s life can be very nearly mapped out using simply by obeying the prophets. These create a tension with the notion of working out our own salvation, because the largest tests of mortal probation are not primarily concerned with how attentively we listen to the designated spokesman (most humans never even have the chance). In fact, you’re generally better off listening to the people in your ward–that’s why we hear them every week, and we only hear from the prophet once a month (in the Ensign) and twice a year (at conference time)–not counting appearances on Larry King.

  68. Costanza on April 29, 2006 at 8:09 am

    M&M: Evidence for my statement about SWK and the 14 Fundamentals talk is found in Edward L. Kimball’s biography of his father, entitled “Lengthen Your Stride.” The book comes with a CD ROM which has material that Deseret Book apparently did not want included in the printed version. On page 236 of the version entitled “Working Draft,” Kimball writes of the 14 Fundamentals talk, “Spencer felt concern about the talk, wanting to protect the church against being misunderstood as espousing ultraconservative politics or an unthinking ‘follow the leader’ mentality The First Presidency again called Elder Benson in to discuss what he had said and asked him to make an explanation to the full Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and other General Authorities.”

  69. grego on April 29, 2006 at 8:12 pm

    If a person argues with a reason that is wrong, I find it hard to follow.
    If the reason is given as an addition, I find it much easier to follow.

  70. Kimball L. Hunt on April 29, 2006 at 9:36 pm

    grego: Besides my inventing a near anagram of “argue” into “agree,” I’m befuddled by your aphoristic riddle.

    Viz. — I’m perplexed whether it’s that ya don’t wanna follow (a) the arguers or (b) the thing argued against; while ya DO wanna follow (a) those providing additional reasons — unless it’s (b) the reasoning that are given as being additional which you do wanna follow?

  71. mullingandmusing (m&m) on April 30, 2006 at 2:13 pm

    68
    Does the CD-rom say anything about the report?

  72. Costanza on April 30, 2006 at 3:36 pm

    71: I recommend you do a little of your own reading on the subject.

  73. Costanza on April 30, 2006 at 6:14 pm

    There are a few other sources that mention the incident, but I don’t have the citations availabe right now. If you are really interested, I’m sure you can find some of them on the internet somewhere.

  74. DavidH on April 30, 2006 at 9:52 pm

    On another thread we discussed the compilation into the priesthood/relief society manuals of excerpts from writings and speeches of men who became prophets. It will be interesting to see which portions, if any, of President Benson’s BYU talk on following the prophet (given prior to his becoming president of the Church) are selected by the committee/Brethren as representing current correlated teachings of the Church.

  75. DKL on May 1, 2006 at 1:24 am

    There is, of course, the famous letter by President George Smith explicitly refuting the notion that “When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done.” He says that this statement “does not express the true position of the Church” and that it’s publication was due to an oversight and that as a consequence, some “General Authorities have been embarrassed.”

    The text of President George Smith’s letter is right here at the FAIR site, below the text of the article that prompted the need for repudiation. (I have a copy of this letter, as well as the letter from Raymond Cope to which President George Smith is responding in my personal possession).

    It’s worth repeating in full the principle that the prophet explicitly repudiated (and we should all be quite pleased that he did, because there’s no room for this kind of god-warrior-trash-talk [elsewhere, I've called it "self-serving tripe"] in Mormonism):

    When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. When they propose a plan–it is God’s plan. When they point the way, there is no other which is safe. When they give direction, it should mark the end of controversy. God works in no other way. To think otherwise, without immediate repentance, may cost one his faith, may destroy his testimony, and leave him a stranger to the kingdom of God.

    I point this out to emphasize that I’m not playing the role of some stubborn mule who prizes above all else his membership in the herd of independent thinkers. On the contrary, I’m espousing a reasonably mainstream view.

  76. mullingandmusing (m&m) on May 1, 2006 at 2:57 am

    74
    I think it’s interesting to note that there was obviously some level of acceptance of the talk because it was published in a Church magazine.

    68, 75
    OK, I understand what you are saying here, but let’s look at this for a minute. We have an obscure “incident” from a draft (unpublished) copy of a biography expressing concern about a talk that later appeared in a Church magazine, and am unofficial, personal letter by a prophet long since deceased (which only really talks about the fact that no one is “forced” to obey). I don’t think this is really strong support for “what the position of the Church is” with regard to following our leaders. On the contrary, there is sooooo much support for the concept of obedience to prophets that the few quotes I share below are already too lengthy (but there are many more). You can’t read on this topic on lds.org without a plethora of talks on following the prophets. Everyone can choose whether or not to follow, but that choice is not without consequence, nor is it the recommended course. If we consider that the first law of heaven is obedience, it really is something we should do because we have covenanted to do so. My experience has been that the Spirit confirms their words (sometimes after some time — sometimes takes some steps in faith first). If I take their words in faith, not with a critical spirit, my testimony of following prophets has just continued to grow.

    Of course, we are to seek the Spirit, but I think we should not be looking for reasons not to obey (which is what I feel sometimes happens when quotes (or obscure information) like this are brought up). History has shown (anciently and in latter times) that following the prophets is the smart way to go. (This is one of the messages that came through loud and clear when I did the BOM challenge. Go read Ether as a simple example. Read the end of Helaman and the beginning of 3 Ne. Consider the first story of Lehi’s family and the destruction of Jerusalem. Think of Abinadi. Think of Samuel. Think of Haun’s Mill. Or Lorenzo Snow and tithing. Or…(it’s too late for me to make a huge list…but this pattern is EVERYWHERE in our history and in scripture.

    Following the prophets and accepting their teachings is also the ONLY way we can be “of one mind” as a Church (think Zion society). We can’t all be going around willy-nilly picking our own path. The Savior condemned contention over doctrine. “One doctrine” is found through the prophets of God.)

    I realize this is a sore point for many people who float around in the bloggernacle. I realize that everyone has their own approach to this. But, with all due respect, we simply can’t pretend that we haven’t been told time and time and time again about the importance of following the prophets. I share quotes below because what *I* think doesn’t really matter. What matters is what we have been counseled to do.

    If you have ever felt something they say doesn’t apply to you, consider this from Elder Eyring:

    “Sometimes we will receive counsel that we cannot understand or that seems not to apply to us, even after careful prayer and thought. Don’t discard the counsel, but hold it close. If someone you trusted handed you what appeared to be nothing more than sand with the promise that it contained gold, you might wisely hold it in your hand awhile, shaking it gently. Every time I have done that with counsel from a prophet, after a time the gold flakes have begun to appear and I have been grateful.”
    Henry B. Eyring, “Finding Safety in Counsel,� Ensign, May 1997, 24

    This has been my experience as well. The words of the prophets are pure gold to me! It’s something that sometimes takes some time and “practice” even, but it is a true principle! It’s not a principle of compulsion, but of freedom and happiness and peace.

    I love this point:
    “One of the sneaky ploys of the adversary is to have us believe that unquestioning obedience to the principles and commandments of God is blind obedience. His goal is to have us believe that we should be following our own worldly ways and selfish ambitions. This he does by persuading us that “blindlyâ€? following the prophets and obeying the commandments is not thinking for ourselves. He teaches that it is not intelligent to do something just because we are told to do so by a living prophet or by prophets who speak to us from the scriptures.
    Our unquestioning obedience to the Lord’s commandments is not blind obedience. President Boyd K. Packer in the April conference of 1983 taught us about this: “Latter-day Saints are not obedient because they are compelled to be obedient. They are obedient because they know certain spiritual truths and have decided, as an expression of their own individual agency, to obey the commandments of God. … We are not obedient because we are blind, we are obedient because we can see� (“Agency and Control,� Ensign, May 1983, 66).
    We might call this “faith obedience.�

    R. Conrad Schultz, “Faith Obedience,� Ensign, May 2002, 29

    From Pres. Hinckeley:
    While standards of people in general may totter, we of the Church are without excuse if we drift in the same manner. We have standards—sure, tested, and effective. To the extent that we observe them, we shall go forward. To the extent that we neglect them, we shall hinder our own progress and bring embarrassment to the work of the Lord. These standards have come from him. Some of them may appear a little old fashioned in our society, but this does not make them less valid nor diminish the power of their application. The subtle reasoning of men, no matter how clever, no matter how plausible it may sound, cannot take away the declared wisdom of God.
    A former stake patriarch once said something that I have not forgotten. He said: “God is not a celestial politician seeking our vote. Rather, God is to be found, and God is to obeyed.�

    Gordon B. Hinckley, “Contend Not with Others,� Tambuli, Nov. 1989, 2

    Another favorite — one of the best talks I think ever given on this topic of following the prophets:

    There seems to be no end to the Savior’s desire to lead us to safety. And there is constancy in the way He shows us the path. He calls by more than one means so that it will reach those willing to accept it. And those means always include sending the message by the mouths of His prophets whenever people have qualified to have the prophets of God among them. Those authorized servants are always charged with warning the people, telling them the way to safety….
    In our own time, we have been warned with counsel of where to find safety from sin and from sorrow. One of the keys to recognizing those warnings is that they are repeated. For instance, more than once in these general conferences, you have heard our prophet say that he would quote a preceding prophet and would therefore be a second witness and sometimes even a third. Each of us who has listened has heard President Kimball give counsel on the importance of a mother in the home and then heard President Benson quote him, and we have heard President Hinckley quote them both. The Apostle Paul wrote that “in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established� (2 Cor. 13:1). One of the ways we may know that the warning is from the Lord is that the law of witnesses, authorized witnesses, has been invoked. When the words of prophets seem repetitive, that should rivet our attention and fill our hearts with gratitude to live in such a blessed time. [This is a key, I think, for us to know what things to really focus on (not that I'm not an advocate of listening to everything they say and doing our best to act -- to obey quickly as Elder Eyring discussed last year (start early [to obey] and be steady in obedience)]

    Looking for the path to safety in the counsel of prophets makes sense to those with strong faith. When a prophet speaks, those with little faith may think that they hear only a wise man giving good advice. Then if his counsel seems comfortable and reasonable, squaring with what they want to do, they take it. If it does not, they consider it either faulty advice or they see their circumstances as justifying their being an exception to the counsel. Those without faith may think that they hear only men seeking to exert influence for some selfish motive….

    When we reject the counsel which comes from God, we do not choose to be independent of outside influence. We choose another influence. We reject the protection of a perfectly loving, all-powerful, all-knowing Father in Heaven, whose whole purpose, as that of His Beloved Son, is to give us eternal life, to give us all that He has, and to bring us home again in families to the arms of His love. In rejecting His counsel, we choose the influence of another power, whose purpose is to make us miserable and whose motive is hatred. We have moral agency as a gift of God. Rather than the right to choose to be free of influence, it is the inalienable right to submit ourselves to whichever of those powers we choose.
    Henry B. Eyring, “Finding Safety in Counsel,� Ensign, May 1997, 24

    The prophets of old taught well the importance of listening to the voice of prophets. The story of Jehoshaphat found in 2 Chronicles 20 is an example. … “Believe in the Lord your God, so shall ye be established; believe his prophets, so shall ye prosperâ€? (2 Chr. 20:20)….
    Robert D. Hales, “Hear the Prophet’s Voice and Obey,� Ensign, May 1995, 15

    “[W]e might well ask, “Is there one clear, unpolluted, unbiased voice that we can always count on? Is there a voice that will always give us clear directions to find our way in today’s troubled world?â€? The answer is yes. That voice is the voice of the living prophet and apostles….
    the Savior instructed Church members to “give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me;
    “For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith� (D&C 21:4–5).
    Then the Lord gave a magnificent promise to those who are obedient: “For by doing these things the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory� (D&C 21:6).
    A year and a half later, the Lord added to that significant promise this stern warning: “The arm of the Lord shall be revealed; and the day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people� (D&C 1:14).
    It is no small thing, my brothers and sisters, to have a prophet of God in our midst. Great and wonderful are the blessings that come into our lives as we listen to the word of the Lord given to us through him. At the same time, knowing that President Gordon B. Hinckley is God’s prophet also endows us with responsibility. When we hear the counsel of the Lord expressed through the words of the President of the Church, our response should be positive and prompt. History has shown that there is safety, peace, prosperity, and happiness in responding to prophetic counsel as did Nephi of old: “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded� (1 Ne. 3:7). [he goes on...won't include more of that talk here....]

    M. Russell Ballard, “His Word Ye Shall Receive,� Ensign, May 2001, 65

    There are plenty more where those came from. I stumbled upon this one, which I think should give us pause. The following postdates, by decades, the “famous letter” from Pres. Smith (which, we need to remember, was not official Church material anyway (as is the case with the obscure Pres. Kimball story), but….):

    “N. Eldon Tanner, “The Debate Is Over,â€? Tambuli, June 1980, 1
    Recently, at the Churchwide fireside meeting held for the women of the Church, Young Women President Elaine Cannon made the following statement: “When the Prophet speaks … the debate is overâ€? (Ensign, Nov. 1978, p. 108). I was impressed by that simple statement, which carries such deep spiritual meaning for all of us. Wherever I go, my message to the people is: Follow the prophet. Why else has the Lord placed prophets on the earth throughout the dispensations of time? In his infinite wisdom, and as part of the plan of life and salvation for his children, God has given us the plan to follow, the leadership to direct us and keep us on course, and the Church organization to help us lay the foundation and develop the skills, or make the preparation necessary, to lead us back to our eternal home….It is difficult to understand why there are so many people who fight against the counsel of the prophet and for the preservation of the very things that will bring them misery and even death.
    Today there are many subjects being discussed because of the controversies all around us. It should be evident to all that we need divine direction, since men and women who argue about these controversies seem to be unable to come to workable or peaceable solutions. It is sad indeed that the world does not know or accept the fact that in our midst is a prophet through whom God can direct the solution of world problems.
    True Latter-day Saints have no such dilemma. They know that the messages of the prophet have come from the Lord and have the concurrence of all the General Authorities, who are men of vision and integrity, and who themselves try to keep in tune with deity. They are not, as some would suggest, following blindly and acting without their own free agency to speak and think for themselves. Through prayer to our Heavenly Father each of us can have the assurance that the course we choose has his divine approval….
    We cannot serve God and mammon. Whose side are we on? When the prophet speaks the debate is over.”

    You will note he still addresses agency. Again, it is that we, as covenant people of the Lord, are invited to obey. That is part of our covenant. Blessings are associated with that principle. Obedience to law is the foundation upon which blessings are predicated. Law comes through prophets. How else do we expect to claim the blessings that have been promised? The scriptures are replete with examples of this counsel, as well as examples of what happened to those who did not follow. I don’t see examples of people being able to ignore the prophets’ words without negative consequence. This idea that we are not expected to follow the prophets is simply misguided.

    As a sidenote, I understand that people may want to pick apart Pres. Benson’s talk, but I think if you don’t make him an offender for a word, his points are pretty solid. (Even the civic affairs one has recently been underscored by Elder Nelson’s participation in the petition for a federal marriage amendment. Of course the Church usually stays pretty neutral — except on some issues like this one. I understand that Pres. Benson was very civic-minded, but I think the principles that he taught can still hold.) And, again, his talk was printed in a Church magazine. Many of the points in his talk have also been taught by subsequent leaders.

    The older I get, the more grateful I am for prophets. The more we go along, the more I am convinced it will be necessary for us to follow them. Elder Eyring talks about how it becomes harder to follow in the future if we don’t follow now. There are rough days ahead. It just makes sense to let “watchmen on the tower” guide us through those stormy days — they are SEERS. They see what we don’t and can’t see. Why fight that blessing? I really enjoy discussing concepts and ideas here, but this is something I can’t understand.

    Ah, long post. Sorry, but this is my hot-button topic. I am so sad when people fight against what the prophets say. It makes life harder in the long run (and usually in the short run as well). The more I follow them, the more convinced of this principle I am. God is merciful and just, but He also expects things of us, and has ways of communicating those expectations — and also simply those things for our good and happiness, here and eternally. We need to trust that!

    OK, sorry, I am really done now…..

  77. DKL on May 1, 2006 at 7:20 am

    m&m We have… an unofficial, personal letter by a prophet long since deceased (which only really talks about the fact that no one is “forcedâ€? to obey).

    You must have missed the parts that I describe, the parts in which he says that it’s not the position of the church and that it has caused other GAs some embarrassment (and I’m happy to count myself among the embarrassed when that kind of stuff gets said). But in any case, you’re wrong. President George Smith is representing the church in an official capacity, replying as President of the Church. In doing so, he reports that church leaders share Raymond Cope’s concern, that the publication was a mistake, and that it has upset members, and that it has caused embarrassment among leaders.

    J. Raymond Cope, of the First Unitarian Society, wrote in his (exceptionally tactful) letter to President George Smith (in which he also expressed great admiration for and kinship with the church):

    I do not know who is responsible for this statement [about following the leaders], but I am sure it is doing inestimable harm to many who have no other reason to question the integrity of the Church leaders. Many people are suffering because of this. My reply to each of those who have spoken to me is “please do not become disturbed, this cannot be the position of the true leaders.

    Thin is what the world really thinks when they read passages like, “when the leaders speak, the thinking has been done,” or talks like the Ezra Benson’s 14 fundamentals. And with good reason, as affirmed by President George Smith’s reply.

    Furthermore, the kind of stuff that gets said in private is often far more revealing than what gets said in public. Specifically, the church has a long history of allowing ultra-conservatives to speak without rebuttal, while actually formulating substantially more nuanced positions than those express by the ultra-conservatives.

  78. greenfrog on May 1, 2006 at 9:29 am

    And, again, his talk was printed in a Church magazine.

    A curious criterion of authority.

  79. Costanza on May 1, 2006 at 11:08 am

    “the obscure Pres. Kimball story” LOL. I love it M&M, you are completely wiling to accept without question anything supporting your point of view with no care for provenance, but when you are faced with evidence that you don’t like it is “obscure.” I fail to see what is obscure about it–it is an account written by Kimball’s son who has access to his father’s journal in which an apostle is aclled to account for remarks which he made that the prophet had problems with. I’m sorry if that complicates your rosy view of the dynamics of the prophetic office, but it is hardly obscure. By the way, what about Joseph Smith’s statement that a prophet is only a prophet when he is acting as such? Benson’s talk in no way makes room for such a possibility because the foundation of his argument is that a prophet is a prophet no matter what.

  80. mullingandmusing (m&m) on May 1, 2006 at 12:26 pm

    you are completely wiling to accept without question anything supporting your point of view with no care for provenance

    But in any case, you’re wrong. President George Smith is representing the church in an official capacity, replying as President of the Church.

    And what of repeated quotes from prophets and apostles (with one from a Seventy), most that are from General Conference?

  81. mullingandmusing (m&m) on May 1, 2006 at 12:37 pm

    #78
    From Elder Oaks:
    “Of course, the Church does have a responsibility to point out what is the voice of the Church and what is not…For [that] reason, the Church does approve or disapprove those publications that are to be published or used in the official activities of the Church, general or local. For example, we have procedures to ensure approved content for materials published in the name of the Church or used for instruction in its classes. These procedures can be somewhat slow and cumbersome, but they have an important benefit. They provide a spiritual quality control that allows members to rely on the truth of what is said. Members who listen to the voice of the Church need not be on guard against being misled. They have no such assurance for what they hear from alternate voices.”
    Dallin H. Oaks, “Alternate Voices,� Ensign, May 1989, 27, emph. added

    Which is why I take the approach I do.

  82. mullingandmusing (m&m) on May 1, 2006 at 12:58 pm

    By the way, what about Joseph Smith’s statement that a prophet is only a prophet when he is acting as such? Benson’s talk in no way makes room for such a possibility because the foundation of his argument is that a prophet is a prophet no matter what.

    Even if you throw away Pres. Benson’s talk, there is still an awful lot of stuff from current prophets that must be addressed.

  83. mullingandmusing (m&m) on May 1, 2006 at 1:01 pm

    Furthermore, the kind of stuff that gets said in private is often far more revealing than what gets said in public.

    We are not held responsible for what is said in private, however. Which is why the letter and the Edward Kimball thing are not “official” anything. I think it’s extremely dangerous to think that we can easily dismiss what our prophets say.

  84. DavidH on May 1, 2006 at 1:21 pm

    ** As the saying goes: Catholics teach that the Pope is infallible but no one believes it. Mormons teach that their prophet is indeed fallible, but no one believes it. **

    We have debated this issue round and round on many threads. In fact, as I read our early Church history, so did the members in the 1800s.

    Some, having once had a witness that the Church is true and that the Brethren are God’s spokesmen, need no further witness to follow quickly and unquestioningly each and every word of the prophets, seers and revelators.

    Others of us (I am one) return to the fount of truth, the Holy Spirit, when difficult or controversial counsel is given, to help determine or understand if and how it is applicable in our lives.

    I believe this is appropriate. President J. Reuben Clark put it this way:

    “‘And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.’ (D&C 68:2-4.)

    “The very words of the revelation recognize that the Brethren may speak when they are not ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost’; yet only when they do speak as ‘moved upon’ is what they say considered scripture. No exceptions are given to this rule or principle. It is universal in its application.

    “The question is, how shall we know when the things they have spoken were said as they were ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost’? I have given some thought to this question, and the answer thereto, so far as I can determine, is: We can tell when the speakers are ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost’ only when we, ourselves, are ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost.’ In a way, this completely shifts the responsibility from them to us to determine when they so speak.”

    “When Are the Writings and Sermons of Church Leaders Entitled to the Claim of Scripture”, http://emp.byui.edu/MARROTTR/ClarkWhenAreWritings.pdf

    While President Clark’s discourse addresses how to determine if a Church leader’s counsel is “scripture,” I think the same principle applies in determining if it is the “will [or] mind [or] word of the Lord.”

  85. Costanza on May 1, 2006 at 1:29 pm

    “what of repeated quotes from prophets and apostles (with one from a Seventy), most that are from General Conference” Yes, what about those? Were they acting as prophets when they said them? How do we know? If you take the position that anything a general authority says in conference is prophetic, so be it. However, that puts you in a pretty difficult rhetorical bind when you are left to deal with conflicting statements from general authorities, and it seems to be out of harmony with Joseph Smith’s general feelings about the matter.

  86. mullingandmusing (m&m) on May 1, 2006 at 1:49 pm

    We have debated this issue round and round on many threads.

    I guess I won’t make this one go ’round again then.

  87. Clinton on May 1, 2006 at 2:03 pm

    This of course can all be cleared up when we realize that Joseph Smith was not speaking as a prophet when he said that sometimes the prophet speaks as a prophet and sometimes he speaks as a man. If he was speaking prophetically he would have obviously said that the prophet always speaks as a prophet. I don’t understand why this issue is so hard for people to grasp. (Ouchhh!! That hurts when I poke my tongue so far into my cheek.) :-)

  88. obi-wan on May 1, 2006 at 2:59 pm

    Members who listen to the voice of the Church need not be on guard against being misled.

    Apparently Elder Oaks was not speaking as a prophet when he said this, since the statement as it stands is demonstrably false.

  89. DKL on May 1, 2006 at 3:02 pm

    m&m, Elder Oaks’ talk on alternative voices is the kind of god-warrior trash-talk (elsewhere, I’ve called it self-serving tripe) that causes embarrassment to many thinking Mormons. He says this kind of stuff a lot, and we should object to it at every opportunity (as I am now). In fact, as far as I can tell, Elder Oaks’ Alternative Voices talk was the source of more vocal dissent than any other high-profile talk given by an apostle in the past 4 decades–as well it should be.

    Elder Oaks is wrong about nearly everything he says on the topic. His talk was an ill-conceived (and fortunately ill-fated) attempt to put the pressure on and stigmatize Mormons who participate in publications like Dialogue or Sunstone. He’s proven to be on the wrong side of history, since alternative voices have grown exponentially since the time he gave his talk, and he’s left with no basis for calling the church membership exponentially more wicked. In fact, nearly the entire bloggernacle (including this very blog) falls under the condemnation of Elder Oaks’ talk. You are, in a sense, repudiating its contents by participating here.

    I suspect that part of the problem stems from the fact that the church leadership is operating on an obsolete management paradigm–one that views conflict as undesirable rather than as a valuable element of anything that requires collaboration and teamwork.

    In any case, m&m, I see part of the problem here as an unwillingness to actually read what is being said with an analytical eye–like Bible-thumpers who read the Bible so blindly that they can’t see the contradictions.

    Don’t get me wrong, I do adhere to the nebulous notion of following the prophet. But it will take more than an ill-conceived talk about alternative voices to convince me not to read Dialogue or participate in a forum such as this one. Luckily, I’m not alone here, and (as I indicated before) this is a reasonably mainstream position.

  90. mullingandmusing (m&m) on May 1, 2006 at 4:35 pm

    DKL we will have to agree to disagree. I wholeheartedly disagree, in fact. I am extremely analytical and yet find no need to be critical of the prophets. I love their words and find great peace in following them (not blindly, but because that is what brings the Spirit in my life). This is after much, much, study and experience with these very issues. I’m not naive as you want to make me out to be.

    You have missed (and even twisted) what Elder Oaks said. in fact, he said that “members of the Church are free to participate or to listen to any alternate voices they choose.” I have no idea why you get so testy about his talk. His point is that alternate voices that are not authorized by the Church are simply that — not officially representing the Church. That’s important to know. The fact that, as you pointed out, “since alternative voices have grown exponentially since the time he gave his talk” is just support for the wisdom of his talk. We should be reminded that not all voices out there are right and good. What’s so awful about that?

    he’s left with no basis for calling the church membership exponentially more wicked. In fact, nearly the entire bloggernacle (including this very blog) falls under the condemnation of Elder Oaks’ talk.

    He never called the church exponentially more wicked. He also never banned participation in places other than church classes. You are blowing his talk way out of proportion.

    You are, in a sense, repudiating its contents by participating here.
    Since he never condemned participation by church members in anything but church-approved activities, then you are simply wrong.

    Luckily, I’m not alone here, and (as I indicated before) this is a reasonably mainstream position.
    This may be mainstream in the bloggernacle, but not in the Church at large.

    Elder Oaks is wrong about nearly everything he says on the topic.
    You have no authority. He does. That authority makes all the difference in the world. You are welcome to think whatever you want, but you have no authority to declare the wrongness or rightness of his words.

  91. Mark Butler on May 1, 2006 at 4:53 pm

    DKL (#88), I re-read the Ensign transcript of Dallin Oaks’ Alternative Voices talk, and find it relatively unremarkable, certainly far less remarkable than Ezra Taft Benson’s 14 Points talk.

    He just doesn’t say anything particularly extreme or surprising at all. It is exactly the kind of talk that the Church could issue as a formal position statement with hardly a quibble. In fact his talks is liberal in several crucial respects – in particular he did not limit inspiration or revelation about truth to church leaders only, nor recommend that members avoid such forums entirely.

    None of this hand-to-mouth epistemology stuff, just elementary cautions. If some members read a well balanced talk like that in the black and white terms that is to their detriment, not Elder Oaks’. I don’t really see how he could have been milder without losing the substance of his message. Some of the similar conference talks from ~1993 contain much more severe statements.

  92. greenfrog on May 1, 2006 at 5:16 pm

    Elder Oaks’ talk on alternative voices is the kind of god-warrior trash-talk (elsewhere, I’ve called it self-serving tripe) that causes embarrassment to many thinking Mormons. He says this kind of stuff a lot, and we should object to it at every opportunity (as I am now). In fact, as far as I can tell, Elder Oaks’ Alternative Voices talk was the source of more vocal dissent than any other high-profile talk given by an apostle in the past 4 decades–as well it should be.

    Elder Oaks is wrong about nearly everything he says on the topic. His talk was an ill-conceived (and fortunately ill-fated) attempt to put the pressure on and stigmatize Mormons who participate in publications like Dialogue or Sunstone. He’s proven to be on the wrong side of history, since alternative voices have grown exponentially since the time he gave his talk, and he’s left with no basis for calling the church membership exponentially more wicked. In fact, nearly the entire bloggernacle (including this very blog) falls under the condemnation of Elder Oaks’ talk. You are, in a sense, repudiating its contents by participating here.

    The severity of this prompted me to go back and re-read Elder Oaks’ article in its entirety. With the content of the article in mind, I think that this summary is inaccurate. While one may reach sweeping conclusions about the article’s intent (it is clear that Elder Oaks was speaking specifically about Sunstone symposia and the like), I find it useful to parse his writings the same way I would a legal document. In part, that’s probably a personal predilection, but in part it’s because Elder Oaks wrote legal opinions and was most assuredly aware of the way legal opinions work in a common law tradition.

    What are the elements of the article that catch my attention, when read as I would read a legal opinion? First, Elder Oaks starts by affirming the good of some alternate voices (as he terms the group, generically). He cites D&C for the point that such efforts can constitute anxious engagement in a good cause. The next point that catches my attention in this regard is his assertion that “[m]embers of the Church are free to participate or to listen to any alternate voices they choose…” Together and in the context of the Church’s actions in the late 1980s, those statements stand as instruction to some of the more zealous local leaders at the time to stop trying members for their faithfulness just because they happen to write an article for Dialogue or because they are on a panel in a Sunstone symposium.

    The rest of the talk, as I read it, is designed to convince non-GAs (and, possibly a few GAs) that the lawyerly “no comment” is a response that is more valuable and to be esteemed more highly than Elder Oaks believed was commonly held.

    Of course, he also did say, regarding correllation: These procedures can be somewhat slow and cumbersome, but they have an important benefit. They provide a spiritual quality control that allows members to rely on the truth of what is said. Members who listen to the voice of the Church need not be on guard against being misled.

    For myself, I’m staying on guard, but I readily acknowledge that I’m of a qualitatively different variety of faith than the one I believe Elder Oaks espouses. The difference I perceive stems in part, from a divergence in the responses that he and I make with respect to a point he explicitly addresses in that very article. He writes: When reason is adopted as the only—or even the principal—method of judging the gospel, the outcome is predetermined.

    That’s a pretty interesting sentence. It is Elder Oaks’ declaration that he has looked and concluded that there’s no critical-thinking model that leads to acceptance of the doctrines of the Church. I agree with his conclusion with respect to some aspects of the Church, and I disagree with it with respect to other aspects.

    I also view that article as something of a formal rejection (a la Confessions of St. Augustine) on his part of the judgment-making model that he not only used but (as a state supreme court justice) also embodied during his professional career. From that perspective, it is interesting to see so many elements of opinion-writing in the text of that article. Whether I’ve read more into his intentions and thinking than are justified by the text itself, I leave to others to evaluate.

  93. greenfrog on May 1, 2006 at 5:17 pm

    hah — double cross-post. Ah well. I’m slow.

  94. Nathan on May 1, 2006 at 5:21 pm

    Mainstream has always been Gods way of choosing what is right and what is wrong.

    Yep, as long as everybody else is doing it……

  95. Mark Butler on May 1, 2006 at 5:37 pm

    m&m #83, I think the idea that “we will be held responsible” just for what is said in general conference, and implicitly not for the knowledge we obtain through other channels, both formal and informal, betrays an unwarranted religious legalism.

    As if what the general authorities said was the law of the land, and everyone was going to be judged on some sort of bright line criteria derived from their most recent talks, rather than being judged on much broader considerations of how they exercised their responsibilty to be free agents anxiously engaged in a good cause – bound by fundamental laws, but having enormous discretion within those bounds.

    Most gospel principles are not about bright line “punishable” legal criteria at all, but about what sort of considerations should inform not only our decisions, but our epistemology as well. Legalism of the type that necessarily informs a disciplinary council is a necessary evil – How can one interpret Christ’s comments with regard to the Pharisee’s (the religious lawyers of their day) any other way?

    Saying that we have a solemn duty to prayerfully consider what our leaders teach and to incorporate the truth of their message into our own lives is not the same as saying that we are free to disregard what they say for any reason at all.

    The difference between due consideration and punishable infraction is precisely where legalism fails as a moral philosophy. The Church should not be viewed as a hierarchical dictatorship where the will of an ecclesiastical superior is as the voice of God to all inferiors. That is not what the D&C teaches about the matter at any rate. Indeed, that type of authoritative excess is precisely what provoked the Protestant reformation. The authority of the Priesthood is supposed to be exercised by _persuasion_, long suffering, and love unfeigned. Otherwise the Church is little different from a voluntary dictatorship that aspires to be an involuntary one.

  96. Mark Butler on May 1, 2006 at 6:17 pm

    Greenfrog (#91), I think Elder Oaks statement that reason alone _pre-determines the outcome of religious inquiry surrenders the dispute too easily. The Thomists would say exactly the opposite – that reason properly applied by an unbiased observer would serve to demonstrate not negate God’s existence. Aquinas practically invented the field of natural theology – a simple example of which Alma 30:44.

    On the other hand, reason in the modern age is a notoriously destructive, analytical force, where the Kingdom of God is necessarily founded not only on unshakable eternal principles, but synthetic (constructed) laws, languages, practices, and conventions as well. Reason can often tell us what is wrong with a culture, but how often can it tell is what is right with one?

    The Thomists took the position that all truths were what we would call analytic or metaphysical truths, and thus acceptable to reason. The Protestant Reformers tended to take the opposite position, in favor of a severe theological voluntarism. Mormon theology seems to be in the middle – we admit natural laws and eternal principles independent of God, by which rational analysis of theological propositions may be conducted, but we also believe that God is a temporal being who actively directs the work of his children here on earth in a manner not explainable from reason alone.

    The very idea of authority is transitively delegated creative discretion. How can one be an Authority if he is not an Author? Pure reason cannot dictate the one true way to write a novel, compose a symphony, or paint a painting. But of course authority without reason is simply arbitrary. There has to be a healthy balance between the two – a balance that is oft neglected in the debates about revelation, reason, and authority in the Church.

    An equally significant question is to what degree should a leader’s authorial discretion and creativity constrain or influence the creativity and discretion of those he presides over – not simply whether every decision of a leader is objectively right or not.

  97. Mark Butler on May 1, 2006 at 6:18 pm

    That should be “accessible to reason”

  98. DKL on May 1, 2006 at 7:21 pm

    m&m: You have no authority. He does.

    This begs the question; viz., where does his authority begin and end, and to what extent is it circumscribed by reason. How critically minded are you being here?

    Mark Butler, the basic problem with the article is the predominance of ad hominum attacks:

    Other alternate voices are pursuing selfish personal interests, such as property, pride, prominence, or power. Other voices are the bleatings of lost souls who cannot hear the voice of the Shepherd and trot about trying to find their way without his guidance. Some of these voices call out guidance for others—the lost leading the lost.

    Some alternate voices are of those whose avowed or secret object is to deceive and devour the flock. The Good Shepherd warned, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” In both the Bible and the Book of Mormon the Savior charged his shepherds to watch over and protect the flock from such wolves.

    The pretense here is that we can disregard what some people say about the church based on the status of their testimony. This is the kind of thing that leads people to feel the need to avoid the works of excommunicants like Brent Metcalfe or the September 6, just because the church excommunicated them. Then the church pawns this kind of activity off on its members as though their excommunication were some objective measure of the worth of their work.

    Oaks goes on to say, “Those who teach the gospel are instructed not to preach with ‘wrath’ or ‘strife,’ but in ‘mildness and in meekness,’ ‘reviling not against revilers,’” and in doing so recommends to members to a standard that many GAs simply do not follow.

    Oaks goes on in the talk to name aspects that describe actions taken by both Dialogue and Sunstone, admitting that such sources may contain some good stuff, but saying that it is best to avoid altogether involvement with publications that mix the good with the bad. (A standard that I he seems to eschew when analyzing the correlated materials.)

    Moreover, the process that he describes in which conflict is considered bad is exactly the one in which accountability is jettisoned. In the end, his reasoning is perniciously self-affirming. He’s saying, “Don’t pay attention to alternative voices that disagree with church leadership.” This immediately disqualifies any attempt to argue the point.

    It’s these types of things that lead many prominent Mormon scholars to speak out on this.

  99. Mark Butler on May 1, 2006 at 8:03 pm

    DKL (#98), The two paragraphs are not ad hominem attacks, they are generalizations whose specific interpretation and applicability to any particular “voice” is left to the reader.

    I can’t see anything particularly remarkable about warning about the possible consequences of supporting organizations that trivialize Mormonism’s most sacred aspects. Indeed, if Sunstone wants to attract a balanced audience they should exercise some basic sensitivity in matters like that.

    The problem as I see it is that people on both sides want to reduce every thing to an adjudicable legal question, where in practice Elder Oaks talk mostly gives general principles, no hard line commandments or instructions at all. Similar ones have been given about cable television and the Internet. But no rational person concludes that a “righteous” person has to avoid both like the plague, just to exercise rudimentary judgment in the matter.

  100. greenfrog on May 1, 2006 at 8:36 pm

    Mark B: I perceive my divergence from Elder Oaks’ position set forth in the article is not my belief that reason alone is sufficient to establish gospel principles — it is his conclusion that reason is not even a primary standard. Though he does not articulate it in such terms, I understand his point to be that the gospel can only be accepted through charismatic experience.

    I am unwilling to reject the application of critical thought to give shape to and to control the inferences drawn from the charismatic experiences that I have. Perhaps Elder Oaks would not disagree with such an approach, but I found nothing in the article to suggest that he would countenance it and much to suggest that he rejects it.

  101. mullingandmusing (m&m) on May 1, 2006 at 8:53 pm

    I think the idea that “we will be held responsible� just for what is said in general conference,
    What I meant more is that we aren’t held to quotes from the past that haven’t been brought to the surface by our current leaders. We don’t have to go digging in unofficial stuff to “find out” what God’s will is. His will and commandments come through His prophets.

    This begs the question; viz., where does his authority begin and end, and to what extent is it circumscribed by reason. How critically minded are you being here?

    If one comes to a different conclusion than the prophets (supposedly from personal revelation, not from reason), then that’s where the revelation ends. That is the order of the Church.

    I have thought about this topic more than you could know.

  102. DavidH on May 1, 2006 at 11:01 pm

    I have also thought and prayed about this topic for many, many years, and have reached a slightly different conclusion (one quite similar to J. Reuben Clark’s, quoted above). I am glad there is room in our Church (at least for now) for renegades like President Clark and me.

  103. mullingandmusing (m&m) on May 1, 2006 at 11:19 pm

    I have also thought and prayed about this topic for many, many years, and have reached a slightly different conclusion (one quite similar to J. Reuben Clark’s, quoted above). I am glad there is room in our Church (at least for now) for renegades like President Clark and me.

    I guess I wonder: Is our experience or approach really that different, or are we saying things a different way? I never suggested that we don’t seek the Spirit to guide us. But do you think he would condone public criticism, interpretation, and even condemnation of prophetic counsel? Or would he instead counsel us all to have this be a very personal, private process wherein we find exactly what God wants us to do with regard to prophetic counsel? This is a general comment, not one to try to make a “renegade” of you, Mark, but if we aren’t moved upon by the Holy Ghost when a prophet speaks, it is possible that this is because of us, not the legitimacy (or alleged lack thereof) of prophets’ words. Combine what he says with other prophetic counsel, and it is clear there are “arguments” for both the iron rod and the Liahona approach to life. I think both are essential.

    J. Reuben Clark has also said:
    “[God's] inspiration dwells with his prophets at all times.”
    “Now our Prophet, Joseph Smith, and the prophets since his time–and there has always been a prophet in this Church, and prophets, and you sustain the brethren here, conference after conference, as prophets, seers, and revelators the Prophet himself through the Lord by revelation, gave certain great principles that would save the world if the world would but listen. We do not lack a prophet;what we lack is a listening ear by the people and a determination to live as God has commanded. That is all we need. ”

    So, I would hope that you are with Brother Clark! :)

  104. Mark Butler on May 1, 2006 at 11:23 pm

    m&m (#101), In my opinion, the idea that God follows that order on epistemelogical (as opposed to administrative) questions is exceedingly naive. If it were so, the Holy Ghost would be borderline useless.

    Do you really think the Holy Ghost keeps track of the subtle mistakes, errors, and deviations made by each person in the priesthood line of authority above a person, and filters / rewrites the inspiration accordingly, in some sort of grand correlation scheme?

    And in any case, if that is the order of the Church, the majority of the apostles of the second half of the twentieth century seem to have sought every possible occasion to subvert it, whenever they didn’t agree with the views of the First Presidency on a particular matter. Does Bruce R. McConkie ring a bell? What about the active undermining of the First Presidency engaged in by Elders Smith, Benson, Petersen, et al. They are pristine examples of how we should toe the line, right?

  105. Mark Butler on May 1, 2006 at 11:34 pm

    If any thing, the whole reason there are twelve apostles is most likely so that their eccentricities can cancel each other out. As the scripture says “in a multitude of counselors there is safety”. We should count our blessings that the Church has largely been presided over by theological moderates, not the ultra-conservative neo-orthodox extremists that darken nearly every hall of the late twentieth century.

  106. mullingandmusing (m&m) on May 2, 2006 at 12:40 am

    If any thing, the whole reason there are twelve apostles is most likely so that their eccentricities can cancel each other out. As the scripture says “in a multitude of counselors there is safety�. We should count our blessings that the Church has largely been presided over by theological moderates, not the ultra-conservative neo-orthodox extremists that darken nearly every hall of the late twentieth century.

    Mark, these comments respond to your post, but are not just back to you…consider them more as general response). And who can cancel out the eccentricities that are evident in the bloggernacle? Where is the balance of views that can keep things in check? Do you not see the irony in such a position? Somehow those called of the Lord are to be kept in check, while those in the bloggernacle are given free reign? I would not want to stand between a person and God and how that person work things out (with the hope that it is done prayerfully and humbly). But one’s personal choices should not stand in the way of any one else’s inclinations to follow them in faith — and negative comments such as the ones above (not just by you) can hinder that very personal process for others. I cannot imagine that Brother Clark, or Joseph Smith, or Pres. Smith would ever condone such undermining. We must not lose sight of the fact that, even with weaknesses and different personalities, these men are called of God. They give light by nature of their callings, in spite of their foibles. Our charity in sifting past those foibles and finding the light is our opportunity. Categorically dismissing them is to our detriment. Remember, people dismissed Jesus because He wasn’t what they thought He should be, either. (“Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?…Come and see.” Can anything good come out of the twentieth century? Come and see!)

    Part of the reason I have such a strong response to all of this is because I have seen this mentality used to dismiss even what messages are given “across prophets” if you will, and even when all 15 of their voices are in unison (such as in the Proclamation). This “Liahona” approach can be very dangerous. And too often, it is used as an excuse to wrongly make ones self an exception. This is a general statement, as I can’t know someone’s heart and personal struggle. But I start to lack confidence when people start to make attacks on the Brethren – past or present. I could cite counsel we have received against that, but I’m afraid that would be dismissed as well.

    Do you really think the Holy Ghost keeps track of the subtle mistakes, errors, and deviations made by each person in the priesthood line of authority above a person, and filters / rewrites the inspiration accordingly, in some sort of grand correlation scheme?

    The Holy Ghost confirms truth. It’s that simple. I cannot believe He would condemn the prophets and their words in such strong ways as they have been here. He would seek out the good and embrace it, because there is good in EVERY PROPHET’s words. Are they all perfect? Of course not. Joseph said that to those who criticized him — if we expect them to be perfect then we should be. Where is our charity? Again, this is our opportunity, and it requires us to be in tune. Criticism of our leaders makes that more difficult. Withholding criticism of them blesses us. This is why this whole issue makes me simply sad.

  107. mullingandmusing (m&m) on May 2, 2006 at 12:44 am

    In short, shouldn’t we be reconizing both aspects of this? Without prophets, we might as well not have a restoration. Without the guidance of the Holy Ghost, we wouldn’t know what God would have us do about what they say. It’s really that simple.

  108. Mark Butler on May 2, 2006 at 4:45 am

    m&m, (#106), It is not fair to read me (or the other commenters here) as defending everything said or written in the Bloggernacle at large. I agree with most everything you have written in #106, and much of what you have written in previous comments. I disagree with some aspects – the theological details that do not admit of easy solution, and about which there is and has been a healthy diversity of opinion in the highest levels of the Church.

    You have mostly been using a “slippery slope” / argumentum ad extremum / you’re either with us or against us sort of reasoning. I view these issues more in a dynamic tension where multiple considerations apply and must be prayerfully balanced according to the particular situation.

    Like J. Reuben Clark, I think it is primarily the listener’s obligation and responsibilty to to make the appropriate determination and act accordingly. It is not the leader’s obligation to freak out if someone disagrees with them, especially in the details, just to preach the plain gospel and let the burden of their message rest with their audience. No arm twisting allowed – just persuasion, pure and simple.

  109. mullingandmusing (m&m) on May 2, 2006 at 1:51 pm

    m&m, (#106), It is not fair to read me (or the other commenters here) as defending everything said or written in the Bloggernacle at large/

    Apologies. That wasn’t my intention. Sorry that is the message that came across.

    In the same vein as your comment, I do think it is unfair to categorize and criticize leaders in general sweeps as has been done here.

    It is not the leader’s obligation to freak out if someone disagrees with them, especially in the details, just to preach the plain gospel and let the burden of their message rest with their audience.

    I don’t know that this response (“freaking out”) has ever been implied, nor do I sense that happening. I think that was the whole message of that letter from Pres. Smith, and I do think that applies to us today. Agency is part of the plan. I just think the application of this concept is sometimes inappropriately overused, and not kept personal as it should be.

  110. Kimball L. Hunt on May 2, 2006 at 5:01 pm

    Accounting for George Albert Smith’s zeitgeist, George was nuancinge the “heirarchical” — blah blah (Put in the best diction) — regimentation of “The” Church of Jesus Christ to contrast it from the ills then readily seen in totalitarianism. So: to reduce this question further, I’d propose this question for debate: Was or was not my ancestor who’d assisted militia officers Mountain Meadows culpable for his actions and could or could he not avail himself before the bar of eternal justice according to the defense of his having been “but a good german”?

    I’ve heard somewhere how the legal system’s like salami: Ya know, that it’s all pretty good — but ya don’t wanna witness exactly how it’s made, or somethin. So then is such a principle as this what one should take re — well, whatever: (the examining of Church history, the process of the making of scripture, the principles of ecclesiatical authority)?

    So — God made the billions of people on this planet and He lets us witness the things we do and gives us the voices to speak; and all voices, far and wide, are not at present one chorus — there’s chaos . . . into which has been “sent” seeds of order! And, while George Albert Smith felt inclined to nuance such dynamic tensions (about which DLK rhapsodizes), m&m sees in the FOMENT (uh fomentation mixed with ferment?) DKL represents as the sowing of dischord. And they’re all, of course, completely CORRECT in these views — as of course these are dependent on their particular POINTS of view, too!

    As a jack mormon, I personally find m&m’s logic in a way more unified than DKL’s — which two voices I pick out here from the rest since I rightly or wrongly sense them to be more polar of extremes than others; m&m’s melody, in my delineation of it, coming out as “Follow the prophets’ counsel and and finesse whatever the apparently inherent paradoxes” and DKL’s as “Follow the prophets’ ambiguities as defined by each individual in his ideosyncratic way.”

    I’m “eighth-dane” and am proud the Danish king said to his overlord the Fuehrer, when the Danes were asked to turn over Jews to “workcamps”: “All of us Danes are Jews!”; and the Keirkegaardian Lutheranism and the individualism of Denmark would feel right at home with this thinking of DKL’s. What worked just as well if not better though was the Machievellianism of Italy (For me to offend in the worst sort of way by my slander, through such a back handed compliment, Latin cultural practices here. Sorry!), as the Italians gave lip service to turning over Jews, whom nonetheless they all spared, for the reasonable prices as were privately and discreetly negotiated for their being led to safety. Yet, the most coherent philosophical standpoint of all, as far as the legitimacy of Fuehrership is concerned, is that of the good germans. So, while DKL’s position would give wieght to my sense of there being something rotten in the state of Denmark concerning the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS), still if it is to be taken as a given that Jehovah (as The Christ) himself really is at the helm of The Church, then I certainly find m&m’s standpoint more philosophically tenable, y’know?

  111. Kimball L. Hunt on May 2, 2006 at 10:04 pm

    I’m dog tired but will try to state the above more — conventionally? (Try.)

    DKL’s citations seem just what’s to be expected: Authorities’ saying, “Listen up ‘n’ follow!” To which my reaction is — “So what!” (shrugs). “That’s to be expected.”

    The George Albert Smith quote’s nuance is great (really!), but (shakes head) — were Authorities to continue much further down that path, they’d end up (sighs) well, LESS than the full authorities they presently present themselves to be.

  112. Mark Butler on May 2, 2006 at 11:53 pm

    Several authorities have admitted that they teach general principles. The rule, not the exception. Elder Packer gave a whole talk on this topic. Apparently the problem is that when you teach exceptions everyone thinks they qualify. On the other hand when you teach the rule, everyone thinks they qualify.

  113. Mark Butler on May 2, 2006 at 11:55 pm

    Or rather that that their neighbor qualifies…. (smile)

  114. Kimball L. Hunt on May 3, 2006 at 12:42 am

    Maybe I’m weird — threadjack be my name. But I’m fascinated in a certain facet I think I sense in elder Ballard– (!) lol.

    He comes across as sort of, well, cool? . . . and yet (subtly, and but according perhaps to my wrong sense of things) sort of “proud.” But in an interesting way, one I find offputting in lesser men, a “We’re right and everyone else is wrong” kind of pridefulness. My USUAL preference is pridefulnes about putting subtly “extenuating” nuances on things (which is what I imagine my OWN self to do — haha!) Or I even characteristically dig pridefulness Authorities’ possession of “spirituality,” whatever I mean by this: which I imagine myself able to successfully discern in others and then feel satisfied thus to “see” in religious leaders in this way. But, Ballard, the Smith clan descendent in the Twelve, like the origian Smiths themselves, seems possessed of a little Hollywood “aplomb” and — coolness. But if such an obstensibly worldly image clashes with “idealizations of paragon-ness” (laughing) well, maybe that’s an important clashing.

    Hmm: Isaiah said Christ would be homely. Yet Joseph Smith said he was utterly manly and commanding (well of course). So would any necessary idealized paragon of non-worldly “homeliness” in holy men be “misreading”?

  115. Kimball L. Hunt on May 3, 2006 at 1:01 am

    It’s ironic that Oaks, an early contributor to Dialogue along with Eugene England and who’s a natural allie to intellectual types, is the guy who earns DKL’s wrath for his talk antithetical to any excercise of reason absent faith. (I don’t have a problem with Oak’s premise that pure reason alone cannot possibly lead to faith, as I believe such a Thomas Aquinas like notion to have been successfully superceded by existentialism; just as, by way of analogy,.Goedel’s brought down Russel’s overarching supremacy even in the logic in mathematics.)

  116. Hans on May 3, 2006 at 10:30 pm

    “I’m “eighth-daneâ€? and am proud the Danish king said to his overlord the Fuehrer, when the Danes were asked to turn over Jews to “workcampsâ€?: “All of us Danes are Jews!â€?; ”

    From Hans the Norwegian:

    Actually that’s an Urban Legend. See this link to the Urban Legends Reference Pages:

    http://www.snopes.com/history/govern/denmark.htm

  117. Kimball L. Hunt on May 4, 2006 at 7:44 am

    So prosaicly Hitler was miffed caus King Christian gave H’s birthday short shrift — but legends speak their own Truth –

  118. DKL on May 4, 2006 at 9:31 am

    What the Danes did to protect their Jewish neighbors was far more involved and labor intensive than merely wearing stars. If I ever become part of a persecuted minority, I’d move to Denmark for more readily than I’d move to Utah.

    And Kimball, regarding Goedel’s theorem: It doesn’t apply to quantificational logic, but rather to certain kinds of numerical systems, and not even all of those. Alonzo Church showed that Goedel’s theorem applies only to numerical systems that treat numbers as discrete entities, meaning that there are systems for real numbers that fall outside the scope of Goedel’s theorem. The impact of Goedel’s theorem is a matter of serious debate and controversy, but one thing is for sure: It doesn’t have much to do with the validity of reasoning and logic as such.

  119. DKL on May 4, 2006 at 9:34 am

    Small correction: It may have been Nelson Goodman who demonstrated the limitations of application of Goedel’s theorem that I describe (rather than Alonzo Church), but I can’t remember and I don’t have time to look it up right now. (clarification anyone?)

  120. Nate Oman on May 4, 2006 at 10:08 am

    Suffice it to say, that I think that DKL’s reading of Oaks’s talk is overwraught. On the the other hand, I think that those who read as lisencing the wholesale rejection of projects like Sunstone or Dialogue are making a big mistake. The Mormon community benefits from things like this. On Elder Oaks’s “Alternative Voices” talk, I think that these comments from Armaund Mauss are very interesting. On this blog, Mauss said:

    Me again. The extensive exchanges above on Elder Oaks and the issue of “alternate voices� have pushed me above my normal “modesty threshold� (don’t laugh!). I must refer you to my own comments on Elder Oaks’s talk, which took the form of a Sunstone article entitled “Alternate Voices: The Calling and Its Implications.� It appeared in Issue No. 76 (April 1990), all of which can now be downloaded and read from the Sunstoneonline website (�Prior Issues�). Perhaps more important was the personal LETTER I got from Elder Oaks after publication of that article. It was a very brief letter but explicitly approved of my response to his talk. Check it out (the article).

    Here is a link to Mauss’s article, which is one of my favorite things on the subject.

  121. DKL on May 4, 2006 at 1:02 pm

    Nate, I think that Mauss’s article is quite well written, and I agree with it. If Oaks does also, then I have indeed read too much into this talk by virtue of the emphasis on following the prophet at that conference and the other statements that Oaks has made concerning dissent. I offer my sincere apology to Elder Oaks.

    I think that Mauss’s description of why the church demands less dissent is correct, but misguided. The growing maturity of electronic means of interactive mass communications has forcefully imposed an unprecedented openness to dissent upon church leaders (and makes possible a level of organizational maturity for the church that would otherwise have remained out of reach). People can now openly, and without fear of retribution, discuss, advocate, and criticize things that would have lead to excommunication 20 years ago (though I can only hope that the remarks that I’ve made on this blog disqualify me for consideration of time-consuming leadership positions [assuming, if you will, that nothing else already does]). This cat is now out of the bag, and the harmful impact that Oaks envisions simply hasn’t materialized.

    You’re analogy to the law in your thread “The rhetorical burden of authority” is an apt one. The church leadership functions (in some sense) analogously to the Supreme Court. As both a procedural and a de facto matter, what they say is the law of the land. But that doesn’t mean that I think that it should be the law of the land. Moreover, there are occasions in which I feel obliged to state my disagreement in forceful terms. But the vast majority of the time, I’m simply indifferent to them, because most of what they do impacts me not at all. And any suggestion that I should withhold my objection and behave like a “good, patriotic American” is laughable (I felt the same way about the criticism of Clinton that he protested the war on foreign soil–geography should not mitigate moral objections [however wrong-headed I believe them to be]. But either one should publicly protest a war or not; the question of where one should protest a war is simply a matter of pragmatics.).

    There is an unfortunate sense in which dissent is viewed as “un-Mormon” (or at least not behaving like a “good Mormon”) and I tend to rail against that as much as I rail against the church’s attempts to squelch dissent.

    This analogy gives way at some point. For example, courts cannot take away my citizenship (since I was born in the USA) and the church can take away my membership. But on the other hand, courts can lock me up, but the church has no (official) penitentiary. (I’m just kidding around with the parenthetical “official,” by the way–I like the way it looks.)

  122. mullingandmusing (m&m) on May 4, 2006 at 2:07 pm

    The growing maturity of electronic means of interactive mass communications has forcefully imposed an unprecedented openness to dissent upon church leaders

    But it has also imposed a greater responsibility on the membership to discern what is appropriate and what is not. Excommunication should not be the only concern. Not offending the Spirit is a serious consideration as well. Just because there are increased opportunities to express discontent does not make it any “better” than it was before. Like I tell my kids…just because no one is watching doesn’t mean you don’t still choose the right. :)

  123. DKL on May 4, 2006 at 3:47 pm

    m&m, as leaders of an organization that controls substantial assets and has millions of members worldwide, the responsibilities of the members to these leaders at the top is largely beside the point. I own voting stock and I vote in elections, and there is a sense in which I also have a responsibility to the companies in which I own stock and to my congressman. But when we talk about Enron, we don’t talk about the negligence of the shareholders, and when we talk about Ted Kennedy, we don’t talk about the stupidity of voters (well, OK, sometimes we do, but you know what I mean). In the church, it’s a mistake to emphasize my responsibilities to the church when discussing the proper role of its leadership. But Mormons (and Mormon leaders) do tend to do this, and this is a mark of organizational immaturity.

    The difference here is the one that Davies pointed out at last year’s Joseph Smith conference at the Library of Conference. Specifically, it’s the difference between being a global church and being a church with members spread all over the world. (This is a little abstract, and I’m going to leave it that way. I can’t wait to see people misread my comment and exclaim, “But the church isn’t anything like a corporation or an elected governmental body!”)

  124. Kimball L. Hunt on May 4, 2006 at 4:50 pm

    Mormonism IS a works church: that it defines for itself as building the Kingdom. And for this work to progress requires for there to be workers responsible to their line supervisors (assuming this Kingdom so envisioned to be at all a hierarchical one)?

  125. Mark Butler on May 4, 2006 at 7:13 pm

    One of the problems is that a “works” church all too often degenerates into a “make-work” church, to the degree that the economic considerations motivating any other large organization are often reversed – that superfluous or menial labor becomes viewed as something to be pursued for “service opportunities” instead of something to be minimized – where the marginal cost of member service is viewed as zero or even negative. A healthy degree of participation by the “workers” in the policy formation process helps to minimize that tendency, certainly more effectively than the inevitable lack of enthusiasm associated with such activities.

  126. Mark Butler on May 4, 2006 at 7:23 pm

    I should mention I am not speaking of such service projects as weeding, painting, or building maintenance. Rather such things as relying on “free” labor to work around the weaknesses of the overwhelmingly incoherent and uncoordinated ward and stake financial information “system”, something that has gotten considerably worse lately, in areas where it should be improving. Assigning large numbers to stand a post and “smile” at open houses comes to mind as well.

  127. Nate Oman on May 4, 2006 at 9:09 pm

    DKL: The differenece between leaders in the Church and political and business leaders is that the top hierarchy of the Church purport to be Prophets, Seers, and Revelators. They also purport to have the final keys to the sealing authority, allowing them to bind on earth such that it will be bound in heaven. Now we can have lots of disagreements about what exactly these sorts of claims mean, what their implications are, etc., but they do suggest that corporate and political analogies are not obviously useful. Furthermore, suggesting that loyalty to them is some sort of an important obligation is hardly absurd. Again, we can have all sorts of disagreements about the meaning and scope of their authority, but it is difficult to see in your rhetoric how to make sense of their authority at all. I realize that you feel a strong moral obligation to express outrage, etc. about all manner of obviously self-serving tripe, even when it is not obvious to others. Fair enough. Righteous indignation aside, however, those whom you accuse of not recognizing institutional immaturity (which BTW is surely a huge issue in Mormonism) do seem to be trying to make sense of an important issue that your analogies to Enron and the Kennedy’s seem to supress. It is not that one can’t usefully think about the Church using analogies to corporations or governments. It is simply that those analogies, whatever their value as heuristics, will end up suppressing and obscuring some things.

  128. DKL on May 4, 2006 at 9:51 pm

    Nate, I just don’t see how the fact that they are Prophets, Seers, and Revelators has anything to do with their organizational accountability to those who expend a great deal of their time and income supporting them. Historically, suppressing dissent generally serves to make things easier to the folks at the top by decreasing their accountability, and little else. Indeed, it is demonstrable that suppression of dissent has hitherto primarily served the desire of church leaders to exercise their authority with greater ease and less accountability. Since the advent of the internet, it has become impossible to police the public discussing and advocating of ideas that people once could lead to excommunication. Forms of dissent that would have been inconceivable among faithful members in 1996 are commonplace in 2006. The Kingdom of God has moved on without a hitch, but the leaders at the top are a good deal more accountable; e.g., is there any doubt that Murphy and Grant would have been excommunicated if coverage of their church discipline had been limited to a short article in the Salt Lake Tribune and perhaps a write up in Sunstone or Dialogue?

    I’ll go back to Davies, and what he talked about at the Joseph Smith Conference. He said that the church has got to change in some important ways in order to become a global church rather than just a church with membership all over the globe. Keller disagreed, because he felt the need to emphasize that key changes in the church must be guided by inspiration. He, like you, was pleading for an exception–a special case. We’ll have our global religion without making the same changes that everyone has to make. We’ll have our structure which suppresses dissent and ensures uniformity because our church is the special case.

    But this is nonsense. It misunderstands Davies’ fundamental point. No amount of inspiration guided the change that was forced upon church leadership by the increasing sophistication of interactive mass media. It simply happened. Other changes will also happen in a like manner. They’ll seem intuitive and organic, and the church will grow and adapt in all the same ways that other successful organizations have grown and adapted throughout time.

    Regarding self-serving tripe: any religious leader anywhere who decries realism in history is pushing his religious outlook over the truth. Since his religious outlook affirms his leadership position, this is self serving. And the notion that realism in history is a bad thing is tripe.

  129. Nate Oman on May 4, 2006 at 11:15 pm

    DKL: I am not trying to make Keller’s point. I am not even making the point that “accountability” for leaders (whatever that might mean) is a bad idea. Nor do I think that dissent per se is bad. Rather, my point is that in order for the idea of “abuse of authority” to make sense you have to have some notion of what counts as legitimate uses of authority and what counts as illegitimate uses of authority. The conceptual structure of Church authority, however, is different than the conceptual structure of corporate or political authority. Hence, any account of “abuse of authority” will have to look different. Yet this is precisely the issue that gets lost in the political and corporate metaphors. This seems to me to be quite seperate from Davies point.

    I am not saying that there is not abuse of authority. I am not saying that Church members should not react to abuse of authority. Rather, I am saying that the concept of abuse cannot be made coherent without a concept of legitimacy, which is what I am still confused about.

  130. mullingandmusing (m&m) on May 4, 2006 at 11:15 pm

    any religious leader anywhere who decries realism in history is pushing his religious outlook over the truth.

    Unless his job is to focus on information that is more important than focusing on “realism” in history. I don’t buy this idea that we “need historic realism.” The leaders’ job is to teach doctrine and deal with issues of salvation. The problem also with history is that it is ALWAYS affected by the history retellers’ outlook. What is “real” in history ends up being a subjective game in many instances, and sometimes pure twisting of facts in others. While I completely understand and respect that some people enjoy digging up historical bones and chewing on them, focusing on it (or expecting our leaders to focus on it) is most certainly not necessary for salvation, and, has at times, actually been a hindrance to it.

    As for the discussion re: the organization. This one organization does qualify for some elements of a “special case” because the leaders aren’t accountable to the followers. They are accountable to the Lord. No other organization can make that claim. That really does change things a bit, and demands/creates a different kind of organizational standard.

  131. DKL on May 5, 2006 at 12:32 am

    m&m, I never said that we need historical realism. I’ve argued at length elsewhere that real history is utterly optional and amounts to little more than a hobby as far as salvation is concerned. But if I try to pass myself off as an authority in some area (no matter how trivial), it just won’t do for me to accuse people interested in exploring the progeny of my authority of promoting Satan’s agenda.

    m&m: [Our church's leaders] are accountable to the Lord. No other organization can make that claim.

    But a lot of organizations do make that claim, and their members witness to its truth. There’s no justification for denying their claim and allowing ours that is not circular.

  132. DKL on May 5, 2006 at 12:38 am

    Nate, I offered a view of the legitimacy of the church’s authority that is basically uses Kant’s notion that our own moral framework is anterior to any moral framework we adopt from authority, because accepting that authority requires a prior moral consent on our part. What legitimizes this authority is our assent to it, and nothing else.

    But if you want a more objective analysis based on sociological aspects rather than subjective aspects, then I’ll say this: The church is legitimate for the same reason that money is legitimate. Money (in all of its different forms) has value because it commands labor and productions. So it is with church authority.

  133. Kimball L. Hunt on May 5, 2006 at 1:01 am

    So tribal chiefs (also their visionaries/healers) have authoritative power for the same reason cowry shells do. JUST BECAUSE.

    I like it . . . !

  134. mullingandmusing (m&m) on May 5, 2006 at 2:32 am

    But if I try to pass myself off as an authority in some area (no matter how trivial), it just won’t do for me to accuse people interested in exploring the progeny of my authority of promoting Satan’s agenda.

    Are you deliberately hyperbolizing? Sorry for the question, but I’m still trying to understand your “presentation” style….

  135. DKL on May 5, 2006 at 2:48 am

    m&m, Benson’s exact words were that historical realism is “slander and defamation.” I think it’s reasonable to assume that Satan’s agenda includes slander and defamation of church leaders past and present, and I don’t see this as out of character with Benson’s statements. Since truth is an absolute defense against slander, Benson is either being illogical or playing with a superfine definition of truth.

  136. DKL on May 5, 2006 at 2:54 am

    But to answer your question directly: yes, I’m deliberately having a bit of fun experimenting with ways to frame the issue, but I don’t think it’s so much as to totally eliminate the serious import of my argument.

  137. Doug on May 5, 2006 at 3:47 am

    M&M # 6): “But it has also been said that a prophet does not have to say “thus saith the Lordâ€? to be speaking prophetically. (See, for example, Ezra Taft Benson, “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet,â€? Tambuli, June 1981, 1)”

    Good point M&M. I do not dispute that at all.

    Also, I have been following your conversation with Constanza. I find it ironic that Costanza appeals to the supremacy of the the prophet (# 62) to cast doubt on a talk that extols the supremacy of the prophet. Also, I have found this is a pretty open blog M&M, so I don’t think you have to be overly “careful” about what talks you cite. Even the “heterodox” ones by President Benson. :)

  138. Doug on May 5, 2006 at 3:50 am

    Also, I am not the same Doug that posted about Chapel seating. I guess that in addition to being a too infrequent visitor to the bloggernaccle, conceit has led me to believe that I was the only “Doug” around.

  139. Frank McIntyre on May 5, 2006 at 10:17 am

    “The church is legitimate for the same reason that money is legitimate. Money (in all of its different forms) has value because it commands labor and productions. So it is with church authority.”

    DKL, I think you must recognize that this this is simply not compelling. No amount of communal legitimacy confers the sealing power or the ability to speak for God to the people. And that power is what binds me to my leaders and gives them authority. I don’t listen to Elder Oaks because my friends do. I listen to him because I personally accept that he has authority to speak for God. Money works as long as enough people accept the contract. God explcitly denies that our mortal contracts and conventions have power for him (D&C 132). Instead, he replaces that authority with the sealing power he gives his authorized servants.

    A failure to recognize this central difference makes you look like a nutcase (which you aren’t).

  140. greenfrog on May 5, 2006 at 1:23 pm

    “The church is legitimate for the same reason that money is legitimate. Money (in all of its different forms) has value because it commands labor and productions. So it is with church authority.�

    DKL, I think you must recognize that this this is simply not compelling. No amount of communal legitimacy confers the sealing power or the ability to speak for God to the people. And that power is what binds me to my leaders and gives them authority. I don’t listen to Elder Oaks because my friends do. I listen to him because I personally accept that he has authority to speak for God. Money works as long as enough people accept the contract. God explcitly denies that our mortal contracts and conventions have power for him (D&C 132). Instead, he replaces that authority with the sealing power he gives his authorized servants.

    A failure to recognize this central difference makes you look like a nutcase (which you aren’t).

    Maybe nuts come in clusters. I’m trying to sort through these issues for myself, as well as enjoying the discussion here.

    “…authority to speak for God.”

    Why do you believe that God chooses to speak to some persons (Elder Oaks) but not to others (you)? What is the purpose to the authority structure you posit? I ask because, candidly, it no longer makes sense to me.

    Many of the problems that are under discussion result from the practical inefficiencies of dealings with agents — agents almost never perfectly mirror their principal (or their principal’s principles). D&C 121 instructs us that this is so not only with respect to the secular world, but the religious one, as well. So why use such delegations of authority?

    In my daily legalistic world, the authority of a person (B) is something that enables me to deal with B in order to effect the affairs of A. Typically, A is a corporation, so there’s really no other way to interact with A but through one or more Bs. Applying that notion to the situation we’re discussing yields some interesting tangents about the nature of God, but I’ll assume that isn’t your view of God or the need for delegation of Divine authority (though I’m beginning to wonder if it might not be mine).

    Sometimes, A is a person. The person delegates authority for a variety of reasons:

    Sometimes it’s for expertise — B knows narrow aspects of A’s affairs better than A does. My tax accountant prepares my taxes for me because I know that he knows how to do that better than I do. But with a doctrine of omniscience (limited or otherwise), this doesn’t seem to explain the need for delegation. I think this general category (expertise) actually does include a lot of the variant rationales that I’ve heard offered for Divine delegation, but I don’t think they hold up any better than the base case I’ve started with.

    Usually it’s for efficiency — A can solve the “only 24 hours in a day” constraint by authorizing multiple Bs. The CEO of a company delegates authority to various reports because otherwise the CEO would have to deal with everything and can’t. But with a doctrine of omnipotence and (depending on one’s preferred view of LDS doctrine) possibly a doctrine of Divine atemporality, this doesn’t seem to explain the need for delegation, either.

    Sometimes it’s for eccentricity — A doesn’t like interacting with the masses but wants the benefits associated with such interaction, so A empowers B to handle certain affairs. Though a variety of this thinking sometimes comes up in the context of discussions of a Heavenly Mother, I’ve never heard it suggested regarding Heavenly Father.

    There are probably other reasons why one might choose to authorize an agent to act on one’s behalf, so I don’t want to suggest my list is exhaustive, but it is exhaustive of the basic categories that I can think of. I’d welcome additions.

    But with these rationales for authority-delegation, what is the value to God of using intermediaries? Without the limitations that agency and delegation of authority are designed to fix, why countenance all of the obvious disutilities associated with the practice?

  141. mullingandmusing (m&m) on May 5, 2006 at 4:46 pm

    But with these rationales for authority-delegation, what is the value to God of using intermediaries?

    I think this is an interesting question. Clearly it’s not because God thinks the prophets could do His job better, because that is simply ludidcrous. So, we must consider other reasons. Some of my thoughts….

    1. God uses prophets because we need to live by faith. If we simply each could talk to the Lord face-to-face, we would have no need for faith. As a result of the fall, we no longer can walk and talk with God as a given. That is a state that we aim for, but most of us grovel along trying to live by faith.

    2. We each have different roles and callings, etc. to fulfill as part of our individualized plan. The prophets are refined and proven by their callings. It is part of what they were foreordained to do. I think that, as such, they have a great responsibility on their shoulders. Those of us who are asked to follow are tested in faith and humility in that role of followers. Surely individualized testing comes into play for the leaders’ families as well, because I can’t imagine it is easy to have a father/husband in such a role. In some way we cannot begin to comprehend, God’s plan for each of us is tailor-made, and our callings, roles, experiences, background, biology…everything comes into play in that personalized plan.

    3. This is part of God’s order. I don’t fully understand why there is a hierarchical, prophetically-guided order in the kingdom of God on the earth, but it is set up for the functioning of the Church. Again, I think this goes back to the fact that part of our veiled mortal existence is to test our faith, so the intermediaries are the messengers used by the Lord to accomplish His work.

    4. I wonder if there is some symbolism there…as the high priest in OT times was a type of Christ for the people, is it possible that the prophets are somehow a type for us, too? When the Lord was on the earth, He taught that those who accepted Him accepted the Father. He also said that if we accept the prophets and their words, we accept Him. We accept their words as if they were Him speaking. They are intermediaries in a way, who administer in the saving and purifying ordinances of the gospel, just as the OT high priest was (although it’s all a little different now because they lived under the prepatory law and we have more ordinances personally available than the OT people did, so…not sure how that all would flesh out). Just mulling and musing on that one….

    5. With all of this, we can’t ignore the role of the Holy Ghost. However, I think it’s important to consider the order in which the Lord taught about becoming one with Him (through the Holy Ghost). He chose disciples/leaders, who received the Holy Ghost (which was their specific desire and the desire of the Lord as well). The Savior then prayed that those who received the leaders’ words would then receive the Holy Ghost (which also gives listeners connection with God — we don’t only have access to God through the prophets, but we receive counsel, commandments, general guidance and calls to repentance from our leaders).

    Anyway, these are just some thoughts kind of off the top of my head…..

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