Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal carried an article on its front page reporting on the confusion surrounding who ordered the nation’s military on defcon 3 after the 9/11 attacks. A four star general says that he did it, but the Bush administration says that the president gave the order. Rather, they say something like no improper action was taken–although Bush has said in two speeches, both in backwater locations, that he gave the order. Reading between the lines of that carefully worded language and the places chosen for Bush to make the case that he gave the order; it seems likely that the general gave the order first. If this turns out to be the case, no doubt defenders of the president will argue that this was an exceptional case and no time for government boondoggle.
The church’s chain of command goes all the way to God, and we are one of the few religions I know which claims modern prophetic direction. I have been taught, and believe, that God could appear to the prophet and have a chat with him if needed. The prophet-God link in the chain of command is one of the strongest sources of authority in the church–when major policy changes are enacted, it is always supposed by many members, that God must have spoken to the prophet about it directly. Joseph Smith was les than clear about who should take over after he was gone with the result that the church didn’t have a head for 2 years after he was martyred. There were other attempts at usurping the top job after Brigham Young and John Taylor’s deaths. My understanding is that the current means of succession wasn’t definitely decided until well into the twentieth century.
The chain of command gets progressively weaker and less persuasive the lower you go. It’s easier for most of us to accept the prophet’s directives than our bishop’s for a few reasons: First, we know our bishop personally and we don’t think that a policy change in our ward is driven by a chat with God–although our doctrine teaches that we are all entitled to revelation regarding our stewardship and that must include heavenly visitations if needed. Second, it is easier for the prophets directives to be interpreted broadly, or, if that won’t work, recognize that he is speaking broadly and put ourselves in the “exception” category. My question is whether there is a tendency among certain groups–say liberals and moderates, to usurp the chain of command. No doubt, everyone tends to think that they know best, but since moderates and liberals are a distinct minority in the church, policy and perhaps doctrine runs counter to what we think. Put another way, do we commandeer teachings about–oh, I don’t know–gender and homosexuality. Is running in the van guard just a means of taking the church where we believe it needs to go–and is this the same of not only usurping local leadership, but prophetic leadership?