It is a mistake to apply the heuristics of edge cases to central and paradigmatic examples.
When the prophet, speaking over the pulpit in General Conference, says,
Today I feel compelled to discuss with you a matter of great importance…. The Lord impressed upon my mind the importance…. It is the command of the Lord
following his statement that
All members of the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are united in endorsing this message
and one apostle afterward states
I testify to you that in the deliberations of the Council of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the temple, and after our beloved prophet petitioned the Lord for revelation to move forward with these adjustments, a powerful confirmation was received by all
and another states
I add my witness to the messages of President Russell M. Nelson and Elder Quentin L. Cook given moments ago of the harmony and unanimity of the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. I know these revelatory announcements are the mind and the will of the Lord
then long deliberation about whether the prophet is speaking as a prophet, or endless dithering about infallibility, are an unnecessary distraction, and there are limited options on what to make of these statements.
You might decide that Russell M. Nelson is a false prophet who receives revelation from a false god or no god at all, like the priests of Baal who contended with Elijah.
You might decide that Russell M. Nelson is someone who doesn’t actually receive revelation, but instead merely dresses up his preferences with prophetic rhetoric—also known as a false prophet, like Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah who contended with Micaiah.
You might decide that Russell M. Nelson is sincere but mistaken, a pious fraud aided by a conspiracy of all the apostles to ratify his whims. Also known as a false prophet.
Or you might decide that the best explanation is that Russell M. Nelson is speaking as a prophet, with the unanimous support of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve. This is what I think is going on, not just because I sustain him as a prophet, but also because how he speaks accords with my experience. On the few occasions when I’ve been entrusted with some minor part of the local branch of the Lord’s Kingdom and I’ve managed not to make a complete hash of something important, it was because “the Lord impressed upon my mind” some way to avoid that outcome. In my experience, this is how the church is led by revelation.
* * *
I’m not telling you this to change your mind. Your changing your mind is actually what worries me. If you think Russell M. Nelson is a prophet, except for this one thing, and that’s the best you can do, then go on like that.
It’s just that thinking Russell M. Nelson is mistaken in this one thing, or puffing up his personal whims this one time, or a pious fraud in this one case, is not likely to be a sustainable position over the long term, any more than it would be to believe that Joseph Smith restored the Aaronic priesthood, but was fibbing about the Melchizedek priesthood; or that Jesus turned water into wine and rose from the dead, but could not possibly have walked on water. Whether our Sunday meetings last two hours or three may not be a core component of the church’s system of belief, but direction by a living prophet who receives revelation is. Chip away at that plank long enough and everything else collapses in on itself. No one is going to go on a mission, change their lives to be baptized, serve in the church, or teach their children to believe in a scoundrel or a charlatan or a pious fraud. Not in the long term, and probably not far into the short term, either.
You may sincerely believe that just this once, over such a small issue, won’t matter. But more than a decade of hanging around this blog has taught me that irreconcilable views are not reconcilable, and untenable positions are not tenable. At various times, people have promoted ideas I didn’t think were reconcilable with the church’s doctrine, even as they insisted that their views were so compatible, and loudly protested any questioning of their faithfulness. It’s even become an article of faith in Mormon blogging that people’s faithfulness is not to be questioned. And yet today, many of those people are no longer members of the church, and I am more likely to trust my instincts about what is and is not compatible with church doctrine. I do not want you to wander down their path.
This does not mean that when the prophet speaks, the thinking has been done. It’s when the thinking starts: but an unavoidable part of the thought process must involve wrestling with the uncomfortable fact that the prophet has spoken or acted under the guidance of the Lord’s inspiration. The site of contemplation and productive struggle needs to shift away from wondering if the prophet is speaking as a prophet, and toward deciding what to do about the prophet speaking as a prophet.