Prophets, Fourteen Fundmantals, and Section 107

Last week’s general conference featured two sermons which recapitulated the main themes of the speech given by apostle Ezra Taft Benson at BYU in 1980 entitled Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet.  In response to those sermons, J. Stapley wrote two excellent posts in the past week (found here and here) which reviewed each of the fourteen points and gave some brief commentary. These blog posts generated more interest than usual, resulting in over 200 comments. There has also been additional commentary at various places around the LDS blogosphere.

The consensus appears to be that although we do not believe in prophetic infallibility, we nevertheless do not consider it within the realm of possibility that the president of the church could be in error in any serious way.  On the remote chance we might be confronted by something that might appear to be prophetic wrongdoing, our acceptable list of options is as follows:

1.  Since it is metaphysically impossible for the president of the church to be wrong, we are wrong to think that he is wrong.

2.  Even if he is wrong, we should do what he says anyway and we will be blessed for our obedience and loyalty.

3.  In the event that we are certain we are right and the president of the church is in error, we should keep it to ourselves.

I find no fault with these options, since they closely track my own opinion.  But what really interests me is that nowhere in the original speech in 1980, nor in the two recent conference sermons, nor in over 200 blog comments this past week did anyone think to consider what the Doctrine and Covenants says about this question.  Please consider these verses from section 107:

65  Wherefore it must needs be that one be appointed of the High Priesthood to preside over the priesthood, and he shall be called the President of the High Priesthood of the Church; ………….

81  There is not any person belonging to the church who is exempt from this council of the church.

82  And inasmuch as a President of the High Priesthood shall transgress, he shall be had in remembrance before the common council of the church, who shall be assisted by twelve counselors of the High Priesthood;

83  And their decision upon his head shall be an end of the controversy concerning him.

84  Thus, none shall be exempted from the justice and the laws of God, that all things may be done in order and solemnity before him, according to truth and righteousness. 

These verses are clear, unambiguous and straightforward. Our Doctrine and Covenants allows for the possibility that the prophet may error to such an egregious extent that excommunication is warranted. But it is also just as clear that it doesn’t matter to us what these verses of scripture say. Perhaps this demonstrates just how much we really believe Elder Benson when he said that statements of the prophet must take precedence over scripture.

Comments

  1. So we have the Lord saying that if the President of the High Priesthood transgresses, he will be tried by the Quorum of the Twelve (I believe that they are the ones referred to as the common council of the church), but then we also have the Lord, through Wilford Woodruff, saying that the President of the Church cannot lead the church astray.

    So the President can screw up his own life, but he can’t muck things up for the church.

  2. The context of the verse doesn’t suggest that its referring to private matters, though. Verse 80 discusses how the presidency is the final word on “spiritual matters:”

    80 And after this decision it shall be had in remembrance no more before the Lord; for this is the highest council of the church of God, and a final decision upon controversies in spiritual matters.

    It seems that by placing the emphasis on the prophet as an individual, we’ve placed an incredibly high bar for Church presidents to not say anything that might be controversial. It seems like even if a leader is very vocal and opinionated as an apostle (like ETB), they become much less abrasive as a president. This means that apostles tend to have the most striking opinions and perspectives where presidents tend to be more general in their counsel. I think this is actually a pretty good system: even though Pres. Monson isn’t my favorite speaker, I think its healthy for the church that he is relatable by almost all members.

  3. I just think it should be noted that the people who are the biggest on “obedience” are usually talking about teachings that they’d want to follow anyway.

    Either that, or ones that they’ve tried over and over again to follow and failed at everytime, and been judged harshly for it and judged themselves for it, and have no hope and no apparent future.

    It afflicts the afflicted and comforts the comfortable.

  4. The verse immediately before verse eighty reads:

    And the Presidency of the council of the High Priesthood shall have power to call other high priests, even twelve, to assist as counselors; and thus the Presidency of the High Priesthood and its counselors shall have power to decide upon testimony according to the laws of the church.

    No one decides doctrinal issues according to the “laws” of the church. The entire passage from verse 72 to verse summarizes the judicial process in the church starting from the role of a bishop as a “judge in Israel” to judge anyone “except in a case where a President of the High Priesthood, after the order of Melchizedek, is tried”. Verses 81-83 then explain what to do in that case, in the event that a “President of the High Priesthood shall transgress”.

    The word transgress is important. The only basis that the council can judge the President of the High Priesthood is for transgression of the “laws of the church”. It is like impeaching a President of the United States – the Senate can’t convict him unless “high crimes and misdemeanors” have been committed.

    If the President of the High Priesthood merely has unusual doctrinal teachings, and his two counsellors support him, the only provision in D&C 107 for superseding that is the unanimous concurrence of the Quorum of the Twelve and/or the (first) council of Seventy (cf. D&C 107:23-27)

  5. “But it is also just as clear that it doesn’t matter to us what these verses of scripture say.”

    Mark, how is this clear? Perhaps it doesn’t matter to the infallibility crowd (your #1 above), but churchmembers in your categories #2 or #3 may very well be interested in what these verses of scriptures say. Not that you would know though, since by your own description, believers in #2 wouldn’t necessarily have any occasion to reference section 107, since the Prophet’s wrongdoing doesn’t implicate their obedience or loyalty (and besides, the twelve counselors of the High Priesthood are excommunicating the Prophet as necessary, so they don’t have to). Meanwhile, believers in #3 may see the Prophet’s wrongdoing clearly and observe his excommunication with satisfaction, but they just aren’t talking about it aloud, per your description.

    That said, I think it’s valuable to draw attention to scriptures like this. You’re right that the infallibilists need reminding that prophetic error is a real possibility. My frustration personally, however, is with those who acknowledge the possibility of prophetic error as an abstraction, but who are loathe to consider actual, specific candidates of error as potential errors. Quoting D&C 107 to these folks doesn’t accomplish much, unfortunately, since it’s all so academic to them, and seemingly none of their business in any event.

  6. Well, if the quorum of the 12 are doing their job, we wouldn’t have to “follow” a “fallen” prophet for long, so I agree with #2. I also agree with #3 in that it’s not my business to tell the prophet he’s wrong. Obviously it’s the business of the 12 if that were to happen. (Just as it’s not my business to comment on church courts or other disciplinary matters.)

  7. Mark Brown,

    Re: “what the Doctrine and Covenants says about this question.”

    Twice while serving as a Counselor in the First Presidency, Gordon B. Hinckley addressed this issue in general conference:

    1.    “No president in any organization in the Church is likely to go ahead without the assurance that his counselors feel good about the proposed program. A man or woman thinking alone, working alone, arriving at his or her own conclusions, can take action which might prove to be wrong. But when three kneel together in prayer, discuss every aspect of the problem which is before them, and under the impressions of the Spirit reach a united conclusion, then we may have the assurance that the decision is in harmony with the will of the Lord.

    “I can assure all members of this church that in the First Presidency we follow such a procedure. Even the President of the Church, who is Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, and whose right and responsibility it is to make judgment and direct the course of the Church, invariably consults with his counselors to determine their feelings. If there is a lack of unity, there follows an absence of action. Two counselors, working with a president, preserve a wonderful system of checks and balances. They become a safeguard that is seldom, if ever, in error and affords great strength of leadership.” (Ensign, Nov. 1990, p.50.)

    2.    “As Brethren, we discuss various problems that come before us. Each man is different. We speak from various backgrounds and experiences. We discuss ways to improve and strengthen the work. At the outset of these discussions, there may be various points of view. But before the discussion is ended, there is total unanimity, else no action is taken. The Lord Himself has declared that such unity is an absolute necessity [quotes D&C 107:30.]” (Ensign, Nov. 1992, p.59.)

    I believe that, in order to lead the Church astray, the President would have to openly flaunt his disregard of these procedures. In that case, the verses you quoted would kick in. But I see basically zero chance of that happening today.

  8. Mark Brown says:

    R. Gary, ideally our beliefs are well-grounded in the scriptural canon, prophetic declarations, and personal revelation. I’ve observed that the Brethren almost always will cite scriptural authority when making a point. The purpose of the post was to point out how strange it is to me that in such a long and thorough discussion it didn’t occur to anybody to cite this obvious reference in our Restoration scriptures to the limits of prophetic authority. Since nobody tried to buttress his argument with scripture, either pro or con, it is safe to conclude that what scripture has to say, at least on this question, is irrelevant to us as a practical matter.

  9. Mark, I think it’s helpful to look at examples that we know concerning the process the modern prophet uses before taking action. One which is well described is the process used by President McKay and then President Kimball regarding the priesthood issue. President McKay (according to his biographers) seemed to have a predisposition to extending the blessings of the priesthood, but did not, at least in part because of objections from members of the Quorum of the Twelve. He felt he would need definitive revelation to overcome that opposition and felt that definitive revelation was lacking.

    President Kimball apparently felt the revelation had finally come and worked to gain consensus among his brethren in the FP and Q12. The discussion in the biography of his years as a prophet suggest that he did not simply act out of proclamation of his understanding, but sought that agreement that President Hinckley describes in what R. Gary quotes above.

    As for your three simplifying principles, I would say them differently:

    Because of the teaching of Section 107, we assume (perhaps with faith) that when the prophet speaks for the church he does so with the agreement of the senior counsels of the church, either because they have explicitly discussed the matter at hand or because of his long association with those brethren.

    Knowing that he speaks with inspiration and long experience, we trust that he will not lead the church where the Lord does not want it to go.

    We also trust that there is a mechanism to protect the church in the event that he does (namely the one described in Section 107), and therefore I do not need to be the one to raise the flag. Instead, I should seek to understand his words in the context of everything else I know about the gospel.

    If he teaches me something wrong and I follow him, I will not be punished for that error, but will be blessed for my faithfulness. If over time the position of the church changes or new revelatory light is shed, then I can rejoice with the rest of the church that the Lord still leads us.

    It is acceptable for me to ask questions for understanding. It is wise for me to be patient, and it is unwise for me to declare publicly that the Lord’s prophet is wrong.

    While in practice my summary is similar to yours, I prefer the tone of mine.

    BTW, thanks for this post and for bringing us back to the revelations. I thought of this section as I was reading posts this last week, but did not take that extra step that you did to turn to it and analyze it in the way you have before your post.

  10. Mark Brown says:

    Thanks Paul. I like the tone of yours better too. The principle of unanymous agreement in council which Pres. Hinckley explained in R. Gary’s quotes actually brings up some interesting test cases. We know for certain that polygamy was instituted in Nauvoo without a united First Presidency. Since Pres. Hinckley stated that a president acting without his counselors is likely to be wrong, we are now facing an interesting question. We see the same thing with the beginning of the priesthood ban. Based on his public statements, I think there is almost no chance that Brigham Young ran this by his counselors first. I think it is much more likely that his off the cuff declarations were delivered so forcefully that everybody just fell into line. It is a problem worth thinking about: the two most problematic practices in our history were started without the checks and balances Pres. Hinckley declared were so necessary.

  11. I agree that a system of check’s and balances within the Church, where the Prophet/President is believed to speak for the Lord, is doubtful. People will fall into line on major issues with those at the top of the hierarchy.

    You summarize the debate about prophetic fallibility thus: “Since it is metaphysically impossible for the president of the church to be wrong, we are wrong to think that he is wrong.”

    I think when you consider the complete history of the Church, this is a tough position to hold. Was Joseph Smith right to lead the Church into a 100 year failed experiment with polygamy that, even to this day, continues to tarnish the reputation of the Church, and has led to the terrible practice of polygamy as practiced by FLDS throughout the western US? Was Joseph Smith right to think he could solve the early Church’s LDS problems by engaging in an old past-time and treasure hunting for riches in Salem, MA? Was Brigham Young correct in instituting racist doctrine/practice towards blacks with regard to priesthood and temple ordinances? Was the LDS leadership wrong in discouraging interracial marriages – especially during the 50′s and 60′s when it was a political issue? Is the LDS leadership today right to support laws (and in the clandestine way they have gone about it) denying fundamental marriage rights to a group of minorities based solely on their sexual preference?

    Trying to defend the position that “it is metaphysically impossible for the president of the church to be wrong” is a faulty assumption. It’s obviously false, and our spotty historical record seems to prove it.

  12. Of course the government of the church has evolved over time, as well. We did not start with a quorum of the 12 and first presidency and seventies, but with two presiding elders.

    When the revelation about baptism for the dead was given, people rushed out and started performing them in the river — men for women, women for men, no recorders, etc. Only later was order more established.

    I’m not surprised that over time things have become more ordered.

    And had they wanted to, according to Sec 107, the 12 could have taken Brother Brigham to task for his comments on the priesthood ban. Frankly I don’t know enough about that particular period to know how they responded.

  13. “If he teaches me something wrong and I follow him, I will not be punished for that error, but will be blessed for my faithfulness. If over time the position of the church changes or new revelatory light is shed, then I can rejoice with the rest of the church that the Lord still leads us.”

    I don’t know about this. Life isn’t just about learning to take orders. Unless you truly seek for personal revelation to help guide your life, to go along with priesthood revelation, how could we ever expect to grow spiritually? Prophetic counsel should always be compared with scriptural teachings, common sense, and personal revelation.

    We’ve been told by prophets like BY that when we hear prophetic counsel to seek a confirmation from the Spirit for ourselves. But if we already knowing beforehand that we’re going to follow what the prophet says no matter the response, can we really ask in good faith?

  14. Just a couple of notes. The trial procedure in D&C 107 was changed in January 1838, a changed canonized in Missouri that year. Its effect was to make it much more difficult to remove the Church president. Also, one should not infer from the text that the Q12 were intended to take any role in the process.

    Common Council was a judicial term in origin and referred to a bishop and 12 extra high priests serving as jury.

    If you really want more of the story, see here 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12

  15. Re #2: indeed. A sad corollary of the prophetic infallibility folk doctrine is that it (understandably) makes the brethren more cautious in what they say. I’d love to know what President Monson thinks about enhanced interrogation or global warming, but you’re only going to know in a climate that also allows for him to be wrong.

  16. #13 Dallin, I don’t think the two alternatives are mutually exclusive. I can “follow the prophet” and still be blessed while I continue to explore, examine and interrogate the matter on my own. The Lord promises that I won’t be penalized for following the prophet, and furthermore, that is the method he recommends in the New Testament for establishing the source of teachings (John 7:17).

    My own experience has been that in some instances, that confirming witness comes in the moment I hear the prophet. In other instances, I’ve needed more time. We should not assume those who follow the teachings of the prophet are simply adept at taking orders.

    #11 Josh, what you call “wrong” others will not.

  17. “The Lord promises that I won’t be penalized for following the prophet” Where does God promise that we will be blessed for following a prophet even if the prophet is wrong?

    I generally agree with the principle that, in most organizations, things work better if the members of the organization follow what the leader says even if the leader is wrong. The armed services are organized that way. Yet, at least in the U.S. armed services, there is a tradition that certain orders should not be followed. In fact, that is one reason that Joseph Smith lived past the Missouri period, because an officer declined to follow an order.

    The Nuremberg defense didn’t work in Nuremberg; I don’t think it will work at the judgment day.

  18. I believe that “being wrong” and “leading the church astray” are two very different things, especially in context of: “as He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty”, etc.

    One is being human (and likely on mostly human/ unimportant things), one is more like the prophet being a fallen and now false prophet with an intended purpose to make the church fail; a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Nevertheless, I believe it means much less than that, too; but I believe that it hardly means that they speak perfect truth all the time.

    Not only that, I believe it also allows for corrections to be made.

    -=
    One problem with “just following the prophet” is that it can get generalized to “just follow the seventy”, “just follow the president”, “just follow the bishop”, “just follow the teacher”, “just follow the spouse”, etc. Which I’ve seen lead to some big problems… There is a difference, and it might be good for church members to be reminded of the difference.

    -=
    Quote: “I think when you consider the complete history of the Church, this is a tough position to hold. Was Joseph Smith right to lead the Church into a 100 year failed experiment with polygamy that, even to this day, continues to tarnish the reputation of the Church, and has led to the terrible practice of polygamy as practiced by FLDS throughout the western US? Was Joseph Smith right to think he could solve the early Church’s LDS problems by engaging in an old past-time and treasure hunting for riches in Salem, MA? Was Brigham Young correct in instituting racist doctrine/practice towards blacks with regard to priesthood and temple ordinances? Was the LDS leadership wrong in discouraging interracial marriages – especially during the 50′s and 60′s when it was a political issue? Is the LDS leadership today right to support laws (and in the clandestine way they have gone about it) denying fundamental marriage rights to a group of minorities based solely on their sexual preference?”

    Um, there’s a lot of untruth/ bias in those questions, and I disagree about somehow being “led astray” by those issues.

    -=
    I think we have a lot more to be worried about by our own being led astray by Satan, than the prophet leading us astray.

  19. Mark, I am SO glad you posted this scripture! I was having a discussion with someone about it and I couldn’t find it! I think it leaves VERY LITTLE ROOM for disagreement of whether or not the Prophet CAN be wrong and tried. Thanks.

  20. “2. Even if he is wrong, we should do what he says anyway and we will be blessed for our obedience and loyalty.”

    A common but profoundly troubling idea. How can it be that God would reward us for handing over our moral agency to someone we know is wrong? Its absurd. Moral agency always belongs to the individual, we are always responsible for our own actions.

  21. The Prophet will never lead the Church catastrophically astray, because Christ will direct the 12 apostles to stop him as provided in D&C 107:81-84.

  22. “How can it be that God would reward us for handing over our moral agency to someone we know is wrong? Its absurd. Moral agency always belongs to the individual, we are always responsible for our own actions.”

    I don’t think we’re talking about extreme matters here, like “everyone go home and kill your neighbor” or anything like that. Likely more like, Proposition 8 type-things.

  23. If I am convinced God does not want me to do something, especially if I have received a personal answer of some kind, I won’t do it – no matter what mortal tells me to do it. I still will “sustain and support” my church leaders in their callings, even if I can’t do exactly what I’m asked or counseled to do, but that wording does not say “obey regardless”.

    D&C 121 is crystal clear about demanding obedience simply because of one’s position of authority, “as they suppose” – and I’ve never believed we will be blessed for knowingly doing wrong. I just can’t accept that we will be blessed for sinning, and since “sin” generally is defined partially as “knowing right and doing wrong” – I don’t buy the argument that we should obey any leader unquestioningly if they tell us to do something we believe to be wrong.

    Having said that, I’ve thought and prayed about counsel I’ve been given with which I disagreed, and I’ve changed my mind as a result more than once. I also have accepted and followed counsel I believed to be poor counsel but not morally wrong in many instances when I have offered my own counsel and the leader reached a different conclusion. That’s just life in a community / organization of any kind.

    I don’t believe in reflexive dismissal, and I agree totally with Elder Oaks’ characterization of such reflexive disregard for commandments and counsel due to a feeling that one is an exception to rules generally.

  24. I wonder if Isaiah ever submitted any of his writings to a pair of counselors just to make sure he didn’t go too far out on a limb.

  25. Mark N, the book of Isaiah is carefully correlated, though perhaps not by the same type of committee.

  26. “I don’t think we’re talking about extreme matters here, like “everyone go home and kill your neighbor” or anything like that. Likely more like, Proposition 8 type-things.”

    The hurt caused by prop 8, the wasted resources , the strain it placed on the Mormon community, and the community at large, the way it revealed how political top church leaders are in their thinking and mission, the way it justified a kinder gentler homophobia, the effect it had on families, etc. all make it a really good example of exactly the kind of thing we should be talking about in terms of moral agency.

  27. At the time ETB delivered that address, it was widely believed that he who had chafed under previous prophets who did not share his wild political beliefs was firing a shot across everyone’s bow, as only someone who had a good shot at becoming president someday could do. I think it was unbecoming of him at the time and I did not fail to notice that he was strangely quiet when he was president. Oh to know the inner workings of the bretheren!!!

  28. #17 — In D&C 1:37-38.

  29. Thanks for posting this! I agree with the D&C scripture.

    I am very concerned about this though:

    “Even if he is wrong, we should do what he says anyway and we will be blessed for our obedience and loyalty.”

    I think the other two points are wrong too, but this one is especially dangerous. I tend to think in the context of MMM when blind obedience type of mantras come into play. I would hope this type of view is changed and that we all would be able to grow our criteria and admit a posiblity of errors and things not to be followed when regarding the counsel of our human leaders. Unfortunately you are right. The consensus seems to go for blind obedience and the condemnation of anyone who dares to question the prophet.

    It’s kind of sad we are not mature enough to be able to love and respect as a prophet a real human, with all that comes with that (read “mistakes”).

  30. #28 – Paul, when you read the actual words of D&C 1:38 without the common application, it’s easy to parse it as saying that when the (singular) “voice” of the (plural) “servants” is united and unanimous, it is the voice of the Lord. It’s also easy to not read time limitations into the statement.

    I’m not saying that is or even should be the accepted interpretation. I’m just saying that verse isn’t as cut and dried as many make it out to be – and it certainly doesn’t say clearly and unarguably that any time an apostle or even Prophet speaks it is the unadulterated word of God.

  31. Mac (#27) I think his actions might suggest that this more paranoid interpretation of his talk by those opposed to his politics may simply have been a misreading. That this same reading popped up when it was quoted last week is quite surprising to me given that his actions suggest he was talking more about Pres. Kimball rather than his future activist self.

  32. 29 — Don’t understand the link between blind obedience and MMM.

  33. I believe that, in order to lead the Church astray, the President would have to openly flaunt his disregard of these procedures. In that case, the verses you quoted would kick in. But I see basically zero chance of that happening today.

    I always have to raise an eyebrow when people insist that there is “basically zero chance” of our people being led astray by a leader in our day. Why? Why is our day so much better? Are we more righteous than those who have been fooled before? Does God love us more? The Lord’s chosen have been led astray before, it will more likely than not happen in some degree or another again.

    If he teaches me something wrong and I follow him, I will not be punished for that error, but will be blessed for my faithfulness. If over time the position of the church changes or new revelatory light is shed, then I can rejoice with the rest of the church that the Lord still leads us.

    This is a nice idea until you realize that there is pretty much zero scripture or prophetic teaching to back it up. Abraham fails as an example because while he was willing to sacrifice Isaac – he didn’t. Had Abraham actually sacrificed him and was still exalted, then this argument would have basis, since thats not what happened at all, I can’t think of a single scriptural basis for believing that we will be blessed for our blind obedience of evil – in any degree.

  34. StillConfused says:

    I remember talking to an anti-Mormon friend about some of the funky stuff that happened in the Mormon past (massacre, spiritual marriage etc) and the blind faith that existed back then. I told him that Mormons are not like that anymore and stand up on their own.

    I then asked a number of active LDS people if they would commit a crime that they knew was wrong if asked to do so by their Bishop/Stake President/Prophet. Almost 100% of the people said that they would do so if asked by their prophet (less chances with the lower leaders). I was shocked.

    I am still shocked. That shows how easy it is for certain people to be led astray if the situation presented itself.

  35. #32 – Paul

    I think the reference is pretty direct. Local church leadership in Cedar City enlisted the Paiute Indians to attack an Arkansas immigrant wagon train. A group of members under these leaders joined in and slaughtered 120 people under a flag of truce.

    That was clearly a case where blind obedience led to evil.

    So, it is possible for those following church leadership to commit evil. It happened in in 1857. The key issue is it possible such could happen today?

  36. #35 — You make it all sound so simple. In fact it was not. The latest history of MMM does quite a nice job of fleshing out the nuance without relieving any of the actors of their guilt. I suspect for few of them it was a case of “blind” obedience (as in, I’ll do whatever someone asks me) and more a case of incremental choices (of a few) that led to an awful conclusion. Furthermore there seems to be little evidence that the conclusion was the result of revelation.

    #34, I believe it is difficult for us to say how we will respond until we are in the moment. Of course we can prepare, and we can imagine what we will do. I suspect those who fled the US law in times of polygamy imagined they would ever have to do so.

    As we heard more than once in the recent conference, we each will make our choices when such a need arise.

  37. Paul,

    It was the stake leadership intertwined with the political leadership that directed MMM. The militiamen were members who followed what their leaders told them to do. Remember that the massacre was planned out — John D. Lee got the immigrants to surrender, each adult male was escorted a mile by a militia member, then, at a single, they killed the man near them. It was blind obedience at its wickedest.

    There is a lesson here. Following a leaders direction without individual confirmation can lead to evil.

  38. If he teaches me something wrong and I follow him, I will not be punished for that error, but will be blessed for my faithfulness. If over time the position of the church changes or new revelatory light is shed, then I can rejoice with the rest of the church that the Lord still leads us.

    My opinion has always been that obedience will get you off the hook via the coward’s way. Remember Helmuth Hubener, the young German LDS boy who published against Hitler and was executed in a concentration camp? Is his reward the same as another young LDS boy who, in obedience to German law and our belief in honoring and sustaining the law, fought for the Germans in the name of genocide? (I hope that God does not figure on sending me to the concentration camp to prove my mettle.)

    I figure if you follow the prophet into some unworthy end, even against your own conscience and principles, you will not be punished. You might even be rewarded for self abasement, a little because self abasement is not necessarily a great good. In some ways this is the coward’s way out, and no one will blame a coward much. We do not blame the unknown German youth who fought with the Nazis.

    If you follow orders against your conscience and against what is just and true on an eternal plane, you will not be punished if you follow the leader. If you, however, choose the right, your reward is eternal. This is the higher law. It holds wherever justice and morality are important. You must be aware that for those that choose this path there will be punishment by the authorities.

  39. Remember the Milgram experiment at Yale?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment

    It is extraordinarily difficult to go against authority even if they are asserting the worst evil. It takes an extraordinary individual to go against authority and assert individual morality. This is why it is OK to drift along with leadership into immoral ends. This is why it is so courageous to put yourself on the line and uphold what is good and true in the face of determined immoral leadership.

    Don’t you think that this courage would be the Right Stuff?

  40. #37 I don’t dispute that blind obedience can lead to terrible ends. I don’t agree that sustaining the prophet = blind obedience, though I suppose it make look that way to some.

    #38 I appreciate your point of view, RW. You are right, we do not condemn the law abiding youths who did not defy the Third Reich, though we do honor those who had the courage to do so.

    And you are also correct that choosing right does not free us from negative consequence. Think Joseph and Potiphar’s wife.

  41. it's a series of tubes says:

    Here’s a query I’ll throw out there:

    Which, in your estimation, is the more likely scenario?

    A) FP and 12 instruct Church members to act in a way that is (in the sight of God) wrong /evil;

    or

    B) Church members fail (to a greater or a lesser degree) to heed the counsel of the FP and 12 when they are speaking for the Lord / providing the same revelation and guidance that the Lord would provide were he speaking Himself.

    Occam’s razor seems to cut this one fairly cleanly.

    “Lord, is it I?” As someone recently posted, it seems prudent to proceed with extreme caution if I honestly think the answer is “No”…

  42. Last Lemming says:

    If he teaches me something wrong and I follow him, I will not be punished for that error, but will be blessed for my faithfulness.

    President Monson, whether intentionally or not, addressed that issue in his Priesthood Meeting talk.

    If we make the wrong choice, we have no one to blame but ourselves. President Brigham Young once expressed this truth by relating it to himself. Said he: “If Brother Brigham shall take a wrong track, and be shut out of the Kingdom of heaven, no person will be to blame but Brother Brigham. I am the only being in heaven, earth, or hell, that can be blamed.” He continued: “This will equally apply to every Latter-day Saint. Salvation is an individual operation.”

    Of course, both Brigham young and Thomas Monson could be wrong…

  43. #42 LL — I just listened to Pr Monson’s talk this morning again and heard what you did. I had listened to Elder Oaks’ last night, as well, in which he counseled that we need both priesthood revelation and personal revelation, and I take his message to be similar to Pr. Monson’s.

    So is there common ground among these views? After all, all are prophets speaking. Is there room to acknowledge that the prophet (the president of the church) will not lead the church astray and that I should heed his counsel while I still accept personal responsibility for my actions, knowing that men are saved only one by one?

    I think there is. If I choose to sustain the prophet and to take his counsel to heart and act upon it in my life, at the same time measuring that counsel against other prophetic counsel, other scriptural counsel, and my own spiritual witness, can I have a good faith assumption that he will act as directed by God and not lead the church astray? I believe so. And I also believe that I can receive personal witness of the correctness of his counsel when it comes.

    I suppose that view also leaves open the door for the day when my personal witness is in conflict with a prophet’s counsel. I would not anticipate that, given what Pr Woodruff and Pr Benson taught. But in the end, we each make choices that are right for us, and I suppose I would, too.

  44. Funny enough we just had this very discussion played out in a rather intense almost contentious EQ lesson yesterday. The lesson was set up as “blind obedience” in the case of prophetic leadership error which was well….provocative. It had all the major discussion points found in the comments. What was clear to me throughout the discussion is that:

    1) If you want to have a productive discussion on this you have to omit the term “blind obedience” b/c it is an offensive term used by people antagonistic to religion and faith. It simply shuts otherwise reasonable people down.

    2) There are definitely members that can’t imagine or won’t accept that the FP/12 can give wrong counsel.

    3) The rift between more black and white versus gray perspectives in how Church governance operates is rather broad. They have trouble even communicating to one another.

    Finally to add to the discussion. I am not sure option 3 is adequate either. I think there is a role for faithful problemetization of issues to leadership as a way to help the church progress. If everyone simply “kept quiet” I don’t think we get a lot of the changes we have now. Removal of the priesthood ban. Women praying in sacrament. More equality in the temple services. Ecclesiastic remove from our sex lives. I even think this need to problematize might extend in some instances to people disciplined for their advocacy (only God can know). If we can’t speak up for our moral conscious in the moral institution of our Church where are we? Surely we can do that in ways that don’t try and claim a place of authority over others.

  45. 41 – “Occam’s razor seems to cut this one fairly cleanly.”

    D&C 121:39 would probably disagree to your conclusion of what Occam’s Razor would dictate.

    Nevertheless thats not the argument. Likelihood is not the only measurement. Another question would be:

    Which would be more evil:

    A) FP and 12 instruct Church members to sacrifice their firstborn to the God of Molech

    or

    B)Church members fail (to a greater or a lesser degree) to heed the counsel of the FP and 12 when asked to not watch R Rated movies.

    See, all I did was frame the question in an equally irrelevant way, and it turns the whole thing around.

    Again, I feel the need to reiterate that I sustain the current President, First Presidency, and The Quorum of the 12 Apostles. I think they do a fine job, and quite remarkably execute their duties.
    That being said we’ve been warned in the bible to be wary of wolves entering in sheeps clothing. These warning were given to those of us in the last days. Would sheeps clothing simply be people of other faiths? Or could it possibly mean people of our faith in positions of authority?
    The Book of Mormon which we have been told is a guide for our time talks of King Noah and his Priests (called and ordained down proper lines of authority among Christs Church, if I read Mosiah correctly). And how they manipulated the people and lived a lifestyle full of vice and sin.

    We’ve been warned, and commanded, to be wary – in the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, and by modern day prophets such as Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. Plus as people who intend to become creators of worlds, it seems a little lazy to not seek out witnesses for ourselves of revelations and inspirations given to us from authority.

  46. it's a series of tubes says:

    [blockquote]
    D&C 121:39 would probably disagree to your conclusion of what Occam’s Razor would dictate.
    [/blockquote]

    Actually, I think the opposite. The “almost all men” and “as they suppose” clauses make all the difference, viz:

    1) The FP and 12 are not “almost all men”; rather, they belong to a microscopic group of men called to the Apostleship, with such calling coming in this world (so we believe, right?) by inspiration of God, and by foreordination in the preexistence. cf. Alma 13:1-9; “every man who has a calling to minister…” TPJS p. 365.

    2) The FP and 12 do not have authority “as they suppose”, rather they hold (so we believe, right?) actual priesthood authority to act in the name of God.

    Again, I’m not discounting the need to obtain witnesses for ourselves, and being commanded to be wary is all fine and good. But it seems like a stretch to interpret such language as support for a “I sustain the leaders at the very top. But when they go astray, I’ll be the one to notice and call it out” type of position.

  47. To your point number two, I agree. But I also think it is possible for a person with the authority of Apostleship or Presidency to legitimately have x authority, and still incorrectly “suppose” they have y authority. And since the whole section is directed to the body of the church of christ (not necessarily to the whole human population) and to a large degree to Priesthood holders – who also have legitimate authority – the point becomes somewhat moot.

    But when they go astray, I’ll be the one to notice and call it out” type of position.
    This assumes that I think it wise to “call it out” of my own volition. I think that would be incredibly foolish. Instead my position hinges on the idea of personal witness – probably the most important aspect of the Gift of the Holy Ghost.

    I also don’t think it would be prudent, if I were to (hypothetically) receive witness that a leader were leading astray, to try to convince others of this idea. I think this is the seed of apostasy; I would have no authority to receive such witness for others. I think we should be (probably even more) wary of those who claim to have received witness of our leaders leading us astray. But that doesn’t lessen our responsibility in any way to recieve inspired guidance through prayer as to whether or not revelations presented to us are of God.

  48. Re:20

    I absolutely agree with your thought:

    “A common but profoundly troubling idea. How can it be that God would reward us for handing over our moral agency to someone we know is wrong? Its absurd. Moral agency always belongs to the individual, we are always responsible for our own actions.”

  49. it's a series of tubes says:

    I also don’t think it would be prudent, if I were to (hypothetically) receive witness that a leader were leading astray, to try to convince others of this idea. I think this is the seed of apostasy; I would have no authority to receive such witness for others. I think we should be (probably even more) wary of those who claim to have received witness of our leaders leading us astray. But that doesn’t lessen our responsibility in any way to recieve inspired guidance through prayer as to whether or not revelations presented to us are of God.

    Based on this paragraph, I think we’re much more in agreement than it might have initially appeared.

  50. jkimballcook says:

    Add me to the list of those who find the idea extremely troubling that obedience is a virtue by itself without regard to what is being obeyed.

    Obedience is neither a virtue nor a vice. In the abstract, it is neutral. It only becomes a virtue or a vice when you put it in context. When you obey good counsel, it is a virtue. When you obey evil, it is sin.

    So to me, the real question is not whether obedience will be rewarded, but rather how do we know whether the counsel we are being asked to obey is good or evil. Our teachings are pretty clear that the light of Christ teaches each individual to distinguish between right and wrong, and that to those who have received the Holy Ghost, the spirit also teaches us to make the distinction.

    While we believe that priesthood authority can teach us the gospel, I’m not aware of any teaching that says priesthood authority is more important than individual revelation when it comes to discerning right and wrong. I’m not saying, by the way, that it’s always easy to make that distinction, just that it is individual conscience that is the source we go to for that determination.

    So my guiding principle, which my dad taught me and which I will teach my children, is that authority is to be respected, but that if you are asked to do something that your conscience tells you is wrong, then your conscience always trumps authority, including priesthood authority. Always.

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