On the seductiveness of condemnation

As activities go, I usually find reading the letters to the editor found in the Daily Universe both entertaining and educational. As an example, in the most recent batch [they're on page 4], you will find two letters written in response to an earlier letter that expressed some form of disagreement with the church’s public stance on SSM. In both letters, the obedience of the author of the original letter was questioned, primarily on the basis that one cannot disagree with the leadership of the church and be considered a member of good standing in the church. Now that is just silly and we all know it.

As an example, the first letter mentions a quote from N. Eldon Tanner, purporting to quote him saying “When the Prophet speaks, the debate is over.” Curious at this poor mistaken child’s attribution of the quote to President Tanner, I looked at Marc Bohn’s recent post regarding such thinking. “Ah-ha,” I said, “I can safely believe that this kid heard this dubiously attributed to Pres. Tanner in a seminary class somewhere.” I began to engage in back-patting, happy in my superiority of knowledge and devotion. However, the specificity of the quote toyed at the back of my mind and I looked it up again. The second time, using a more accurate version of the quote, I found it, attributed to President Tanner, on an anti-Mormon site. But those guys distort all the time and quote out of context, so I looked up the original article.

The Debate is Over” was a First Presidency message written in the August 1979 and, as it turns out, that first letter writer got the quote and the context right. While President Tanner does encourage us to confirm choices with the Holy Ghost, he does say (twice) that when the Prophet speaks, the debate is over. Heck, it’s in the title!

Originally, this post was going to regard the glibness with which those letter writers dismiss and condemn another letter writer. Instead, it is now about me and my tendency to do the same.

We all love to be right. We love the feel of it, the power and confidence it conveys. We like to believe that we have done the thinking and we have the answers and that those who disagree are simply mistaken or misinformed. If others simply understood the world or the Gospel as we do, they would be better off.

As another example, we have the Zoramites in the book of Alma. This people believed that they were God’s own chosen people. As a result, they gathered each week to celebrate their chosenness. They were certain that they were right and, amongst other things, this led them to disregard those who disagreed or who failed to meet their standards. The Zoramites appear to have come to Alma’s attention after trodding Korihor to death. They disdained their poor, driving them from the synagogues the poor helped build. The Zoramites’ intense focus on their chosen state appears to have compelled them to subject themselves to a series of purity tests and to purge their ranks as a result. Only the best need apply.

I believe that this kind of action can only occur amongst people who are absolutely convinced of their correctness. Even those rejected by the Zoramites were convinced by the effectiveness of their arguments; they approach Alma asking that he provide them a place to prayer for salvation, something they apparently believed was only possible on the Rameumpton. The Zoramites’ conviction of their own belief leads to yet another purge and then their betrayal of Nephite society.

As a product of an academic, critical background, I am deeply suspicious of certainty, particularly my own. At least some of the world’s great atrocities have been committed by people certain of their cause, their fight, the justice of their acts, and their God. On a smaller scale, I knew those letters were flawed just as certainly as their authors knew the original letter was flawed. We all three together condemned an other, because we each were completely right. As a result, we were all wrong.

If there is a lesson to be learned from all this, I suggest that it is that the certainty that breeds condemnation is not for the likes of you and me. We’ve too many beams and too little judgment. If you would prefer a positive message, I’d suggest you’d find it in the form of those poor Zoramites listening to Alma and Amulek on the hill Onidah. It was because they had given up defending their position and condemning others that they were able to listen to Alma. Having been cut off from God as they understood him, they turned to Alma, fallen prophet of an abandoned religion, in the hopes of re-establishing communion. And, even though they had been idolatrous and apostate, God brought them back into his fold.

Ground rules for any discussion to follow:
1. No SSM
2. No discussion of brainwashing or institutional groupthink

Comments

  1. Ugly Mahana says:

    I don’t have anything substantive to say, but would like to thank you for the last substantive paragraph of your post (the one immediately prior to the ground rules). You capture something about the humility that Alma saw in “those poor Zoramites” that I had not seen before. Thank you for sharing these thoughts.

  2. One of the best definitions I have heard:

    “Humility is the recognition that we don’t know everything, and that we don’t know fully even those things we know.”

  3. It took a bit of searching, but I found the letters — on page 4. Very sad — otherwise intelligent Mormons are now equating a position on Prop 8 as “eternal truth” (second letter) and the idea that Mormons should give careful consideration to issues (i.e., debating the pros and cons), then vote their conscience, as an “apostate conclusion” (first letter). And thus we see the the danger of bringing sectarian politics into the mainstream of LDS institutional life.

    It’s also worth noting that the tone and content of both letters, specifically questioning the righteousness of someone expressing an opinion different from one’s own, would get a comment deleted at many LDS blogs, but seems to meet with the approval of the Daily Universe editors (who printed the letters).

  4. John, I think this post is about humility. My experience has been that the longer one lives the more occasions they have to learn the lesson you illustrate.

    As for the prophets, we don’t consider them to be infallible. However, the more education we have seems to create a tendency to turn periods (.) into question marks (?). This is not humility in my opinion.

  5. First the disclaimer: I believe the church is lead by revelation and that our GAs are divinely inspired.

    This article is by President N. Eldon Tanner, First Counselor in the First Presidency. He not the President of the church or the Prophet.

    Gal. 5:18

    But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.

    I do believe when the Prophet speaks the debate is over, as in the public discussion of opposing viewpoints.

    But a prophet’s words do not necessarily trump the promptings of the Sprit for those who led of the Spirit.

  6. Dave,
    Sorry about that. I figured that anyone interested would scroll down (as you did), so I didn’t include the page number. I should have. Also, don’t judge the Daily Universe too harshly; they did print the letter that elicited these responses. I didn’t see it so, for all I know, it was exactly as nuanced and well thought out as the two examples I chose.

    Jared,
    I suppose I would argue that humility is knowing when we actually have question marks and when we have periods…er…full stops and acknowledging each. I also don’t necessarily believe that our exaltation depends on a certain ratio between the two.

    Howard,
    Like I said, it’s complicated, no?

  7. Nicely said Howard #5

    Thank you John C. for such a thought provoking post. One thing I have noticed in my life is that a lot of self- righteousness (my self included) can and does come back around to bite you in the butt.
    Young adults and teens can often be very black and white in their opinions. It is part of their development in discovering who they are. Over time, life happens which causes the soul to learn humility.

  8. I heard a wise leader suggest once that “the world is black-and-white” members should be seasoned by spending time teaching Primary, where they’ll learn what’s truly important to one’s salvation.

  9. John, this is a good point, and one that we find over and over in various areas of human endeavor. As an example, it turns out that, when people are asked to estimate the confidence interval for a given quantity without doing the full statistical calculations, they draw intervals that are generally far too narrow. That is to say, we humans have a built-in tendency to be too confident in our own knowledge, insights, and conclusions. I’m never surprised when our congenital overconfidence leads us into conflict with the overconfidence of others.

  10. As a product of an academic, critical background, I am deeply suspicious of certainty, particularly my own.

    Are you sure? How certain are you that you are “deeply suspicious of certainty”?.

  11. Ivan,
    I’m certain of it.

  12. John C. “…it’s complicated, no?”

    Yes, as long as our egos and intellects are involved it’s very complicated. But God’s ways are not our ways; when we humbly listen to the Spirit things get pretty simple.

  13. Is it really true that when a prophet speaks the debate is over?

    Personally I can’t stand that kind of arrogance, especially in light of historical evidence to the contrary. Take for example Brigham Young’s quite strong declaration that blacks were not allowed much power in white society and of course the priesthood. If it is true that when a prophet speaks the debate is over, we should still be a church that does not allow blacks the priesthood. But that is not what happened. The debate did not end in the 1850s. Heck, it hadn’t even really caught on fire (until in the next decade with the Emancipation Proclamation and then over 100 years of civil rights struggles).

    No, the debate is not over just because a prophet has spoken.

  14. “The certainty that breeds condemnation is not for the likes of you and me.”

    When I was a die-hard never questioning, never wondering, toe-the-line conservative mormon, I was kind of a pain in the butt. I was SO SURE of everything. I was so judgmental. I shudder to remember some of the things I said to friends and family who weren’t active members.

    Going through a huge period of doubt and questioning really softened me up and humbled me – I tend to think that’s the whole reason I went through it – to learn humility and to learn to stop being such a judgmental tool. So I’m grateful for it.

  15. jonahtrainer says:

    I find it odd that out of 14 comments no one has cited the official Church doctrine concerning the Proper Role of Government. Most of this doctrine can be found in D&C 134 & The Constitution A Heavenly Banner; a 1986 BYU devotional address by Pres. Benson directed to the general membership of the Church and available at the BYU Speeches website (the mp3 has the general membership statement). This doctrine is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and applied in most of the US Constitution as originally framed.

    As Pres. Benson states, “The central issue in the premortal council was: Shall the children of God have untrammeled agency to choose the course they should follow, whether good or evil, or shall they be coerced and forced to be obedient? Christ and all who followed him stood for the former proposition–freedom of choice; Satan stood for the latter–coercion and force.” and “The fourth basic principle we must understand is that people are superior to the governments they form. Since God created people with certain inalienable rights, and they, in turn, created government to help secure and safeguard those rights, it follows that the people are superior to the creature they created.”

    Thus, we can reason that our political desires are an extremely accurate index of what we would do with the Lord’s power. If we would exercise ‘control or dominion or compulsion’ unrighteously then our support of laws which regiment and control the business and private affairs of our neighbors and deprive them of their stewardships would clearly indicate this. We must expect the Lord to use our political beliefs as a measure of our character being either moral (like Christ advocating freedom of choice) or immoral (like Satan advocating coercion and force).

    Both Pres. Hinckley and Monson have reaffirmed many times the doctrine as taught by Pres. Benson and found in D&C 134. The Brethren have not explicitly used their mantle as Prophets, Seers and Revelators to repudiate the forgoing principles and doctrines or to provide immunity (D&C 132:46) at the judgment bar of God for a potential claim of unrighteous dominion (as government is the hired agent of individuals it follows that one is vicariously liable for acts committed by governments on their behalf and with their consent; D&C 134:1) against anyone who carries out the directive in the letter (assuming there is liability for Property or Liberty interest infringements which must always be considered when contemplating governmental action of any kind). For example, the June letter states ‘We ask you’ where it could easily have read ‘The Lord commands you through His authorized servants’. There is a big difference between the two. Thus the issue is unresolved as to whether the First Presidency is asking for this cooperation as Prophets, Seers and Revelators OR as mere men and concerned fellow citizens.

    Therefore, the Daily Universe letters seem fairly pathetic intellectually and the authors would invoke the same defense as the Nazi war criminals that they were ‘just following orders.’ Each person should study the doctrine and apply the principle of personal revelation so they can stand blameless before the Lord.

    Like the War in Iraq when one is in favor of the action the penalty for being wrong is extremely serious; guilt of murder through a governmental agent. Thus the need for those who argue in favor of the War to be so fervent. After all, those not in favor of the war are like the Anti-Nephi-Lehi’s and have no dead bodies to explain. Beware of Pride.

    So likewise, if one does not ‘hearken’ to the June letter then who is their accuser? If one does ‘hearken’ and if there is an unjustified infringement on anyone’s Agency then what is the excuse at the judgment bar when accused?

  16. Randall says:

    I take comfort and direction in recent statements from Prophets and other General Authorities that reaffirm:

    A. That the right/responsibility to worship God according to the dictates of our conscience does not wash away in the waters of baptism.

    B. That we should vote our conscience and not assume any message from the church is a mandate to vote in block.

    I also appreciate the ratcheting down of the rhetoric in recent church statements. I believe church leadership is assuming a more humble position—a position that remains tenable as leadership, policies, and doctrines change over time.

  17. Interesting thoughts-is there a difference between condeming someone and setting them straight?

    I recently got in a discussion with an LDS member who said he saw nothing wrong with a 15 year old wearing a bikini. As I teach the young women, and was at one point a 15 year old girl, and he is very much a ‘career mormon’ I had to call him out on this because well, he was wrong.

    I asked him if he believed in the Strength of Youth pamphlet. He said “yea, I carry it in my wallet” I then asked if he disagreed with the prophet. He said, “I don’t see anything wrong with a teenager in a bikini” and I responded, “I kind of have the trump card on this one- as it is the prophet that asked our youth not to wear bikinis”

    He then accused me of being a hypocrate because I drink diet coke.

  18. Peter LLC says:

    Isn’t certainty regarding the correctness of one’s actions considered a hallmark of righteousness? Shouldn’t we strive for this kind of clarity in our lives?

  19. Howard,
    Perhaps you and I are using different definitions of simple. I agree that listening to the Spirit is the way to go, but I don’t necessarily agree it is a simple undertaking.

    jonahtrainer,
    If you are looking for legislators who don’t interfere in the lives of the public, you will be looking a long, long time.

    Peter,
    You raise a good point. To some degree we are to be confident that we are doing the Lord’s will. My response is that if we feel compelled to “set someone straight” (as salt h2o put it), perhaps we should give those promptings the same scrutiny Nephi gave his regarding Laban. There is a kind of Zoramite pride in assuming that I happen to be the particular vessel through which God expresses his wrath regarding something I care about.

  20. John C: “I agree that listening to the Spirit is the way to go, but I don’t necessarily agree it is a simple undertaking.”

    I’m not sure what you mean, once we receive the Spirit’s message things seem pretty simple to me, follow…or not.

    So, are you saying that the process of actually getting an answer is complicated?

    Are you saying that the Spirit’s prompting might create conflict for you making things complicated?

    It seems unlikely that you would be prompted openly oppose a Prophet, but you could be quietly sent in a different direction than the rest of church.

  21. Re #6, the original letter (“Different Conclusions”) by Stephen McIntyre is here (see p. 4).

  22. I think everyone should read President Benson’s talk on pride at least once a year. Myself included.

    Humility = being teachable, plain and simple.

  23. StillConfused says:

    Bikinis.. fine. But I sure hope there is something in the Strength of the Youth pamphlet against Speedos. That surely is an offense to God!

  24. I gave a talk about something like this Sunday in Sacrament meeting. The truth is that we are all individuals, and we all experience faith and the Spirit differently. I have no doubts that for Howard, things are pretty simple. For me they are not always that simple.

    D&C 46, in the discussion about spiritual gifts, offers up that some have the gift to know that Christ lives, while others have the gift to believe in their words. I’ve always been haunted by Laman and Lemuels response to Nephi’s query,”Have ye inquired of the Lord?”, where they respond “We have not: for the Lord maketh no such thing known to us”.

    These sons were no doubt taught the same things as Nephi, and Sam certainly seems to be one of those who believes on the testimony of Nephi. I suspect Lehi and Sariah agonized over what they could have done differently for their oldest sons.

    Some of us just seem to be fine with the black and white “The prophet has spoken” type of faith, while others are still struggling to find that Iron Rod in the mists, but hoping desperately for it.

    John’s post is about humility, and I think that implies that we recognize that some will know, and others will question, but we all are part of the community of faith and we are dependent on each other for our ultimate salvation.

  25. Kevinf: I appreciate your comments. D&C 46 raises the uncomfortable idea that perhaps not all of us will “know” in this life. And perhaps we agreed to such in the pre-existence and will be judged accordingly.

    Surely once the prophet has spoken, the thinking has not been done, except perhaps for the prophet. For we have not yet done our part, which is to ponder upon his words and then to ask Father. This is our duty, as specified in D&C 50.

    Not only is this a duty but we do injury to our own souls if we neglect this and give our agency to the prophet.

    “President Joseph Smith read the 14th chapter of Ezekiel – said the Lord had declared by the Prophet, that the people should each one stand for himself, and depend on no man or men in that state of corruption of the Jewish church – that righteous persons could only deliver their own souls – applied it to the present state of to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – said if the people departed from the Lord, they must fall – that they were depending on the prophet, hence were darkened in their minds, in consequence of neglecting the duties devolving upon themselves, envious towards the innocent, while they afflict the virtuous with their shafts of envy. ” –
    TPJS Section Five 1842-43, p.237-38.

    How in the world can we ever attain to the blessings we seek of being the sons and daughters of God if we follow anyone with no thought or seeking of God’s will on the matter?

    Steve

  26. #17 – I don’t play Mormon Bridge, but even as a midriff-covering diet coke drinker, I don’t understand how your bikini “trumped” his diet coke. When I searched the current FSY pamphlet, I found a statement that could be interpreted as ruling out bikinis, but the same sentence could also be interpreted as deeming any swimwear immodest.

  27. jonahtrainer says:

    John C regarding #19, I think you completely missed the point of my post. It was not about ‘looking out’ at legislators. It was about ‘looking in’ and knowing one is blameless before God and man.

    Susan M in #22, very good advice.

    Peter LLC in #19, we sure hope so but I would follow Nephi’s example and keep in mind the question ‘But what if I am wrong; what could I be liable for?’

  28. Frequent, easy access to the Spirit is something I enjoy, so maybe that’s why this seems simple to me.

    But in my simplicity, I also see that the Prophet provides revelation services to all who do not enjoy these gifts themselves. So my motto is follow the Spirit. No Spirit? Follow the Prophet.

    Am I missing something? Please enlighten me.

  29. Aaron Brown says:

    “when a prophet speaks the debate is over”

    Is anyone else tired of the fact that statements like this — regardless of how authoritative we’re supposed to take them — are too ambiguous in meaning to be useful anyway? It’s like being told the Lord will never allow the Prophet to “lead the church astray.” Umm, that’s great. Now, what precisely does that mean, por favor?

    AB

  30. Frequent, easy access to the Spirit is something I enjoy, so maybe that’s why this seems simple to me.

    How nice for you!

    Howard, the original post seems to me to be saying that when we are dead certain of our own correctness and feel compelled to condemn others for their wrongness, we ought to have the humility to think twice.

    Your comment seems to me to show precisely the attitude that the original post is suggesting could benefit from a little humility.

    But then again, I could be wrong.

  31. MCQ,
    If I were “dead certain of my own correctness” would I be asking for enlightenment?

  32. Aaron Brown says:

    Howard at #5:
    “But a prophet’s words do not necessarily trump the promptings of the Sprit for those who led of the Spirit.”

    I’m typically on your side of this debate, Howard, but I’m curious as to why you think the Spirit would direct you to do one thing, while he’s directing the Prophet to do another (or at least allowing the Prophet to mistakenly think he’s being directed to do another). I understand in general the idea of God giving a command — through His Prophet — for people to do X, and yet telling certain individuals to do Not X for whatever reason. But I only think this makes sense when we’re talking about some act that relates to private virtue. I don’t see how this would work in the context of God’s involvement in a real-world political dispute in which people are being asked to vote a certain way. Assuming God’s involvement in a political dispute suggests He favors a particular outcome in that dispute, why would He direct his Prophet to galvanize the troops, while simultaneously send spiritual messages to some of his children to opt out? (Or is God’s involvement in political disputes not about influencing political outcomes, per se, but about something else?)

    I guess what I’m saying is that on certain issues, I think one’s opposition to the Prophet’s stance requires more of a theory as to what’s going on than just “the Spirit told me different.” It requires a theory as to why He’s telling YOU different, but not everybody else. And not His spokesman. I don’t think one can or should sidestep this question.

    AB

  33. Pardon me if I misread you Howard, but your words:

    Am I missing something? Please enlighten me.

    Sounded rhetorical.

  34. I don’t think one can or should sidestep this question.

    I agree Aaron, and I think the only possible answer is: “I think the prophet is mistaken.” We believe that the prophet is fallible in the abstract sense, but we have a lot of trouble as a people actually pointing out specific instances where we believe he has been mistaken.

  35. Howard, your # 28 portrays the same black & white dichotomy that is troubling to some. We’re glad that you have easy access to the spirit. But your choice for those who don’t is just as polarizing: “No Spirit? Follow the Prophet”.

    But for some of us, we are somewhere in between the easy, frequent access and “no spirit”. And it’s not always that easy to follow the prophet in all things, because we don’t have instruction in all things. It’s the old Liahona vs Iron Rod discussion. I’m grateful for the promptings and spiritual experiences I have, but they are far from frequent and easy.

    Humility means that I respect that you have that kind of faith, and also that I respect those who have more questioning kinds of faith.

    MCQ’s comment echoes my sentiments. Frequently life choices are sharply defined, and other times they are not. In the paradigm you describe, there is never any gray, but I’ve never been able to find that universe myself.

  36. Aaron Brown says:

    MCQ – I think that’s right. That is, if you believe you’ve had spiritual confirmation that you shouldn’t support a public crusade that the Prophet says we should all support, it necessarily follows that you think the Prophet is wrong. One should be open about this (though perhaps one could respect the Prophet’s office by abstaining from public criticism of him and/or his position; I know many take that position). Perhaps this seems like a too-obvious point, but based on how I see some people try to draw meaningless distinctions between asserting their own alleged spiritual confirmations, and refusing to say the Prophet is wrong, I think it’s probably a point worth making.

    On the other hand, it wouldn’t totally shock me to see someone try to wiggle out of this by arguing, for example, that the Prophet’s instruction to involve oneself in a public, political issue isn’t “really about” influencing actual political outcomes, but rather, is “about” developing private virtue thru one’s obedience (never mind the actual political outcomes), but I don’t buy this line of thought, for reasons I won’t get into.

    Finally, for the record, I DON’T think that believing one has received spiritual confirmation about something which implies the Prophet is wrong, is beyond the pale in Mormonism. I do think the conclusion does raise troubling questions though, questions which are too often evaded rather than faced.

    AB

  37. AB,
    Apparent conflict between the words of a Prophet and the Spirit’s direction to a specific individual do not necessarily imply that one of them is mistaken. We are commanded not to kill yet Nephi was led by the Spirit to slay Laban.

    “I don’t see how this would work in the context of God’s involvement in a real-world political dispute in which people are being asked to vote a certain way. Assuming God’s involvement in a political dispute suggests He favors a particular outcome in that dispute, why would He direct his Prophet to galvanize the troops, while simultaneously send spiritual messages to some of his children to opt out? (Or is God’s involvement in political disputes not about influencing political outcomes, per se, but about something else?)”

    I can’t speak for God, God’s ways are not our ways. But let’s just take a look at a hypothetical possibility. Let’s say that a church member has a close and currently celibate family member who is showing interest in the church, but they have always been attracted to their own gender. Is it possible that God would be willing to forgo their one vote by directing the member away from this issue to keep peace in the hope of a possible future baptism?

  38. kevinf,
    Thank you for #35.

  39. Aaron Brown says:

    OK, Howard, I suppose I see what you’re saying. I’m having a little trouble buying it (wouldn’t your hypothetical possible future baptism be more likely to be dissuaded from joining the Church once he knows the Church’s stand, than he would be once he knew that his LDS relative supported that stand?), but I’ll accept it in principle.

    AB

  40. Yes, you are right AB, but it was only offered in principle.

  41. “Frequent, easy access to the Spirit is something I enjoy, so maybe that’s why this seems simple to me.”

    I think what this post is saying is that there are plenty of people who say exactly what you just said – but what they feel they are told often is diametrically opposed to what you feel you are told. The issue addressed in the post is NOT the certainty that some feel; rather, it is the type of certainty that then turns around and condemns others – those whose certainty is different and those who have no certainty.

    At the core, I don’t think this is about “how to feel certain”. I think this is about how to not become intolerant and condemning due to certainty. It’s to recognize that nearly all of us still “see through a glass, darkly” – that we shouldn’t disparage or look down on or condemn others who see differently in their darkness than we do in ours.

    Remember, Paul was an apostle when he spoke those words about himself – and he spoke them in a context of teaching charity in a way that focused on a foundation of humility.

  42. Obviously, I was typing as the other comments were posting. Sorry for the redundancy. KevinF said it very well.

  43. In my counselling as a Bishop, I have found that the people most at risk of making really bad decisions are those who believe they have frequent, easy access to the Spirit. I certainly don’t mean to suggest that Howard is one of those people. I have no reason to think that he is. But certainty about one’s convictions, whether those convictions come from spiritual impressions or from pure reasoning, must always be tempered with a heavy dose of humility.

  44. jonahtrainer says:

    AB in #32 and #36, there is a relevant scriptural story; see 1 Kings 13. Yes, it is the Old Testament so many have probably not read it but we do believe it to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly (AoF 8). It seems you dance around the issue though (1 Ne. 14:10, 2 Ne. 30:10, D&C 63:54, D&C 95:5-6, Moroni 8:38-41 and D&C 86:3). For a more in-depth discussion of the differences of the two churches I would recommend the book, although out of print and hard to find, by former General Authority H. Verlan Anderson “The Great and Abominable Church of the Devil,” 1972.

    There are two applicable quotes from an address by Elder Benson (Conference Report, April 1969, pp.10-15):

    “Yes, within the Church today there are tares among the wheat and wolves within the flock. As President Clark stated, “The ravening wolves are amongst us, from our own membership, and they, more than any others, are clothed in sheep’s clothing because they wear the habiliments of the priesthood. . . . We should be careful of them” (Era, May 1949, p. 268; see also Conference Report, April 1949, p. 163)”

    and

    “Unauthorized to receive revelation for the Church, but I fear still anxious to redirect the Church in the way they think it should go, some of them have taken to publishing their differences with the Church, in order to give their heretical views a broader and, they hope, a more respectable platform.”

    President Thomas S. Monson is the President of the Church and it is known to the Church that he has authority (April 2008 General Conference, D&C 42:11, AoF 5)

    Howard in #37, I do not think the Machiavellian reasoning applies. One should stand up for Truth at all times and in all places (Mosiah 18:9). We should ignore the joining of secret combinations (Hel. 2:6) as we do not know the servant of Helaman’s eternal standing but have reason to infer as the wicked punish the wicked (Mormon 4:5).

  45. Aaron Brown says:

    jonahtrainer, I honestly have no idea what you are saying, at least as it pertains to anything I said in comments #32 and #36. Care to clarify?

    AB

  46. Steve Evans says:

    AB, I don’t think he could clarify if he wanted to. Those who have eyes to see, let them read (or something like that).

  47. Aaron Brown says:

    Yeah, well I thought I’d give him the benefit of the doubt though …

    AB

  48. I think you’re being called a tare and a wolf.

  49. Randy B. says:

    A perfect thread to do it on!

  50. Peter LLC says:

    we do believe it to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly

    Maybe this isn’t the time and place to bring this up, but I’ve always wondered what parts aren’t translated correctly. It seems like it would be good to know that.

  51. Peter: Does the JST ring any bells?

    Getting back to our regular programming:

    AB, if we beieve our prophet is fallible, why does it raise such troubling questions when he is occasionally wrong? Shouldn’t we expect it to happen sometimes and just take it in stride?

  52. jonahtrainer says:

    SE in #46, funny!

    How is this for wordsmithing? AB, I am not sure I can clarify as that would reveal my position which I am not sure I have. As I may not have standing to receive revelation on the issue (June letter to CA Saints) I may not have a position. However, if pressed on my position I suppose I would answer that if I were to have standing to receive revelation then my position would be that I am studying it out in my mind, fasting and praying but have not yet received a definitive answer.

    MCQ in #48, because of my answer in the preceding paragraph it should be clear that I am not making any judgment, of AB or anyone else, as either a tare or a wheat but instead simply regurgitating the relevant scriptures so those who may be interested can peruse them.

  53. Peter LLC says:

    Pardon me if I misread you MCQ, but your words:

    Does the JST ring any bells?

    Sounded rhetorical.

    Are you saying the JST is translated incorrectly? I’ve condemned many for less!

  54. jonah, your second paragraph in 52 begs one obvious question: why? (Ether 12:27)

    Peter: Dude, I was just answering your question. The JST is where we are told what portions were translated incorrectly (Joseph was providing the more correct translation). I thought that was relatively self explanatory.

  55. Most of us who easily condemn others, and yes I know I included myself, do it without thinking. If we gave it thought we would realize that most folks are doing the best they can and it is not our place to judge.

    The only thing I think is really rightfully condemned by anyone is blasphemy or other sins against the Father or Christ. I believe that the 1st AoF is really the only one that is not subject to further revelation. I guess I can’t condemn those who don’t believe that, but I wonder if they shouldn’t find a different church.

  56. if you believe you’ve had spiritual confirmation that you shouldn’t support a public crusade that the Prophet says we should all support, it necessarily follows that you think the Prophet is wrong.

    I have thought about this a lot over the past while, and I think that there could be situations where the Spirit could give someone personal guidance about not taking a stand on something the prophets have asked us to take a stand on — say, because there was someone in the family struggling with the very issue at hand, and involvement at that time would push them to a point of no return, whereas holding back could allow that person to soften their heart and change. (Sort of like #37’s example.)

    I think such a situation is really likely an exception. But even more importantly, perhaps, in the end, one’s personal choice is far from proof that everyone else who differs — including (and maybe even especially?) the prophets — is wrong.

    For me, I’m finding it easier to respect others’ choices when I realize the limits of personal revelation. By definition, personal revelation is personal, only relative to one’s agency and life stewardships. God knows my next step because He knows all about where I am. But my next step will likely not be someone else’s next step. Even within the generally-agreed upon principles in the Church (take tithing or Sabbath day as examples) there is room for individual guidance and choice and variation and inspiration.

    I think just as we have no stewardship to receive revelation for or make final judgments or public declarations on the rightness or wrongness of some other individual’s choice, none of us has stewardship to receive revelation for the Church. We can assimilate and decide for ourselves if we want to follow, according to the dictates of our conscience and efforts to discern right from wrong, but that’s different from getting revelation or having enough to declare that they are Wrong. If we can’t decide for another Joe next door with similar stewardships (self, family, ward calling), of course we don’t for the men who have a stewardship for the world!

    To me, the power of this post is realizing that it’s all too easy to convince ourselves we are Right by convincing ourselves that others (either other members or leaders) are Wrong. This post reminds us that we are prone to too quickly look sidewards rather than looking constantly upwards. That kind of relative decision-making seems that it could easily lead to pride and even deception (or at least self-deception). It’s also a waste of time, a distraction of sorts. While of course what happens around us influences our decisions, in the end, if we place absolute/final judgments on others to justify or explain our choices, doesn’t that undermine the power of agency and the reality of accountability and the importance of humility?

    I don’t think God is going to ask, “Did you make these choices because you think ‘they’ (whoever ‘they’ may be in my life) were wrong?” I think He is going to ask me if I did my very best to make choices that I felt were right. I think there is a subtle but important difference. For each of us, the key, I think, is to decide how we figure out what is right, line upon line, and seek to be true to what we feel is light and right. And for each person, that process may look a little different.

    I tend to think God will be merciful with us — but some of that may be dependent on if we are merciful with others (blessed are the merciful, right?). He leaves us the space and agency to figure things out, to withhold final judgments while we sort through stuff, and I think He expects us to do the same for each other (including our leaders). And also be ready to fully and proactively answer for our choices and our choices alone rather than worrying so much others.

    Sorry for the long comment.

  57. m&m–a lot to think about in your comment, thanks for writing it…

  58. Good comment m&m.

    I have thought about this a lot over the past while, and I think that there could be situations where the Spirit could give someone personal guidance about not taking a stand on something the prophets have asked us to take a stand on — say, because there was someone in the family struggling with the very issue at hand, and involvement at that time would push them to a point of no return, whereas holding back could allow that person to soften their heart and change.

    What about a situation where your conscience simply says no?

  59. There is such a thing as being in the right, as well as erroneously supposing you are in the right.

    Part of it the difference has to do with the kind of academic humility already mentioned. Simply because we are human, not onmiscient, there is always the possibility we are in error, or that our understanding is incomplete.
    The confidence of being in the right has a foundation and doesn’t hang in the air. We have critically examined the roots and sources of our knowledge, (it’s not just what we think or we heard somewhere), and we have addressed the criticisms and questions.
    It also shows up in how we treat those who disagree: with well founded knowlege and understanding, we aren’t fearful, distressed, suspicious, or angry, and we don’t feel the need to compel or abose someone into agreeing with us.
    Correction of others tends to be limited: more informative, in the attitude of instruction; more sharply focused on the error rather than the person; and is kinder and more forgiving.

  60. What about a situation where your conscience simply says no?

    That would be up to each person to decide, no?

    For me, conscience is not the ultimate — or at least not a standalone — source of light and truth. It’s one source, but I think we each choose what educates and influences and informs our consciences. We also each are born into different circumstances and given different opportunities along the way. So in a moment of decision, in my mind, all the choices and circumstances that have been made and come into play before sort of add up to influence where the conscience stands on that something in that moment. How much we have acted vs. being acted upon can come into play, too.

    Even in a moment of decision, I believe our agency can come into play. Will we choose conscience alone? Will we seek input and guidance from others? From God? Is it possible there is something our conscience can’t discern alone? To me this whole seeking and responding to light thing it’s a potentially constant, dynamic process. And just when we think we have it figured out, I think God gives us opportunities to stretch and grow and learn more about how to discern. Perhaps that is some of where the wisdom of being teachable (not so certain as to close off the mind and heart) can come into play?

    These are my thoughts… I certainly don’t have it all figured out, though. :)

  61. jonahtrainer says:

    m&m in #56 & #60, this moral relativism is fairly undefined and shifting like sand which is not a very solid rock upon which to build one’s philosophical foundation. The ideas are weak.

    There is light and dark; good and evil. There is a way to judge (Moroni 7:13-17) and In #15 I quoted the main rule.

    “The central issue in the premortal council was: Shall the children of God have untrammeled agency to choose the course they should follow, whether good or evil, or shall they be coerced and forced to be obedient? Christ and all who followed him stood for the former proposition–freedom of choice; Satan stood for the latter–coercion and force.”

    When enlightened by true doctrine as revealed through true prophets a testimony is built upon a solid foundation (Hel. 5:12). Then analyzing situations becomes much easier. The issue is agency and ‘upon this hang all the law and the prophets’ (Matt. 22:40). The ideas are strong.

  62. jonahtrainer,

    For me, following the prophets is the way to light and truth, and I trust them to lead us aright. But I still can’t convince or force anyone else to believe these things are true. I have to let others have the space to learn by their own experience. It does no good for me to criticize, judge, or belittle those who don’t agree with me. And I do think that God does take us line upon line. If we seek Him, we will find Him. That does unfold differently for each of us, though, imo. I will repeat — I believe the shortest distance between us and God can be found by following the word of God as we receive it from His mouthpieces, ancient and modern. But I think the original post is really important — if I use my approach to beat others up, what of the doctrine of agency and mercy and love and patience and kindness and not criticizing and having contention and all of that? The Savior’s atonement is for anyone who is earnestly seeking, and I myself cannot tell what is in someone else’s heart and what light they have to be judged against. But God can, and I am working harder in my life to let Him be the judge and to do my best to be kind and merciful – even as I will always defend the prophets and their positions and teachings, particularly the ones that are consistent and repeated.

    I hope that can help clarify my comments a bit more.

    MCQ, I have a question back for you — when the conscience speaks, is the thinking done? :)

  63. Randall says:

    M&M and MCQ, I believe your comments about conscience are right on. JS made it clear that we are to worship according to our conscience.

    One thing that is not as clear to me is the differentiation of conscience and spirit. There are clearly times when the 2 are at odds inside me. An easy example is when someone shares a spiritual thought in church (like about a bird who sacrifices himself to make a red rose). In these situations, my conscience screams “Foul: Overt triteness from the pulpit”, but I will often still feel the physiological reactions I identify as coming from the spirit. The same is true when singing hymns that have a beautiful melody, but include lyrics I find unpalatable.

    My best guess is that what is frequently referred to as “conscience” is actually a sociocultural filter that has developed based on life experience and worldview. For example, 20 years ago if I had seen a mother standing in the circle to bless her child, my conscience and the spirit would very probably have had a decidedly negative reaction. These days, I’m sure conscience would have approved, and I’m pretty sure the spirit would concur…but you can never tell with that wily spirit.

    In my current configuration, I almost always give deference to conscience. It has earned my trust.

  64. MCQ: “What about a situation where your conscience simply says no?”

    Very interesting question, Mormon thought relates conscience with the Light of Christ.

    Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explains it this way:

    The ability to have an unsettled conscience is a gift of God to help you succeed in this mortal life. It results principally from the influence of the Light of Christ on your mind and heart. The Light of Christ is that divine power or influence that emanates from God through Jesus Christ. It gives light and life to all things. It prompts all rational individuals throughout the earth to distinguish truth from error, right from wrong. It activates your conscience. Its influence can be weakened through transgression and addiction and restored through proper repentance. The Light of Christ is not a person. It is a power and influence that comes from God and when followed can lead a person to qualify for the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Ghost.

    So, if our conscience is “the influence of the Light of Christ on our mind and heart”, it is a mixture of the Christ’s light and our own thoughts and feelings.

    To me this means we have some work to do when our conscience says “no”. We must sort out the source of the “no” is it coming from Christ’s light? Is it coming from our own thoughts and feelings? Or is it coming from both?

  65. Josh Smith says:

    When the Prophet speaks, the debate is over.

    This isn’t a statement about infalibility. This isn’t a statement about finding the good, true, and beautiful–I think the good, true, and beautiful can be found without a prophet, but a prophet often facilitates.

    This is a statement about church governance. This is a statement about jurisdiction. Whatever the bounds of the church’s jurisdiction, within that jurisdiction, the prophet gets the final word. Not because he’s right, but because he’s final. This is an institutional rule.

    Hypothetical: Prophet counsels members to vote a certain way. The first question in my mind is jurisdiction: Is this a matter within the scope of the prophet’s jurisdiction?

    Hypothetical answer: Hell no.

  66. Josh,
    As m&m so nicely put it, it’s also about the Prophet’s “stewardship to receive revelation for the Church.”

  67. jonah: You continue to cite scriptures that seem to be unrelated to any point being made here, even by yourself. An example: Mathew 22:40 has nothing to do with agency.

    m&m: The answer to your question is certainly not. The reason I asked you the question I did is that you seemed to be suggesting that it was only in the limited situation you described that you could imagine someone having a reason to act contrary to the counsel of the prophet. In my experience, however, people who choose not to follow the counsel of the prophet, especially in a political situation, are not doing so because of a personal situation such as you describe, they are doing so because they are following their conscience. I think that we have to give people the space to do that, without judgment. It sounds to me like you agree.

    Howard: quite right.

    Josh: I think you are right about that quote. I haven’t read the original speech that the quote is taken from, but it seems to be that people wrongly use it to silence others when te prophet has spoken on a certain issue. I think it means only that the prophet has spoken for the church, and that the debate concerning where the church will go is over. Debate about the issue can still continue because we all have to decide, with the guidance of the spirit and our own consciences, how to act for ourselves.

    The question of jurisdiction is a different one. I think, in theory at least, there are no jurisdictional limits to the authority of the prophet to speak. He can, if he feels impressed, tell us how he believes we should vote. Our decision concerning whether to follow that counsel should not be begin and end with a simple calculation of jurisdictional limits (because the prophet really has none), it must instead be guided by conscience and the spirit.

  68. m&m,
    I really appreciate your comments. They are excellent.

    jonah & Howard,
    To be honest, I am a little put off by your tone. Both of you seem to be forgetting that while you approach this with crystal clarity, others around may not have had your experiences or have your understanding. Neither of you have done anything offensive, as far as I can tell, so this is a friendly caution, nothing more.

    Josh,
    I appreciate the distinction that you are making, but I don’t believe that it is a distinction that President Tanner (or President Cannon before him) was making.

  69. Josh Smith says:

    John C.:
    Maybe they didn’t draw the distinction because they thought the debate was over?

    Howard:
    It seems we agree. The prophet has “stewardship to receive revelation for the church.”

    MCQ:

    I struggle with the boundaries of the prophet’s jurisdiction; there is a fuzzy line. But I cannot accept that there are no limits.

    Somewhere there is a line with regard to reason: The prophet announces that the sun revolves around the earth (or the prophet makes an announcement on some other area of scientific inquiry). Does the office of prophet grant authority to speak on such an issue?

    Somewhere there is a line with regard to an individual’s relation to the state: Can the prophet ask you to do something illegal?

    These are two areas that come to mind, but there may be others. I still think jurisdiction is limited.

  70. Peter LLC says:

    Can the prophet ask you to do something illegal?

    Hmm…did anyone say polygamy?

  71. Josh Smith says:

    Peter,

    And we could find other examples as well.

  72. Josh,
    I don’t understand the thrust of your comment. Are you saying that they agree with you implicitly so they didn’t need to clarify their position? Because having read both articles/sermons, I don’t think they do.

  73. Josh Smith says:

    John C.:

    I was trying to sound smart and witty. It failed. I reread my comment (“Maybe they didn’t draw the distinction because they thought the debate was over?”). It doesn’t make any sense at all. I don’t even know what I was trying to say. Please disregard.

  74. My best guess is that what is frequently referred to as “conscience” is actually a sociocultural filter that has developed based on life experience and worldview.

    This sums up some of what I was thinking a lot better than what I said earlier.

    I think that we have to give people the space to do that, without judgment. It sounds to me like you agree.

    Without judgment, yes. Without concern, no.

  75. My best guess is that what is frequently referred to as “conscience” is actually a sociocultural filter that has developed based on life experience and worldview.

    This sums up some of what I was thinking a lot better than what I said earlier.

    Or at least it considers one facet of what I think can affect/influence conscience. We are told that the light of Christ is given to all. But our choices along the way and how we respond to the influences around us can affect whether our conscience becomes more light-filled or dimmed with time. I don’t think the conscience is supposed to be a sociocultural filter in the ideal, but of course we all are affected by such forces to some degree because we are mortal. (All the more reason I’m grateful there is a God to help us along, and an Atonement!)

  76. Josh, if the prophet speaks for God, then any jurisdictional limits to his authority to speak would have to come from God. I know of no place where God has placed such limits on the prophets authority.

  77. m&m: Interesting. Assuming that two people are both equally righteous and have not dimmed the light of Christ through bad choices or failure to respond to it, do you think it’s possible that their consciences could allow them to arrive at two different conclusions as to how they should respond to the prophet’s counsel?

  78. Josh Smith says:

    MCQ,
    I don’t think it has ever been church doctrine that everything that falls from the prophet’s lips is the voice of God. Clearly, much of what a prophet says is heavily influenced by his place in history, his judgment, his temperment, his passions. In short, prophets are men.

    They are men that lead the Church and receive revelation for the Church. When they speak for the Church, the debate is over. There is no need for me to write a letter to voice my dissent.

    But when they speak beyond the Church, beyond their jurisdiction, they shed their mantle and what they say is judged solely on the merits. No authority, only the strength of their argument.

  79. Ugly Mahana says:

    # 78: Unless they are speaking for God. Of course, in that instance, we are liable to God – not to the Prophet – for our obedience or lack thereof.

  80. Ugly Mahana says:

    Um, “they” = “the Prophet.”

  81. Josh, that’s not what I said. We were talking about jurisdiction. You said there are limits to a prophet’s jurisdiction. I said there is no place where that limit has been stated. I stand by that, but that does not mean that every statement they make is directly from God. Can you understand that distinction?

    Your final paragraph reasserts your argument that there is a finite jurisdictional limit beyond which a prophet has no authority to speak. You have stated that twice now, in two different ways, but you have yet to tell me where you are getting that idea. I find no support for it anywhere.

  82. MCQ,
    I think my comments above really summarize my perspective on this. But to reiterate, to me, the variable in the scenario you presented, if both really are equally righteous and all other things are constant is the individuals’ circumstance, not the patterns and rules the prophets teach.

    So, for example, take two women who have been married to a man for ten years. Both women are righteous, temple-worthy women. Suppose we could prove somehow that there were no other variables in their lives that would make them or their receptiveness to and possession of light and truth different. They hear the prophets repeatedly teach against divorce. After years of tumultuous and difficult marriages, and lots of prayer, one feels inspired to leave her husband, the other feels inspired to stay.

    The reception of personal revelation of either woman will not change the doctrine or the authorized position of the Church. Since neither woman (and, by extension, none of us) is authorized to receive revelation for the Church/world, any personal choice or response to conscience is limited in scope to one’s personal life. The variable in such a scenario above is the personal situations of the women, not the Church’s general positions and teachings on marriage and divorce.

    I’ve been rereading the Worldwide Leadership meeting that came out with our magazines a couple of months back. They reiterated this point — prophets teach the rules, we seek personal revelation for our personal choices and circumstance — but no personal choice or inspiration or conscience can change the rules/doctrine/patterns. Again, it boils down to the limits of personal revelation and agency. And the recognition that with personal choice comes accountability. And the gratitude that the atonement is there to help with the messiness of mortality as we struggle to do our best with what we know and what we have.

  83. They reiterated this point — prophets teach the rules, we seek personal revelation for our personal choices and circumstance — but no personal choice or inspiration or conscience can change the rules/doctrine/patterns.

    Another piece of this that I found powerful is the reminder that we do our best toward the rules. I think that the patterns can exist to help us check our consciences and choices, to make sure we are at least desiring the direction they teach, and doing all we can head in that direction, even if it seems that our lives at the moment will never unfold in that way. In those situations where there really is a true exception (like the woman in the example above who feels inspired to divorce…and I think we all know of situations like this), the realization that we will be blessed according to our sincere efforts and not necessarily the external “perfectness” of our lives can bring great comfort.

  84. I used to believe that the Church was part mine. It is not. It belongs to the Prophet, and, as far as that goes, to any Divine Powers which lead him.

    The prophet has the tiller and can steer the boat wherever he wishes in accordance with his revelation.

    The odd part of Mormonism is the we also have revelation as individuals. Any individual can revoke the prophet in any part of his or her life but cannot remove the prophet from the tiller.

    The silent affirmation of denial of priesthood to the blacks for many generations of prophets did not make it right. It was obvious to many that the direction the boat was going was not right, but the tiller was still in the hands of the prophet.

    You have to ask, then, right for whom. Were we ready? Was he ready? Were they ready? Does God tell us to do immoral things because we are not ready for the moral ones?

    What was wrong with conking Laban on the head and tying him up rather than cutting off his head? Does God need to know that we will do anything, moral or immoral, for him like Abraham?

    Hmmm. This sounds like the demiurge.

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