Reasons for Following Imperfect Prophets

Last week, the Church released an official statement from President Nelson regarding the Church’s name and an accompanying update to the style guide. The Bloggernacle was unimpressed.[ref]I’m going to use “Bloggernacle” to refer to the overall Mormon social media community until somebody shows me a better name.[/ref] This isn’t really a surprise, of course. Looking cool and looking impressed are usually mutually exclusive, and since social media’s primary function is personal brand management, looking impressed is decidedly rare. Still, it got me thinking. If prophets are imperfect, why should we follow them?

Before I get to that–and it’s a question I don’t ask rhetorically–I may as well get a couple of thoughts about the announcement itself out of the way. First, I draw a distinction between President Nelson’s short statement, which (in it’s entirety) states:

The Lord has impressed upon my mind the importance of the name He has revealed for His Church, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We have work before us to bring ourselves in harmony with His will. In recent weeks, various Church leaders and departments have initiated the necessary steps to do so. Additional information about this important matter will be made available in the coming months.

and the new style guide which (in part) states that “the terms ‘members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ or ‘Latter-day Saints’ are preferred [to ‘Mormons’]” and that “the term ‘the restored gospel of Jesus Christ’ is accurate and preferred [to ‘Mormonism’].”

I take President Nelson’s statement seriously because when someone that I sustain as a prophet says “the Lord has impressed upon my mind” then I’m going to pay close attention to whatever follows. Moreover, President Nelson’s statement was one of principle. The Lord named His Church, and He did so for a reason. Seems reasonable that we ought to pay attention to that. How exactly does that work out in practice? I don’t know. Based on President Nelson’s statement, it’s something we’re going to learn more about over a longish time-frame (months).

The Newsroom style guide, on the other hand, seems a bit silly. As a purely practical matter, no one is going to start saying “members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” instead of “Mormons”. That’s like, an order of magnitude more syllables. It’s a non-starter. Nor do I think anyone is going to start calling it “the restored gospel of Jesus Christ” instead of “Mormonism”. We may as well ask people to just start calling us “the one, true Church” while we’re at it and see how that goes over. And the irony of a style guide discouraging the use of the word “Mormon” (in most contexts) at the URL MormonNewsroom.org sort of speaks for itself.

Still, the whole thing is an interesting case study. The stakes are pretty low here, relative to a lot of the controversies that frequently swirl among the Latter-day Saints, and the issue isn’t overtly political in ways that, say, ordination of women or the status of same-sex marriage are. Let’s suppose–for the sake of argument–that the style guide suggestions I just disparaged actually get reinforced by President Nelson over the pulpit at the next General Conference. Am I willing to go along with something that seems relatively benign but decidedly silly if it comes from a prophet?

Something worth thinking about.

So, without further ado, here is a non-exhaustive list of reasons to follow imperfect prophets:

Specialization / Expertise

We may want to heed what a prophet says for more or less the same reason we take a lawyer’s advice on law, a doctor’s advice on medicine, or a plumber’s advice on plumbing. All of these people have received special training but–more importantly, I would argue–they spend their time working within a narrow area of expertise. Attuning oneself to the Spirit and seeking out revelation are certainly far from the only jobs a General Authority has, but they are also certainly somewhere in the job description.

Personal Integrity

If you’re a Latter-day Saint who has sustained the General Authorities as prophets, seers, and revelators then you ought to do so under the general rule that people should do what they say that they are going to do.

Unity

If we as a people heed the words of the General Authorities, than we as a people have a common focal point. This is one of the lessons that I got out of studying game theory: sometimes it doesn’t really matter what solution people pick. The simple fact of having a single solution for everybody becomes the most important thing.

Love

Other people might feel a great deal of love for our leaders, but personally I do not. It’s not that I have any negative feelings, I just don’t have any great attachment at all to individuals I’ve never interacted with personally. So, I’m not talking about love of the General Authorities. I’m talking about love of our Heavenly Father. It’s not a question of simply transferring or redirecting love of God to love of His chosen servants. That would be essentially idolatry. It’s a question of accepting that if God put somebody in a position of authority, then sustaining that person isn’t primarily about my relationship with that person. It’s about my relationship with God. I don’t sustain my leaders–local or general–because I think they are special. I do so because, as I understand it, God asked me to.

Note that none of these reasons require the prophet always being right. That’s not an option. Prophets aren’t infallible. Which, in this context, I take to mean that prophets don’t always get revelation. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they do not. And, more importantly, prophets don’t necessarily know the difference.

But we still generally listen to experts even though they aren’t perfect. We should still honor our commitment to sustain leaders even if they’re imperfect. Having a leader still helps to unify a community even if the leader is imperfect. And it would be a poor variety of love indeed, if I only respected my Heavenly Father’s designated leaders on condition of perfection.

That’s not to say that fallibility doesn’t matter. If our leaders are infallible–and they are–then we can’t fall asleep. We can’t sign over our moral agency to our leaders and let them make our decisions for us. There are plenty of other reasons we can’t do this, of course, including the simple fact that General Authorities don’t give enough personalized guidance to make that possible. But their imperfection is just one more reminder that we are ultimately responsible for our own decisions, no matter what our General Authorities do.

Finally, I think it’s worth noting that authority is not on my list. That’s because it’s not a good reason to follow an imperfect–or a perfect–prophet. If a prophet were perfect, you wouldn’t need to rely on authority. And since they are not, you cannot. This isn’t to say authority is irrelevant. Of course it’s relevant, but it is relevant primarily as a matter of scope. Bishops receive revelation (imperfectly) for their wards, stake presidents for their stakes, and so on. Authority tells you who a leader can receive revelation for, but it can’t and won’t tell you that you should follow that revelation. Authority cannot be a means of coercing compliance in God’s Kingdom.

41 comments for “Reasons for Following Imperfect Prophets

  1. August 20, 2018 at 11:59 am

    After far too many discussions about “follow the prophet” and “never lead astray” I have come to the conclusion that the strongest claims for revelation and “follow the prophet” are when they look to be in the wrong–either wrong before or wrong now–because that’s inherent in any change. (About the name, why don’t I hear anyone asking “why now and not three years ago”? Because we know why.) And that those calls should be heard not as a statement of fact or existential reality, but as a social contract statement, like “we have to pull together or we will come apart.”

  2. E
    August 20, 2018 at 12:01 pm

    “If our leaders are infallible-and they are-” I don’t think this is what you meant to post. Love the post. To me, following seemingly silly requests from the prophets is an easy demonstration of my commitment to sustain them.

  3. Carey F.
    August 20, 2018 at 12:46 pm

    I think President Nelson is right to say that we can’t expect others to do what we do not. Because the announcement came as you noted from the Mormon Newsroom and has failed at least initially to specify what changes we’re willing to make it seems to have fallen into the same trap.

    I do appreciate what your saying. Rather than only criticizing it look for creative ways to make sense of it. In this model, general revelation would actually require personal revelation.

  4. Clark Goble
    August 20, 2018 at 1:30 pm

    While the bloggernacle got a little snarky – especially on Twitter – by and large most people are following the directive including those who made the most jokes. As E noted, small things like these are easy to follow.

  5. Xenophon
    August 20, 2018 at 5:09 pm

    It doesn’t seem to me that the problem in today’s world is that too many people are following the prophets or that they are following them too closely.

  6. Larry
    August 20, 2018 at 5:30 pm

    “Bishops receive revelation (imperfectly) for their wards, stake presidents for their stakes, and so on.” Just like a change in Bishop often means an enforced change in acceptable grooming standards for Deacons passing the Sacrament; does a change in Prophet mean the “I’m a Mormon” campaign changes to an attempt to remove the term altogether? Is God’s will really that fickle or leaders’ context really that dynamic?

    The danger is that we completely lose the need for prophets or priesthood leadership when “Thus saith the Lord” is replaced with preexisting biases shrouded within an impressed upon mind.

  7. Dave-Oz
    August 20, 2018 at 9:16 pm

    “I just don’t have any great attachment at all to individuals I’ve never interacted with personally”

    This is particularly true in my corner of the world. The only real interaction we have in Australia with the “Brethren” is when viewing General Conference. I can only take it in small doses. Our youth don’t listen to it at all. So the relevance and influence of a Prophet is pretty low generally and probably on decline. I think the bigger influence for us is local leadership and our social circles.

    Also there is a general view that most of what comes out of Utah is typical Americanisms and is generally ignored. I don’t mean this in a snarky way, it is generally seen as cultural peculiarities and not really relevant outside of Utah. We tend to run our own show.

  8. Xander
    August 21, 2018 at 11:54 am

    Your plea to follow what you call imperfect leaders is contradictory. I will show you how.

    On the one hand, you say that we should view them as experts on matters spiritual and pay heed to their words much as we would a doctor’s advice on medicine or a lawyer’s advice on law. I get second opinions all the time from other doctors on medicine, even though I regard them to know more about medicine than I do. By treating the LDS leaders as experts on matters spiritual, this suggests that I compare and contrast their words with other spiritual leaders and weigh out what to do based on what seems to be the best solution for spiritual matters. Some may conclude that this new injunction is worthy of attention and some may not. Some may conclude that a particular Buddhist leader has better ideas on certain matters than the LDS leaders, while another may think that only the LDS leaders are worth listening to. Do you see what it means just to treat them as experts?

    On the other hand, you basically encourage treating the LDS leaders as infallibles. Even if you do acknowledge that they have imperfections, you do not dare point out what these imperfections might be out of the desire to maintain apparent unity, because you interpret sustain as meaning to just follow them no matter what, and because you think that God told you so. That is in essence to treat them as infallibles. What you posit is just a reiteration of “when the prophet speaks the debate is over.” For if you hold a different opinion that you express openly, even doing so while treating them as experts whose advice should be followed but not necessarily always, you are going against God.

  9. JR
    August 21, 2018 at 2:03 pm

    I generally appreciate the post, despite the tensions Xander mentions (and others), but I wonder how long it will take before the vocabulary/naming issue becomes a means of judging people as not “sustaining” the prophet or lacking personal integrity because they sometime speak from habit or in order to communicate rather than to demonstrate compliance. There are, after all, multiple possible meanings of “sustain.”

    Chris, are you suggesting that the focus on naming is meant to be a unifying.distraction from the existence and effect of the November 2015 policy and Apostle Nelson’s characterization of it in January 2016? As much as some may wish to back up from that policy and its characterization, I have trouble believing they would think such a distraction tactic could work.

  10. Andrew
    August 21, 2018 at 4:36 pm

    Reasons for Following Imperfect Prophets, or Reasons Nelson Isn’t a Prophet? SMH. Such a silly and benign thing, as you say, yet the deeper implications are quite profound. What if the Lord had impressed upon his mind that the earth is flat?

  11. Eric Facer
    August 21, 2018 at 6:53 pm

    I will give serious consideration, but not complete deference, to the opinion of an expert so long as they speak within the confines of their expertise. President Nelson’s views regarding the name of the church seem to warrant such consideration; his rant a few years ago in General Conference against the Big Bang theory does not.

  12. Cam N
    August 22, 2018 at 12:10 am

    Éric, perhaps the desire to fit in applies to scientific consensus as well as marketing names. i personally love that he called it out.

  13. K.L.
    August 22, 2018 at 2:27 pm

    Threadjack: Eric, hmm. See www dot physics dot princeton dot edu/~steinh/endlessuniverse/askauthors.html : “http://www.physics.princeton.edu/~steinh/endlessuniverse/askauthors.html : “The Cyclic Theory agrees that there was some violent event 14 billion years ago – we still call it a “big bang” – but this was not the beginning of space and time. …” End threadjack

  14. August 22, 2018 at 4:57 pm

    Xander-

    As for the first (long) paragraph: the contradictions you’re trying to find are not there. Or, at least, are not nearly as clear as you seem to think.

    For example, you talk about second opinions and suggest this means that we need to look outside General Authorities. There are two problems with this. First, we can find second opinions within the General Authorities. There are more than one, right? The attempt (on your part) to treat all General Authorities as one person is… odd.

    The second problem is that General Authorities tell us to look outside the General Authorities. In other words, what you seem to indicate is somehow transgressive and taboo (looking to someone other than that GAs) is actually entirely normal and part of everyday life. This is especially true on non-religious matters (I’m working on my third masters degree right now, and I’m not trying to get through my “intro to information security” class by referencing General Conference talks) and also in religious matters, where gathering principles and ideas and inspirations from non-Mormon sources is a bedrock part of our tradition. That’s what we do.

    As for the second: I don’t think you’re addressing anything I’ve written in this post or anywhere else. I’ve articulated–at length–why it is important for members to understand that the imperfections of our leaders are real–not merely theoretical–many times.

    The theology you’re taking issue with is some kind of fun-house mirror version of my faith that I can recognize, but only as a sad caricature.

  15. August 22, 2018 at 5:03 pm

    Eric Facer-

    Is this what you’re referring to:

    Yet some people erroneously think that these marvelous physical attributes happened by chance or resulted from a big bang somewhere. Ask yourself, Could an explosion in a printing shop produce a dictionary?’ The likelihood is most remote. But if so, it could never heal its own torn pages or reproduce its own newer editions!

    I don’t really think that constitutes a “rant”, but I do agree with you that it’s a perfectly fine place with which a reasonable member of the Church can part ways with President Nelson. FWIW, even President Nelson seems to agree with that. I found an old BCC post (while looking for the GC rant you mentioned) with an interview in which President Nelson both reiterates his non-belief in interspecies evolution and also affirms that the Church has no formal position on it.

    So, at least in this instance, he has done us the courtesy of explicitly delineating that his statements are *not* authoritative or revelatory. Which is rather nice.

  16. FarSide
    August 22, 2018 at 5:04 pm

    K.L. I wasn’t suggesting that the Big Bang was the beginning of time, nor do most cosmologists. What I was suggesting is that Nelson’s casual dismissal of the theory belies an anti-science mentality and seems to imply that the Big Bang and the existence of God are mutually exclusive.

    Oh, on top of all that, he seems to imply that Genesis is an accurate description regarding the manner in which the universe was created when in fact it is really an allegory explaining how God was trying to bring order to existing matter, not creating anything new, with the hope that Adam and Eve would continue his work of making the whole world his temple, but it didn’t work that way. Alas, none of this should surprise me. After all, our Institute manuals still teach Jonah was swallowed by a big ol’ fish. And we wonder why we’re losing the Millennials.

  17. Eric Facer
    August 22, 2018 at 5:12 pm

    First, FarSide and Eric Facer are one in the same.

    Second, Nathaniel, you are correct that I was wrong to characterize what then Elder Nelson said was a rant.

    Finally, while he did subsequently acknowledge in an interview his views on evolution represent his own personal opinion, no such disclaimer accompanied his General Conference talk, which is all it takes for some folks (as revealed by some of the comments) to accept it as gospel.

  18. Mortimer
    August 23, 2018 at 8:00 am

    I remember the church asking us to pray and look for Elizabeth Smart. At the time, FBI experts had said that there was less than a 1% chance she was still alive-based in the profile of the abductor and statistics for related crimes. I rolled my eyes seeing every ward bulletin board plastered with “missing” details- every church fast, every public yet futile prayer, angry that perhaps wealthy, bereaved parents with access (that we didn’t have) to the big wigs in SL had made donations to make it happen. Stupid signs- unfounded and harmfully deluded hope and lost reality- so I concluded. And I was completely wrong. The guilt haunts me to this day. It was a simple thing, and the Prophet never said, “the Lord impressed upon me…” perhaps if only he had said something out loud instead of how I heard about it- just through actions of members, I might have at least attempted something.

    So, does this name thing matter? Again, I logically conclude- no. The world is filled with a refugee crisis, Puerto Rico is still broken, components of democracy worldwide are crumbling, racist factions are emerging -again worldwide, millennials are leaving in droves, we as God’s people are divided on politics and issues like LGBT and women’s rights, and members struggle with unprecedented levels of materialism and poverty. And the good Lord is evidently less interested in these things than changing the name he’s slowly (over almost 200 years) watched us – his good and merry little work elves- successfully, but laboriously transform like making lemonade from life’s lemons. Well, okay, seems odd- completely odd. At the same time I did sign up to be part of a “peculiar people”. I never thought we’d change the world being “normal”.

    I have no idea what this is about, but fine. I’m going to be more careful when introducing myself- to say the whole mouthful of our title. I will not however- call myself a “restored” anything as I live in the Midwest and this word is related by deep connotation to the RLDS (now CoC Church) and various other non-Brighamite LDS sects. (I doubt the PR department even thought of that or did any user testing outside their cubicles. Insert unfriendly and crass adjective here —— for the PR department.)

  19. Troy Cline
    August 23, 2018 at 12:37 pm

    JR writes – “…I wonder how long it will take before the vocabulary/naming issue becomes a means of judging people as not “sustaining” the prophet…”

    Not long JR. It doesn’t take a very long stroll around the Mormon blogosphere to find people so anxious to tout their faith and (superior) righteousness when it comes to the speed with which they have fallen in line with Pres. Nelson’s directive. Just this past Sunday in my Sacrament meeting, our visiting high council speaker discussed the matter in terms of pride vs. humility. This is going to be the “one modest pair of earrings thing” all over again but on steroid because I think the element of unrighteous judgment has increased, in general, in the church.

  20. Xander
    August 23, 2018 at 3:32 pm

    Nathaniel, the main contradiction in your argument is that you ask us to treat the prophet as an expert on the one hand and also as an authority. I can challenge an expert’s opinion and still respect his/her expertise. But if I challenge a person’s authority, that is a wholly different matter. I may parse things out with a lawyer about the law, but I can’t parse things directly with a police officer who has already told me that I am under arrest. Big difference.

    You want to have your cake and eat it too. You want to insist that the leaders are imperfect, but then criticize anyone who dares think that this new injunction not to say Mormon or LDS an imperfection on the part of President Nelson on the grounds that they are not only disrupting unity but are also going against God. You treat the LDS leaders as infallibles and encourage others to do the same.

  21. Another Eric
    August 23, 2018 at 3:37 pm

    From Mortimer: “And the good Lord is evidently less interested in these things than changing the name”

    The Lord (and the Church) can be interested in more than one thing at a time. Asking us to call ourselves by the name designated through revelation instead of a nickname doesn’t preclude our ability to concern ourselves with bigger problems. It could very well be that this is one of those small and simple things that will bring greater things to pass. Somewhat related to that concept is the idea that if you take care of the little things, the big things take care of themselves.

    The worldly already have their ideas about what Mormons are. Using a more proper name isn’t going to change everyone’s opinions, but it could change some–or at least allow Church members to meet people on their own terms, without as many preconceived notions getting in the way. Time will tell.

  22. Richard
    August 23, 2018 at 3:49 pm

    Nathaniel, good post. I agree with most of your reasons, with the exception of “Specialization / Expertise.” Prophets seem to be more like general practioners rather than any kind of specialist. Especially in general conference. They can certainly venture into specialization, and I think the name clarification is a good example of that–one where President Nelson is uniquely qualified. Medical marijauna, on the other hand, regardless of one’s position on that issue, seems much further from a prophet’s area of expertise.

    Now, can a prophet receive revelation about something that’s not related to his expertise, such as medical marijuana? I think the answer is clearly yes. The prophets have certainly received revelation about other substances with which they have no expertise. But that’s where I think the spirit comes into play. The spirit feels more like the specialist–one who can help apply the principles to a specific situation.

    Unfortunately, I think much of the tension we feel in the church about things the prophet says are attributable to the viewpoint that the prophet, rather than the spirit, is the specialist in every situation. And I think the church generally contributes to that viewpoint.

  23. August 24, 2018 at 7:40 am

    Mortimer-

    Thanks for that comment. I really liked what you had to say.

    Eric Facer-

    You’re right that there wasn’t an explicit disclaimer on the General Conference talk, but I do think there is also some irony in wanting the General Authorities to handhold the members into a position where the members are less dependent. I think the desire is understandable, but also in some sense self-defeating. If members can’t muster the gumption to own their own independent responsibility when it comes to interpreting and applying general council *without* a disclaimer, I’m not sure if they can possibly do it *with* a disclaimer, either. (And that’s setting aside the logistical complications of identifying and disclaiming various statements of GA talks.) In general, I’d like to see *less* rather than more oversight and correlation of GC talks, and so I think a disclaimer would be the wrong way to go.

    Although, to your point that some members are going to latch on to comments like this in unhealthy ways, you’re certainly not wrong.

    Xander-

    I still don’t really understand the contradiction you’re trying to find. Your argument rests entirely on analogies that don’t work. I explicitly ruled out authority-via-coercion in the original post: “Authority cannot be a means of coercing compliance in God’s Kingdom.” Your example–of a law enforcement officer–is therefore wholly incompatible with my post. The authority of the state depends emphatically on coercion. You obey the officer both because he, personally, has a gun but also because the state in general has a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. That makes state authority not only different from but sharply opposed to church authority, which not only lacks but repudiates coercive authority.

    All that analysis aside, the fact is that you can “parse things out” with a police officer, and people do so all the time (with varying degrees of success).

    You want to insist that the leaders are imperfect, but then criticize anyone who dares think that this new injunction not to say Mormon or LDS an imperfection on the part of President Nelson on the grounds that they are not only disrupting unity but are also going against God.

    That is certainly a creative interpretation of what I actually wrote in my post. I think you can probably set the stick down now; the straw man is not fighting back.

  24. JR
    August 24, 2018 at 9:11 am

    Troy: “our visiting high council speaker discussed the matter in terms of pride vs. humility.” Did he speak of being proud of one’s own efforts or success in avoiding the use of “Mormon” or “LDS”? or of being humble enough to use them when they facilitate real communication with others? I suppose there may be a number of ways pride vs. humility could be dragged into the discussion.

    But for fun:

    From https://www.lds.org/music/text/other/i-am-a-mormon-boy?lang=eng&_r=1

    “Chorus
    A Mormon boy, a Mormon boy,
    I am a Mormon boy;
    I might be envied by a king,
    For I am a Mormon boy.

    Text: Evan Stephens
    Music: Evan Stephens

    Album: Music Published in the Church Magazines: Friend
    Composition Date: 1986-10-01”

    Note: Although reportedly composed in 1986, after Brother Stephens death in 1930, the song had been published in Deseret Sunday School Songs, 1909, no. 269. It was revised in 1986 to avoid the original “Kind friends, as here I stand to sing, so very queer I feel…”, the meaning of a word having changed, just as the derogatory meaning of “Mormon” has largely changed.

    Or listen to the Homer brothers sing it on youtube (original lyrics) — not a great performance, but relic(s) of the past.

  25. Xander
    August 24, 2018 at 6:15 pm

    Nathaniel, you seem to have forgotten what you wrote. You encourage blind obedience through and through. Let me remind you.

    “I take President Nelson’s statement seriously because when someone that I sustain as a prophet says ‘the Lord has impressed upon my mind’ then I’m going to pay close attention to whatever follows”

    This suggests that those who don’t consider his injunction to be well-thought out or a good idea (especially given how much the LDS church had been investing in the names “Mormon” and “LDS” years prior) cannot fully sustain the office.

    In the next couple of paragraphs you consider reasons why someone who finds the recent injunction “silly” might have some validity, but before coming to full agreement write, “So, without further ado, here is a non-exhaustive list of reasons to follow imperfect prophets” suggesting that the reasons below are why someone should give very serious consideration to what President Nelson just said.

    “If you’re a Latter-day Saint who has sustained the General Authorities as prophets, seers, and revelators then you ought to do so under the general rule that people should do what they say that they are going to do.”

    In other words, because you have given a sustaining vote, you are not a person of word if you don’t do every last thing they say.

    “sometimes it doesn’t really matter what solution people pick. The simple fact of having a single solution for everybody becomes the most important thing.”

    How is this not blind obedience? In other words, it doesn’t matter what solution the President of the LDS church picks (are solutions really picked by collective voice in the LDS community? No.), he picks a single solution for everyone and that is the most important thing.

    “It’s a question of accepting that if God put somebody in a position of authority, then sustaining that person isn’t primarily about my relationship with that person. It’s about my relationship with God. I don’t sustain my leaders–local or general–because I think they are special. I do so because, as I understand it, God asked me to.”

    I am not sustaining President Nelson if I trivialize his recent injunction, according to what clearly implicit in what you wrote earlier. And by not sustaining them I do not love God.

    “Note that none of these reasons require the prophet always being right”

    OK, but if I point that out as an LDS person then based on what you write, I am not sustaining the LDS leaders and not even loving God. As I wrote before, you may acknowledge them to be imperfect, but nearly everything you write (with the exception of treating the leaders as experts) suggests that if we are LDS, we have to treat them as infallibles.

    You could have saved yourself a lot of time by just reposting N. Eldon Tanner’s 1979 First Presidency Message, “The Debate is Over,” https://www.lds.org/ensign/1979/08/the-debate-is-over?lang=eng.

    If you reply and keep insisting that you really believe that the leaders are imperfect, please give one example of something wrong that President Nelson has said since he became prophet.

  26. Mortimer
    August 25, 2018 at 11:01 am

    Another Eric-
    To your point (well taken) that the Lord can address many issues at once -large and small- I agree, but I don’t see us addressing those larger issues. I specifically mentioned the travesties above as ones that have received no or precious little mention or work (comparitavely) from the saints or our leaders. Do you remember the fall conference immediately following the Syrian crisis causing 1 million displaced and unwelcome refugees? Only one lowly 70 (from Europe) of the dozens and dozens of GA speakers addressed it- spurring/pricking Elder Uchtdorff to tears. Anyway- I question why the Lord – or any parent- would give a long unprioritized list of instructions to children. Any parent will tell you that an overwhelming list of random instructions given to children (even at a bedtime routine) is bound to end in mishap. Simple. Prioritized. Less than 3. Repeated.

    If we engage in some serious self-reflection, aren’t we prone to looking past the mark-being more concerned with motes than beams, being more pedantic than practical- rule-followers rather than radicals? Aren’t we becoming the Sadduces and Pharasies- the administrators- institutional care-takers- and rule-followers-of our day rather than the champions of the undertrodden and suffering?

    I don’t want to lay this at your feet-so I lay it at my own. I think our place of privilege gives us the luxury of ignoring big problems to focus all too often on minutia.

    Listen, I can see the Lord saying, “yes-(Russel), now that you bring it up-you (the saints) haven’t gotten the name right yet…Now, as I was saying…”

    I’m so conflicted. It is possible that this is some small simple thing that will turn out changing the world. Who knows- the Lord also brings about miracles through spittle and mud, asking a marching band to circle a fortress wall (Jericho), taking a bath ( to cure leprosy), digging holes (Cummorah), or sending the teens out against impossible odds to battle grown warriors (Stripling Warriors). So yes- the Lord sometime challenges us to do illogical small things for miraculous purposes.

  27. Another Eric
    August 25, 2018 at 2:15 pm

    I don’t think this is something we need to get very conflicted about. For the Church, the biggest costs will be phasing terms out of their publications (like dropping “Mormon” from the Tabernacle Choir’s name or changing the logos for Mormon Newsroom or the Mormon Channel) or coming up with different domain names that URLs such as lds.org can get redirected toward.

    For ordinary members, all it will cost us are the few seconds here and there to explain why it isn’t theologically correct to call us Mormons when people ask if that’s what we are, and to be more mindful of how we refer to ourselves. Those shouldn’t be onerous costs for us. I look forward to the day when calling a member of the Church a Mormon will sound as quaint and provincial as it does when a follower of Islam is called a Mohammedan.

    Massive influxes of refugees and disaster cleanup are obviously big problems, but that doesn’t mean the Church is downplaying the severity of the problem when only one seventy brings it up in a conference. Fact is, the Church isn’t as large in Europe as it is in the Americas, and most American members aren’t in an easy position to go handle problems in Europe and the Middle East. I certainly can’t drop everything and go over there to help refugees from Syria. The best I could do was message Governor Herbert’s office and express my support when he said Utah would welcome such people, and seeing to my own responsibilities as a Latter-day Saint.

    Incidentally, when I was serving a mission in the Netherlands I recall a branch mission leader who put a lot of effort into getting the word out about an exhibition at our meetinghouse featuring artwork of the Savior. I could have counted the number of visitors we had on one hand, and one expressed disappointment that all of the paintings were prints instead of originals. A couple of months later a crisis erupted in Kosovo, and I was amazed at how many people from the community came over to fill a moving van with clothes with far less notice.

    Of all the things said in conference, they can be summarized as part of the two great commandments: our relationship with God, and how we treat others. Faith, prayer, scriptures–those all come up so often because they’re important steps in strengthening our relationship with God, and because they’re things that all of us need to constantly work at. As for loving our neighbors, it all starts with family, because they’re most immediate to us and because we need to set our own houses in order first before dealing with problems further abroad.

    And sometimes the one speaker who brings up the thing no one else has talked about makes that thing all the more noticeable, like when the oboe gets a solo in a symphony where the melody’s dominated by the violins. I still remember when Elder Holland brought up mental illness, or when President Hinckley started talking about keeping new converts active at a time when I thought no one talked about that.

    We can’t do it all; there’s one of me and more than seven billion of everyone else, all of us with more than enough problems to go around. But we can focus on the things we can do, and have faith that others will do the same in their spheres of influence.

  28. Glenn Thigpen
    August 25, 2018 at 9:15 pm

    Bottom line. If we decide that we will no longer follow imperfect humans, we will have no one to follow, not even ourselves.

  29. GEOFF -AUS
    August 25, 2018 at 11:03 pm

    Where I live there has been no mention of this. Only those who read blogs like these know we are now officially ex mormons

  30. August 26, 2018 at 2:21 pm

    Personal revelation (or conscious) is important to me. My personal revelation is a combination of genetics, environment, experience, and inspiration. It tells me that the Church’s LGBTQ+ policy is wrong. But I don’t need to follow the prophet on this, it doesn’t impact me directly. But I wish there were better avenues to protest the Church’s “revealed” policy.

  31. August 26, 2018 at 2:22 pm

    Sorry I meant conscience.

  32. August 26, 2018 at 2:58 pm

    Xander-

    There’s a big gap between what I actually said and what you’re trying to attribute to me. I said we should “take . . . seriously” and “pay close attention” to General Authorities. I’m honestly not sure how you make the leap from taking someone seriously to blindly obeying them, but it’s an impressive feat of mental gymnastics. Just because you take a thing seriously does not mean that you ultimately decide to accept it. It means just that: that you take it seriously.

    To conflate what I said (“take . . . seriously”) with blind obedience is a textbook example of strawmanning. I have no idea if you’re doing it on purpose or what, but it means that all the rest of your analysis has nothing to do with my post. For example, you write:

    In other words, because you have given a sustaining vote, you are not a person of word if you don’t do every last thing they say.

    Are you really going to tell me that if you “take someone seriously” you have to “do every last thing they say”. Is that what the expression “take seriously” means to you? The Internet is a big place and I don’t want to make assumptions, so if English is not your first language, let me just clarify that that’s not what the expression means. From Merriam-Webster: “to treat (someone or something) as being very important and deserving attention or respect ”

    There was exactly one piece of my post that had anything to do with blind obedience, and that’s the unity argument.

    I wrote: “sometimes it doesn’t really matter what solution people pick. The simple fact of having a single solution for everybody becomes the most important thing.”

    You wrote: “How is this not blind obedience?”

    You are correct, in this specific case. If that was the only reason to follow Prophets and if we applied that rule without exception then we’d be talking about blind obedience. However, it’s not the only reason. It’s one reason out of 4 in a list I said was non-exhaustive. It’s also not a rule we should apply without exception, a claim I have never made in this post or anywhere else.

    If you reply and keep insisting that you really believe that the leaders are imperfect, please give one example of something wrong that President Nelson has said since he became prophet.

    We’ve talked already in this thread about President Nelson’s rejection of evolution. I think that rejection is mistaken. Pretty sure I said that in these comments, so it’s not like you had to twist my arm or anything to get it out of me. :-)

  33. Xander
    August 26, 2018 at 4:44 pm

    My original point was that what you have written is laden with a huge contradiction. You seem to confirm that when you acknowledge that the unity argument does have to do with blind obedience. The love argument does as well.

    Thanks for mentioning what you do disagree with. I hadn’t read all of the comments. Still, there is a tension between picking and choosing what is convenient based on reasoning and blind obedience in your thinking. You need to settle this.

  34. August 26, 2018 at 6:01 pm

    You are right that there is a tension, Xander, but I don’t think that I need to resolve it. I don’t think this tension is resolvable. Life–and religion, too–are full of tensions. Some are artificial and can be made to disappear if you take the right perspective, learn some new info, etc. But there are some tensions–again, in both life and religion–that never go away. They are just part of the experience, a part that can’t be eradicated. They might even be features, rather than bugs.

    Instead, I think the thing that we can let go of is our longing for absolutes.

    Humans like absolutes. We like certainty. We like black and white. We like checklists and if-then logic. But that doesn’t mean that life will ever, ever conform to those desires.

    Is there a tension between autonomy and obedience? Absolutely. And there always will be.

    Blind obedience is one absolute. You just abdicate your autonomy and freedom and responsibility and do what you’re told without thinking.

    Total disregard is another absolute. You put zero special emphasis on counsel that comes from scriptures or General Authorities and instead accept / reject whatever it makes sense to you at the time to accept / reject.

    Neither absolute is correct. Blind obedience makes useless automatons out of all of us. This approach totally repudiates God’s work and his glory, which includes helping us grow to become more like him. Total disregard repudiates God’s servants, treating scripture and authority as worthless.

    Absolutism is the real problem here. Accepting the tension–a tension that never goes away in mortality–is the only way forward.

  35. Ryan Mullen
    August 27, 2018 at 6:21 pm

    I appreciate you separating Pres. Nelson’s comments from the style guide implementation. That allowed me to re-think the former without getting bogged down by the (im)practicality of the latter. Thanks for the good write up.

  36. Xenophon
    August 28, 2018 at 2:36 pm

    Elder Neil L. Andersen’s most recent conference talk was devoted almost entirely to answering the question posed above, namely, why follow the prophet? https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2018/04/the-prophet-of-god?lang=eng

  37. Xander
    August 29, 2018 at 6:38 pm

    “I think the thing that we can let go of is our longing for absolutes”

    And yet your OP suggests absolutism. You believe absolutely that God told you to follow LDS leaders, for instance. Nevermind that the LDS church is absolutist in its truth claims. It doesn’t claim that maybe Joseph Smith translated an ancient text about Jesus, it claims that as an absolute.

    Your narrative appears to be absolutism masquerading in non-absolutist clothing. Applying Popper’s falsifiability test, is there any evidence that would convince you that God didn’t actually tell you to follow LDS leaders? Would you regard such an idea to be tentative?

  38. Exiled
    September 2, 2018 at 9:51 am

    He supposedly has a direct line to deity, yet trivial names are what is being discussed. Why doesn’t Mr. Nelson petition the most high to solve some bigger questions that plague us as a society? This name preference business clearly seems to be coming from inside Mr. Nelson and not from some higher power.

  39. September 5, 2018 at 9:19 pm

    Xander-

    And yet your OP suggests absolutism.

    No, it doesn’t. You have chosen to read it that way and–for whatever reason–you seem entirely unwilling to accept that you’re reading into it things that just aren’t there.

    is there any evidence that would convince you that God didn’t actually tell you to follow LDS leaders? Would you regard such an idea to be tentative?

    Yes and yes. All faith is tentative–to some degree or other–by definition. If a person’s “faith” isn’t tentative, it’s not faith. It’s knowledge. And I believe that is a spiritual gift accessible to some people. But it’s not one that I’m currently in possession. I do not know. I believe.

    I confess it’s frustrating to me to have to explain this. It seems entirely elementary.

  40. September 5, 2018 at 9:22 pm

    Exiled-

    He supposedly has a direct line to deity…

    This is a silly caricature with no basis in scripture, doctrine, or the words of General Authorities.

    I think the best approximation for how prophets get revelation is that they get it pretty much exactly like the rest of us do, and that it is not easier or clearer for them than it is for us.

    If that’s a little scary: good. Life is supposed to be risky. We’re supposed to have skin in the game. We’re supposed to be a little uncomfortable and a little uncertain.

    Some of us want the prophets to have a direct line. It seems about 1/2 of those are member with a penchant for idolatry and the other 1/2 are ex-members who are mad that their idol is broken.

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