Leaders are Fallible (No, Really)

December 30, 2013 | 78 comments
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The changes at the Gospel Topics section of LDS.org (which I wrote about two weeks ago) and especially the Church’s new Race and the Priesthood article have rekindled questions about the fallibility of Church leaders. After all, the Church’s current position completely disavows the past practice of denying the priesthood to blacks and all but explicitly states that the practice was an error from the start. Chalk it up with Adam-God and blood atonement and poor Brother Brigham seems to be batting 0.000 at theological innovation. It’s difficult to reconcile such grave errors with the statement, canonized in Official Declaration 1, that “The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray.”

It’s possible that President Woodruff had in mind an even more grave contravention of God’s plan when he spoke and so is still correct, baseless priesthood ban notwithstanding. But if institutionalized racism is not “astray”, then what is? The simpler solution is that he was mistaken.

I don’t think that suggestion should come as a mighty shock. The Book of Mormon (also canon, after all) specifically talks about its own mistakes in, eg, the title page (“if there are faults they are the mistakes of men”), Alma (“but behold, I mistake”), and 3 Nephi (“if there was no mistake made by this man in the reckoning of our time”). Just as no book in the Bible claims that the Bible is inerrant, no work in the broader Mormon canon claims that the canon is inerrant either, with the possible exception of the Woodruff statement in question.

Mistakes happen.

I believe that this is a feature rather than a bug. One of the great lessons of 1 Nephi is the vital importance of establishing our own independent testimony of the things we embrace as true. In chapter 11, Nephi tells the Spirit “I desire to behold the things which my father saw,” and the Spirit replies, “Believest thou that thy father saw the tree of which he hath spoken?” In other words: your father already saw. And told you what he saw. Don’t you believe him? Why do you also seek to see?

This skeptical take echoes the infamous statement that “When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done.” Perhaps less well known is President George Albert Smith’s response to that statement: “Even to imply that members of the Church are not to do their own thinking is grossly to misrepresent the true ideal of the Church.”

Nephi saw the Tree of Life only because he believed, but was not satisfied.

Nephi saw the Tree of Life only because he believed, but was not satisfied.

Just so in 1 Nephi, the Spirit exemplified the true ideal of the Church. Nephi says, “Yea, thou knowest that I believe all the words of my father.” He does not retract his desire to see the vision his father saw. He wants his own experience, and the Spirit reacts by shouting “Hosanna to the Lord,” and then stating that Nephi is blessed, impertinent request and all. Perhaps the reason for the Spirit’s initial push-back of Nephi’s request was precisely to underscore the importance of that request’s validity.

This “true ideal of the Church” exists in tension with the Church’s institutional hierarchy and emphasis on obedience, but is not incompatible with them. As Section 121 makes very clear, the Church’s view of authority is diametrically opposed to the world’s view.

We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.

Any other institution with a leadership hierarchy like the Church’s would be rife with coercion, but the Church need not be since, as verse 41 states: “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood.” The final verse (46) reiterates this point by stating that dominion shall flow “without compulsory means”. Note: this isn’t to say that the Church is devoid of coercion and unrighteous dominion. Clearly, it is not. It merely locates the cause of those failings with universal human nature rather than particular institutional design.

There ought to be no compulsion from leaders over members just as God exercises no compulsion over His wayward, recalcitrant, and rebellious children. Christ won His throne by descending below all things, not by running roughshod over them. The message of the Book of Mormon is that we are free. This is because freedom is a necessary prerequisite to inculcating attributes of godliness like independence. Compulsion from our leaders counters God’s plan.

So would inerrant leaders or inerrant scripture. Not because they would coerce us, of course, but because they would provide opportunities for members to coast without personal involvement and risk. It’s a different threat to our freedom–complacency rather than subjugation—but with the same ultimate consequence.

Oddly enough, however, the common thread that unites the arguments from the self-identified faithful and questioning members is the rejection of this reality. Some wish they could depend on inerrant leaders or inerrant scripture because this would make religious life easier. It’s like subcontracting for spirituality: forget building on a rock or on sand, pay someone else to build the house for you! Much easier. Other have realized that they cannot, and seem filled with bitterness and resentment that the easy path has been closed to them. They do not realize that it was a dead end all along. In this case the grapes really are bitter. They are poison, in fact. We ought not to mourn the fact that inerrant leaders and scripture are out of our grasp, but rather praise God that they are so. Every one of us has to ultimately walk by the light of our own faith. This can only be true in a world where leaders of the Church make real and genuine mistakes. Where they are fallible not just in name, but in tragic actuality. This is not an excuse to be disobedient, but a deeper understanding of the cost and nature of our obedience, which is required in general but can never be thoughtless or unconditional.

This means that not only must they be errant, but that it’s counterproductive to try and put some kind of boundary on the allowable degree of error. I presume that should the 12 Apostles start breaking bad and cooking meth that would probably cross some kind of line, but the effort of trying to establish the precise location of that line is not just futile, but folly. A precisely demarcated tolerance of error is functionally the same thing as inerrancy in that it creates an excuse to divest ourselves of responsibility. If we say “Well, OK, but they won’t make mistakes this bad,” it’s just a way of trying to claw back most of the sense of safe dependence that errors in leaders and scripture divinely deny us. This is not to suggest that God causes specific errors. It simply explains why through inaction He allows them to take place. So that we can never fall back on “just following orders”.

2013-12-30 Madeline L'Engle

I believe that one reason this topic tends to provoke such strong feelings is that it is such a tragic one. I can certainly remember a time when my faith was much more black-and-white, and when I thought that the scriptures and leaders were, in practice at least, inerrant. As a teenager I tried to come up with my own justifications for the old priesthood ban. I wanted to preserve the happy and safe fantasy where I could rely on the Church—it’s scriptures and leaders—and never be disappointed.

The process of learning to let go of this false belief consisted of a series of independently painful and confusing episodes (nothing spectacular or unusual) and the culminated abandonment of my childish dependence left a hole in me that I still probe from time to time like a lost tooth. It turns out that my safety net was never more than a mirage, but it felt real and therefore so too does the loss.

And so I will admit that the frustration expressed by members at the mistakes (real or perceived) of our leaders causes a frustrated reaction in myself: “Let it go!” I want to shout. Because I have. And because it hurt. And because I still miss the clarity of a child’s faith.

78 Responses to Leaders are Fallible (No, Really)

  1. Steve Martin on December 30, 2013 at 9:10 am

    Great topic.

    Leaders are sinners. The Lord Jesus uses earthen vessels to accomplish His perfect will.

    We are not and never will be (in this life) perfect. Not even close. “My sin is ever before me.”

    But the Word of God (Christ Jesus Himself) is perfect and infallible. If we can stay faithful to that Word, we will be on the right track.

  2. Ben S. on December 30, 2013 at 9:18 am

    “The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray.”

    I think this is less about prophetic infallibility or guarantees of correctness, and more about collective apostasy and schism.

    “I will give you a key that will never rust. If you will stay with the majority of the Twelve Apostles, and the records of the Church, you will never be led astray.” (from recollection of William G. Nelson, in Young Women’s Journal 17 (December 1906): 543.

    Ezra T. Clark recalled: “I heard the Prophet Joseph say he would give the Saints a key whereby they would never be led away or deceived, and that was: the Lord would never suffer the majority of this people to be led away or deceived by imposters, nor would he allow the records of this Church to fall into the hands of the enemy.” (Improvement Era 5 (January 1902): 202.

    Edward Stevenson remembered the statement as “a key by which you may never be deceived” and that it was that “a majority of the saints and the records and history of the Church also” would remain with the Church. (Andrew Jenson, and Edward Stevenson, Infancy of the Church (SLC 1889): 5.

  3. anon on December 30, 2013 at 9:29 am

    Isn’t denying someone the ability to see their child get married a form of coercion?

    “This means that not only must they be errant, but that it’s counterproductive to try and put some kind of boundary on the allowable degree of error.”

    But isn’t this a two way street? Isn’t it counterproductive for the leaders to try and put some boundary and the allowable degree of error of a member? Yet we have oath tests every two years and an accounting of our tithes every year.

    Assuming you believe that leaders are currently making errors, how do you participate in an environment where the culture from the top doesn’t allow individuals to be honest about what their own moral compass is telling them is right and wrong.

    “the common thread that unites the arguments from the self-identified faithful and questioning members is the rejection of this reality. Some wish they could depend on inerrant leaders or inerrant scripture because this would make religious life easier.”

    I don’t think this is true for most questioning members. I think the questioning would like leadership to be honest in their degree of errancy and not expect blind obedience. I just heard in sacrament meeting someone say that we should follow our leaders even when they are wrong and that we will be blessed for it. No one challenged that person. I’m sure some disagreed, but we live in a culture where honest disagreement isn’t permitted.

    Lots of people of character are leaving the church and it is because we have excluded a place for them where they can live an honest life and still remain in the church.

  4. Dave K on December 30, 2013 at 9:42 am

    “It’s difficult to reconcile such grave errors with the statement, canonized in Official Declaration 1, that ‘The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray.’”

    Nathaniel, could you elaborate on your belief that this statement is part of the LDS canon? For many years I also believed the excerpts from President Woodruff’s addresses regarding the Manifesto were part of the LDS canon. After all, the excerpts immediately follow the Manifesto and the Manifesto was approved by a vote of the church body. However, as I studied the issue more, I noticed that there is nothing in the scriptural account to suggest that President Woodruff’s excerpts were themselves put to a vote of approval. Without a vote, I now view the excerpts as important commentary, but not part of the canon. Just as with gospel study aides and the bible dictionary, the fact that the Woodruff experts are printed within “the scriptures” does not make them part of the canon.

    Do you know of any source that discusses whether the Woodruff excerpts were to put to a vote of the church body, or any other information that would suggest they are part of the LDS canon? Thanks. And good post.

  5. Dave K on December 30, 2013 at 10:00 am

    As to the substance of the Woodruff statement, I agree with Ben S. that it is better to frame the statement in regards to collective apostacy/schism than as a guarentee that every word spoken by a prophet, seer or revelator is free from error.

    That said, I still think the underlying premise is flawed. To claim that “the Lord would never suffer the majority of this people to be led away” is to take away the heart of the gospel – our agency. Perhaps it is true that the majority of Saints will not be led away, but if so, that is a prophesy, not a God-enforced reality. If Christ could have failed in the atonement (which I believe he could have, but did not), and if prior prophets were allowed to lead people astray, and if prior peoples were allowed to apostasize, and if God works through His prophets and His people today in the same manner as in past days (which is what our missionaries teach), then it stands to reason that we are no more special than prior peoples and our prophets are no more special than prior prophets. We *can* lead and be led astray. To say otherwise is to suggest that we are some sort of ubervolk, or that our prophet is some sort of ubermensch, standing head and shoulders above all prior prophets and dispensations.

  6. Amy T on December 30, 2013 at 10:07 am

    It’s possible that President Woodruff had in mind an even more grave contravention of God’s plan when he spoke and so is still correct, baseless priesthood ban notwithstanding. … The simpler solution is that he was mistaken.

    Well, that’s one possible solution. Actually, the more obvious solution is that he was talking about the end of plural marriage. Do you think he was wrong about the revelation to end plural marriage? Do you think he was leading the people astray when he ended the practice? Would you prefer that he not have made the practice a matter of prayer and instead continued to fight the federal government and sacrifice the lives and property and freedom of his people? At the time a number of members of the Church thought that way, and some of their descendants — literal and spiritual — disavowed the revelation given to President Woodruff and disavowed his prophetic mission and have continued the practice of plural marriage to this day.

    Another part of the solution to Wilford Woodruff’s statement is that it has been taken out of context by certain people in subsequent years. He was speaking specifically about a revelation which had — just a few minutes previously — been put to a vote of the Church at General Conference. He was not speaking about his own or anyone else’s remarks or actions. He was speaking about a revelation just accepted by the vote of the Church at General Conference.

    Do you want to see his statement in context? You can read his remarks as they were first published in the Deseret Evening News. When you read his remarks, you also need to read the previous address by George Q. Cannon, since Wilford Woodruff referenced President Cannon’s address throughout his remarks.

    Remarks by President George Q. Cannon and President Wilford Woodruff.

    (These addresses may be available in a more readable format in an online database of conference addresses, and perhaps someone else can provide a link to a reputable source.)

  7. SusanS on December 30, 2013 at 11:11 am

    I have heard it speculated that the reason Harold B Lee’s tenure as prophet was so short was because of his strong position against considering giving the priesthood to all worthy males.

  8. Mark Richardson on December 30, 2013 at 11:37 am

    Can true prophets of Jesus Christ be prejudiced?

    I doubt that policies such as racism were wholly concocted by fallible prophets–any more than when Moses led the Israelites in the wilderness for 40 years (in the case of blacks and the Priesthood in the modern church, 140 years), or when God chose a king for Israel.

    God adapted to the people, to their own detriment.

    However, I wouldn’t be too hard on the rank and file of the church either (or leadership, for that matter, who reflected the wishes of the rank and file). If the Church had originated in a persecution-free environment, we could be more judgmental. But with all the afflictions of the saints, how would adding black leadership have gotten us to the critical-mass stage?

    Let us not be too self-righteous in our modern indignation.

    Note as well that Joseph Smith apparently banned ordaining more blacks to the Priesthood in 1838, just before he was jailed in Missouri, and at a time when two apostles had defected and accused the church of anything that would incite the Missouri mob–including abolitionism. Joseph, however, continued to promote Elijah Abel to the first quorum of 70 in 1844, refused to provide reasoning for the ban, paid fines for two black men accused of trying to marry white women, evidently taught that some Jaredites were “Hamitic” (according to one pioneer account), etc.

    Moreover, President Kimball stated in a conference in South Africa that he had been impressed that the Lord had a blessing to give, but was concerned that the people were not ready. Pres. Kimball then stated that he had to pray in the temple for some time before he even realized what this blessing was, then agonized once he found out.

    I sure hope the church isn’t writing mea culpas and pointing the finger at the prophets. There is plenty of blame to go around.

  9. John Cannon on December 30, 2013 at 11:41 am

    anon said: “I don’t think this is true for most questioning members. I think the questioning would like leadership to be honest in their degree of errancy and not expect blind obedience. I just heard in sacrament meeting someone say that we should follow our leaders even when they are wrong and that we will be blessed for it. No one challenged that person. I’m sure some disagreed, but we live in a culture where honest disagreement isn’t permitted.”

    I don’t recall church leaders saying they expect blind obedience. Do you have any quotes to support that assertion? To the contrary, Nathaniel presents evidence that church leaders do not expect blind obedience. If someone said in sacrament meeting that we should follow our leaders even when they are wrong, then that someone is himself wrong if he meant the leaders are wrong and we know they are wrong. (If we don’t know they are wrong, that opens a whole different kind of discussion.) That you saw no one correct him is not surprising. It would be inappropriate for someone to leap up during sacrament meeting and challenge something someone said in a talk. The correct way would be to talk to the person privately after the meeting. You would not know about that of course. Did you talk to the person to correct him?

    You are probably as delighted as I was with President Uchtdorf’s Saturday morning talk in last October’s conference where he said, “And, to be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine. I suppose the Church would be perfect only if it were run by perfect beings. God is perfect, and His doctrine is pure. But He works through us–His imperfect children–and imperfect people make mistakes.” I don’t know how a general authority could be more plain about the fact that they make mistakes just like the rest of us.

    I agree that it is intimidating to disagree with a church leader, especially with one of the general authorities. But to say that such disagreement is not permitted is just wrong.

  10. Kent Larsen on December 30, 2013 at 11:58 am

    I’m sure everyone has heard the old joke:

    Catholics claim that the Pope is infallible, but don’t believe it.

    Mormons say that the Prophet is fallible, but don’t really believe it.

  11. Steve Smith on December 30, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    Yes, the leaders are fallible, and I think that pretty much most LDS people are willing to accept that. Some believe the leaders’ words and actions to be more authoritative and representative than God’s than others. However, I would think that the vast majority believing LDS would believe that there is an infallible space at some point; meaning, set words and actions by leaders in the past that are beyond reasonable question and must be understood as reflecting those of God. I would also think that the vast majority of believing LDS would believe that the leaders are superior in their words and deeds, at least concerning matters divine, to any other group of people on the planet. For believing LDS people believe in the concept of revelation and that some words of the prophets, especially many of those of Joseph Smith, are revelation (he was speaking as prophet and not as man) and that those words cannot be regarded as wrong, even if JS did and said other things that were wrong when speaking as a man. The problem is how do we tell when a leader is speaking as a prophet (meaning, he is conveying God’s words through revelation) and when he is speaking as a man. Also, if we are willing to subject some of the words of the leaders to question (past statements about Adam-God and black people), why not all of their words (the BOM is an ancient text, we can ‘know’ things through prayer, JS talked with God, etc.)?

  12. DavidH on December 30, 2013 at 12:20 pm

    Dave K, the footnotes to Declaration 1 are no more part of the canon than the summaries at the beginning or other footnotes. You are correct, they were never voted on, nor presented to the conference. They were simply added as part of a new edition.

  13. SilverRain on December 30, 2013 at 12:42 pm

    One of the biggest misunderstandings by people who celebrate the fallibility of the prophets is that others disagree not with the fallibility, but with the celebration of it.

    One of the biggest misunderstandings that is almost universal in church members—both those who continually trumpet the perceived fallibility of church leaders and those who continually trumpet blind obedience (and the former are far more numerous than the latter, I have found) is that correctness and incorrectness is not nearly as useful a measuring stick as right vs. wrong.

    Far too many conflate the two.

  14. Trevor on December 30, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    “The wise man built his house upon the rock”

    NOT

    “The wise man had the subcontractor build his house upon the rock”

    I like it, Nathaniel.

  15. anon on December 30, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    I was asked for a quote where members are asked for blind obedience.

    From the first talk of the most recent general conference. Elder Hales quoting Harold b lee.

    “but if you listen to these things as if from the mouth of the lord himself with patience and faith the promise is that the gates of Hell shall not prevail against you.”

    That’s not exactly the same as ‘hear these things as if from a fallible servant who sees through a glass darkly and who have recently admitted to some pretty big goofs in the past.’

  16. Dave K on December 30, 2013 at 2:10 pm

    John, I am unaware of any church authority using the exact phrase “blind obedience” in an approving manner. Typically, when the issue arises, members are thinking of one of the following quotes. I encourage you to read the original sources for the full context. These quotes are just to provide evidence of what, in my experience, most members think of when they consider “blind obedience.”

    “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 directions, it should mark the end of controversy, God works in no other way. To think otherwise, without immediate repentance, may cost on e his faith, may destroy his testimony, and leave him a stranger to the kingdom of God.” (Ward Teachers Message, Deseret News, May 26, 1945, Church Section p. 5; see also the response of George A. Smith to this statement, as found at http://www.fairmormon.org/perspectives/publications/when-the-prophet-speaks-is-the-thinking-done)

    “My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church, and if he tells you to do something wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it.” (Heber J. Grant, as quoted by Apostle Marion G. Romney in “The Covenant of the Priesthood,” Ensign, July 1972, p. 98)

    “Personal opinions may vary. Eternal principles never do. When the Prophet speaks, sisters, the debate is over.” (Elaine Cannon, Young Women President, Ensign, November 1978, page 107)

    “When the Prophet speaks the debate is over.” (N. Eldon Tanner, Ensign, Aug. 1979, pp. 2-3)

    “No true Latter-day Saint will ever take a stand that is in opposition to what the Lord has revealed to those who direct the affairs of his earthly kingdom. No Latter-day Saint who is true and faithful in all things will ever pursue a course, or espouse a cause, or publish an article or book that weakens or destroys faith.” (Bruce R. McConkie, Conference Report, October 1984, p. 104)

  17. Nathaniel Givens on December 30, 2013 at 9:00 pm

    anon-

    Isn’t denying someone the ability to see their child get married a form of coercion?

    The word coercion means “the practice of persuading someone to do something by using force or threats.” If a leader uses a policy or commandment of the Church to try and force a member to behave a certain way: yes, that’s coercive. But the policies and commandments themselves are not necessarily coercive. Commandments are given by God to guide our behavior and teach us principles (among other reasons) and policies governing the membership and behavior of members are an integral part of any institution.

    Assuming you believe that leaders are currently making errors, how do you participate in an environment where the culture from the top doesn’t allow individuals to be honest about what their own moral compass is telling them is right and wrong.

    Of course the leaders are currently making errors because they are human. That is axiomatic. I don’t understand the rest of your question, however. If you think that it violates your conscience to be a Mormon than you should stop being a Mormon.

    It seems like you want the right to be a Mormon and to define what that entails. To determine for yourself what is requisite to be a member in good standing. That’s impossible. Being in this Church means being subject to various rules, policies, and expectations that are administered by faulty, error-prone humans. It means being subject from time to time and in greater or lesser degree to embarrassment, inconvenience, and even injustice. It is, in short, a microcosm of the human experience.

    Just as hoping for a Church where no one tells you what to do is impossible, so is hoping for leaders who flawlessly self-identify their own errors. You write: “I think the questioning would like leadership to be honest in their degree of errancy and not expect blind obedience.”

    The first half is absurd: if the leaders could be honest about the extent of their errors they would know the extent of their errors, and then they very likely wouldn’t make them, would they? Part of being fallible includes never knowing exactly when you got something right or wrong. This is just another way of asking for infallibility by some other name.

    Leaders are just people. They ought never be held to a higher standard than we hold ourselves to. Do you know the exact nature and/or extent of all of your errors? If so: you are wiser than I. If not: stop insisting that leaders do what you cannot do yourself.

    As for the second half: I flatly reject the notion that leaders expect blind obedience. As I wrote in the post: blind obedience is anethma to the core principles of Mormonism. If you think leaders are asking for it, either you’re right and the leaders are wrong (and I would put this under a category where you should disobey) or you’re wrong and they aren’t actually asking for it.

    I think it’s very, very plain that the latter is the case. Mormon doctrine is clear and consistent in this particular point, from Joseph Smith on. We are expected to obey. There’s nothing blind about it.

  18. Nathaniel Givens on December 30, 2013 at 9:01 pm

    Dave K-

    Nathaniel, could you elaborate on your belief that this statement is part of the LDS canon?

    I said that based on the fact that you can find the statement in question within the covers of ye olde quad. Upon reflection, that’s not actually the definition of the canon, and so this was a rookie mistake on my part.

  19. Jared on December 30, 2013 at 9:20 pm

    Thanks for the post Nathaniel.

    We call the men who lead and have led the church prophets. That means they are the Lord’s spokesmen/representatives.

    To me, the Lord has responsibility for the ban on the priesthood the prophet Brigham Young initiated. I believe His will is being done when His prophets make mistakes in His name. In other words, the Lord saw the greater “good” in allowing the priesthood ban to be established through BY.

    We may not know the exact reason for now, but the scripture give a hint (Mosiah 23:21).

  20. Algernon on December 30, 2013 at 10:53 pm

    Excellent post, sir. I appreciate the analysis.

    Jared #19, “His will is being done when His prophets make mistakes in His name.”
    The implications of this are problematic, as I see it. Numerous are the accounts of prophets erring and receiving the Lord’s rebuke, Joseph Smith most of all. Would the Lord rebuke his children for actions that are in accordance with His will?
    To hold the Lord accountable for mistakes made by mortals, prophets or otherwise, opens a nasty can of worms I think we’d all find disagreeable. A simpler, and to my mind, more reasonable position is that God values agency to a degree we may sometimes find terrifying. If so, even His representatives are given remarkable latitude to act according to their light and knowledge, however dim or bright.

  21. Steve Smith on December 30, 2013 at 11:43 pm

    I sympathize with anon’s comment (#3), but I think Nathaniel (17) makes some good points. I don’t think that the LDS church is coercive in theory, so I agree with the OP, but it can sometimes mildly coercive in practice. I say this because for a select few of its members, primarily in the Mormon belt or who are deeply enmeshed in a Mormon environment, it does not create an easy opt-out for those who have been members for a long time, but no longer desire to be. Some local leaders have been known to resort to browbeating, excessive guilt-tripping, denunciations in front of one’s family, encouragement of divorce, and other high pressure tactics as methods of punishment against members for simply saying that they no longer believe some of the traditional doctrine and want to stop participating in what is supposed to be a strictly voluntary organization. That to me is coercion. The higher-ranking leadership participates in this coercion by not taking a strong enough stand against it. The tactics that the higher-ranking leadership encourages local leaderships to engage in to enforce tithing payment and continued loyalty to the LDS church and its doctrine can be argued to be mildly coercive as well. Doctrinally, it is by invitation, persuasion, and long-suffering that leaders should sway people to obey, not by causing them to fear hefty consequences. I believe that the degree of coercion that the LDS church resorts to now is much less than it was in the past. But it still happens. One need only to venture to the New Order Mormon forum to find a fair number of examples of LDS people who no longer want to be LDS but fear hefty social consequences imposed on them by friends, family, and local leaderships if they express their true beliefs (or lack thereof) and opt out.

  22. Jared on December 30, 2013 at 11:56 pm

    Algernon #20

    I agree that what I stated is problematic. In fact, the further we get away from the first principles of the gospel the more problematic the issues become for church members to grasp.

    However, we have the scriptures and are required to use them as best we can to sort though the difficulties we encounter in this fallen world.

    Algernon wrote: “Numerous are the accounts of prophets erring and receiving the Lord’s rebuke, Joseph Smith most of all.”

    Suffering in all of its dimensions is the hallmark of the fallen world we live in. Each time the prophet Joseph Smith was rebuked the greater a prophet he became. Suffering can be the means of growth in this world for those who endure to the end.

    I think we need to remember the Lord doesn’t make mistakes. He isn’t a fallen man. He is a perfected man whose work and glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of his children. I believe that every thing He does or doesn’t do is rife with purpose to that end.

    It may be that we need to have a paradigm shift in our view of Heavenly Fathers dealings with prophets in light of the latest disclosures church leaders have brought forth.

    Yes, we have fallible prophets backed by an infallible God who uses the weakness/meekness of prophets to accomplish His purposes.

    I think this line of reasoning needs to be explored to answer the new questions being asked by church members.

  23. Jared on December 31, 2013 at 12:07 am

    Steve Smith #21

    I agree with much of what you wrote. Pressure and pain can have many outcomes. For me, it humbled me to the extent the veil was parted sufficiently to give birth to an Enos like experience.

    The scriptures give all kinds of examples of this process, beginning with the first chapter in the Book of Mormon.

  24. Steve Smith on December 31, 2013 at 12:13 am

    “In other words, the Lord saw the greater ‘good’ in allowing the priesthood ban to be established through BY.”

    Oh, what exactly is this “greater good” that God supposedly saw? Yeah, I can’t accept that God is a racist who thinks that people are less entitled to privileges to hold the priesthood power because of their skin color. The ban was a regretful flaw. I can’t imagine anyone thinking that there was some greater good that came of it.

  25. Mike on December 31, 2013 at 12:47 am

    Mark Richardson #8: Do you have some cite for your claim that Joseph Smith banned ordaining more blacks in 1838? I’ve read a number of times that a study of historical documents shows that the ban can be traced back no farther than Brigham Young. Your statement, if true, refutes that. Do you have a cite?

  26. Riley on December 31, 2013 at 2:53 am

    “Some wish they could depend on inerrant leaders or inerrant scripture because this would make religious life easier. It’s like subcontracting for spirituality: forget building on a rock or on sand, pay someone else to build the house for you!”

    This.

  27. ji on December 31, 2013 at 7:46 am

    There’s a process outlined in D&C 84 — to receive the Father, one must first receive the Son — to receive the Son, one must first receive His servants. It’s an all-or-nothing proposition.

    I accept the fallibility of church leaders, but I stop short of celebrating that fallibility. I want to honor and sustain them in their callings, not second-guess and henpeck them. Every person needs to arrive at a point of honoring and sustaining — it’s part of our personal challenge. I appreciate the original posting, and I want to follow the counsel I take from John 6:66-68.

  28. Orange on December 31, 2013 at 8:14 am

    So, if prophets are fallible, which they are, and they say things that do not necessarily align with God but with their own ideas, are we supposed to follow and agree with them? Not blindly, but to choose it anyway? I remember when President Packer gave that talk in 2010 general conference, and how horrified I felt that I disagreed with a prophet of God. I’m still trying to reconcile myself with a few issues. Do we choose to follow their directions even if you’ve prayed and prayed and can’t feel good about it? Do you do it anyway because they are God’s chosen spokesperson? Were those who spoke up against the Priesthood ban wrong and not following the Prophet? Also, I read about how not all the apostles were on board with getting rid of the Priesthood ban so it stayed in place for longer. That to me really highlights how sometimes the views of our leaders are cultural and not inspired. So, am I accountable to agree with them even if I can’t?

  29. Mike on December 31, 2013 at 9:06 am

    I don’t think we are necessarily accountable to agree, but we may be accountable if we fail to be obedient, or fail to make the attempt to understand.

  30. anon on December 31, 2013 at 9:39 am

    Nathaniel,

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply. You are absolutely right that the church has a role in enforcing boundaries through policies. If the church isn’t trying to promote certain values than it loses any reason for existence.

    I do think policies can be coercive in and of themselves. The policies themselves have threats embedded in them. Take the hypothetical example of two young converts who serve a mission and then get engaged. The brides father has always dreamed about walking them down the aisle and the grooms mother would feel extremely hurt by not being allowed to participate. The policy is that if the morning of the temple sealing they got married in a full civil ceremony they would have to wait a year to get sealed. Both of these people are temple recommend holding members and I don’t think the policy would take away their recommends if they do get married civilly, so they could go to the temple together, attend the same endowment session, but just can’t be sealed for a year. What is the purpose of that policy other than as a threat to enforce compliance.

    The question is one of balance. What should the boundaries be? You seem to be arguing that the overzealous boundary setting is a local issue. I don’t agree. I think if you look at the restrictiveness of policies that the LDS church is far to the restrictive side compared to other churches.

    You look at policies like correlation, which consolidated power at the top and I can’t help but believe a major purpose was to limit the voice of those who don’t agree with everything. So when you have a rash of vitriolic facebook comments ridiculing women who want to dress like a their professional peers at work it isn’t fair to lay that only on local members. The culture that comes from the top has created that environment.

    Nathaniel, I read your works and it gives me hope for the church. I think you provide a rational way for people like me to participate in the church. But I read your writings and your view of the church isn’t anywhere near my lived experience. We are expected to obey, the question is what are we expected to obey. I listen to general conference and I hear competing views on what doctrine actually is. Yet I don’t feel I have been given permission to determine for myself what is and isn’t doctrine. This is especially true when the church is releasing 13 documents that say things that people have been excommunicated for only two decades ago (Quinn is who I have in mind).

    I love the church. They are my people, but I wish the church operated in a more christlike manner in respect to legalistic corporate type policies. When I read stories of Christ in the Bible he fought legalism and excepted people where they were. I think the church recognizes some of the things I take issue with. The church is a big ship and takes time to move. I don’t thing the leadership is all on the same page on how to solve these issues. I support and sustain them in their efforts and believe they have good intentions. I do think they see through a glass darkly and believe their policies are colored by the culture in which they live. I am glad they are taking steps to make things better for people like me. I don’t know that in my lifetime that I will ever feel part of the culture again. I hope I do, regardless I am here for the long term. I don’t know that suggesting people who have problems with a culture that says you have to believe 100% or should leave is a helpful. Whose 100% are we talking about?

    I think as a culture we need to embrace the statement “teach correct principles and let them govern” themselves on a much more practical level. But we insist on imposing social consequences for people who interpret doctrine differently and we do it in an environment where it is very difficult to determine what doctrine actually is. Are anonymous essays doctrine?

  31. Hedgehog on December 31, 2013 at 10:19 am

    anon “We are expected to obey, the question is what are we expected to obey.”

    I’ve come to the conclusion that we are to obey God as directed by the Holy Spirit, and that each of us is responsible for our actions in that regard. Our leaders provide guidance and instruction, but we are responsible for the way we translate and incorporate that into our own lives or not. If all members do this then the potential for leaders mistakes to become a part of the wider church culture would be much diminished.

    Nathaniel, I like some parts of your post, but I think you are overplaying the obedience card. I think the ‘who’ we are obedient to leans too much towards obedience to leaders in our current rhetoric, and this is perpetuated in your remarks, albeit with a somewhat tortured twist in obeying inspite of failings. Sometimes this may be necessary, but the key is to be following and obeying the Spirit, not to be looking to obey our leaders per se.

  32. ji on December 31, 2013 at 10:43 am

    Orange #28

    We’re under command from God to honor our imperfect and fellow-pilgrim parents, and to sustain our imperfect and fellow-pilgrim church leaders. I don’t see much difference. I can sustain a man in his calling at the same time thinking that I might approach a matter differently than him.

    Obedience to God, honoring for parents, sustaining for church leaders, kindness for neighbors — it seems all to come from the same fabric — part of the challenge of life.

  33. Frank Pellett on December 31, 2013 at 12:12 pm

    Steve Smith (#24) – “what exactly is this “greater good” that God supposedly saw? Yeah, I can’t accept that God is a racist who thinks that people are less entitled to privileges to hold the priesthood power because of their skin color. The ban was a regretful flaw. I can’t imagine anyone thinking that there was some greater good that came of it.”

    The problem is that we don’t know, and the guesses he had most often are wrong. There are lots of instances where God sanctioned or allowed some pretty horrific things; killing the firstborn of all Egyptians, genocide of those living in Israel before the Israelites came. Christ would not teach the gospel to the Gentiles, barely allowing crumbs to those who had faith to ask. With all these and more, we don’t even touch on the horrors that were allowed to happen.

    When it comes to these kinds of events, all the way down to the racial ban and the current gender ban, we don’t just see through a glass darkly, but barely know there is a glass somewhere that has a lot of light on the other side. It’s something each of us has to reconcile for ourselves.

  34. EFF on December 31, 2013 at 4:53 pm

    It seems somewhat incongruous that in the same breath that we acknowledge the fallibility of our leaders, we blithely accept their assurances that they will never lead us astray. Really? Are there instances in the scriptures where prophets have made huge personal and institutional errors that were harmful to the people they were called upon to serve? (In case it isn’t obvious, that’s a rhetorical question.) So why do we think that we or are leaders are different than the ones who have gone before? What makes us special or different? The answer is: nothing.

  35. Steve Smith on December 31, 2013 at 6:04 pm

    Frank (33), I’m not sure that I understood your comment. Are you saying that we don’t know what greater good came of the ban, but that it was a greater good nonetheless? The way I see it, the LDS church would have been a lot better off now if it had more Elijah Abels and had not banned any male from the priesthood. If anything it seems that the LDS church would be able to tout its continued acceptance of blacks as equals as evidence of its enlightened views regarding race, and enlightenment before its time at that. Because right now, the current leaders seem to treat the ban as a mark of shame that they deeply regret and want so badly to move past. But they just can’t bring themselves to fully denounce Brigham Young and other past church leaders who supported the ban as misguided and uninspired. If we take the advice of the OP and fully accept that LDS leaders are fallible, why can’t we just up and pronounce Brigham Young as dead wrong on the issue of the ban. It is frustrating to hear LDS people who say that they fully support blacks as equals but then say that the ban was of God, but that they just don’t know why God did that. My position is that the ban was not a result of the prophets simply following God’s commands (for that would be treating the leaders as infallible automatons who are not making decisions of their own accord but merely carrying out God’s orders) nor did it come from God, but that the ban was the result of the racist attitudes of early LDS church leaders who wrongfully believed that blacks were inferiors. Given, lots of white people at the time believed that blacks were inferiors, so I suppose that that attitude was somewhat more excusable at the time than it is now, but it doesn’t make that position right or godly. I believe that racism has always been wrong. And it makes absolutely no sense that God would tell someone to do something wrong.

  36. Steve Smith on December 31, 2013 at 6:22 pm

    Jared (23), I’m not sure that I follow your comment. Are you trying to justify the pressure and pain that LDS people sometimes inflict on other members who come to different conclusions about reality, God, and the LDS church through their own reasoning and decide to stop participating in the LDS church? Because if so, then you don’t agree with my main point in my earlier comment at all. I can’t imagine that God would look kindly upon a bishop who encouraged a believing LDS woman to divorce her husband simply because through his own reasoning he stopped believing in traditional LDS doctrines and no longer desired to pay tithing, hold a calling, and go to church. To me that is an unjust imposition of pain and pressure, and I can’t imagine someone justifying such an imposition as godly. If anything it completely conflicts with the LDS church’s method of swaying action through invitation and swaying the acceptance of belief through reasoned persuasion, whether or not someone has been a believing member for a long time.

  37. Jared on December 31, 2013 at 8:20 pm

    Steve Smith #36

    What I am attempting to say is that a life crisis can bring us to our knees, pleading with Heavenly Father for help, forgiveness, understanding, and so forth.

    It doesn’t matter so what brought the crisis on. It could be just about anything: a car accident caused by a drunk driver, a marriage gone bad, children on drugs, a challenge to faith because of something learned about church history on the internet, bad counsel from a church leader, being black and dealing with the priesthood ban prior to June 1978.

    Mortal life deals out all kinds of injustices, paradoxes, challenges, and troubles. These experiences can make or break church members. Those who turn to God are can be “healed” and experience the mighty change the scriptures teach about.

    Here are a few scriptures that make the point:

    Abraham 3:24-25
    Mosiah 23:21-23 then read the next few chapters
    Helaman 3:33-35
    Mosiah 4:2-3

  38. Kruiser on January 1, 2014 at 12:16 am

    Mike#25 regarding Mark Richardson#8 in reference to Joseph Smith starting the priesthood ban. I don’t have a citation as such, but I remember something from my ancient past. I picked up a magazine along about 1976 or 77 that had a picture on the front cover of a girl in a white dress standing on a platform holding an American flag with words written on the wall behind her, something to the effect, “Utah – Union Forever.” It seemed to be celebrating Utah achieving statehood. I think it may have been a Smithsonain or maybe a Natural History magazine, something of that order. I know it was not a National Geographic. It was not a specialized journal because I got it from a small town newsstand. Anyway, it had a general article about Mormonism in it. The author related a story about Joseph Smith ordaining a black man and afterwards thinking it had been a mistake because of the Spirit resisting him during the procedure. I do not recall if he mentioned the black man’s name. I’m thinking the non-member author must have had some documentation to prove the incident.

    I gave the magazine away shortly thereafter and have now been trying to locate a copy on the internet. My efforts have been fruitless, so if anyone is good at finding these kinds of things, I invite you to try.

  39. InCogNeato on January 1, 2014 at 4:12 am

    Nice post!

    I’m curious how this discussion would be applied to this situation that occurred in our stake: stake leaders encouraged youth in a fireside and latter in combined priesthood/relief society mtgs across the stake to share their addiction to pornography! I understand many disagreed with youth sharing past transgressions on both the stake and ward levels. Those that stood up-did so out of conviction that this wasn’t appropriate-but were looked at as troublemakers and not following leaders. Others were convinced it was wrong but sat in the mtg in silence. It got pretty hot! What would you do if you felt this approach was way off track? Set in the mtg anyway? Quietly talk to the stake? Fight?

  40. RW on January 1, 2014 at 5:04 am

    After careful thought and 20/20 hindsight, the Manifesto should have been given as a revelation rather than a manifesto. This is an example of what can only be a leaderly and prophetic mistake.

    At the time the Manifesto was understood to be a weasel way out of a difficult circumstance without really meaning what it said. As a result there were decades of problems which arose from that interpretation and gave fuel to modern schisms. How much would have been spared had the Manifesto been written along the lines of:

    “I, the Lord, have said that the plurality of wives is acceptable in certain times and certain places to raise up a righteous generation unto me. I, the Lord, declare that this practice has fulfilled its purpose in these latter days and now must end.”

    Or if the revelation on the priesthood extension had been issued under the name of God and had repudiated BY?

    We have lost the power of speaking for God. This is a grievous loss that could have fixed many problems in the bud. (Of course the leadership must really be speaking for God and not out of their own prejudices.)

  41. Frank Pellett on January 1, 2014 at 11:05 am

    Steve (35) – I’m saying that even though we may not be able to see any good from it, in the greater perspective, God would have used this to some good. It’s like the genocide in the OT. It was not the best option to me (as I can’t see genocide as a viable option for anything), but it was explained that it was necessary for the Israelites to survive in their new land. I think both of these things are examples of something God allowed and used for a good purpose. Not the preferrable course, but working bet with what He had to work with, His very fallible and comparatively ignorant children.

    We do not have even a tiny part of the reasoning for the ban. All of our attempts at explaining it have fallen short, sometimes even destructively short. The best we can do is trust God has it in hand and do our best not to repeat the same mistakes.

  42. Mike on January 1, 2014 at 11:21 am

    #40RW – I suppose those things could have written that way. Or, they could have been written just the way The Lord wanted them to be–even if they don’t suit my fancy.

  43. RW on January 1, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    Mike,

    I guess God wants confusion and a muddle. Or is He a god of order?

  44. RW on January 1, 2014 at 2:27 pm

    Mike: No, God really wants polygamy. Which is why the Manifesto was a muddle.

  45. Mike on January 1, 2014 at 3:41 pm

    #43: I feel like I know God to some degree, but as Nephi said, “I do not know the meaning of all things.”

    I certainly think it’s possible that God would do things that I do not understand. That sentiment is reflected in Isaiah 55:8-9: For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.

    For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

    That is not a copout—it is a recognition that God doesn’t think the way we do.

  46. Cameron N on January 1, 2014 at 3:53 pm

    Steve Smith, I’m curious what your feelings are about the gentiles revelation Peter received.

  47. Steve Smith on January 1, 2014 at 11:31 pm

    Jared (37), I’m not sure if we’re on the same page. To reiterate my point: the OP brought up how LDS church doctrine does not condone coercion even if some fallible church leaders (local and high-ranking) may in a moment of weakness resort to it in order to sway someone to do or believe something. I agreed with the OP and added that the instances in which coercion appears most often is in cases of local leaderships trying to sway long-time members who lose belief in the traditional doctrine to maintain the status quo.

    Frank (41), you are undoubtedly making the assertion that God was the one who commanded genocide in the OT and the priesthood ban and that the prophets of the time were just carrying out orders. Then you are claiming that you don’t know why God commanded that. I’m saying that God didn’t command genocide in the OT and didn’t command BY or any LDS leaders to discriminate against black people, but that the Hebrew spiritual leaders in the OT wrongfully tried to justify killing in the name of God and that early LDS leaders tried to wrongfully justify their racial biases in the name of God. I simply can’t accept the idea of a God that is genocidal and racist. The God that I believe in is just, egalitarian, and judges people based on their hearts and their acts, not their race and ethnicity. Oddly enough, I think that my view of the reason for genocide in the OT and racism in the early LDS church has much more traction among current LDS people than the view you put forth.

    Cameron (46), I fully agree with the words that Peter reportedly uttered: “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons, but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” I’m willing to accept that God is that way and has always been that way.

  48. Frank Pellett on January 2, 2014 at 2:09 pm

    Steve (47) – and what of the mass destruction and loss of life caused by God that has no human element? The numbers of people killed by storms, earthquakes, volcanoes, plagues, droughts, etc, far exceed the numbers killed in any war. God has a much, much longer view than we are capable of. It’s barely comparable to a parent putting a child through an immunization shot. The benefits outwieigh the pain, though the child may not understand for several of their lifetimes (a 1 yr old may not understand until they are at least 4, and even barely then).

  49. Steve on January 2, 2014 at 3:44 pm

    Frank, death by natural disaster is just that: the result of a force of nature. While I believe that God is the creator of all matter and the originator of all life, God can’t defy physics and won’t whip up natural disasters to smite people. Certainly ancient Hebrew-speaking peoples thought that to be the case, as reflected in their early writings, but if that is the case, then it doesn’t make sense that lots of good people die because of natural disasters. Furthermore, we have come to understand natural disasters a lot more than we used to, are able to predict natural patterns a lot better, and prevent deaths from disasters with sophisticated preparation methods.

    The thing I don’t understand in your logic is how you can claim to not understand the ways of God but then in the same sentence claim that God is behind natural disasters as well as genocidal and racist policies. Your logic seems to be based on the idea that we must accept people referred to as prophets in the OT and LDS tradition as acting in some cases as automatons who were just unquestioningly carrying out the will of a whimsical God. Here you seem to be treating the prophets as the very sort of infallible beings that the OP is saying that they aren’t. I believe that if we are to treat leaders as fallible, we must view them as people who are making approximations as to the nature of God, but don’t know for sure, and sometimes turn out to be dead wrong. We must develop a concept of God through our own independent reasoning, and if that coincides with those of the prophets, then wonderful. But occasionally we must be willing to point out that the emperor has no clothes. In other words, we must be willing to call out early LDS church leaders’ beliefs that God was telling them to treat blacks as inferiors as bogus. We must be willing to point out that Samuel was full of it when he reportedly claimed that God told him to “utterly destroy all that [the Amalekites] have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass,” (1 Samuel 15: 3). To do otherwise is to blindly and unquestioningly accept an unjust tradition. Must we believe anyone who claims that they were told by God to do something? By that logic, we have to accept that the Qur’an is God’s words and that all of the ancient Persian kings are God’s chosen emissaries to rule over the earth.

  50. Frank Pellett on January 2, 2014 at 4:17 pm

    Wow, what a jump. I’ll leave this to be my last, since it’s gone far beyond the scope of the OP. Your perception of God seems to be one that does nothing except love, not trying to help or do anything for us, just sits back and loves us from afar. Our understanding of weather has still barely scratched the surface to a point where we can sometimes predict things just before they happen, with much less accuracy as we try to look forward in time. The number of variable is just too great.

    I absolutely do not beleive leaders are infallible, or automotons, as you put it. They had (and have) choice, and their own resoning for doing what they did, following or not. You make assumptions as to why any of the leaders did what they did, saying that there would be no reasoning that would be acceptable. We have too little to base a judgement on, other that the faith that God has it all in hand, despite us. We have no idea how much leaders did fight against some things, or how much their own bias was allowed by God.

    And, to your last Jab, there’s lots of good stuff to learn in the Qur’an, as well as from other religious traditions. Mormonism isn’t a monopoly on the truth. Also, why are you so biased against Persians that you feel they are so below you?

    And with that, I’m done. Thanks for the conversation. It helped keeping the thinking moving for a while.

  51. Mormonatrix on January 2, 2014 at 6:29 pm

    Frank #50, The God I worship does nothing but love, to the extent that His very identity is synonymous with that quality. He neither approves His children’s bad behavior–prophets or not–nor causes natural disasters. Nor yet does that render him impotent in judgment, for that, too, is an act of love.
    I understand the impulse to believe His hand is in all things; it’s easier. But such a position undermines agency, the exercise of which is everything–indeed, the chief reason for our being, and for our being here. Consequently, He is content to sit back and love, as you say, for it’s not His soul on the line.

  52. Mike on January 2, 2014 at 6:46 pm

    #51: I don’t think it’s an all-or-nothing proposition, as your comment seems to imply. I believe in a loving God, and the God I believe in would create a world for us without any pain, suffering, etc., if he could do it and still have the conditions necessary to exalt us. I don’t believe every specific thing happens for a very specific purpose, but I believe the conditions of this world are part of a necessary structure for the grand plan to be successful. Opposition in all things: pain, pleasure, sadness, joy, etc.

  53. mtnmarty on January 2, 2014 at 7:28 pm

    Nathaniel,

    Do you really think institutionalized racism is a sin?

    What do you make of the God of the OT?

    I can understand your belief in people making mistakes. What I don’t understand is why you believe we’ve made moral progress.

    When it comes to morals, even hindsight isn’t 20/20.

  54. Steve Smith on January 2, 2014 at 8:38 pm

    Frank, I didn’t intend my comments as jabs (that’s why I hate internet discussions), but as serious questions. Indeed, the question of the exact nature of God is a topic for a different discussion. But if we are to accept a God that does intervene in our affairs and does do things for us, I can’t understand why in the world I, or any other believing LDS person for that matter, would want to accept genocide or racism (which I would hope anyone would accept as absolutely wrong at all times and places) as God-originated policies. I think that we have enough information to make a call that Samuel and Saul hated the Amalekites and were unwilling to enter into any negotiations or diplomacy with them (which would seem like the more godly thing to do). As for Brigham Young and racism, there is plenty of evidence that he regarded black people to be inferior: http://www.utlm.org/onlineresources/sermons_talks_interviews/brigham1852feb5_priesthoodandblacks.htm. This doesn’t mean that BY was an all around bad person or that he didn’t possess deep wisdom. But when we as LDS people are confronted with the question as to why the ban, I think it would be more effective, if not more correct, to just up and denounce the ban as wrong and that it never should have happened. By saying that we don’t know why the ban was there, we indirectly condone it as God’s command. And that just doesn’t seem right.

    To reiterate my point with the Qur’an and the Persians, you seem to believe that we should take BY or the OT prophets for their words that God was commanding them to do all kinds of things that were just wrong simply because they said so. Muhammad was pretty emphatic that the Qur’an was revelation from God, so should I just take his word for it? Sure there are passages in the Qur’an that we could regard as inspired, but Muhammad was claiming that it was revelation from God, so should we urge the LDS church to make the Qur’an part of the standard works? Should we justify ancient Persian kings’ conquests as right and moral simply because they claimed that that was the will of God? Should we accept the Crusades as right and moral because the Pope said it was the will of God that Jerusalem be under the control of Christian peoples? I strongly believe that God bestows on every individual a moral sense that helps them perceive what is right and wrong. When something seems wrong and upon reasoned investigation continues to appear very wrong, we should denounce it as wrong, whether or not that person is someone whom we regard to be a spiritual authority. Right and wrong is best determined through our God-given human powers of reasoning, not by some authoritative tradition.

  55. jill on January 3, 2014 at 5:01 am

    I’ve noticed the priesthood seems to have always been more exclusive rather than inclusive. And over time, it was extended to more men. It used to be only the Levites could perform certain duties. Paul understood that the gospel was now to go to the gentiles, but Peter and James would have kept the status quo. I think change is hard and takes time.

  56. jill on January 3, 2014 at 5:18 am

    p.s. I think it shows God is in charge of who gets the priesthood and when because it was always a select few and added upon at certain times.

  57. Nathaniel Givens on January 3, 2014 at 11:47 am

    anon-

    What is the purpose of that policy other than as a threat to enforce compliance.

    The policy is, I believe, a misguided attempt to put more emphasis on the importance of temple sealing. In the past we used to have this idea that a wedding was one thing and a sealing was another. I think we should go back to that.

    As it stands, however, it’s not actually clear what you think is being coerced, here. There’s one policy that says you have to have a temple recommend to go in the temple and another policy that says you can’t get sealed in the temple within 1 year of being married civilly. Together, they mean that if your kids are members and you aren’t, either they have to wait a year between wedding and sealing or you can’t go to their wedding. This is bad. But what is it intended to coerce? It is supposed to be a threat to make the parents convert and/or get temple worthy? I don’t think anyone believes that is the intention of the policy (primarily because it clearly doesn’t work.)

    I see a policy I disagree with. But not coercion.

    Yet I don’t feel I have been given permission to determine for myself what is and isn’t doctrine.

    If there was just one thing I could convey to folks who say that–and you certainly aren’t the only one–it would be: stop waiting for permission. This gets straight to D&C 58:26 for me (“For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.”) That may sound harsh, but I think the important thing to realize is that you can’t be commanded to be independent. It doesn’t work. It’s an oxymoron. You have to do that for yourself.

    I believe in obedience to leaders, so I’m obviously not saying “just go do your own thing”, but I am saying take control of your own religion. It’s yours. Not anyone else’s. You belong to a Church filled with other people and will have some of them in leadership callings over you, but your religion is 100% and completely your own and no one else’s as long as you make it so. But no one else can do that for you.

    I think as a culture we need to embrace the statement “teach correct principles and let them govern” themselves on a much more practical level.

    We can’t do it as a culture if we don’t do it as individuals first, is my only point.

  58. Steve Smith on January 3, 2014 at 1:55 pm

    Nathaniel (57), I agree with you that the policy of allowing only temple recommend holders to enter the temple for a wedding is not coercion, for no one is being coerced to do anything.

    But I lean towards anon on the issue of determining what doctrine is. I suppose we don’t need to wait for permission to engage in reasoning about what should be doctrinal. But I’ve always gotten the sense from prevailing thought in the LDS church that God determines doctrine and that God only reveals this doctrine to certain people with keys (authorization). Dallin H. Oaks’ most recent conference talk strongly conveys this idea. Yet you seem be encouraging us to engage in independent reasoning. I’m all for this. But if you want to be a believing LDS person, then engaging in independent reasoning will only work so long as your independently reached conclusions do not conflict with official LDS church doctrine. So to say “take control of your religion” is a contradiction in terms (if you mean religion to be an actual system of beliefs such as the LDS belief system), because institutionalized religion in almost all cases is under the control of a hierarchy that is devoted to the protection of a doctrinal and historical tradition, which is generally treated as beyond question. And to engage in the kind of full-on independent reasoning that you seem to be encouraging would involve subjecting everything to question. But if you mean “religion” in the sense of personal belief system reached through independent reasoning, then don’t you just mean philosophy? And in that case, wouldn’t this belief system be best crafted outside the confines of organized religion?

  59. Nathaniel Givens on January 3, 2014 at 2:06 pm

    Hedgehog-

    Nathaniel, I like some parts of your post, but I think you are overplaying the obedience card. I think the ‘who’ we are obedient to leans too much towards obedience to leaders in our current rhetoric, and this is perpetuated in your remarks, albeit with a somewhat tortured twist in obeying inspite of failings. Sometimes this may be necessary, but the key is to be following and obeying the Spirit, not to be looking to obey our leaders per se.

    Just to be clear, I think that obeying ourleaders per se is actually an integral part of the plan. That’s not accidental or tangential. It’s crucial.

    The most important institution in human experience is the family. Now, based on Mormon doctrine, all souls are equally valuable and equally old. And yet in a family two souls (the parents) are given a position of leadership over the rest (the children), and the children are explicitly commanded to honor and obey.

    Now I’m not saying that leaders are a lot like parents. They aren’t and they shouldn’t be. Most importantly, leadership positions (most of them by quantity) are short, term-limited affairs. Maybe one day you’re a bishop, and the next day you’re back in nursery and someone who used to be under your charge as bishop is now your bishop.

    So that’s different. But here’s something that’s the same: parents aren’t perfect, and we’re supposed to honor them anyway. Leaders aren’t perfect, and we’re supposed to sustain them anyway.

    This is because the relationships we take on with other people, parent-to-child, leader-to-member, are a part of the intended fabric of human society.

    Mormons emphasize the idea of individual growth, and that’s important, but so is the growth of societies and communities. And that means people coexisting in various relationships with each other. I believe that having leaders, and supporting them as leaders while they try to do their best to support you as a member, is not accidental or irrelevant. It is just another part of the intended Plan of Happiness. I see sustaining leaders–imperfect, flawed, human leaders–as a willful part of participating in the big story.

  60. Nathaniel Givens on January 3, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    Steve-

    But if you mean “religion” in the sense of personal belief system reached through independent reasoning, then don’t you just mean philosophy? And in that case, wouldn’t this belief system be best crafted outside the confines of organized religion?

    I mean the latter, but I wouldn’t call it philosophy. Philosophy is, to me, lacks the spiritual aspect. I’m talking about not just intellectual musing and reading interesting books and concocting theories (all under “philosophy”) but also prayer, fasting, and devotional scripture reading. So… I don’t think “philosophy” really cuts it.

    I also don’t think that this belief system can be crafted outside the confines of organized religion. I think of the Church as a divinely inspired obstacle course. It’s there to test us, reveal weaknesses, provide opportunities for cooperation, humble us, etc. Trying to compartmentalize our participation in that Church from our personal development of faith is probably impossible, and to the extent that we succeed would create a disfigured and unrecognizable mutant version of personal religion.

  61. Steve Smith on January 3, 2014 at 4:36 pm

    Nathaniel, I think I get what you’re saying: make the LDS experience as personalized and as independently reasoned as you can. Don’t rely on others to answer tough questions, but grapple with them yourself. But I think at some you would have to modify the statement, “your religion is 100% and completely your own” to something like “your religion is mostly your own, but a small percentage is defined by the LDS leaders and must be in conformity with that.” (And if that is it, then I certainly find it a much more enlightened position than what I typicaly hear from over my local ward’s pulpit). For you are advocating that people regard some aspects of the LDS tradition as beyond question (such as the notion that prayer, fasting, and scripture reading are productive spiritual rituals), or at least if we are to question them, we must arrive at conclusions that support their validity.

  62. Hedgehog on January 4, 2014 at 8:33 am

    Nathaniel, honouring and supporting and sustaining are all terms that I can agree with. However, I wholly disagree that in every circumstance they would be equivalent to obedience. I don’t believe they are, and I further think we are treading on dangerous ground if we make them the same. I’m not supposing that obeying the Spirit as opposed to leaders will result in wholesale disobedience to leaders, that’s unlikely. But a personal spiritual confirmation that we should do as asked, for instance, when we disagree, or a sympathetic response that our points are understood, but not to worry, it’ll work out somehow, albeit in a less straight forward way, is as helpful as a no don’t do that. Additionally, such conversations in prayer can assist us in working out precisely what a general instruction can look like in our very specific lives. I don’t like the fetishisation of ‘obedience’ to leaders, and that’s what your comment looks like to me.

  63. Nathaniel Givens on January 4, 2014 at 8:58 am

    Steve-

    But I think at some you would have to modify the statement, “your religion is 100% and completely your own” to something like “your religion is mostly your own, but a small percentage is defined by the LDS leaders and must be in conformity with that.”… For you are advocating that people regard some aspects of the LDS tradition as beyond question… or at least if we are to question them, we must arrive at conclusions that support their validity.

    No, I don’t think I’d like to modify it. I don’t think anything is beyond questioning. I believe in adhering to the teachings of leaders because I already think the Church is true for myself. I don’t think the Church is true because I follow leaders without question (even on any specific topics). It’s a cart/horse question, and for me the horse must always be your own conscience.

    Of course there’s a difference between theory and practice. In practice, it’s not possible (or sensible) to question everything. But it’s still important for me to treat even the things that I don’t currently question in practice as subject to possible future review. This is a part of treating everything I believe as ultimately my own responsibility and not a mere consequence of following orders.

  64. Nathaniel Givens on January 4, 2014 at 9:05 am

    Hedgehog-

    I don’t like the fetishisation of ‘obedience’ to leaders, and that’s what your comment looks like to me.

    The problem I have with your view is that if we all independently follow the Spirit then there’s no genuine communal aspect to our faith. The whole elaborate hierarchy of leaders and callings and wards and so forth becomes a bit of a joke or a silly facade.

    I believe that we’re here on earth not just to work out our individual, but also our communal salvation. I believe that there are no such thing as Zion individuals. Only Zion communities.

    So my point is simply that obedience is an aspect towards building the kind of genuine interdependence and vulnerability that motivates forward momentum as a society. Obedience to our leaders is intrinsically important.

    But “intrinsic” doesn’t mean “always and forever without exception”. I think I’ve been pretty clear that leaders are fallible, and that when we believe they are in error we have competing moral considerations to work out. On the one hand, I think “obey your leader” always has some weight, but it’s never the only consideration.

    If my leader asks me to do something I think is incorrect but I believe no harm will come of it, then I will do it. If my leader asks me to do something I think is incorrect and I believe great harm will come of it, then I will not do it. But that doesn’t mean I have set aside the command to obey my leaders, just that I think there’s a weightier matter in consideration.

    In either case–whether I obey or disobey–I recognize that the decision is mine. I recognize the importance of a command to obey our leaders, but it does not absolve me of moral responsibility to determine my own course of action nor does it in any way overshadow all of the other competing moral considerations that may exist at any given time.

    Does this make sense?

  65. Hedgehog on January 4, 2014 at 10:25 am

    Nathaniel, I disagree there would be no communal aspect because the Spirit would be at the very heart of such a community, as I envisage it.

    I agree entirely on the assessing harm, and personal responsibility, and possibly we are in greater agreement than we would appear to be on paper. Still, I think the way in which you frame obedience can easily give the wrong impression.

  66. Steve Smith on January 4, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    Nathaniel, you write: (60) “I also don’t think that this belief system can be crafted outside the confines of organized religion”

    Then later you write: (63) “I don’t think anything is beyond questioning. I believe in adhering to the teachings of leaders because I already think the Church is true for myself.”

    Aren’t you arriving at the belief expressed in comment no. 63 outside the confines of organized religion? In other words, aren’t you essentially saying that you have arrived at your beliefs through your own independent reasoning and that those beliefs coincide with those taught by LDS leaders?

    Also is your comment in 60 (particularly the second paragraph) a belief that you just have for yourself, or is it a belief that you are encouraging others to adopt? If the former, fair enough, although given the context, this belief strongly appears to be advice for others. But if the latter is true, then I don’t understand why we would need to view the LDS church as a divinely inspired obstacle course any more than we should view the Hare Krishna organization as a divinely inspired obstacle course. In other words, why should I make an effort to make the specific teachings of the LDS church at all relevant or worth my time thinking about, especially when there are lots of other religions that are equally as adamant that they hold special access to God’s truth, which I don’t give time or thought about? Now in my own personal case, I’m surrounded by Mormonism, so I have little choice but to engage it. But if you are not forced by outside circumstance to confront Mormonism, why engage it at all?

  67. Nathaniel Givens on January 4, 2014 at 1:07 pm

    In other words, aren’t you essentially saying that you have arrived at your beliefs through your own independent reasoning and that those beliefs coincide with those taught by LDS leaders?

    No, of course not. There are a ton of beliefs, practices, and policies that I accept as a member of the Church that I never would have come up with on my own. I’m not saying that I independently originated the ideas at all. What I am saying is that I take full responsibility for accepting the ideas and that the decision to do so is mine.

    The Church is an apple pie. When someone offered me a slice, I didn’t have to eat it. But I decided it looked and smelled delicious, and so I ate it. Doesn’t mean I baked it. Doesn’t even mean I could have baked it, even after having sampled it. I’m not responsible for making the pie, and I can’t claim credit. I’m just responsible for my decision to eat it and to declare that–whatever went into this pie or however it was made (I don’t know!)–the pie is good.

    Also is your comment in 60 (particularly the second paragraph) a belief that you just have for yourself, or is it a belief that you are encouraging others to adopt?… if the latter is… then I don’t understand why we would need to view the LDS church as a divinely inspired obstacle course any more than we should view the Hare Krishna organization as a divinely inspired obstacle course.

    I have many auxiliary reasons for participating in the Church (e.g. my family is there, it’s got a very supportive social network, it makes me a better person), but none of those are really unique. They could be true, given a different life history, of any number of organizations.

    What makes my relationship with the Church categorically different than my relationship with many schools of thought or institutions which I admire and which benefit my life is my belief that the Church is true, in the sense of being the literal Church of Jesus Christ restored to Earth.

  68. Richard on January 4, 2014 at 3:38 pm

    The LDS scriptures do not place the President of the Church above failing and being removed. The Lord promised He would try the Saints in “all things” in D&C 132:31.

    So having controversies over the President of Church that culminate in a trial over him (D&C 107:81-84) and even in having him (the “eye” of the body) removed from the church (JST Mark 9) are scripturally possible and even probable.

    The fact that second hand hearsay quotes seem to say otherwise does not change the scriptural law on this matter.

    This is part of a 2013 LDS Patriarchal Blessing I have seen:

    “You have a great intelligent mind, but, you will never become more intelligent than the Prophet of God. You will always raise your hand to sustain Him in knowing that He is God’s spokesman, and you will know that He receives revelation. Even though you might be great in your academics, you will always know that His wisdom and knowledge supersedes yours. You will always be obedient. You will always sustain the living Prophet.”

    Notice that the pronouns referring back to the LDS Prophet are capitalized. This is usually only used when pronouns refer to Deity.

    This is about the same as the “one man rule” idolatry in the FLDS church. And the infallibility of the Pope idolatry in Catholicism.

    Clearly the majority of the membership in all three of these organizations WANT infallible leaders. But these three doctrines are unmistakably idolatry.

    The fact that President Monson apparently supports Patriarchs giving such idolatrous blessings shows his complicity.

    Common consent voting is not just a way members can prove their allegiance to the leadership. It is a way faithful members can deal with problems with their leadership. The right to NOT sustain is an honest, righteous, God-given right.

    I recommend that members choose to not sustain President Monson over sincere serious controversies they have that never get resolved.

    If President Young can be wrong about his Adam-God and Seed of Cain teachings as the church now teaches, then the President of the Church today can also be wrong in his teachings.

  69. Richard on January 4, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    Ah. I meant D&C 136:31 not 132:31 for the promise that the Lord would try the Saints in “all things”. As a revelation written by President Young, however, one might feel justified in throwing it out with other President Young teachings they do not agree with.

  70. Steve Smith on January 5, 2014 at 5:17 am

    “I’m just responsible for my decision to eat it and to declare that–whatever went into this pie or however it was made (I don’t know!)–the pie is good.”

    OK, are you saying that you took responsibility for a choice you made a long time ago (at baptism or some other time) and are continuing to follow through? That’s great if you’re speaking for yourself. But are you saying to anon and others that they need to take this same sort of responsibility? If so, it sounds a lot like the common-heard argument “you made a covenant…” to urge people to stay active. Furthermore it still seems to contradict your other pieces of advice to “take control of your religion.”

    To stick with your analogy of apple pie, I find the church to be a continual eating of apple pie, not just a snapshot event that happens only on rare, but important, occasions. Indeed, I, like you, joined and continued because there was an apple pie offered to me and it tasted good. I kept eating this apple pie on a regular basis and enjoyed the taste for a while. As I grew older (mission age) I offered the apple to other people, some liked it and some didn’t, and others just plain refused to eat it. As I grew even older (leadership positions) I became involved in the process of the apple pie making, but using the recipe of the LDS church. During that process I tasted of other apple pies that I thought were better than the one served by the LDS church. But when I tried to tell other LDS cooks in the kitchen about new ingredients that might enhance the apple pie flavoring, I was not always welcomed. Many told me to just stick with the traditional apple pie recipe. As I tasted of different apple pies, the LDS apple pie just didn’t taste like it used to. But I continued to eat the LDS apple pie to make others around me happy, all the while sneaking in bites of other apples pies in secret. In general the experience has led me to believe that anon (30) was generally right in saying that people within the LDS context just can’t determine for themselves what is an what isn’t doctrinal. That is the domain of the hierarchy.

    And ultimately I believe that independent reasoning and organized religion can only coexist with tension. That is because for an independent thinker to be part of an organized religion, s/he must at some point must allow independent reasoning to give way to authoritative tradition. And authoritative tradition is the bedrock of pretty much all organized religions.

  71. Mike on January 5, 2014 at 10:42 am

    #70 – So you’re saying that when one engages in independent thinking the only possible conclusion to be reached will be at odds with the leadership of the church?

    That may be where YOUR independent thinking took you, but that does not necessarily have to be the case for everybody.

  72. Nathaniel Givens on January 5, 2014 at 12:17 pm

    Steve-

    OK, are you saying that you took responsibility for a choice you made a long time ago (at baptism or some other time) and are continuing to follow through?

    No. I do think that past commitments should matter, and so if I was unable to otherwise decide to remain active of not I would for the sake of past commitments, but I can’t coast along on a decision I made when I was 19 (endowments) let alone 8 (baptism).

    Instead, I’m saying something very similar to what you’re saying:

    And ultimately I believe that independent reasoning and organized religion can only coexist with tension.

    I would say instead: I believe that independent reasoning and organized religion should coexist in fruitful tension.

  73. Steve Smith on January 5, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    Thanks for the engaging discussion Nathaniel.

    Mike (70), People reach lots of different conclusions through independent reasoning, including conclusions that regard a particular faith tradition to be correct. What I’m saying is that organized religion (and I do mean virtually all organized religions, not just the LDS church) are based on authority and tradition, which they devote a considerable amount of time, resources, and effort to protecting. The founders of organized religions may have established a set tradition through independent reasoning. The religions may encourage its participants to engage in independent reasoning before accepting a set tradition. But once people are identified as being members of an organized religion by the religious community, they are expected to uphold authorities, doctrines, and traditions. Some religions are more comfortable with their members asking questions about traditions and doctrines, and allow some wiggle room for independent interpretations of doctrines. Yet in almost every organized religion there is a sort of hallowed, sacred core body of doctrine of which authorities are especially protective. Questioning of this core body of doctrine is not as tolerated nearly as much. And members who do independently reason through this body of doctrine are expected to reach conclusions in support of the doctrine, or at least conclusions that do not directly challenge it.

    So for instance, if I as an LDS person determine through my own independent reasoning that the Book of Mormon is a nineteenth century text problem written by Joseph Smith and make my beliefs known to others in the religious community, the LDS community and leadership will likely treat me as a heretic and insist that I have lost a testimony. Maybe some will try to reason with me and show evidence supporting an ancient BOM. But as long as hold to my position, I will be treated as lower status in the community.

  74. John Boyle on January 5, 2014 at 7:09 pm

    Steve Smith(73): Your words could describe ANY organization mature enough to have a “culture.” Any such group (a company, gang, poker group, married couple, siblings, multinational corporation, multinational church, tribal family in the desert, dinner party) will always have a “hallowed, sacred core body of doctrine of which authorities are especially protective.” And, as you said, “questioning of this core body of doctrine is not tolerated nearly as much. And members who do independently reason through this body of doctrine are expected to reach conclusions in support of the doctrine, or at least conclusions that do not directly challenge it.”

    What I am getting at is that as long as humans are involved in anything, you shouldn’t be surprised that this behavior occurs. Core doctrine (ideas) form the identity of any group.

    It seems to me that you are expecting your independently reasoned conclusions about doctrinal matters to be readily accepted by everyone else, which in spiritual matters 1. presumes you are correct 2. presumes you know what works best for the others 3. that they should trust you (not God), despite your imperfections and foibles.

    You should expect them to resist even the best of ideas. They are human. If you don’t believe me that these issues are universal, ask anyone in a large organization with a strong culture, that if what you go through happens to them too (the Marines deal with these issues all day long).

    It seems you are expecting a human organization to be greater than its members. Or put in another way, you are expecting infallibility from the people around you.

    If you do not believe the BOM to be ancient scripture, I respect and admire you for standing up for you belief. Now that you believe such, you can only recommend to others that they ask God so they may know for themselves (as it has to be in matters of faith). Your experience cannot override that of others. If you try that, expect pushback.

    As for the community treating you with lower status, if you refer to your status within the organization, what else do you expect? You are challenging the core nature and identity of the group. Without that belief there is no church.
    If you insist your beliefs be readily accepted, you are really asking everyone to join a different church.

    If you refer to your status on an interpersonal level, I would hope all will treat you with respect. But be careful if you insist on perfect respect from those who self-identify with God; they are men, not angels.

  75. John Boyle on January 6, 2014 at 3:08 pm

    Steve Smith (70): Now, despite having said all that, I do wish for more, as I imagine you do also. I hope that those in your community treat you and your beliefs with dignity and respect.

    I wish that all would be willing to understand and explore all ideas, to weigh their worth, and to revel in seeing the world in a different way. My experience overall says otherwise, but I hope for a better world.

  76. John Boyle on January 6, 2014 at 3:09 pm

    That was supposed to be to Steve Smith (73).

  77. John Boyle on January 6, 2014 at 3:10 pm

    And there is a big comment of mine that didn’t make it up yet.

  78. Nathaniel Givens on January 7, 2014 at 9:17 am

    And there is a big comment of mine that didn’t make it up yet.

    I went and found it in the moderation queue. Don’t know why it was there, but it’s published now. (#74, I believe.)