There’s a folk doctrine I’ve heard expressed by members of the church, and it goes something like this: “As long as you are obedient to your priesthood leaders, any sins you commit are on their heads.” The idea is that if your priesthood leaders counsel you poorly and you obey that counsel, you aren’t morally responsible for the outcome of those actions; you fulfilled your duty as a saint. You get to go to heaven, and they get to go…well, wherever it is that people who give bad counsel go.
Where do we get this from? St. Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits, allegedly taught, “That we may be altogether of the same mind and in conformity with the Church herself, if she shall have defined anything to be black which appears to our eyes to be white, we ought in like manner to pronounce it to be black.”
I believe this sort of doctrine has no place in the restored gospel. I contrast St. Ignatius’ injunction with the counsel given by Joseph:
“What must a man do to commit the unpardonable sin? He must receive the Holy Ghost, have the heavens opened unto him, and know God, and then sin against Him… He has got to say that the sun does not shine while he sees it…”
Where St. Ignatius encourages us to deny the validity of our own perception in order to stay in line with church authorities, Joseph tells us that denying one’s own perception is the only path to eternal damnation.
I’m occasionally accused of subtly encouraging people to question authority. So I want to make it clear — those accusations are entirely accurate. I believe that unquestionable authority is a destructive influence on people in any organization. My favorite passage from the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible is this:
Therefore, let every man stand or fall, by himself, and not for another; or not trusting another (Mark 9:44).
When we seek to justify ourselves by passing responsibility for our choices onto our priesthood leaders, it amounts to moral cowardice. Each of us is responsible for the choices we make.
(Closing disclaimer: I’m not saying that we should immediately oppose any perspectives we disagree with (thus replicating the current US political environment). When we receive any counsel, guidance, direction, or commandment that goes contrary to our understanding of things, we do well to consider and study it out, to ask questions and come to a greater understanding. A knee-jerk reaction in opposition is just as bad as a knee-jerk reaction in compliance. What I am saying, though, is that whatever conclusion we come to is our own responsibility, and we cannot hold others responsible for the decisions that we are capable of making.)