Toward a General Theory of Apostasy

Seventeen centuries ago, on 28 October 312, the emperor Constantine, convinced that Christ had delivered to him recent military victories, officially converted to the by then rapidly spreading and increasingly powerful religion of Christianity. He would soon attempt to extend his personal conversion onto whole of his imperial dominion, if only symbolically. And, since Christianity was, among other things, a strategic tool for consolidating his power, the newly anointed Religion of Empire would itself be subjected to unification and centralization.

To implement this strategy of unified consolidation, Constantine convened a meeting of Christian bishops at a resort just outside the Imperial capital, on lake Nicea. Here is a description, from Eusebius’s Life of Constantine, of the celebratory feast that closed the Council:

Detachments of the bodyguard and troops surrounded the entrance of the palace with drawn swords, and through the midst of them the men of God proceeded without fear into the innermost of the Imperial apartments, in which some were the Emperor’s companions at table, while others reclined on couches arranged on either side.

The description is all the more strikingly ironic for Mormons — men of Christ entering the luxurious, exclusionary space where a Worldly God, whom they meet in the inner sanctum, offers them space at his holy table and rest in his almighty presence. The peasant from Galilee, the healer from Nazareth, who broke bread (and the bread of his body) to serve the least of these, is claimed and co-opted by powerful men who recline and feast with the Emperor himself and are served by others. The man who refused all forms of worldly power and defeated the might of empire, not by seizing it but by obviating it through surrendering to it and then deflating it through his resurrection, has become the very symbol, the figurehead, the logo for empire unrestrained.

So what, exactly, happened?

We Mormons think an awful lot about what we term the Great Apostasy. Indeed, that such a process or event occurred historically is a foundational claim for our entire understanding of the Restoration, of the prophetic call of Joseph Smith, and the need for Priesthood. Of course in Mormonspeak, you have apostasy and you have Apostasy. The former describes an individual’s break with — apostasy from — the Church. The latter, by contrast, denotes the break of the entire primitive Christian Church from God. It implies not only the cessation of revelation, but the disappearance of Priesthood. It seems fairly logical that a Church without Priesthood would be a church without revelation. But how can Priesthood just disappear, vanish from the earth (except as held by mysterious individuals like John, who preserve it in secret)? Or maybe Priesthood is removed because of a lack of revelation, because of the stopped ears of the Church? Chicken or Egg?

This is a vexing question, in no small part because Priesthood cannot disappear from an organization any more than it can be held by one. Institutions do not hold the Priesthood; only people with bodies do. So how can an individual forfeit his Priesthood? That, thanks to Joseph Smith, is an easier question to answer.

D&C section 121, to my knowledge, is the only scriptural account of how a man can lose his Priesthood. Put simply, when he misuses it, either to exercise compulsion over others, or to cover his sins, it’s game over. Bearers of God’s Priesthood are held to higher standards to prevent their abusing of such sacred power. Only by gentleness, meekness, humility, patience, long-suffering, and love unfeigned may a Priesthood-holder seek to influence others. Any deviation from those lofty standards, and you risk losing it.

Returning to the question of Apostasy (the collective forfeiture of Priesthood), what about an organization, an institution, a church? Well, almost any organization, but especially a large, growing one, requires some form of hierarchy. The question is, in the case of the ancient Church, can the relationships within the institution (and the cultural norms they engender) be structured in a way that undermines the righteous exercise of Priesthood and over-determines what section 121 terms unrighteous dominion? If so, such a state of affairs would not just neutralize Priesthood but threaten it existentially.

Let’s get to brass tacks with a little thought experiment. Imagine a 2nd-Century Christian community. The presiding Priesthood leader in said community sows contention by falsely (mistakenly or not) and publicly accusing some community member of some bad act. The result is division, between those who believe the accusations and those who defend the accused. Now imagine that this particular Priesthood leader attempts to use his position — that is, his Priesthood — to defend his actions and condemns those who oppose his position as undermining his Priesthood and, by extension, the Church, even God. The divisions now deepen. From the perspective of someone who supports the leader and his claims, opposition is now a sign not just that you oppose me but that you oppose the proper order of things, not just a particular Priesthood authority, but Priesthood Authority.

If this state of affairs persists (which I think we can all imagine it doing), another likely consequence would be that some of this leader’s subordinates in the priesthood would follow the pattern he has provided. The inappropriateness of questioning or criticizing a Priesthood leader — primarily and precisely because he holds the Priesthood — becomes increasingly central to general understandings of what Priesthood leadership is. Criticizing leaders is no longer capable of being seen as motivated by love or sincere concern, since, by definition, it is prideful, rebellious, and wicked.

This is a terribly dangerous situation. The more Priesthood is used as a pretext for eliminating or delegitimatizing checks against its abuse, the more abusive it becomes. And the more it ceases to be Priesthood at all. Aside from the potential abuses it capacitates, the most insidious and harmful consequence of unrighteous dominion is that it so thoroughly and efficiently conceals its own existence. The logic is circular as Priesthood reinforces itself; the power in question is redirected back upon itself, closing the circuit in a volatile feedback loop which, if Joseph Smith is to be believed, trips a breaker. God withdraws His support, the priesthood holder becomes a law unto himself, seeking to support and reinforce his actions and office, position and power, with an authority that no longer exists.

There is a profound existential irony at play here. Priesthood is the one thing that simply cannot be used to justify its own exercise: “no power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood,” writes the imprisoned prophet through whom that power was restored at long last after Constantine and his cohorts exorcised it from the ancient Church. When not questioning or criticizing leaders, precisely because they have the Priesthood, becomes a general norm by which leadership is defined; when that norm shapes the expectations that dictate how leaders behave and the deference to which they begin to feel entitled; and when we all internalize such logic and enforce it as an universal standard by stigmatizing or condemning any criticism of Priesthood authority; when this attitude prevails and structures our relationships, we aren’t just facilitating abuse. We are collaborating in the destruction of Priesthood itself, stopping up the heavens, driving away the Spirit that sustains Priesthood power, turning our leaders into unwitting tyrants who kick against the pricks, supporting an empty form of priesthood, but denying the power thereof.

This argument should not be taken as a call for unrestrained criticism of the men who serve us. I’m skeptical that the simplistic worst-case scenario I’ve outlined above conforms to the real experience of many, if any, Latter-day Saints. Just as Priesthood power is to be exercised only through love and humility, so should our responsibility to check it be governed and motivated by sincere charity. Even when criticism is justified (in the sense that something worthy of criticism has, in fact, taken place), it should be tempered and constrained by the same principles that Joseph outlined in that Missouri dungeon: kindness, love, patience, gentleness, knowledge, with an eye not on demeaning someone or putting them in their proper place, but on enlargening the soul, showing forth afterward an increase in love. But restraining from criticism because we are afraid that it will be seen as rebellious or arrogant, because we are afraid of how others will react, is not a great service to those whose sins we cover in the process.

We wonder how Priesthood could just vanish. But given what Joseph Smith has revealed, and given what we know about the nature and disposition of almost all men, there is no great mystery.

Comments

  1. There are some interesting thoughts here, Brad.

    First, I think want to take issue with the conflation of power and authority at play. Turning to the foundational text of your argument, “the rights of the priesthood,” (i.e., the authority of the priesthood) are indeed connected to the power of heaven, or of God. But access to the power of god, isn’t controlled by the authority of the priesthood, only by righteous action within that authority. What happens if unrighteousness prevails? Two things: 1) the power of God becomes inaccessible and 2) the “priesthood or the authority” of the individual evaporates.

    Now, beyond this section, it is quite evident that Joseph Smith believed that there were other ways to loose the authority of the priesthood. If an elder were “cut off,” they no longer had the authority of the priesthood to minister in the rituals of the Church, nor to participate in its governance.

    Also, just because individuals might receive the authority of the priesthood, it does not mean that they have unfettered access to the power of God. The teachings of JS to the twelve before the “Kirtland endowment” is particularly instructive here.

    So, while I agree with you that unrighteous dominion is a definite possible cause for apostasy. It isn’t necessarily the only possibility. Furthermore, while your reflections on criticism are cogent for your example of actual unrighteous dominion, they do not appear to me to be easily and more broadly applied.

  2. While I appreciate the thoughtful response, J., I’m not sure I understand what specific disagreement you have with the post.

  3. Beyond the definitional quibbles, I am saying that while an individual case of unrighteous dominion can be an example of apostasy, I don’t see how such a narrow example is per se exemplary of apostasy generally.

  4. …unless, of course, I am misunderstanding.

  5. The point of the post is not that individual unrighteous dominion leads to the disappearance of Priesthood. I think that goes without saying, since priesthood power is limited to its righteous exercise. The larger argument is about how the unrighteous dominion of priesthood holders, in certain highly hierarchical frameworks, run the risk if instituting cultural and discursive norms that structurally prevent the righteous exercise of Priesthood. The belief that priesthood leaders should, by virtue of their priesthood, be exempted from scrutiny or criticism is the diametrical inverse of the notion that using priesthood to cover one’s sins undermines priesthood. I’m arguing that organizing hierarchical relationships and defining priesthood leadership in a way that makes it impervious to criticism drives priesthood from the building, so to speak. It’s an argument that connects JSJ’s statements about individual Priesthood forfeiture with our historical belief in some kind of collective, institutional forfeiture.

  6. Steve Evans says:

    Brad, how do you reconcile your thought that priesthood leaders “should [not], by virtue of their priesthood, be exempted from scrutiny or criticism” with the injunction to avoid evil speaking?

  7. Simple — I don’t equate criticism, particularly of the kind I describe in my penultimate paragraph, with evil speaking. I don’t see how anyone could, really.

  8. Steve Evans says:

    That’s the kicker, isn’t it? One man’s criticism is another’s evil speaking. We can probably all agree that you can’t cover sins; but outside of that? Your checks and balances of love unfeigned, etc. in the penultimate paragraph are probably key, but I don’t think it’s necessarily that simple. Culturally, at least.

  9. Okay. I agree that institutionalizing the covering of sin, would essentially be institutionalized apostasy. Now, I am a huge proponent of criticism generally; however, it seems to me that your argument (that “the belief that priesthood leaders should, by virtue of their priesthood, be exempted from scrutiny or criticism is the diametrical inverse of the notion that using priesthood to cover one’s sins undermines priesthood”) presupposes grave sin to be covered. While I think that your argument is true, if there is sin to be covered, I don’t think it is true otherwise. Am I wrong?

    Would you also say that any declension of priesthood authority, elicited by unrighteousness, is discrete or continuous? That is, is it all or nothing in your opinion?

    And to go back to definitional quibbles, I would rephrase “priesthood power is limited to its righteous exercise” to “power in the priesthood is limited to the righteous exercise of authority.”

  10. But it’s not just random relativism, Steve. If a leader sows division and causes pain, pointing that could only be viewed as evil speaking within a discursive framework that makes any and all priesthood leaders immune to criticism. In other words, criticism = evil-speaking only when that definition is enforced culturally. But such notions simply do not square with section 121, which ups the standards according to which priesthood holders are subject to scrutiny and obligated to repent when they abuse their position or power. That’s what makes unrighteous dominion so dangerous — it conceals its own exercise under the cloak of priesthood, and frames acts of disclosure of its existence as evil speaking.

  11. Yes, my argument does, indeed, presuppose that priesthood leaders do sometimes abuse power or commit sins which require repentance. But it’s not the sins that obviate priesthood — otherwise none of us would have it, no human being but Christ. Rather it’s using the priesthood as a pretext for ignoring sins or covering their existence that kills it. The never-criticize-priesthood-leaders mindset, coupled with the certainty that priesthood leaders will, as mortal human beings, betimes commit sin, threatens the viability of all priesthood. It invites and almost ensures, at some point, the very abuse that is, by definition, unrighteous dominion.

  12. Put differently, when the belief that priesthood leaders simply should not be questioned or criticized or subjected to the imperatives of repentance becomes an enforceable discursive norm within a community, that is a framework which allows individual unrighteous dominion to circulate and spread like a virus, threatening to infect and kill the priesthood of the entire community by structurally preventing its righteous exercise.

  13. I’m still interested in the answers to my previous question, but I’d like to follow up on your comment. I’m not sure about the practicality of your argument. Assuming that you have in mind our modern day Church, we can propose various thought experiments.

    Suppose that a Church leader is involved in an extra-marital affair. I have a hard time imagining any constraint in bringing this sin to the attention of church leaders resulting in the discipline of said leader.

    So what kind of sin are you suggesting is beyond the criticism of current members?

  14. Well, it’s certainly not limited to any particular time or place, but the example from my thought experiment involved lying and fomenting division among the saints. That is the kind of sin for which I can see the no-criticism-allowed argument being leveraged in the service of protecting or covering.

    Please clarify the unanswered question to which you are referring.

  15. I’m interested whether you think priesthood authority is binary, either on or off.

    If a church leader were lying, I imagine that in any case of which I can imagine, the church would be open to criticism. Fomenting division among the saints…I concede that this one is subjective enough to be a cause of apostasy.

  16. If a church leader were lying, I imagine that in any case of which I can imagine, the church would be open to criticism.

    That’s a pretty generous judgment, in my view. I don’t think priesthood authority is binary, at least not in any sense that would preclude repentance. Because of the performative nature of it all, and because of the relevance of the faith of the person on whose behalf priesthood (real or absent) is exercised, it’s never that cut and dry.

  17. J. Stapely: Your sin example is sufficient as an example. Here is a personal experience. A former bishop, well respected in the community and ward and stake, was accused by me of an extra marital affair. I became aware of the affair through a newly baptized member. She had strong evidence of the affair. The accusation was summarily dismissed by the current bishop to whom I told. I next went to a stake leader, who also summarily dismissed even the idea that this former bishop could even commit such a sin. Fast forward 10 years, and the wife of the former bishop divorced him because of several affairs, and only then did the church leaders believe enough to begin investigating his sin. If you have a hard time imaginging any constraint in bringing this sin to the attention of church leaders, I hope this real life example removes the constraint.

  18. I meant “removes the hard time you have imagining a constraint”; i.e., the constraint was almost automatically in place because of the former priesthood position he held.

  19. KevinR, perhaps my language was too strong. I concede that the institution sometimes breaks down. However, I imagine that you could have taken your case to the general authorities without repercussions. I also don’t imagine that the stake president was consciously covering for the bishop. He was guilty of too much trust. So really, the Bishop was in apostasy but the bureaucracy of Church government simply failed to deal with the information it received appropriately.

  20. In other words, it seems that there is still a strong possibility, even a high probability, that horrific events like the Mountain Meadows Massacre, can still occur, because many, if not most, Mormons still hold their leaders as inerrant, or at the very least errant, but having a widely accepted we-still-will-be-blessed-even-for-following-them-in-their-errancy doctrine.

  21. strong possibility, even a high probability, that horrific events like the Mountain Meadows Massacre, can still occur

    I find this simply nutty.

  22. A high probability that the MMM can still occur — KevinR, if you want to persuade others to your perspective, why don’t you just compare President Monson to Hitler and get it over with?

  23. OK, I’ll admit to jumping too far in my thinking. I never would compare President Monson to Hitler. However, I do teach my children about the MMM and hopefully how to avoid the thinking that sometimes seems so prevalent, that our leaders (which in reality is us, the lay leaders) are inerrant. I use that very example, that we are the church leaders, and are we inerrant? Of course not, and even my youngest seems to begin to understand. I think Brad has made an excellent argument, and for me it is a prophetic warning that we need to think about as a church.

  24. I find your “I find this simply nutty,” even nuttier, and I raise you a nutty. And I respect your right to nutty up the dialogue, and I continue it.

  25. J. Stapely: Back to the main point, you conceded that the institution sometimes breaks down. But the institution is us, isn’t it? You and I are the lay church leaders, and are we humble enough to admit to the problem Brad brings up? Your suggestion takes us to the next level (figuratively and literally), because the next level is hard to communicate with. In fact, the convert who brought it to my attention had no idea that the hierarchy of the church was so hierarchical. If she hadn’t known me, she would’ve been stopped at the bishop level. In fact, even as a long term member, the next level above the stake presidency is hard to contact and know where to call them? Some of the area presidency remain local and some at Salt Lake, so how do I contact them? I’ve found it difficult to even criticize (even with patience and long-suffering and in a kindly way) local practices and traditions by leaders that contradict well-advertised changes by their own upper management, the general authorities, like the practice of only a priesthood holder saying the opening prayer in sacrament meeting, a practice still taking place in my stake. Brad’s excellent treatise here seems to bolster the idea that the problem is inherent or, I can’t think of the right word, built-in, or the current structure has built it out of existence. Sorry, I’m not much of a writer.

  26. ummquestion says:

    I can imagine that the authorized Priesthood “died out” simply because those authorized to ordain men to it died. There is no record of the 12 apostles that included Paul (who held the keys) ever ordained others to take their places and the “righteous” saints who survived them would have known that no one else had the authority to do so. Those who assumed authority (or were appointed to lead) in the newly developing “Christian” religions had no real priesthood authority even if they claimed it.

    The Church today operates in such a manner that while the Prophet/President has ultimate authority, he rarely (if ever) exercises it without his two counselors-and the First Presidency rarely (if ever) moves without the 12. Surely if “one” of these men began a campaign to cover his sins the others would be made aware of his unrighteousness and the person would be dealt with. We are taught the law of “witnesses” and thus no one person should be able to lead the Church to a destructive division.

    I would submit that very few members actually think that THE BRETHREN are infallible-ie can never we wrong. In a lifetime of Church membership I have never met one. But instead they have faith that the Lord personally guides the Church and they trust Him to correct the Brethren should they require it. They trust the Lord as infallible and inerrant and view Him as the only one holding the stewardship required to govern the Church.

    That does not mean that they believe that God will prevent them from sinning because they know that God does not interfere with anyone’s agency to choose their own actions. It means that they believe that if their leaders DO sin to the extent that their actions would affect the Church organization-that God would make those sins known through His revealed/established channels. And they know that channel does not operate from the bottom up.

    #17-a “former Bishop” is not the same thing as someone currently holding a position of leadership. Unless he confesses his “sins”, or one of the women in question came forward, just exactly what did you expect Church leaders to do? If the man you exposed had still been in office, I suspect that leaders might have handled things differently.

  27. All of this is interesting, but KevinR has hit on an important point, which is that we as a people, not the institution, are the source of the potential problem. He says:

    “The thinking that sometimes seems so prevalent, that our leaders (which in reality is us, the lay leaders) are inerrant…”

    I can see that it isn’t so much the priesthood leaders making claims of inerrancy, as much as perhaps the expectations of the followers, as we seem to like to put our historical leaders and prophets on a pedestal, and to a lesser extent our existing leaders. That is why some of the recent artistic renderings of Joseph Smith, often on display at Deseret Book, make me uncomfortable. When you also have a lay leadership that gives each of us an opportunity to also lead (really, serve), we sometimes set up unrealistic expectations of our own behavior.

    No one likes being criticized; else why the warning by Joseph Smith about how a reproof should only be done by “gentleness, meekness, humility, patience, long-suffering, and love unfeigned”. Those are not our natural emotions or characteristics, but instead they need to be aspired to, cultivated, and reinforced.

  28. “The never-criticize-priesthood-leaders mindset, coupled with the certainty that priesthood leaders will, as mortal human beings, betimes commit sin, threatens the viability of all priesthood. It invites and almost ensures, at some point, the very abuse that is, by definition, unrighteous dominion.”

    I think there’s an unwarranted logical leap at play here, Brad. There’s a disconnect between the idea that we shouldn’t criticize leaders and the idea that those leaders will hide behind that culture to cover their sins and abuse their authority.

    Most members of the church and leaders that I have known have, in fact, behaved just the opposite. They are genuinely repentant when they make mistakes and want to do whatever they can to correct them. Your post presupposes an aspect of leaders’ personalities that should be (and in my experience is) only be present in a distinct minority and therefore cannot possibly threaten priesthood authority institutionally.

  29. (Note: I haven’t read the comments yet)

    What’s interesting to me is that under the “priesthood taken away” model there has been more than one apostasy. The common (although by no means universal) view of Elijah being taken away is that this was the taking away of the general MP from among the priesthood leaving just the Levitical. But of course even after the Apostles in late antiquity were gone the Levitical priesthood remained. So the two situations parallel each other a fair bit.

    The difficulties for this model is how new prophets got called and received priesthood (if they did at all). There’s also the tricky question of priesthood amongst the Nephites. So I think there are some real issues here before there is a coherent theological model.

    That said I think the better way to think of apostasy isn’t purely in terms of priesthood but also a certain kind of general revelation keeping the Church in check.

  30. Kevin, while I agree with your worry about putting leaders on pedestals I think there are countermovements as well. Think of say the very popular talks on Joseph Smith by Truman Madsen that emphasize Joseph’s humanity or the recent popularity of Rough Stone Rolling. (Although I sometimes wonder how many purchased copies were actually read) Likewise I think the way people who have been in leadership view other leaders (and by extension the Brethren) is different from how perhaps some lay members who have never struggled in leadership think.

    My point isn’t to deny what you say, but merely to note that the actual forces are rather more complex.

  31. Kevin, regarding your earlier point, I think we just have to accept that sometimes you’ll have a less than ideal leader in place or that sometimes sinners prosper in the short term. I’m not sure why that’s so troubling. Isn’t that life? A lot of criminals get away with it. Just judgment often only happens at final judgment.

    I guess what is amazing to me is less that there are the occasional troubled leader or that some good leaders don’t investigate problems where they should. Rather it is that this happens as rarely as it does, all things considered given the nature of human nature. Further, it is often amazing to me that despite the humanity of the Church that we don’t fail as a Church more often.

    I think that there is a sense in which you do your best to inform leaders and that thereafter the burden rests upon their shoulders. Why should we be so upset if they fail and a member happens to be able to be an adulterer despite being a former Bishop? Do we really think he’s going to escape judgment in the long term?

  32. Clark, # 30,

    It is complex. We have RSR and the picture of Joseph Smith on the front of our current PH/RS manual as examples of both a realistic view, and a somewhat more idealistic view. Fortunately, this tug of war is what helps to keep us centered and on track. “There must needs be opposition in all things….”

  33. MCQ, you’re misreading my argument, I think.

  34. ummquestion says:

    I think the entire issue is built on nothing more than faulty assumptions.

    “When not questioning or criticizing leaders, precisely because they have the Priesthood becomes a general norm by which leadership is defined (assumption that every member defines leadership by mere Priesthood ordination); when that norm shapes the expectations that dictate how leaders behave and the deference to which they begin to feel entitled (assumption that all members expect leaders to behave identically as well as the assumption that all leaders feel entitled to deference as a by-product of Priesthood ordination); and when we all internalize such logic and enforce it as an universal standard (assumption that “we all” have internalized above logic, assumption that “we all ” enforce it universally in the same way) by stigmatizing or condemning any criticism of Priesthood authority; when this attitude prevails and structures our relationships, we aren’t just facilitating abuse. We are collaborating in the destruction of Priesthood itself, stopping up the heavens, driving away the Spirit that sustains Priesthood power, turning our leaders into unwitting tyrants who kick against the pricks, supporting an empty form of priesthood, but denying the power thereof.” (HUGE and wildly speculative assumption written as if it were fact)

    Here are some more assumptions.
    If we assume that an intelligent and obedient Saint is one who reads and studies the words of the Prophets throughout time, then we can also assume that such behavior has made them aware of how the Lord feels about those who murmur and criticize His anointed. We can also assume that many of them have also made sacred covenants not to do it.

    Having obtained that knowledge, and/or made that covenant, why would any intelligent, obedient Saint risk losing the most precious blessings of the gospel by falsely accusing the Brethren of sinning without absolute proof that they have?

  35. But Brad, I quoted it.

  36. Steve Evans says:

    ummquestion, your question is obvious, but it’s also misleading; nobody is talking about falsely accusing the Brethren.

  37. No, you quoted me, then said the following:

    There’s a disconnect between the idea that we shouldn’t criticize leaders and the idea that those leaders will hide behind that culture to cover their sins and abuse their authority.

    I’m not ascribing blame to the leaders, and I think a careful reading of everything I’ve written here makes that clear. I’m ascribing (potential) blame to the ubiquity — most specifically among non leaders — of the idea that priesthood makes someone impervious to criticism or correction.

    ummquestion,
    I don’t know where you make your covenants, but I have never covenanted to refrain from criticizing, in a spirit of love and patience, any holder of the priesthood. It would be nice of you would elaborate with, say, specific words the faulty assumptions you seem to see everywhere in my argument. Most of all, I have accused no one of sinning, with or without proof.

  38. Ok, now you’re misreading me. I didn’t say you were blaming the leaders, but the implication in your argument is that if there is a culture where leaders are not questioned, the leaders will automatically abuse that culture by using it to hide their sins or engage in other manifestations of unrighteous dominion. I’m not saying that never happens, but your assumption appears to be that it would be so widespread as to cause institutional apostasy. I think that’s extremely unlikely given my experience with the vast majority of church leaders.

  39. My assumption is that it is theoretically possible for it to be so widespread as to lead to institutional apostasy. I also think that it does something fundamentally different than provide leaders cover for concealing their sins. It is itself a kind of collective sin in which we are all complicit. It is a cover for all sin, a using of priesthood to forestall the possibility of sin. I’m not saying the covered up sins constitute the abuse that drives away priesthood. I’m saying the structural concealing of possible sins makes sin, when it does happen, both harder to see and more harmful to the entire community.

  40. It’s also important to note that my argument does not stand by itself without Joseph’s sundering of priesthood from power. I can’t think of a more radically counterintuitive statement on the nature of priesthood, any kind of priesthood, than this:

    ‘No power or authority can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood.’

    Trying to work through the practical implications of that within a framework that frowns quite vigorously on the practice of ever so much as suggesting that priesthood is or could be being misused, particularly by those with considerable power at their disposal, is a delicate and troubling task. This is why we’ve never really seen a plausible explanation of where the priesthood of the primitive Church actually went, how it disappeared. Any plausible explanation would, at least potentially, implicate the modern Church, if in no other way than simply holding out the possibility that we are susceptible to it. That’s not a very popular claim, however implicit. My sense, though, is that the belief that there cannot possibly be an Apostasy of the modern Church is a vital precondition to its future possibility. These issues are challenging, to be sure; but nothing is more challenging for a sprawling, wealthy, growing, profoundly hierarchical organization than those mysterious yet unmistakably clear truths that flowed from the pen of the imprisoned prophet.

  41. But Brad, this presupposes a priesthood structure in the primitive church that mirrors our priesthood structure–that is, the ordination to the priesthood of virtually every man. Nothing I’ve read in scripture suggests that formal priesthood was nearly so widespread. (Yes, I know we’re a restorationist church, but I would argue that the restoration is more in the nature of priesthood authority and prophetic access to divine revelation, and not a mirrored organizational structure.)

    If it’s true that the institutional primitive church distributed priesthood differently than the current church, it’s possible to imagine scenarios that could have eliminated priesthood back then and not today. (As one quick example—if there are only 40 or 50 priesthood holders, most or all of whom are traveling in a world without easy transportation or communication, it’s easy enough to see everybody dying without passing on priesthood. If that were the scenario—and I’m not saying it is, just that it could be—such an apostasy would be virtually impossible in the modern church, which presumably has at least a million active priesthood holders. If all of the members of the First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve, and various quorums of the Seventy were to die at once—some sort of weird Rapture-esque scenario—there would undoubtedly be huge confusion about succession, but there would still be extant priesthood.)

  42. That is to say, I’m not sure I’m with your causal direction on the apostasy of the primitive church. I’m not convinced that apostasy was the result of priesthood leaders sowing contention; I think equally likely it was the result of losing priesthood leadership (better, prophetic leadership), and thus losing an authoritative (as opposed to a personal) connection to God.

  43. Again, this is not an argument that a certain particular kind of misuse of priesthood — say, sowing contention or publicly lying or something — led to apostasy. I don’t believe that the specific shortcomings, mistakes, or even sins of priesthood holders obviate priesthood legitimacy. The issue here is a set of enforced cultural and discursive norms that are, by definition, designed to capacitate abuse. Satan doesn’t have to work all that hard to destroy the priesthood of wicked men. The real question is, what could he possibly do to attack the priesthood of good, well-intentioned men? One thing he might seek to do is trap them in a cultural framework of expectations that invite the misuse of priesthood, that make its righteous exercise difficult or impossible.

  44. Brad,
    I think, then, that you overstate your case. I don’t see the enforcement of cultural or discoursive norms, at least not within the church. And even supposing such rules exist, they are fairly clearly not, by definition, designed to capacitate abuse. Even assuming such rules exist, there is no institutional advantage within the Church of creating rules the sole or primary purpose of which is to allow abuse. (That is not to say that such rules could not permit abuse, but without much clearer evidence, I haven’t seen anything that suggests any design intent to permit abuse.)

    And, although it’s ultimately an empirical question, in my experience, I’ve not seen anything approaching enforcement of anti-criticizing norms. In general, I don’t think the Church or church culture have a lot of enforcement ability in any event (perhaps with the exception of places that are largely Mormon). I’ve heard the sentiment expressed that we don’t criticize our leaders, although frankly, if I think about it, I can only remember second-hand tellings—I don’t think I’ve ever or almost ever heard it said directly.

    With all of that said, I certainly agree that my abusing my position (such as it is) as a priesthood holder could lead to, or even be a result of, personal apostasy. But my impression from the OP was that you were talking about institutional apostasy; I think, on the institutional level, that it’s a much harder sell.

  45. Neal Kramer says:

    Since I’ve had the chance to participate in a faculty seminar on the work of Hugh Nibley this fall, I wonder, Brad, where you think Nibley’s explanation of the apostasy in the three essays that comprise “When the Lights Went Out” comes into play.

    Nibley’s view is straightforward. He believes institutional and personal apostasy arose from a general rejection of the authority and teachings of the Apostles during the first century. He also believes that it was prophesied and therefore known among the early Christians that this rejection of the Apostles would take place and that the Lord would remove the priesthood from their midst.

    As far as I know, Nibley said nothing about the complex psychology of unrighteous dominion and its place in this early and complete apostasy in the Mediterranean and Near East. (Book of Mormon apostasy comes later.)

    So, where does this dynamic fit in with the idea growing ever more prevalent among the LDS (Nibley’s work has been followed up by others like Noel Reynolds and John Hall and to me seems to be backed up by scholars like Crossan and popularizers like Ehrmann) that the apostasy was early and perhaps complete by the end of the first century? And that God took the priesthood away because of a general rejection of the teachings and authority of the apostles which was prophesied from the days of Christ onward?

  46. Brad,
    Although ummquestion has somehow divined that you either don’t read your scriptures or that you haven’t made sacred covenants, I thought you’d like to know that it doesn’t disqualify you from being a Marxist.

  47. “He also believes that it was prophesied and therefore known among the early Christians that this rejection of the Apostles would take place and that the Lord would remove the priesthood from their midst.”

    Certainly from the LDS perspective this is true. I doubt many other Christians would interpret those scriptures or other aspects of history the same way.

    I believe it was Kierkegaard’s brother, among many others, who argued (responding to LDS claims of a great apostasy) that Jesus’ telling Peter that the “gates of hell would not prevail against the church” meant that the church would remain until the Lord came again.

    We distinguish (1) individual and group apostasy from (2) institutional apostasy (and loss of priesthood), and understand that God will allow the first, but not the second, with respect to the Restored Church. I suppose Kierkegaard’s brother might have made a similar distinction with respect to New Testament predictions of apostasy, arguing that those prophecies would not apply to the entire institution and its authority.

    One question for those more knowledgeable than I, what passages do we rely on for the proposition that the loss of priesthood in its entirety was prophesied in the New Testament (as distinct for prophecies of apostasy, falling away, or the need for the restitution of all things)?

  48. I don’t know about this don’t-criticize-priesthood-leaders culture. I simply have not seen it to an extent to be a threat. It could be there, though, in areas that are LDS majority, since relatively few there have leadership experience.

    Here, in the “mission field,” we have many opportunities to serve in relatively influential positions. I remember years ago sitting in Stake Presidency meetings and thinking, “these are ordinary men.” To me, the realization of their ordinariness was liberating. I was new enough in the Church to think that a Stake President should be really a cut above ordinary men, but no. It gave me hope that I can be of use in the Kingdom.

    Anyhow, I diverge somewhat. Here we know that I might be the next Branch President or something; there’s no clear reason why not, anyways; so I should be careful of what I do, and then, when I am not the BP, I know that the one who holds the office now is only a man like me.

    So if I see him trespassing — and I’m not talking about drinking coke or some such nonsense — I talk to him. If his answer does not satisfy me, I go to the District President, perhaps talk to the Mission President. At least the MP is not likely his hunting buddy or something, so he’s got no reason to cover up for him.

    As far as all the cries of “unrighteous dominion” against current FP & 12 re:Ca Prop 8 campaign last year — are we still on that? Like all the people who let out such a cry have been exed or something? Come on.

    We’re very tolerant of our murmurers, as is right, as per revelation. Wait a little while and see if s/he will not see the error of her/his ways…

    Sorry if I jumped to conclusions…

  49. ummquestion says:

    Brad#37

    “It would be nice of you would elaborate with, say, specific words the faulty assumptions you seem to see everywhere in my argument.”

    I did when I copied your quote in #34 (see post where I inserted comments regarding specific assumptions)

    “Most of all, I have accused no one of sinning, with or without proof.”

    Then what did you mean when you said
    “It is itself a kind of collective sin in which we are all complicit. It is a cover for all sin, a using of priesthood to forestall the possibility of sin. I’m not saying the covered up sins constitute the abuse that drives away priesthood. I’m saying the structural concealing of possible sins makes sin, when it does happen, both harder to see and more harmful to the entire community.”

    Isn’t that calling us “sinners” collectively?

    To criticize or be critical of someone means to find fault with them or their behavior. It is to judge with disapproval or condemnation. So, if the priesthood leaders in question haven’t done something overtly wrong, or sinful, or worthy of reproof, then criticizing them is merely nitpicking, steadying the ark, or being a “busy body” which are also condemned in scripture.

    In #43 you suggest that its possible for “Satan” to “trap” good Priesthood holders within a cultural framework that most posters don’t appear to believe exists. Don’t you believe that God was/is aware of that framework? And yet doesn’t He still command us to REFRAIN from being critical of those He has placed in positions of authority?

    In other words, if God Himself was worried or concerned that His people were, or might in the future, enable His leaders to sin and conceal it by staying silent or being afraid to criticize them, wouldn’t He have commanded us to watch them constantly, speak up at every opportunity, hold their feet to the fire if you will?

    As far as I read the scriptures, it seems that God has had far more to say about about members who murmur and meddle and spread contention than He has about any “sin” or wrong doing that might get hidden by those He foreordained to lead His church.

  50. DavidH: “God will allow [individual and group apostasy], but not [institutional apostasy (and loss of priesthood)], with respect to the Restored Church.”

    Brad: “Institutions do not hold the Priesthood; only people with bodies do.”

    Elder McConkie: “If there is to be agency…an unfettered power of choice must prevail.”

    I do not see how the first statement can be true if the second and/or third is true (and I gather you all agree that the third is true).

    Is it really true that the agency of the 70, the 12, the 3, even the 1, are constrained such that it is impossible for the Church to be corrupted? Just because God has entrusted the Restored Gospel to men does not imply (to me at least) that this trust is a certain bet, that man will not abuse or reject this trust, else how would it deserve the name trust?

    Does God have more confidence in today’s Christians than he had in the first Christians? If so, is it God or Man that has improved to make this work better the second time around?

    Perhaps the comments would benefit from actual citations of specific scriptures, doctrines, or covenants? Without them, I as a non-Mormon am left at a severe disadvantage in knowing who or what to believe.

  51. ummquestion,

    Given the zeal with which you defend the Church against naysayers, it almost seems to me as though it is you who are lacking confidence in its ability to prevail, not God. Is the suppression of opposition really the most effective way to build the kingdom?

    Elder Stapley wrote: “As spirit children of God, we have built-in powers of conscience sufficient to develop our free agency in right choices and to acquire qualities of goodness, humility, and integrity of purpose.” If Elder Stapley has confidence in Brad’s ability to distinguish destructive slander from thoughtful dissent, then who am I to disagree?

    Video et taceo. Perhaps the world will not come to an end if man is left to question even those who are right.

  52. Ummmquestion,
    You said, “Isn’t that calling us “sinners” collectively?”

    I guess if you assume that Brad’s hypothetical is not hypothetical, then he’s definitely calling us all sinners if we were to turn a blind eye while the hierarchy misused its authority to systematically conceal sins.

  53. I understand and appreciate the logic of the post, and believe it’s perfectly true, though I never thought of it this way before. Excellent point, Brad!

  54. yes, blt, ummquestion appears to be ascribing to me claims I have not made. I haven’t made any specific factual claims about the past or present. I’m trying to put together a plausible framework for thinking about how it might be possible for a bunch of people who recognize and embrace the truth and have priesthood in their midst to lose it, other than, “well, they decided they didn’t want it and, ya know, being now evil guys they rejected it.” That’s a comforting way of thinking about it in that it makes it easy for us to sustain the belief that we, as a Church today, are categorically immune from it. Individuals can lose their priesthood by breaking with the Church, but the Church (which, by the way, cannot have the priesthood) will never lose it. And of course, we don’t need to take any measures or even take seriously the possibility of something like collective apostasy since we’re impervious to it. I’m not arguing that the discursive norms I’ve described here are irreversibly widespread in modern Mormonism. I’m trying to think through how this might happen in a way that actually implicates us, something we can all see at least plausibly occurring. If my theory of apostasy had been something like, “well we have to be really careful, because if we’re not, we might all decide to reject and murder the apostles” that might have been reassuring in terms of our immunity from falling, but not very practical.

  55. and, ummquestion, as regards #34. Those are not my assumptions. Those are your assumptions about me, which you then ascribe to me. It’s a clever trick, and if it makes it easier for you to feel better about categorically rejecting my argument, more power to you, I guess. Of course, you could have categorically rejected it on its face, without the outlandish, caricatured reading.

  56. “And, although it’s ultimately an empirical question, in my experience, I’ve not seen anything approaching enforcement of anti-criticizing norms. In general, I don’t think the Church or church culture have a lot of enforcement ability in any event (perhaps with the exception of places that are largely Mormon). I’ve heard the sentiment expressed that we don’t criticize our leaders, although frankly, if I think about it, I can only remember second-hand tellings—I don’t think I’ve ever or almost ever heard it said directly.”

    I find this frankly stunning. I’m wondering where Sam B. lives, because I think I’d like to move there. ummmmquestion has shown us a nifty example of the kind of pressure not to criticize that, in my experience, is nearly ubiquitous in the church.

  57. And, to follow up on Kristine’s point, as hard as I’ve been on ummquestion here, I have no illusions about the fact that his perspective (her?) on the (in)appropriateness of questioning or critiquing priesthood leaders (or criticizing cultural norms regarding leadership-veneration) is much, much more representative of most Mormons than mine is.

  58. Brad,
    Do you really think it’s a good idea to use both gender personal pronouns to describe ummmquestion given the reading that . . . the spiritual being embodied in the person of ummquestion has given you thus far?

  59. And yet doesn’t He still command us to REFRAIN from being critical of those He has placed in positions of authority?

    Apologies if this was meant to be rhetorical, but I’ll answer it anyway with an absolute, unqualified, categorical No.

    As far as I read the scriptures, it seems that God has had far more to say about about members who murmur and meddle and spread contention than He has about any “sin” or wrong doing that might get hidden by those He foreordained to lead His church.

    Of course you are entitled to read whatever you want, regardless of how creative or wrested it is, into the scriptures.

    More generally, let me just say that your, ahem, vigorous reaction against my argument is in no way a deeply ironic, unwitting defense or powerful anecdotal evidence of its validity

  60. Brad,
    I second Neal’s question. Do the two interpretations fit together, or are you refuting the Nib?

  61. Ron Madson says:

    brad’s point:

    ‘That’s what makes unrighteous dominion so dangerous — it conceals its own exercise under the cloak of priesthood, and frames acts of disclosure of its existence as evil speaking.”

    Brilliant statement and original post. Virtue with or without the priesthood NEEDS no extra layers of compulsion or even covenantal protection—it stands independent.

    And FWIW while serving a mission in Lyon, France I and my companion had the audacity to demand an audience with the ArchBishop of Lyon. His assistant entertained us. He showed us a 6o foot tapestry in this mammoth cathedral showing the precise lineage of ordinations of the Priesthood (unbroken) from John to the present day. He also told us that that Priesthood has been proliferated and held by millions to this day—unbroken. So where do we come up with the concept that the ordinations and passing on stopped? That it lost it’s power institutionally even though passed on just proves Brad’s point IMO.

  62. Wow, I wonder if there are digital copies of that tapestry to be seen anywhere.

  63. blt,
    I don’t really buy the logic that says that lots of people rejecting the Church leaders drives the Church into apostasy. It’s a bit of reasoning that reinforces the uncritical veneration of leaders. My argument — that unwillingness to question or critique leaders breeds unrighteous dominion and drives priesthood out the doors — does not really square with the argument that criticism or even rejection of leaders leads to collective Apostasy. As to the timing of Apostasy (whether it’s late 1st century or later), it’s not really relevant to what here is not a historical analysis so much as a sociological theory.

  64. Ron Madson says:

    Steve G,
    I don’t know.

    Brad #63. I recently read “Botany of Desire” by Michael Pollan. The first chapter examined the nature of apples. Apple seeds do not replicate the parent. They are incredibly diverse. To create a “perfect, orthodox orchard” you must graft. However, if you graft and never allow diversity to arise through sexual pollination the germs, fungi and bacteria evolve but the orchid does not–not allowing the “heresy” or check and balances of diversity to arise. Thus the orchid requires more and more pesticides to keep up to the point that the orchard is lost–because the orchard demanded uniformity and no differences to arise which differences protect ironically the whole orchard through it’s evolving diversity.
    I am doing the chapter injustice in such a short explanation but the point and analogy is that an institution, a people, and even a church must have the wisdom to allow criticism and differences that checks and balances the non-evolution that will occur if it is NOT allowed but cut off.

    You are dead on IMO on your post and subsequent explanations….virtue and strength and faith needs no external protection from within—its virtue is its defense.

  65. Antonio Parr says:

    Ummquestion:

    You write:

    If we assume that an intelligent and obedient Saint is one who reads and studies the words of the Prophets throughout time, then we can also assume that such behavior has made them aware of how the Lord feels about those who murmur and criticize His anointed. We can also assume that many of them have also made sacred covenants not to do it.

    Is there a difference between “murmuring” and “criticizing?” By way of hypothetical, if one sustains Elder Oaks in his calling, but “criticizes” his recent analogy of the experiences of Post-Proposition 8 retaliation against Latter-Day Saints and the retaliatory experiences of Blacks fighting for civil rights, does this constitute “murmuring and criticizing”; just “murmuring”; just “criticizing”; or something else? And is one still “criticizing” a general authority if the disagreement is only with the teaching of the general authority, and not his character and/or worthiness for his office?

  66. TP,
    “Murmuring” or “criticizing” is in the eye of the beholder, in this case of persons like ummquestion who (DEFINITELY DO NOT) enforce cultural or discursive norms that stigmatize or delegitimate acts of questioning or not properly venerating the authority that leaders have (by virtue of their priesthood) to not be criticized.

  67. Ron Madson says:

    We say that the “Lord” has made it clear how He feels about murmuring and criticizing leaders. During Christ’s ministry when did “He” specifically say (“the words of Christ”) that He did not want anyone to criticize his church leaders or murmur?

    I know he said they would be persecuted and in so doing be blessed, but when did he say he wanted to murmuring or criticizing of leaders then or in the future. And I mean narrowly His words and not what someone said He wants..

    “it has been said of old” such and such and “it has been written” but I am hear to tell you what my kingdom is really like–not what you think it is like

  68. Furthermore, when Jesus warned the apostles that they should expect persecution, I don’t think he had the murmuring of recalcitrant Church members in mind…

  69. The more I think about it, the less satisfying I find the “mutiny” model of Apostasy, i.e. the notion that priesthood vanished because followers rejected the priesthood authority of leaders. Joseph’s model of priesthood loss is leader-centric not murmuring-followers-centric. Note the revelation on the rights of the priesthood does not read:

    “That they can be conferred upon our leaders is true; but when we undertake to accuse them of sins, or of gratifying their pride, or of vain ambition, or of exercising control or dominion or compulsion upon the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves, the Spirit of the Lord is grieved, and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of those rejected leaders.”

    or:

    “We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as some other men get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to criticize and murmur against those authorized men and accuse them of exercising unrighteous dominion. Hence, followers are called, but leaders are chosen.”

    or:

    “Power and influence can and ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, as well as by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, &c, &c.”

    This manifesto on the rights of the priesthood (revealed as JSJ hit rock bottom in terms of humility and utter powerlessness) suggests that attempts to explain the disappearance of priesthood in terms of followers rejecting the authority of leaders are misdirected. Priesthood is forfeited, and Apostasy lies at the door, when leaders abuse their authority, not when followers criticize or reject it.

  70. Priesthood is forfeited, and Apostasy lies at the door, when leaders abuse their authority, not when followers criticize or reject it.

    I think that is a false dichotomy. I could quote any number of passages from the Old Testament that demonstrate the opposite condition. It is the theme of more books of the Old Testament than not. Unless they are all wrong…

  71. Well, if we’re going to proof-text Old Testament stories to argue about what kinds of behavior are or are not appropriate for priesthood holders and their followers, then…

    I’m comfortable putting the bulk of my eggs in JSJ’s basket (121), here — even if it means setting aside Joshua’s ethnic cleansing of the canaanites. Different strokes, I suppose.

  72. I don’t know why so many are going after Brad about this post. He is a well-established perma around here and has a track record of insightful, faith-building posts over time.

    I think you’re A-OK, Brad, no matter what anyone says!

  73. You’re making me blush, James. But I suspect that “Brad is a well-established perma around here” is not exactly reassuring to those taking issue with this post.

  74. Nor is the fact that the church leaders tend to have been around the block a few times particularly reassuring to people taking issue with their positions (I’m not one of them…but the idea holds).

  75. ummquestion says:

    Careful, all these harsh comments about me could be viewed as evidence that there is some kind of counter-culture that likes to stigmatize or delegitimize people who criticize those who encourage criticism…:-)

    Brad, I’m trying to get you to accept the premise that some members might choose not to criticize their leaders for reasons OTHER than the fact that they “hold the Priesthood”.

    -Some members aren’t uncomfortable with the things that make other uncomfortable enough to criticize.
    -Some members just aren’t the types that are prone to rock the boat.
    -Some members take their critical feelings to the Lord and find peace with them.
    -Some members trust the Lord to guide His leaders in righteousness and punish them in wickedness.
    -Some members give leaders more latitude than others because they’ve either been in their shoes, they don’t view certain circumstances as “wrong” or “corrupt” when another might, or they have gained a testimony that specific leaders are led by God and doing the best they can etc.
    -Some members make a concerted effort to have the Spirit with them when they listen to their leaders and obtain an immediate witness that they are speaking the truth and therefore do not disagree with anything they might have said.
    -Some members have sinned themselves and feel too guilty to throw stones at someone else.
    -Some members believe that God will withdraw His spirit and blessings from those who engage in certain behaviors.
    -And yes, some members venerate “The Priesthood”

    Your entire point is founded on the idea that MOST (if not all) members who don’t “speak up” against Church leaders act that way because of some veneration of the “Priesthood” power/office/title etc. My point is that without proof, your argument is based on the false premise that a given body of people acting in the same manner always have the same motives.

  76. Wait–Brad is a well-established perma here?? Sheesh, if only we’d known! I thought he might be a perma, but I had no idea that he was well-established. Everyone shut up and stop criticizing him immediately!

    Ok, there you go Brad. Now what was it you were saying again?

  77. I always thought that social norms dictate politeness for guests and allow us to “hurt the ones we love” like family and permas. No?

  78. ummquestion says:

    But James…
    If I am critical of Brad’s theory (not Brad as a person) yet I remain quiet out of fear because criticizing someone who holds the title/position/authority of “perma” here is viewed as arrogant and rebellious, then according to Brad’s argument-aren’t I guilty of participating in a structure that allows “permas” to hide behind their authority and exercise unrighteous dominion?

    Siiiiiiiiiiiiiigh

  79. Brad, as to certain notorious incidents in the Old Testament, I think we have every reason to believe that they weren’t inspired and that any suggestion to the contrary in the text was manufactured.

    On the other hand, I am not willing to throw out the writings of every prophet from Isaiah to Malachi without some plausible explanation for why they would be making it all up, to begin with.

    With someone like Isaiah we are not talking about a verse here or there, we are talking about the whole book – virtually every chapter from first to last. Nearly all of the other prophetic works in the Old Testament are similar.

    It is not like what these prophets were criticizing was unique to their time:
    – greed, corruption, infidelity, oppression, unkindness, selfishness, materialism, neglect of the poor and the sick, and on and on.

  80. congratulations ummquestion, you have exposed my efforts to work as Brad’s schill in what might be seen the first great apostasy from the bloggernacle itself…

  81. I’ll take the whole of scriptures over one scripture that deals with individual, and not institutional, loss of priesthood. And for me the scriptures witness that the Priesthood is lost when the general membership of the Church reject Revelation and Authority (i.e. the Prophets). In fact, its often a bottom up destruction where the people become wicked and those in authority decide to pander to the will of the people (although more often then not kill the prophets and usurp their authority) and reject the Word of the Lord. The only time I can think of when the Leadership starts the destruction process is when the secular authorities (Kings) reject the prophets.

    In other words I have to paraphrase Dan Weston, Perhaps the post would benefit from actual citations of specific scriptures, doctrines, or covenants? Otherwise, it is simply prooftext from one source without context.

    Actually to answer Dan Weston, it isn’t that the Lord wouldn’t allow his servants to sin, but that He has the power and foresight to counteract their choices to protect the Church of his last days. By the way, if the Scriptures mean anything then it isn’t that the Church in the last days will not allow for another Apostacy. It is that the End will come before such a drastic possibility can happen again.

  82. Jettboy–

    You called for citations and specifics, yet you provided none. I assume you have some in mind to support your first paragraph? I am not being contentious–just desiring to know what you are referring to.

  83. (shaking my head in disgust at myself for having just invited Jettboy to paste copious scripture references into a thread…)

  84. Mark,
    I mistook your OT comment as a reference powerful leaders who acted under the aegis of priesthood. I’m with you on the Hebrew prophets, none of whom, interestingly, are described in their texts as members of a political or administrative hierarchy.

    I’ll take the whole of scriptures over one scripture that deals with individual, and not institutional, loss of priesthood.

    What I’ll take is an explanation of exactly how an entity that cannot have the priesthood (i.e. an “institution” or anything other than an actual person) can lose it. If my reading of section 121 constitutes a prooftexting without context, I’d be delighted — indeed, I think we’d all be privileged — to witness a more enlightened reading (which I’m sure you’re prepared to furnish). If your creative reading of the whole of scriptural canon — in which the stupid, arrogant, general membership trick righteous leaders into mass apostasy by rejecting their righteous authority — is an indicator, I think we’re in for a real treat. If you can wrest 121 into parroting that vision, your rhetorical skillz are masterful indeed.

  85. And, for the record (and quite unlike Scott), I am being contentious.

  86. This discussion looks to have ended, but I’m surprised that no one has dred into the discussion D&C 64:8, which, if read in the context John Welch suggests in “Modern Revelation: A Guide to Research about the Apostasy” (from the Noel Reynolds book on the Apostasy), could support Brad’s conception.
    See http://mi.byu.edu/publications/books/?bookid=42&chapid=204. This book is posted entirely online and is great from what I have read so far.

  87. Jettboy-

    First, I’m not sure where Brad predicted another full-on apostasy – did he? Second, my reading of the OP does not describe a “top down” apostasy (driven conscientiously by ill-meaning leaders), but instead bottom up…not through outright rejection, but the gradual embrace of group norms that create a dynamic that undermines the priesthood after the manner described in D&C 121.

  88. I couldn’t have said it better myself, James.

    I can distill my position according to a handful of key (and interdependent) points:

    1) “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood.”

    2) Institutions, organizations, groups, churches, etc., cannot lose the priesthood because they cannot hold it.

    3) Individuals may forfeit priesthood through the “top-down” (to leverage a perhaps overly simplistic dichotomy that has emerged in the discussion) processes described in section 121.

    In our relationships with our leaders, when we embrace their authority, we reject their priesthood.

    4) General, collective priesthood forfeiture (aka Apostasy) is a byproduct of the gradual embrace and implementation of social and discursive norms that operationalize the processes described in 121 and enable them to spread like a contagion.

    I’ll add one more to the mix, after brief explanation. The hardest pushback against my arguments here has come from folks who, with varying degrees of vigor, argued that mass priesthood forfeiture comes from followers rejecting the priesthood of leaders. I’ve realized that these people have a point, but I just have to change how I think about what constitutes priesthood rejection. Here’s my final maxim: when we use priesthood as a reinforcement for the authority of our leaders, we undermine it; when we equate the administrative and hierarchical authority of leaders with their priesthood, we eclipse the latter with the former; in fine, when we confuse priesthood with hierarchical privilege, we reject priesthood. When we do it on behalf of our leaders, we reject their priesthood.

    5) (priesthood = administrative/hierarchical authority) = rejection of priesthood.

    So now I’m basically arguing the same thing Jettboy and ummquestion are. We all agree that priesthood is collectively forfeited when people collectively reject the priesthood of their leaders. The difference now is how that rejection is defined. Some would argue that refusing to equate hierarchical power with priesthood (by refusing to submit to or deigning to criticize the power because of the priesthood that underpins it) is a rejection of priesthood. I am asserting (and claiming JSJ as my witness) that equating priesthood with hierarchical authority is a rejection of priesthood. We reject their priesthood by embracing their authority, turn them into masters by submitting to them as slaves. It threatens the priesthood of the leader in question, and the very essence of Priesthood.

    And, of course, this whole framework would be ridiculously imaginative were it not for that pesky revelation on priesthood (cf. Maxim #1).

  89. Brad,
    Regarding #1. Could you clarify how you are interpreting “only by” in 121? Is it a synonym of “unless”?

  90. “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by…”

    I’m saying that power and influence exist outside of the Venn-circle that contains priesthood. Certain kinds of power and influence are compatible with priesthood, can exist alongside it without threatening it. Others, not so much. When we equate power, especially hierarchical organizational authority, with priesthood — when we do so on behalf of our leaders — we yoke them into a master/slave relationship in which patience, long-suffering, kindness, gentleness, meekness, love unfeigned, etc., have no purchase. This is compounded by the fact that leaders are imperfect, i.e. they will sin and will need repentance. Our turning them into slavemasters combines with their own sins — however few — to interfere with, even remove, their freedom not to exercise unrighteous dominion. That is why Christ is the only being whose power is not threatened by our unconditional submission to Him. When we unconditionally submit to any lesser man, we turn him into a devil.

  91. Brad,
    I think it might also be prudent to point out that this doesn’t mean we have to take a position of constant skepticism toward our leaders. We don’t need to turn our interactions with them into an episode of Real Time With Bill Maher in order to keep from rejecting the priesthood. We would merely need to not shout down people when they raise concerns.
    Am I reading that right?

  92. basically, yes. I still stand firmly behind the penultimate paragraph of the original post.

  93. Brad, I appreciate this post and your resiliency to some unfortunate comments; I think I am formulating a post in response.

    That said, I think that this statemtent is generally indeffensible: “In our relationships with our leaders, when we embrace their authority, we reject their priesthood.” If priesthood is authority, which is easily demonstrable, then this statement is false.

    I also think your parsing of 121:41, isn’t supportable by the text itself. Jessee’s transcript of the letter: “No power or influance can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion by long suffering, by gentleness and meakness and by loved unfaigned….” I agree that priesthood does not equal power. But power in the priesthood, is certainly righteously accessible. How else can one “reprove betimes with sharpness” without presupposed influence?

    JS description of Enoch is particularly illustrative: “every one being ordained after this order and calling should have power, by faith” to perform great miracles. Note that the power is by faith, but it is expected that those in the Enochian order should have access to power.

  94. I would firstly like to say a to post and some good quality responses as well, even if I did not agree with many of them. But, I have a question.

    Earlier on it was mentioned that Brad should have gone to the next level of the Area Presidency to say that the Stake President was not looking in to it correctly. I am not saying this just to stir up a hornet’s nest and I am certain that some people may think I am an absolute disgrace in saying this.

    What would you do if a Stake Presidency (all of whom I have known for years and have a great deal of love for) were just completely incapable? I am a member of a ward that has not been able to function correctly for over three years because when we recommend people for callings nothing happens. Due to illness, we have been without a High Priest Group Leader for four months, even though we put in a recommendation six months ago. Two years ago it took five months to replace our Elders Quorum President. Three years ago, even though they knew the Bishop was due to move to out of the ward for months before hand, we actually went for eight and a half months without a Bishop. It is like this in all of the wards in the stake where people have been waiting for months and months for callings to happen.

    This is not anything to do with unrighteousness and transgressions, it is simply down to a lack of understanding and capability on their part. To begin, with I would chastise those who criticised, now I, along with most of the Stake, criticise. Yes it could be classed as fault finding; but unfortunately, it is harder to miss the faults than it is to find them at the minute.

    This is a case where the leaders are not in apostasy, yet there in ability to lead and administrate, is causing people to fall into apostasy. Although we have had probably 300 people baptised since they have been in place, we now have dropped by probably 200 members who are active.

    My question is – what, if anything, can be done?

  95. Dillon, I’m sorry that you’re having to deal with that, but I think that public speculation about leaders’ flaws in a particular case is always a bad idea, and I’m unwilling to have BCC be a forum for it.

  96. Ron Madson says:

    What is the power of God? Of Christ? Do they derive power from authority? Or is it derived by “virtue” and “virtue” alone? They command the elements and then they “watch” to see if they are obeyed. Their power is their “honor” (DC 29:36).
    Of course, someone is given authority or position but it is per DC 121 but only to be maintained by it’s invitation to emulate the virtues exhibited—it is NOT to be “maintained by virtue of the priesthood”—or authority given.
    I think Brad’s post and follow up comments are hitting at the root and not the branches! The root problem with ANY authority or position or even priesthood (which is right to administer and exercise authority in the kingdom) is that the very moment it uses it’s authority/priesthood as a reason (any degree of compulsion–even compulsion for noble ends) then that priesthood unwittingly begins to evaporate. It can ONLY be maintained by the virtues articulated—even as Christ maintained his priesthood by not doing as the gentiles using position or authority or even priesthood to compel.

  97. J,
    I’m not saying priesthood leaders don’t have power or influence (in the sense of having it over other beings — to me, at it’s core, the priesthood entails two powers: to seal, and to resurrect). I’m saying social power doesn’t come from priesthood. And that there are only certain kinds of influence or power (“only by…”) which are compatible with priesthood, in the sense that they can exist alongside it without shutting it off.

  98. It is one thing to risk your own priesthood, but that of your offspring for all eternity?

    According to D&C 121:18-21:

    “And those who swear falsely against my servants, that they might bring them into bondage and death—…They shall not have right to the priesthood, nor their posterity after them from generation to generation.”

    Is this to be interpreted statistically, as it: if you leave the Church, your children are unlikely to find their way back? Or does this literally mean that the sin (and loss of priesthood) of the father is literally visited on the son?

  99. Dan Weston, neither of your readings quite fit. In order to meet the text’s criteria, you need to perjure yourself with the intent of sending God’s servants — which, by the way, doesn’t mean leaders, but rather everyone who serves God — to an unearned death. Leaving the church doesn’t come close.

    The scriptures do routinely describe children being punished for their parents’ sins, even though our Articles of Faith disavow this concept. It’s a dilemma.

  100. The scriptures do routinely describe children being punished for their parents’ sins, even though our Articles of Faith disavow this concept. It’s a dilemma.

    Really? Joseph Fielding Smith (hold the eyeroll until I’m done, please) said, regarding this particular issue, that Dan’s first interpretation is about right:

    “You have an idea that [this phrase] means that when a man sins his children will be held responsible for his folly and be punished for it, for three or four generations. The commandment does not mean anything of this kind…The real meaning of this visiting of the iniquity is that when a man transgresses he teaches his children to transgress, and they follow his teachings. It is natural for children to follow in the practices of their fathers and by doing so suffer for the parents’ iniquity which they have voluntarily brought upon themselves.”

    Barring some excellent reasoning, which you may well have, this is convincing enough for me.

  101. Scott, the main problem I have with that argument is that it often doesn’t fit the text well. The text Smith is drawing on is this one:

    Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me… (Exodus 20:5).

    If the sinfulness of the children is a natural consequence of their fathers’ deeds, as Smith suggests, then how is that evidence that God is a “jealous God”? It just doesn’t compute. In the scripture, God is the personal agent of the visitation of sin on subsequent generations — this isn’t articulated as a general law of nature, but rather as the explicit and affirmative act of deity. This seems problematic to me, too, but it’s nonetheless the way the scriptures characterize God, and it corresponds with how God sometimes acts in the Old Testament, as well. Innocents are not often spared in divine acts of vengeance in those books.

  102. Well, there you go!

  103. J.
    Are you still doing the series on D&C lessons? I always looked forward to reading your articles..

  104. ummquestion says:

    Brad #90 said:

    “When we equate power, especially hierarchical organizational authority, with priesthood — when we do so on behalf of our leaders — we yoke them into a master/slave relationship in which patience, long-suffering, kindness, gentleness, meekness, love unfeigned, etc., have no purchase. This is compounded by the fact that leaders are imperfect, i.e. they will sin and will need repentance. Our turning them into slavemasters combines with their own sins — however few — to interfere with, even remove, their freedom not to exercise unrighteous dominion. That is why Christ is the only being whose power is not threatened by our unconditional submission to Him. When we unconditionally submit to any lesser man, we turn him into a devil.”

    It is the dramatic end to which you drive your argument is what makes it completely implausible to me. How we perceive our leaders or act towards them has absolutely NO ability to “yoke” them into anything. You can lead a man to power and authority, but you cannot MAKE him a tyrant. King Benjamin, Moses, Alma the Elder and others come to mind. Not only were they the “religious” leaders of their people, but they were the social and political leaders as well. At no point did they become slave masters. The entire body of Church members could exercise their individual agencies and bow down and worship our leaders as Gods but those men would STILL have the agency to choose NOT to accept that worship or exercise unrighteous dominion.

    I think there is a HUGE range of situations between “not criticizing” and “unconditional submission”. You seem to seriously be equating the choice NOT being vocal against leaders with both unconditional agreement AND unconditional submission, and that is not a rational leap no matter how many times you quote one verse in D&C 121.

    From The Encyclopedia of Mormonism- under Priesthood-
    “In times of apostasy and wickedness, God has not permitted his servants to confer the priesthood on the unworthy, and it has been lost from the earth. When necessary, the priesthood has been restored with each new dispensation of the gospel.
    Following the ascension of Jesus Christ and the death of his apostles, apostasy occurred in the Christian church and priesthood authority was taken from the earth.”

    In other words, it is perfectly reasonable to conclude that the MEMBERS of the ancient Church became wicked and unworthy to be ordained to the priesthood and God commanded further ordinations to be stopped. Those who already held the priesthood who became unworthy themselves had the power and authority withdrawn by God, and those who continued to live righteously probably kept it until they eventually died.

    Joseph Smith said that “There has been a chain of authority and power from Adam down to the present time”. It is no stretch to believe that many were given permission by God to ordain worthy others, in the same manner that Abraham obtained the priesthood, and Moses etc. But the KEYS required to administer the ordinances and covenants within an authorized ORGANIZATION were not passed on-and thus the organized“Church” could not continue.

    The last men to hold those organizational keys were the same men who restored them to earth by giving them to Joseph Smith.

  105. Antonio Parr says:

    As a short-term, practical approach, how about refraining from making any negative comments about the Brethren, and prefacing any disagreement with any of their statements with three-fold comments of praise and support.

    In other words, love them the way that Jesus loves us.

  106. Nate, in theory, yes. In practice, time has been short. Also the late lessons in the D&C manual have, ahem, varying degrees of scriptural content, creating a real challenge for the series.

  107. Antonio Parr says:

    To comment on my comment . . .

    Perhaps the reason we are told to refrain from “evil speaking” of the Lord’s annointed is not because they are akin to royalty or somehow infallible, but, instead, because by virtue of accepting their callings, they are placed in high profile positions that require them to say and do lots and lots of things. They don’t have the luxury that we have of sitting back and judging. Instead, they are called to teach and to serve, and, thanks be to God, they accept the calling and do their best, personal weaknesses and shortcomings notwithstanding.

    Since our leaders did not seek these callings, how unChrstian of us to mock them for the imperfections that undoubtedly will surface as they go about their service to us.

  108. Antonio, so, let’s try not to mock. But constructive feedback, even when critical, isn’t the same as mocking.

  109. Ron Madson says:

    What is “evil” speaking? And when is speaking not “evil.?

    How does one/you define “evil”?

    1. Is it that it is UNtrue?

    2. Is it that it is negative rather then positive? Is that the test?

    3. Is it simply any expression, thought or insinuation no matter how slight that might be considered not fully supporting ANY position held by one with authority/priesthood?

    4. Does “reproving betimes” only apply in one direction if moved upon by the spirit?

    And finally, I think it might be of value to understand the origins of the covenant to not speak “EVIL” of the Lord’s anointed. What was it patterned after? What “evil” speaking were the brethren concerned might be uttered as the time these words were penned as part of the endowment?

  110. Antonio Parr says:

    108. J

    I agree. I see a distinction between disagreeing with a teaching and attacking the teacher. The former can be loving and constructive, the latter not so.

  111. You seem to seriously be equating the choice NOT being vocal against leaders with both unconditional agreement AND unconditional submission…

    You seem to be reading an entirely different post and series of comments than the ones I’ve written. I haven’t said that anything negative flows from refraining from criticism, in itself. It’s when we try to enforce non-criticism standards on others, or when we refuse to criticize, not out of charity and an acknowledgment of the things that AP mentions in #107 or I mention in the second to last paragraph of the OP, but out of fear, out of a sense that it isn’t appropriate because of their office or position, etc., that problems enter.

    Your criticisms of me have been sharp and rooted in what appear to be wildly uncharitable (mis)readings of what I’ve said.

    You’d better hope that I’m not a priesthood leader just pretending to be a no-authority-havin’ blogger.

  112. Brad, I enjoyed this post and the comments about it. It is a very important topic. I apologize in advance for the length of this comment.

    I had an experience a while ago that explains how I feel about the general issue of how we relate to leaders who teach things that we don’t see as core Gospel doctrine. I know this isn’t directly on the central point of the post, but it’s offered as a word of caution – since I believe wide-spread apostasy can germinate at the top or the bottom, but I also believe too many people see apostasy in things that simply are the natural result of being human.

    I had lived in a stake for a while, and I really liked (generally) the messages I had heard and the spirit I had felt in that stake. In particular, I had been deeply impressed by the Stake Presidency and the rest of the Stake leadership.

    One Sunday, someone in a position of authority spoke, and I was touched by most of it. Then, this brother focused on a lesson his son had learned one day. Frankly, most of the youth in attendance would have had miserable years in high school if they had tried to live the lesson this leader shared with us.

    My wife knew I was chafing at the last 15 minutes of the talk. When I mentioned it to her, she said, “I knew you would be uncomfortable with it.” We talked about it on the way home with my kids, and the three oldest said they just tuned it out once he started talking about the lessons his son had learned. There might have been someone there who needed to hear that “lesson”, but I’m fairly certain it was not a good lesson for most of the youth who heard it.

    My point is simple:

    That part of his talk was frustrating for me and my family, but I sustain our Stake leadership and believe firmly they are inspired, good leaders. I just don’t agree with this “lesson” one of them shared. That doesn’t lessen my respect for him in the slightest, especially since I am POSITIVE that someone, somewhere, sometime will say the exact same thing about a lesson I share with them.

    I respect the man and the office he strives to magnify too much to invest emotionally in the areas where we disagree. I don’t want this experience to block or cloud my view of his overall character. Life’s too short and precious to waste any of it on a few minutes of an otherwise great meeting.

    I agree totally that we need to confront (in a Christ-like manner) apostasy and its seeds when we encounter them, and I agree that apostasy can occur from the top down as well as the bottom up, but I also am concerned that we not call something apostasy or apostate (or condemn someone and/or what s/he says) when, in fact, apostasy is far from the situation. Otoh, I also believe our scriptures state clearly that apostasy will exist to some degree in the Church after the final grafting – that the pruning described at the end of Jacob 5 is within the Church, so I agree completely that we need to be open to its appearance and be willing to address it.

    I’m just concerned about HOW we address it – since, as your own central passage makes clear, addressing it correctly is not the natural disposition of nearly all men.

  113. Ron Madson says:

    Brad,

    Correct me if I misunderstand your OP and followup comments.

    Are you saying that the issue is not whether we should criticize or not criticize leaders or the “church” or those that hold the “priesthood” but when the “priesthood” or “church” or “leaders” begin to use their authority/priesthood as THE shield from all dissent or challenges then THAT is when the Priesthood is being maintained NOT based on it’s inherent virtue, kindness, etc. but is being “maintained” by virtue of it’s authority—??

    In other words, when the Priesthood or authority says “obey me because of my position and authority” then that priesthood unwittingly begins it’s own demise. For example, when an authority says “I will never lead you astray” or “I am to be considered or treated inerrant” whether I am or not by virtue of my authority or position, then that authority is no longer God’s priesthood but something that the gentiles practice and inflict each other with?

    Authority is needed and organization necessary but is not the kingdom of God to be run differently then the kingdoms of men? That the greatest is the least and servant of all? That the “greatest” should never use fear, intimidation, or DEMAND for respect or silence by virtue of it’s authority—-it either is or is not given by virtue of it’s nature.

    The history of the Catholic church is instructive as you point out. Infallibility and inerrancy and respect was demanded, and as more dissent/protestations arose the demand that members respect their authority became more enforced through fear–threats of damnation and actual torture. That demand and doctrines growing out it was the apostasy?

  114. Ron,
    You’re getting it mostly right, though your account seems to put much more of the agency on the leaders than mine does. It’s comforting to have leaders we can believe in, and we can feel threatened when others say things that impeach our unquestioned belief. I really think that the key danger does lie in the body of the Church rejecting the priesthood of leaders; but I also think that when we equate whatever organizational, hierarchical, or administrative power/authority they have with their priesthood, when we treat their priesthood as their authority and unquestioningly submit and uncritically defer to them primarily because of their authority (which we equate with priesthood), then we are rejecting their priesthood. And when we attack, stigmatize, condemn, or question the motives or righteousness of those who don’t toe the line, who don’t defer to or submit to or properly “respect” authority the way we think they should — when such demands for conformity to an authoritarian vision of priesthood and leadership come to shape the cultural and discursive norms within the Church — to the extent that this happens, our rejection begins to spread itself like a virus.

  115. Ron Madson says:

    Got it! Well said!
    For the record my limited experience with GAs is that they are personally very humble, gracious, and Christlike. And as Nibley stated in “Criticizing the Brethren” we need to cut them some slack. But in this age of instant information and fact checking they are under a microscope. But I suspect that it is OUR lack of faith in personal revelation and our own weakness that we place on them expectations that allows in turn such concepts as “the will never lead us astray” doctrine (which IMO is a false doctrine) to be stated, repeated and perpetuated. And in so doing we begin to demand of each other something that was never intended—to never question or dissent when our conscience tells us otherwise out of fear and to condemn anyone who does….

  116. Remember, it was Brigham Young (a man not exactly uncomfortable with exercizing a lion’s share of power) who told the saints that unquestioningly obeying or submitting to the authority of leaders could jeopardize their salvation.

  117. ummquestion says:

    Brad,

    I have read and re-read the OP and resulting comments in order to understand where you are coming from. I apologize if in my attempts to be straightforward my comments felt sharp or uncharitable. Ron’s #113 and your #114 were greatly helpful to me and my quest to be sure I understand your point clearly.

    Several things are vague enough to be problematic-such as what constitutes “criticizing”? How does it differ from “evil speaking”? Is it possible is it for someone without stewardship over another to “know” that other has sinned if they did not personally witness said sin? “What is the appropriate method for reporting the sins of another-suspected or otherwise?

    In #114 you state that Ron’s synopsis puts “more agency on the leaders” than your argument does. Don’t you believe that leaders have the same amount of agency as anyone else? Aren’t they accountable for their own choices just like everyone else?

    You then say “It’s comforting to have leaders we can believe in, and we can feel threatened when others say things that impeach our unquestioned belief.”

    I agree that it is comforting to have leaders that we can believe in, and I agree that someone who holds an “unquestioned belief” in someone or something CAN feel threatened when something is said that impeaches that belief. That is why scriptures and prophets all admonish us to gain our own personal testimonies regarding our leaders and the counsel they give to us.

    So what about those Saints who have question and asked the Lord for greater understanding and who feel no need to criticize any of their Church leaders? If their beliefs are not in jeopardy of being impeached because they feel no threat from the words of others, and they are not inappropriately focused on the “priesthood” of their leaders, why might they argue against being critical then?

    You didn’t post the exact quote from BY that you referred to, but it was probably connected in context to seeking to know for ourselves what the Lord would have us know, rather than unquestioningly relying on the things spoken to us by our leaders. If it is, then I wholeheartedly agree. We are not commanded to follow anyone blindly. I just think you and I have very different ideas about the number of people who follow willingly and are NOT blind.

  118. In #114 you state that Ron’s synopsis puts “more agency on the leaders” than your argument does. Don’t you believe that leaders have the same amount of agency as anyone else? Aren’t they accountable for their own choices just like everyone else?

    Substitute “responsibility” here for “agency” and you’ll get my meaning.

    It sounds like you and I are not as far apart on this as our earlier exchanges seemed to indicate. Apologies if I was too much of an ass in defending my position. I really do appreciate your engagement here (imagine how boring posts like this would be if commenters only registered agreement!).

    Here’s the BY quote (from the Journal of Discourses 9:150):

    I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inqure for themselves of God whether they are led by him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not.

  119. ummquestion says:

    Brad,

    Much thanks for the apology, but it’s your viewpoint and if it is important to you, I expect you to defend it vehemently.

    That’s the quote I figured you meant, and I think it says something very important-that each one of us has the responsibility to ask God continually whether or not our leaders are following His path or not.

    I believe that too many people place the same “reckless confidence” in themselves that BY worried was given to our leaders. It has been my experience that when I ask someone that I know personally who is being “critical” of Church leaders if they have taken their concerns to the Lord or asked for a testimony that the leader(s) in question are doing what the Lord has dictated, they say no.

    Most people, including myself, react with gut emotions or instincts immediately to something that is said or done, and once we’ve made up our minds, the Holy Ghost can’t force us to change it. I still struggle with getting past the natural man “reactions” and seeking the Lord’s perspective instead of my own, but when I do, I often get very different answers than I expected to.

  120. ummquestion,
    You are certainly right that reckless self-confidence is harmful in any association (if I haven’t proved that point in this forum, then I’m sure I have in others). This is certainly no way to approach our leaders. We should always be willing to afford them the benefit of a doubt.
    Second, I applaud your commitment to personal revelation in sorting out our grievances or doubts.
    Is it fair to say, then, that you are saying that any person who disagrees with a leader will come to agree with him through personal prayer? For example, was Paul inspired to disagree openly with Peter on the subject of preaching to the Gentiles?
    My other question is about whether questioning leaders should be an acceptable part of how we work out the issue with God. Can an open, honest, yet charitable discussion about a tough issue be a part of how we reconcile ourselves with the leaders?

  121. Antonio Parr says:

    Ummquestion:

    What about saying from early leaders? The Journal of Discourses, which include General Conference addresses, are replete with teacings that modern Latter-Day Saints repudiate. Would a contemporary of Brigham Young be on the road to apostasy if she/he were to disagree with his assessment of the place of Blacks in Heavenly Father’s plan? And aren’t current pronouncements subject to the same potential for error found in the Journal of Discourses?

    Of course, we are lead by a prophet, and are uniquely blessed because of this fact. However, prophets do not appear to be endowed every moment with the gift of prophecy, and we should not be surprised if the Spirit from time to time helps us to understand when these “sub-prophet” moments are occurring. Where the Spirit is most helpful is assisting us in processing these moments, and guiding us towards a response (or, more likely, a nonresponse) worthy of our Lord.

  122. Is it possible is it for someone without stewardship over another to “know” that other has sinned if they did not personally witness said sin?

    Well, obviously, much of the answer here has to rely on what counts as “knowledge.” There are lots of competing theories on this point, and I don’t think they’re very enlightening. Let’s use a simple gloss: “know” means something like believe based on very compelling evidence.

    With that definition in hand, it’s obviously possible for anyone to know that anyone else has sinned, regardless of stewardship. I have very compelling evidence which leads me to believe that the Nazis during World War II committed a large number of sins, for example. Or there are other routes to such knowledge. If someone gives a public speech that is deceptive, it’s easy for me to know that person sinned: the compelling evidence is the speech itself in combination with whatever facts about the person giving the speech make it seem probable that there was manipulation of the truth. In general, this kind of evidence-based belief appears to be easy to come by, stewardship or not.

  123. ummquestion,

    Your #119 has, at least, the virtue that it is explicit in turning prophetic counsel completely on its ear, making it mean the precise opposite of what BY actually said.

    That is a good trick, and your capacity to do that should make it perfectly possible for you to believe precisely what you want to believe AND to feel assured that you are following the prophet. Congratulations.

  124. Antonio Parr says:

    Kristine – your criticism of ummquestion is not only a bit harsh, it appears to be misdirected. You may wish to reread his prior post more closely.

  125. Antonio, this is the sentence I’m responding to, in which ummq twists Brigham Young’s words into meaning the opposite of what he said:

    “I believe that too many people place the same “reckless confidence” in themselves that BY worried was given to our leaders. ”

    He has precisely reversed the subject positions to make Brigham Young say what he (or she? have we established a gender for the pseudonym?) wants to say, rather than what the prophet actually said. Such a rhetorical move warrants sharp criticism, in my opinion. (It would, of course, be perfectly possible to dig up plenty of quotes from BY that say what ummquestion wants to say–part of what’s so bothersome is that this rhetorical sleight of hand is unnecessary).

  126. ummquestion says:

    Whew-

    #120
    The answers I get do not always come in the form of “you need to agree with (leader) on this”. Sometimes I just feel peaceful enough to let my issue go. Sometimes I get the impression to search the scriptures or study it out and in doing so I find information that I had not known or considered before. When I process that information, I come to agree with what was said. Sometimes the answer is “you aren’t ready for the answer”.

    Yes, questioning can be part of how we come to reconciliation, but I think it’s important to question the issue and figure out why we personally haven’t excepted it rather than to speculate upon the worthiness or character of the leader who said it.

    #121

    First, I do not believe that leaders are infallible. Second, I believe that the knowledge we receive as a Church comes just as it does to us as individuals…when we are ready for it. BY made MANY comments about blacks during his lifetime, and I take them all into consideration when trying to determine what he believed. For example, he said that the time would come when blacks would receive all the same blessings as other members “and more”-which could be read to mean that he believed that blacks would eventually be placed higher in God’s kingdom than anyone else.

    That said, if BY sincerely believed what he was saying, and spiritually felt that it was correct, then he wasn’t “sinning” when he said what he did. To sin one has to have knowledge of God’s will and choose to rebel against that knowledge, and I have no evidence that BY was doing that.

    As you said, the Spirit is helpful in guiding how I respond (or not respond) to the things that trouble me.

    #122
    I agree with you in theory, but let me add some thoughts.

    First, we’re right on the border Godwin when Nazi’s become part of the discussion. Yes, we can “know” that Nazi’s committed horrible atrocities, and the things committed in front of groups of witnesses might be easily established. But individual acts would be far more difficult to “know” and I would still have to base my belief on what someone else told me.

    In your speech analogy-you even use the word “probable”-in that it is highly likely that truth was manipulated but you don’t KNOW that it was for sure. Potipher believed his wife, Jacob believed his sons when they told him Joseph was dead…sometimes the “truth” isn’t revealed by the evidence.

    #123
    If you would show me how my comment turned prophetic counsel completely on its ear-and how what I said is the precise opposite of what BY actually said-I would truly appreciate it.

  127. (or she? have we established a gender for the pseudonym?)

    All those in favor of calling ummquestion a girl, please right click.

  128. Brigham Young said people should not place blind confidence in leaders; you say they should not trust themselves.

  129. Ummquestion,
    Let me be more direct. Are you saying that anytime a person goes to God in prayer about a concern or conflict with a leader, God’s answer will always result in non-criticism?

  130. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

    Ummquestion, the “probable” word fits with my definition of “know” above. If you’re using the word “know” to mean absolute certainty with no possibility of error, then no human has any knowledge at all.

  131. Ummquestion–I think I’m seeing your point, and I ought to grant that you’re not saying exactly the opposite of BY, if what you’re saying is that both leaders’ directives and personal opinions ought to be checked by personal revelation.

    The only thing worse than being publicly mean is being publicly mean AND dumb.

    Sorry!

  132. ummquestion says:

    #129
    No, I am not saying that. I’m saying that it has never been my experience. In D&C 42, God laid out the procedures for dealing with those who cause offense within the Church and His solution is to take the matter up with the offender in private-either alone or in a meeting before “the elders” of the Church. If that is God’s established manner, -then I can’t imagine why the HG would prompt someone to use a totally different method. But that’s just me.

    #130-
    There are all kinds of levels of semantics we could explore here. There are many things humans can “know” with absolute certainty. I KNOW that my children are mine. I KNOW what I ate for lunch. I KNOW I’m going to put a period at the end of this sentence. It is one thing to “think” someone has sinned and to confront that person privately and directly, and another to accuse someone openly when they are not present to defend themselves. The problem with accusing someone of “sin” without having been a personal witness to the sin, or having undeniable evidence of it-is that we run a far greater risk of being a false accuser than we do a true one. And the Lord constantly warns against being false accusers, backbiting, gossip, slander and finding fault with others. In our society “probable cause” allows for the search for evidence, it does not constitute evidence on its own.

    #131
    Kristine,
    No worries. In fact, I should actually thank you for providing a very passionate, real-life illustration of my point.

  133. huh? How did I illustrate your point? (Because I really don’t want to do that–I still think you’re _mostly_ wrong ;))

  134. ummquestion says:

    #133
    How did you illustrate my point. Um…this is almost painful, but you asked…

    You reacted emotionally to your personal interpretation of what you THOUGHT I was saying ( instead of clarifying anything with me) and accused me of trickery, twisting the words of a prophet, and rhetorical slight of hand. Yet even after realizing that you made a mistake, you still willingly admit that at this very moment you “really don’t want to” agree with me because you still think that I am “mostly wrong”.

    You demonstrated a perfect example of my point (#119) that many people place “reckless confidence” in their own understanding and that places them in the position to falsely accuse someone else of some act of sin or unrighteousness. Your gut reactions (#119) caused you to react in ways that you admit were “publicly mean AND dumb”. Both of those reactions are “natural man”(#119) and are incompatible with the influence of the Holy Ghost, so there is no way that you could have taken the time to study out the things I’ve said, or compare them to the gospel materials available, or asked the Lord to help you understand me or my words.

  135. “there is no way that you could have taken the time to study out the things I’ve said, or compare them to the gospel materials available, or asked the Lord to help you understand me or my words.”

    You must be a very important personage, indeed, if you expect me to give that level of attention to your comments on a blog.

    And, for the record, there was no emotion involved in my initial reaction, although now I am just a wee bit ticked off.

  136. Oh, Kristine.

    So much emotion. School thy thoughts, good Sister.

  137. ummquestion, sorry, you don’t know with absolute certainty any of the things on your list. You can’t possibly. Your memories could be delusions or could have been implanted using weird technology. Your intentions could be interrupted. It’s obviously very highly probable that your children are your own, but it’s definitely not certain — anybody could invent the necessary stories, and some of them even happen from time to time.

    You also say, “The problem with accusing someone of “sin” without having been a personal witness to the sin, or having undeniable evidence of it-is that we run a far greater risk of being a false accuser than we do a true one.” Obviously, this can’t be right in general. There are some accusations where the odds of being right are very, very high and others where they are less high. I don’t see a way you could defensibly maintain that the odds are always very low. This looks like rhetoric run a bit amok.

    Regarding the proposal to approach people in private and work it out, etc., this works well for some categories of relationships and misdeeds but not for others. If, to pick an example, my senator seems to have done egregiously bad things, the best approach appears to be raising the issue publicly and censoring the politician — if no compelling explanation is forthcoming — by voting against her in the next elections. The reason is that the senator occupies a position of trust and is responsible to a large number of people who don’t have a personal relationship with her. So her misdeeds, if any, are inherently a public matter. The scriptures make exceptions to the in-private rule for misdeeds that are inherently public, so this line of reasoning seems orthodox as well as sensible. But this kind of exception is not a minor or unusual one, and it suggests that the rule of private discussion may not apply in parallel cases — potentially including misdeeds by church leaders, etc.

  138. ummquestion says:

    #135

    “You must be a very important personage, indeed, if you expect me to give that level of attention to your comments on a blog.”

    Siiiiiiiiiiigh. I give up.

    Forgive me for “expecting” you to give at least enough attention to understand that the reason I kept placing (#119) in my comment was to be sure you knew that I was alluding to my “point” in post (#119)-and how your “natural man” (#119) reaction had proved the point I made about MYSELF there.

  139. Steve Evans says:

    [needless snark deleted]

  140. ummquestion,
    I’d love to hear you explain how you square Paul’s public disagreement with Peter on the Gentile question with taking “the matter up with the offender in private”? Are you saying it would fit in with the meeting with the elders of the church?

  141. #140 sounds a little sarcastic. Please forgive that and answer anyway.

  142. Antonio Parr says:

    ummquestion:

    Going back to my example of Elder Oaks’ recent address at BYU-Idaho . . .

    I have heard very faithful members of the Church who sustain without reservation Elder Oaks’ calling as an apostle (count me as one — he is a remarkable man) ~disagree~ (as opposed to “murmur” or “accuse of sin”) with his likening of post-Prop 8 retaliation levied against Latter-Day Saints to the retaliation levied against 1960’s advocates for civil rights for Blacks. I have heard at least some of these faithful members point out that since the LDS response to the civil rights movement was (at best) apathetic and (at worst) antagonistic, we as an institution have forfeited the right to use that heroic struggle as an argument to our advantage.

    Does the vocalization of a disagreement with a single point made by a member of the Quorom of the Twelve during an address to college students constitute “murmuring”, etc.? Since gay rights issues have so many political ramifications, can Latter-Day Saints in the public square say openly “Elder Oaks is an inspired man of God, who I sustain without reservation, but I do not agree with his use of the civil rights analogy made during his BYU-Idaho address”? And, in your opinion, is the maker of such a comment on the road to apostasy?

  143. ummquestion says:

    #141
    “I’d love to hear you explain how you square Paul’s public disagreement with Peter on the Gentile question with taking “the matter up with the offender in private”? Are you saying it would fit in with the meeting with the elders of the church?”

    First, Paul spoke to Peter face to face about the issue. Yes, there were other people there, but he spoke his accusation directly to Peter. Second, in this case, Peter had “offended openly” and under God’s law he could be “rebuked openly” in front of those to whom the offense had occurred. Third, I don’t view Peter’s “offense” as a grievous act against someone but rather that he tried to conceal his beliefs out of the fear of men instead of standing firm in his faith and being the example he should have been.

    It was important to me to know that about half of the time the English word “offense” shows up in scripture, it doesn’t mean what most people use it to mean today. Today we “take offense”-or react emotionally by becoming angry or hurt or indignant if someone says or does something that we don’t like. Lots of things we don’t like aren’t actual “sins”, and if I take offense when none is intended, it CAN (not saying it DOES) indicate that I myself have a problem. The greek word skandalizo indicates “giving” the offense by placing a stumbling block, or a trap in the path of another that entices them to sin, or causes them to lose faith in something or someone else. Our word “scandal” reflects the root word-spreading gossip or slander as a means that causes someone to lose popularity or authority.

    God’s law (paraphrased somewhat) from D&C 42 is basically this:
    And if a man or woman shall kill, rob, steal, or lie he or she shall be delivered up unto the law of the land.
    And if he or she shall do any manner of iniquity (sin) he or she shall be delivered up unto the law, even that of God.
    And if thy brother or sister offend (transgress against) thee, thou shalt take him or her between him or her and thee alone; and if he or she confess thou shalt be reconciled.
    And if he or she confess not thou shalt deliver him or her up unto the church, not to the members, but to the elders. And it shall be done in a meeting, and that not before the world.
    And if thy brother or sister offend many, he or she shall be chastened before many.
    And if any one offend openly, he or she shall be rebuked openly, that he or she may be ashamed. And if he or she confess not, he or she shall be delivered up unto the law of God.
    If any shall offend in secret, he or she shall be rebuked in secret, that he or she may have opportunity to confess in secret to him or her whom he or she has offended, and to God, that the church may not speak reproachfully of him or her.
    And thus shall ye conduct in all things.

  144. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

    skandalizo

    The irony pleases me.

  145. Antonio Parr says:

    ummquestion:

    You still haven’t clarified the circumstances under which a member in good standing can vocalize disagreement with those in authority. I believe that all are in concurrence that we should not speak ill of a ~person~ in authority, but you have not really distinguished between disagreement with a teaching and apostasy. I think that the chasm between these two concepts is enormous.

  146. ummquestion,

    If your point is that we should be careful in disagreeing with leaders, I fully agree. If you also mean that we should be careful in disagreeing with other people, with more emphasis on listening than expressing our opinion, I also agree. As James wrote, may we all be “swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.” James 1:19. That counsel, I believe, applies to us when we are serving as leaders as well as followers.

    None of us should expect to be immune from disagreement, even when we serve in leadership roles in the Church, including important roles.

    I am glad your experience has been that whenever you thought you had a disagreement with a Church leader, after further reflection and prayer, it turned out that you did not. That has not always been the case for me. In fact, I can think of a few cases when I made the point to my leader, the decision was changed.

    FWIW, when I have served in leadership positions, I have found great value in searching out and listening to opinions that differ from my own, including disagreements with policy decisions I have made within my stewardship.

    I have also found, in leadership positions, the truth of what Elder Scott once said: “There is one last priceless gem of spiritual guidance I would share. It has taken a very long time to recognize. Forced obedience yields no enduring fruit. That is why both our Father in Heaven and the Savior
    are willing to entreat, to prompt, to encourage, and to patiently wait for us to recognize precious spiritual guidance from Them.” http://rsc.byu.edu/TRE/TRE9_1.pdf

    Just as God, who is inerrant, is patient while waiting for us to recognize spiritual guidance, and will not “force obedience” because it yields no “enduring fruit”, how much more we, when we serve as leaders, should be patient and not seek for “forced obedience” or coerced consent.

  147. Antonio Parr says:

    DavidH:

    Amen and amen.

  148. ummquestion says:

    #145

    I ask for patience Antonio. You asked questions I did not want to treat lightly.

    #142-
    Since you felt that the “kind” of members you were referring to was important enough to mention, then I think it is equally important to find out what criteria you used to determine that the people in question are in fact “very faithful members” who “sustain Elder Oaks without reservation”.

    Since I’ve already stated that “faithful Saints” should seek for their own knowledge of the truth and gain it by doing their own homework so to speak (instead of relying on others to tell them what truth is) I wanted to examine exactly what Elder Oaks said, and what context he said it in so I could be sure that said disagreement is based on an accurate representation of his statement.

    I wish I knew how to include a link to the transcript, but I don’t.

    According to the official transcript, the statement in question was part of 1 of the “5 points of counsel” Elder Oaks offered towards the end of his speech “on how Latter-day Saints should conduct themselves to enhance religious freedom in this period of turmoil and challenge.”

    It is part of point 2- which is quote “we must not be deterred or coerced into silence by the kinds of intimidation I have described.” He next argues (rather successfully in my opinion) that the “hostility and vandalism” that took place after Prop 8 were really not so much acts of “anti-religion” as they are “anti-democratic” because they were enacted only upon those who had “prevailed…in a public contest” rather than upon all representations of God and theology. Then he concludes Point 2 with quote “In their effect [these acts] they are like the well-known and widely condemned voter-intimidation of blacks in the South that produced corrective federal civil-rights legislation.”

    Now, you and these other faithful saints might have spoken to Elder Oaks and he might have told you that even though he didn’t actually SAY it, he really was likening the “acts” of retaliation that occurred after Prop 8 with the “acts” of intimidation that occurred in the 1960’s. But I have not and so I can only take his words at face value and assume that since he said “in their effects” right before he used the word “like” that he is comparing “their effects” to each other-not the events that precede those effects, to each other.

    That understanding becomes more solid when I consider that immediately previous to the “points” he cited examples of how the acts of violence following Prop 8 became “well known” and “resulted” in many non-LDS people and organizations responding with outrage and condemnation. And because I know a little of the history behind the Voter Rights Act, I know that it wasn’t until the insidious voter intimidation in the South became widely publicized AND widely condemned that “corrective federal legislation” was produced.

    If Elder Oaks actually meant what he actually said, then all I can comfortably say about the “very faithful members” you speak of is that they aren’t particularly observant or particularly concerned with accuracy. I try very hard to be faithful, and I sustain Elder Oaks without reservation, and I don’t find that statement as it reads, in the context it was given in, to be offensive or disagreeable at all.

    As to your second question, I agree with what George Q. Canon said when the brethren were asked if having an “honest differences of opinion” with the authorities constituted apostasy. He said “…we could conceive of a man honestly differing in opinion from the authorities of the Church and yet not be an apostate; but we could not conceive of a man publishing those differences of opinion, and seeking by arguments, sophistry, and special pleading to enforce them upon the people to produce division and strife, and to place the acts and counsels of the authorities of the Church, if possible, in a wrong light, and not be an apostate…while a man might honestly differ from the authorities through a want of understanding, he had to be exceedingly careful how he acted in relation to such differences, or the adversary would take advantage of him and he would soon become imbued with the spirit of apostasy, and be found fighting against God and the authority which He had placed here to govern His Church.”

  149. ummquestion says:

    #146

    To clarify further, when I pray and ponder upon a difficulty I have with a particular statement or doctrine etc.-the answer isn’t ALWAYS to change my mind. (I might add that I have to be willing to change my mind and be wrong before that influence comes ) Sometimes it’s that I’m not ready for the answer, sometimes I’m impressed that the matter has no ultimate importance and I decide to drop it-and find peace in doing so.

    If I felt inspired to speak to a specific leader about a specific issue, I would hope that I followed that impression as you did, because sometimes changes need to be made and I believe God can influence others to get that ball rolling. BUT I see a big difference between offering an inspired suggestion to a leader and being critical of that leader.

    I agree totally that forced obedience doesn’t yield eternal fruit, and that “A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still”. I believe that the reason God wants His children to be obedient is because the fruit that comes from enthusiastic, willing, humble submission is SO delicious and brings SUCH blessings with it. Some blessings require obedience before they can be had-and I think it pains our Father and Christ when we reject those blessings in favor of sheer stubbornness.

    God is patient, but only to an extent. His spirit will not always strive with us. If we fail to recognize our sins, or refuse to repent of them, we will eventually find ourselves cut off from Him.

    Someone who has tasted even the smallest piece of eternal fruit wants nothing more than for others to taste it as well. Their loved ones, their families, even their enemies.

  150. Antonio Parr says:

    ummquestion:

    First, there is no doubt that you give substantial thought to your positions. I commend your thoughtful approach to discourse.

    Second — and this next question, I think flows necessarily from your posts in 148 and 149: do you have any qualms/concerns/reservations regarding the way that the Church responded as an institution during the time that the Civil Rights movement referenced by Elder Oaks was being fought? (I am not asking about the Church’s position with respect to the extension of the Priesthood to Blacks — I am asking about whether we as an institution were sufficiently supportive of the efforts of Blacks during the late 50’s and early 60’s as they struggled to obtain basic rights like the right to equal employment opportunities and equal housing and equal schooling.) If you felt that the Church did enough, then I would imagine that there is no need for you to amend or qualify your two earlier posts. If, on the other hand, you believe that the Church could/should have been as diligent in siding with our Black brothers and sisters during their quest for basic civil rights as we have been in our quest to preserve “God’s law of marriage”, which is marriage between “one man and one woman”, then perhaps you may wish to consider the way that some teachings of even beloved and revered Church leaders may require qualification and/or even disagreement when they enter the public square.

    That being said, I am glad we share in our unequivocal support of Elder Oaks. He is an absolutely extraordinary man, and an exceptional example of what it means to serve the Lord with one’s full measure of devotion. None of my comments above are in any way meant to criticize him or the manner in which he so clearly consecrates his entire life to the service of our Lord, as both are blessings for which I am profoundly grateful.

  151. Antonio Parr says:

    As a P.S. to my prior post, I concur with your previous comments about the need to avoid placing blind trust in our own judgment, and agree with your implied position that the direction of the Holy Ghost is absolutey essential in guiding our thoughts and our actions. This concept of diligently “proof checking” one’s initial/gut reaction to an issue is something that I will gratefully (and, hopefully, permanently) take from this discussion.

  152. Antonio Parr says:

    And as a further P.S. to ummquestion, is there a distinction in your mind between disagreements with comments made by a Church leader that are initiated by the Church member versus those that are expressed in response to questions from others? For example, suppose that an LDS teacher in California is approached by a fellow teacher who has just read Elder Oaks talk/speech on gay marriage, and that fellow teacher asks the Church member “do you agree with Elder Oaks use of the analogy of the civil rights movement and LDS involvement in Prop 8?” Is the Church member duty-bound to say “absolutely — I agree with whatever Elder Oaks says” (even if said Church member disagrees), or is that Church member free to say (in effect) “I thought that his speech was terrific, but feel that there are better analogies for the point he was trying to make”? (The same kind of dialogue could also arise out of Elder Oaks’ statement that “We follow Jesus Christ by adhering to God’s law of marriage, which is marriage between one man and one woman. This commandment has been in place from the very beginning.” The qualifer of “one” before woman might require some clarification for individuals outside of the Church who are familiar with the marriage relationships of early Latter-Day Saints.)

    Hopefully, all of us are genuinely striving to be as supportive as possible of those who have been called of God to lead/serve us. Hopefully, none of us are ever guilty of speaking ill of those who have the faith and courage to accept such a call. That being said, it appears that there can be moments when faithful Latter-Day Saints lovingly and humbly and vocally disagree with a comment made by a Church leader, and yet do so in a manner that does not constitute an act of apostasy. (All of this with the caveat that someone who voices such disagreement should be striving mightily to claim the promise of the Sacramental covenant to “always have His Spirit to be with them”.)

  153. I am somewhat bemused that Elder Oaks chose to emphasize the “anti-democratic” aspect. It will make it harder to argue in a few years for “minority rights” as the demographics shift on SSM. I believe the more morally defensible position is to assert that might does not make right, and that it is perilous to put one’s beliefs up for referendum (and even more distressing when others do it for you).

    But ummquestion is right to say that criticism is all too easy, so instead let me offer praise instead. It is easy to fight for one’s own rights and demonize and objectify the opposition, but a person’s (and a people’s) true character shows best when it comes to fighting for others’ rights, and in this regard, more than any other church or people, it was the Jews who, though having just survived a genocide themselves, were per capita the staunchest non-Black supporters of Black civil rights, and later non-gay supporters of SSM, and no doubt when needed most will be the most vocal defenders of religious rights. It is a commitment kept both individually and as a people, even when unreciprocated.

    I hold it to be an example worthy of emulation.

  154. ummquestion says:

    Antonio-
    “I commend your thoughtful approach to discourse.”

    I thank you and return the same thought to you.

    Your questions-
    Do I think the Church did enough in the 1960’s to further civil rights? That is a difficult question to answer in comparison to what the Church did for Prop 8 because things have changed so vastly since then. The Church’s financial ability to get involved in such issues has grown, communication has changed, and the rate at which we network these days is on a totally different level than it was 40 years ago. The only answer I can give honestly is that I trust in the Lord to make sure that His leaders handle such things to the best of their abilities. In that frame of mind the only person who can say the Church did enough, or didn’t, is Him.

    As far as distinctions go-

    I don’t believe that Church members are duty bound to agree with everything a Church leader says, and I would never expect a Church member to parrot an outright lie about believing something that they don’t no matter who they are talking to. If I agreed with Elder Oaks analogy due to how I view it (above) then I’d say yes and then explain why. If I disagreed, I think the response you gave is honest and appropriate. Honestly differing is not an indicator of whether or not someone is “on the road to apostasy”, but how we choose to let those differences affect us-our thoughts, our hearts, our faith very much can be. Our motives must be pure, and we must always be willing to accept the fact that unless the Lord has blessed us with confirmation, we might very well be wrong.

    In my mind, there is a big difference between not choosing a better analogy and being outright WRONG. My concern is that while most members are eager to point out that prophets and apostles are “just people like you and I”, they don’t seem anywhere near as eager to cut them the same slack they do for “people just like you and I”.

    I look forward with anticipation for the day when I am convinced that every Saint, everywhere is striving mightily to always have His spirit to be with them. When that day comes, we can all rest assured that everything they say and do is motivated by sincere love and true humility.

  155. ummquestion says:

    Small threadjack-

    Dan, I’m still chuckling over the incredibly vivid picture you painted in your guest post. Everything from the terror ride down the hill to the tree attacking your mom-I can picture clearly.

  156. Dan 153,
    You just got my vote for best comment.

  157. Antonio Parr says:

    ummquestion:

    re: Your last paragraph in 154 seems to require you to exercise judgment about the hearts of fellow Saints in a manner that may very well be more far reaching and invasive than the questioning by Latter-Day Saints of the correctness of utterances of Church leaders, the latter of which has received some very strong admonitions from you in this thread. The directive to avoid judging others applies not just to vertical relationships, but to horizontal ones, as well.

    The need for caution abounds. God bless us, everyone.

  158. ummquestion,

    I am glad you are here to encourage the boundaries of orthodoxy.

    I hope that disagreement with you is not itself an example of failing to sustain leaders (i.e., I hope you are not one of the Brethren in disguise).

    FWIW, I know some one who contributed $10,000 to the Church’s campaign, and who told me privately that he thought Elder Oaks analogy to the civil rights campaign in the 1960s may have been a mistake because it diverted attention from the more fundamental points Elder Oaks was trying to make. Shall I inform him that he is on the high road to apostasy?

  159. ummquestion says:

    #157

    I agree Antonio that the comment you refer to COULD be read that way, but I assure you that isn’t what I meant. What I had in mind was a day when the Lord reigns and peace and love and harmony are the order of the times because He can only dwell with among those who are like Him. (in other words-their hearts would have been judged by HIM and found pure) It was late and my brain was already half asleep. I should have been more clear.

    But what you said in your reply prompts me to share something that I have come to know to be true through scripture and the direct revelation to which all of us are entitled. There is no directive to avoid judging others completely, as in never-ever do it. The directive is to avoid judging others unrighteously in any way that has not been prescribed by the Lord.

    Moroni 7-verse 15 in particular:
    “For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.”

    GIVEN to us-TO judge. And the way to judge IS PLAIN.

    The author of post #137 wants to believe that we as human beings “cannot know anything with certainty”, but such a statement is directly opposed to the teachings of the Savior. The Lord states over and over in person and through His prophets that He has GIVEN “every living soul” the ability to KNOW right from wrong, good from evil. We wouldn’t be accountable otherwise.

    2 Nephi 2:5 agrees by saying:”And men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil. And the law is given unto men.”

    Of course in Moroni 7:18 he reminds us that we need to use that light righteously, because in the same manner that we judge others, we ourselves will be judged. And that laws includes forgiving others completely, in order for our own sins to be forgiven.

    But those who have God’s laws have never been commanded to refrain from judging at all. Being able to choose light over darkness and good over evil REQUIRES the ability to discern between them.

    Paul chastises the Saints in 1 Corinthians harshly for refusing to judge each other within the Church according to the laws of God. Instead they were taking every issue to the civil courts. He reminds them that “the Saints will judge the world”, and if they are expected to do something so huge, surely they can judge easily in smaller matters.

    The JST retranslates Matthew 7:1-2 as:
    Now these are the words which Jesus taught his disciples that they should say unto the people. Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged: but judge righteous judgment.

    D&C 11:12 tells us
    And now, verily, verily, I say unto thee, put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit.

    Judging righteously WITH the Spirit is not only proper and correct, God has told us to do it. When Saints are filled with that Spirit, they know when they “lack understanding” (as George Q. Canon alluded to) and they seek understanding. If they have done that due diligence and find themselves in disagreement with any another member, which includes the brethren, they will be prompted BY that Spirit to resolve the disagreement justly in the manner established in God’s law. (because as I understand the doctrine, the Spirit cannot/will not “prompt” us to do something contrary to the revealed word of God.)

    That said, allow me to carefully put this out there.
    As Saints, we have been commanded to gain our own personal testimonies of the truth. Suppose an LDS person has gained a testimony that the Light of Christ literally enables us to know good from evil and that Christ Himself taught us that the way to know/discern/detect a wolf hiding behind the appearance of a sheep, or a “good tree” from a “corrupt tree” is to examine their fruits-their acts-what they do and say.

    In such a case, isn’t that person obligated to USE the light and knowledge they had been given in order not to lose it? And wouldn’t having that knowledge and keeping it active make it virtually impossible NOT to know when other saints are acting upon the Spirit and when they are not?

    This concept, when applied honestly to scripture and prophetic counsel has been the key to many doors for me.
    I have no wish to debate about something that I “know” to be true, and I only spoke as I felt prompted to. I pray that if you disagree with me, that you involve the Spirit in making that decision and judge my words and intentions righteously, for both our sakes. Amen.

  160. ummquestion, take a break. You know you’re getting ridiculous when:

    1. Weird abuse of ALLCAPS takes place repeatedly — and increasingly — in your comments;
    2. Your whole point is self-justification of judging the righteousness of other participants in the conversation;
    3. Your comments basically say that if someone disagrees with you they need to involve the Spirit (implying they haven’t); and
    4. You conclude your comments with “amen”.

    I pray that if you disagree with me, you involve the Spirit, because I am pretty sure he’ll tell you that you’re going off the deep end a little and need to stop commenting.

  161. ummsnap!

  162. Antonio Parr says:

    ummquestion:

    I try not judge others, and, candidly, I do not attempt to use the gift of the Holy Ghost for this purpose, nor do I intend to. I really do my very best to leave the process of judgment to the Savior, who knows and understands us best.

  163. I leave judgment to Ganesha. If Ganesha exists, then he will remove obstacles to our progress through his judgments. If he doesn’t exist, then he won’t judge us, which is nifty.

  164. Thanks everyone for your thoughtful comments, and invocation of funny gods. The thread is now closed.

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