Acknowledging the Judas Reality

Rebecca Moore has been our guest before. She regularly blogs here and is a tall NASA enthusiast.

As I sat watching Interstellar last Sunday with my roommate, as I often do, I turned to her toward and said, “Isn’t this such a great analogy for Heavenly Father? Whatever screw ups well intentioned men may have committed, he’ll come back. He will still come find us. He’ll fix it.” She nodded and smiled politely, but I’m not sure if she was in the mood for me to go off about the failings of General Authorities, so I left it at that. But the analogy none the less stuck with me.

Much of the church has moved into this area of lightly admitting the shortcomings of leadership, but it tends to be more like, “One time they ate cereal on a fast Sunday,” and not, “Their blatant biases mislead the entire church population for several generations.”

I get it. How are you supposed to reconcile the faith we all are supposed to stick with General Authorities with the idea that they could be a total screw up? That all the authority in the world doesn’t change the fact that they could be completely wrong?

The good news is you probably already have, and you just don’t know it. Let me ask, when you read about Judas, did you think, “Obviously Jesus isn’t really the Christ or else he would have better Apostle picking skills.” I mean, maybe, but I think the majority of us accepted his decision.

Judas isn’t the first called to serve that failed in a major way, and neither will he be the last. Johna hoped and pushed for an entire people’s genocide. Joseph Fielding Smith whitewashed most of church history because of family interest. Moses ignored God’s direction and did what he wanted. And Brigham Young’s racist views were definitely behind the delay in basic equality and doctrine being correctly practiced. All through God’s interactions with his own people, leaders have been major problems for the people they were supposed to lead.

Likely, you don’t have issue with all the Old Testament examples I brought up, however the same may not go for the idea of Latter-day prophets and apostles being a stick in the mud when it comes to the flow of continuing and accurate revelation. Not even just them, but the idea that the church fails sometimes. In February, a fluke in the Mormon Newsroom website caused this self-congratulatory article on how we deal with child abuse from 2010 to resurface and enrage many who had encountered leaders who were in fact not “the gold standard,” either in their personal conduct or even just how they handled cases.

This article isn’t unique. We’re quick to highlight our apparent successes and often try and sweep our failures under the rug. It’s normal human nature, and that part of the natural man has crept into our own structure.

Being critical of the church and its leaders, not just church culture, can be scary. One, people outside the church are judgey enough as it is about how we do things. Perhaps it feels like we have enough naysayers, so we just stay quiet. Two, it’s a fine line to walk. While we try and be critical, we have to watch our own biases, after all, it’s just as easy for us to carry them. And of course, no one wants to be labeled an apostate.

As I sat in the temple yesterday and pondered over this, I thought about the people who were perhaps in the wilderness when down came the Law of Moses. If perhaps there was someone who cried out, “Excuse me?! This is crap! What even is the point of some of these rules?” Were they wrong? No. The Law was indeed incomplete, and eventually the priests and other patriarchs became so obsessed with it they devolved into the pharisees that were so removed from its author as to not recognize Him in the flesh. But it was needed when it was first given.

Of course Christ fulfilled the Law. God has revealed, does now reveal, and He will yet reveal many great and important things. Things will be done in His time, and as His children we can rest assured that he will return to fix any mistakes or shortcomings. But that does not remove our own responsibility to use our own free will, the thing we fought so hard for, to honestly judge for ourselves. To abandon our own critical thinking is to fall where we have been warned not to go. “And others will [Satan] pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.”

President Uchtdorf spoke a year ago on being genuine, and how we need to avoid hiding our faults in an attempt to appear better than who we are. “In our day, the Lord has similarly strong words for priesthood holders who try to ‘cover [their] sins, or to gratify [their] pride, [or their] vain ambition.’” It’s terrifying to think of letting everyone know that perhaps the church as a whole is not indeed perfect. What if people go inactive? What if outsiders make fun of us? To that I say, “WHO CARES?” Maybe they will, but at the end of the day, people appreciate honesty much more than feigned perfection. And more than that, they deserve it. They have the right to know about their organization and to have their voice heard. They should know that no one is above failure. Because “we have learned by sad experience that men, as soon as they get a little authority, will begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.” I do not believe that our leaders seek to exercise unrighteous dominion. I believe them to be good men, with compassionate hearts and authority from God. I sustain them. But I believe that sometime sustaining means caring enough to say, “Are we sure this is right?”

It is not only ok, but rather our responsibility to acknowledge the Judas reality: that not only can individual members or church culture be wrong, but in fact the leaders themselves. It is true that no unhallowed hand shall stop the work, but we are not discussing unhallowed hands. It was not the gentiles that caused the pharisees to fall so far as to not see the Son of God when He stood before them. So let’s be honest. Let’s not be a Potemkin village of a church.


  1. Michael Austin says:

    “Let me ask, when you read about Judas, did you think, ‘Obviously Jesus isn’t really the Christ or else he would have better Apostle picking skills.’”

    A sublime observation. And a great and important post. Thank you!

  2. I agree and appreciate and yes let’s be honest. But the practical significance of “sustain” in the modern church is to go along in practice even when it’s wrong, or even when you’re sure it’s wrong. Even when it continues to be wrong for a generation or more. That’s hard.

  3. christiankimball, perhaps part of the problem is that leaders have the expectation that to “sustain” them is to keep one’s mouth shut both before and after a decision is made.

    Part of the problem is that many of these men, at all levels of leadership, automatically assume their own righteousness, and hence that the first thing that pops into their head on any given topic must be the Still Small Voice. You certainly get the impression that some GAs engage in a lot more reflection and metacognition than others. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that those who are most zealous in advocating for exclusionary rules and policies are those who doubt themselves the least.

  4. Leonard R says:

    While I know I couldn’t have said this better, I don’t think you could have either. This is so importantly true.

    And while Christian’s comment is well taken, in that it does not “solve” the dilemma, it does diagnose it well.

    Thank you for sharing this perspective.

  5. There is, it seems to me, a rather large gulf between “Are we sure this is right?” and “Their blatant biases mislead the entire church population for several generations.” The former may be a reasonable exercise in agency and the learning process, but the latter gives no room for the possibility that the individual (rather than the Church leader) could be wrong. It is an oversimplification of history as well. President McKay wanted more than anything to extend the Priesthood to blacks, but was told by the Lord at least twice he could not (the last time being warned not to ask again). Was that because of the bias of the members, or some other reason? If it was because of the bias of the members, could Brigham have been told the same thing for the same reason? The Church has said that the explanations given for the policy were not inspired, and they could not find a record of a revelation being given, but they have not said that the policy was not inspired (and, at least at some point, it was the Lord’s will for whatever reason by the time of President McKay). Situations are rarely as clear-cut as we would like them to be.

    This gets to the larger point of all of this. Let’s assume that, on a certain issue, you believe that you are right and the Church leadership is wrong. If that is your position, you are in a tenuous one. After all, you have no stewardship over the Church, and therefore cannot receive revelation for the Church. If a policy impacts you, then you can receive personal revelation concerning that policy in your life, but that revelation only applies to you – not more broadly. Saying that the Brethren are wrong on something is walking out on a gangplank – you are operating in a space without foundation. Perhaps you are right through the use of your mental facilities and all the Brethren (even with access to inspiration) are wrong. That isn’t the way to bet, though. And even if you do happen to be correct, you quickly can arrive at the point of a steadying the ark.

    That being said, I don’t wholly disagree with you (and I am mostly disagreeing with some unstated premises). I agree that we have agency and must use it. What’s more, we have stewardship over our own lives and are entitled to revelation for them. If your conclusion was that, because of Judas, we should not fear taking the things told to us by the Brethren to the Lord for confirmation and application in our own lives, then I agree. If your conclusion was that, because of Judas, we should not resist if the Lord tells us that we are not to follow particular counsel of the Brethren, then I would also agree (though I would urge caution and to make sure of the source of the inspiration).

    If, on the other hand, your conclusion was that, because of Judas, we may put our reasoned judgment against the Brethren in our lives (or, God forbid, actually putting our moral reasoning against their stewardship publicly), then I couldn’t disagree more. We are a narcissistic people, and we tend to make universal things that are not. We see one truth, and fail to consider another. We receive inspiration for ourselves and project that to the entire Church. But we are often wrong individually, and even those times when we are doing what the Lord wants of us trying to impose that on the whole Church would be a disaster. If the Lord instructs you to do something differently than the Brethren counsel, that does not mean that the Brethren are wrong. It was good for Jeremiah (and the bulk of the prophets) to stay in Jerusalem and preach, but where would we be if Lehi had done the same? By the same token, however, it would have been wrong for Lehi to publicly condemn Jeremiah (who was doing what God wanted him to do).

    Let me close putting this with one final comment. Let’s assume that the Brethren happen to genuinely be wrong on an issue. And let’s assume that John Q. Member happens to be right. Let’s assume that Brother Member reaches his conclusion and takes the matter to the Lord, where he receives confirmation that he is right. What then?

    I suggest that Brother Member should keep the matter to himself. We have a large number of examples of this – both modern and through the scriptures. When someone pops up online saying they have received revelation that the Brethren are wrong on an issue I cringe – they demonstrate a deficiency of understanding of revelation that would make Hiram Page blush. Even if they had received inspiration, D&C 85:8 warns that even those blessed would still be struck down for a steadying the ark.

  6. That was a looooooooonnnnggggg comment, man.

  7. Katie M. says:

    When I converted to the church, one of the doctrines I found so compelling was the idea that this was the only church headed by a “true and living prophet” and that this was a necessary part of the restoration of the true church. This was something, I was told, that set us apart from every other faith on earth. Over the years, as I’ve come to see that prophets are not as infallible as I originally thought, I’ve had to come to a more nuanced view of that claim. But it’s given me a niggling question I haven’t quite been able to answer to my satisfaction. If prophets are fallible and can lead us astray, then how is the LDS leadership different than the leadership of other churches? Is the idea that while the apostles and prophet make mistakes, on average, they get things right more of the time than other faith leaders do?

    (I know tone is hard to convey in a comment; this is a sincere, not sarcastic question.)

  8. Katie M: Good question. My version of a reply is that the “faithful cynic” (which feels like the OP, but ymmv) takes the 66% view. That the prophet gets it right 66% of the time. A lot better than chance. Better than anyone else around. Very much worthy of close attention. But not 99%. Not a guarantee. Not nearly good enough to absolve me of study and prayer and working out my own salvation with fear and trembling.

  9. Katie, I have wondered the same thing, and I guess the answer is that LDS leaders have priesthood keys, and the others don’t. It’s not an awesome answer, but it’s all anybody’s got, as far as I know.

  10. This was, however, an awesome post.

  11. I agree, madhousewife. Those priesthood keys don’t necessarily convey rightness, but they carry the authority to perform saving ordinances. Which, in the end, is perhaps what matters most anyway. Everything else—doctrine, beliefs, faith—is mostly up to us to work out as individuals, I think.

  12. …I think a good one though. Honestly, I think Rebecca’s post and Jonathan’s comment work together super well. It almost seems as if they came to the same truth through two different lenses, seeing each side of the same coin as it were, together revealing the whole coin of this truth in a more simple and clear way than I recall coming across online.

  13. Wonderful post, Rebecca. I see a few reasons for the angst about the Brethren.

    First, sometimes the policies of the Brethren are themselves hurtful. Individuals, such as African-Americans and LGBT, have personally suffered in ways we know all too well. Many of the rest of us can’t help but mourn with them.

    Second, our church culture places these leaders on a pedestal (which you will see in full force at General Conference this week), at which point some of us can’t help but protest in our hearts that they are just as mortal as the rest of us. Chanting that the sky is sunny, when it is in fact cloudy, leads to cognitive dissonance and pain for some of us.

    Third, time spent extolling the Brethren is time not spent extolling God (unless, of course, one holds that they are equivalent). Why does the institution spend so much effort focusing our gaze towards imperfect men, instead of towards our perfect example – the Savior? Are they concerned that we’re giving *too much* credit to God and Christ, and not enough to our Latter-day “prophets, seers, and revelators?” False idols have never been a lasting source of happiness; our gaze must ever be focused on Christ.

  14. Christ was an excellent picker of apostles. He needed someone to betray him and he knew Judas would do it. It had to happen, that was part of the plan. Perhaps the errors made by our leaders today are also part of the plan, but we, with our finite eyes, are unable to see it. The Elder that taught me the gospel promised I did not have to accept what the leaders said, I always have the right to pray and know for myself. If they were always 100% right how would I exercise that right? I’ve disagreed with several major pronouncement over the years, but have come to see my problem is no so much what the leaders said, but what the members in their zeal have done with it. Living by faith is not meant to be easy, but I have faith that God is in control and will trust Him to do what is needed to guide our leaders, or perhaps to let them be wrong if that is what they need. He did finally give Joseph permission to let Martin have the 116 pages. Is God a bad picker of apostles also?

  15. Dog Pface says:

    Prophets, if scripture can be believed, should be judged by their fruits. My assessment of their fruits is a mixed bag that seems to smell a bit. Not sure this is matches my expectation of what the fruits should be.

  16. “Excuse me?! This is crap!” may not have been heard loudly enough to make it into the Old Testament, but it’s been heard pretty loudly on the internet since early November 2015. As R.B. Scott quoted one responder to the November Handbook changes mess: “After stepping in fresh ordure, it’s best to scrape it off your boots before it hardens.” See: Unfortunately, that did not happen and the problem was first compounded by a weak rationalization, then by a “clarification” that was actually such a fundamental change that it constitutes an admission that the original November Handbook changes were in error, and finally President Nelson’s January 10 talk claiming, without reference to the “clarification,” that the [original?] November Handbook changes were the “mind and will of the Lord” confirmed to each of the 15. Since then, most bloggers/commenters I’ve read seem to assume that President Nelson spoke accurately in reporting FP&QT unanimity with respect to The Policy. Scott’s article is not the only source of reason to believe President Nelson misspoke and that others’ keeping quiet on the subject is evidence of disagreement (and current unwillingness to publicly disagree) and not evidence of agreement. If so, how can President Nelson now be rehabilitated as a credible witness [of anything]?

    I shoveled enough literal ordure out of the barn and corral as a teenager to know the smell and the mess. I shoveled enough metaphorical ordure out of church services and lessons to clean up enough to avoid or cure infection for a few people. (I have also failed with some.) But I don’t know how this one can be cleaned up — only that I cannot do it. I think I’ll stick with the answers christiankimball and madhousewife gave to Katie while (a) acknowledging our leaders and our Church can be wrong and (b) sniffing out what’s useful to me in trying to be a disciple of Christ.

  17. Josephine says:

    It was the reference one comment made to steadying the ark that convinced me to post in return.
    A number of years ago a General Authority gave a talk in general conference basically instructing the members not to write to Salt Lake, that we should not steady the ark.
    I had had a particular experience regarding a family member who was excommunicated that led me to know the Church leaders involved in this long messy process probably did not have all the facts. I wondered and wondered what to do about it. Then the talk came and I followed the counsel.
    Unfortunately, I was correct about my knowledge but incorrect in following the counsel. The family member turned out to be suffering from a severe mental illness. No real help was ever given him, despite counseling with multiple bishops, stake presidents, and several General Authorities. There was one plan and they followed it: he confessed, he was excommunicated, he stayed out until a bishop took enormous time with him allowing him to obey the commandments long enough to be baptized and go to the temple again, and he was given increasingly important church callings. This is the plan for serious sinners; it is preached by Salt Lake. It must be true. But of course it did not work. He broke down again and was out of the Church once again, this time dying outside, his life a total wreck. He destroyed three marriages along the way and two children.
    I know the Saviour has the ability to heal us of our wounds. But he cannot repair all the damage done. The actions of people in this life have consequences some of which are eternal. Those broken marriages cannot all be repaired.
    I wish I could tell you this was an isolated incident in my experience. It was not.
    I am privileged to have several friends in the Church who suffer from mental illness. My former home teacher, who served repeatedly as an elder’s quorum president, committed suicide a few years ago. Despite a Priesthood blessing telling him he would be healed from the problem he faced, it came again. He did not want to undergo the madness again that drove him to terrible actions such as having sex with prostitutes.
    One of the women I met in a single’s ward has been married probably ten or more times because of her mental health problems. I understand she once served as Relief Society president. But now she introduced herself to a former husband when he visited her ward during a time she was single. She thought she might like to date him until he told her they had once been married.
    One of my roommates from BYU was finally diagnosed as bipolar after five marriages and divorces, one excommunication, one rebaptism, and having left the Church again.
    Another ward friend has been married at least five times, excommunicated once, placed on Church probation once, and struggled when some ill-informed General Authority criticized people in General Conference for marrying multiple times.
    Another friend from Church has driven her children from the Church and left her ex-husband in despair because of the rages and excesses her mental illness causes. She remains active in the Church.
    Do not think these people are failing to take their prescribed drugs. They are taking the best available and regularly seeing therapists. In at least one case, the bishop called a Church court on the woman and disciplined her knowing the entire story!
    You may see speaking up as steadying the ark. I think in these cases the ark already fell down and crushed these people.
    And finally, I worked for a woman in the ward who was diagnosed as bipolar. She was not attending Church at that time so I emailed then visited the bishop asking if he could give her a healing blessing. When I went to see him, he told me he was sorry but he had forgotten about the email and no, he could not help her. But I must be sure I did not quit my job with her. Her illness progressed and she filed false charges against me with the police and fired me. I had to move out of state and am camped in a friend’s living room.
    So go ahead and do exactly what Salt Lake or your local bishop says. It has certainly been a success for me and the people I know. Any more success and I will be living on the sidewalk.

  18. What does this statement by President Woodruff, when dealing with the changes to plural marriage, mean in this context?

    “The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty. (Sixty-first Semiannual General Conference of the Church, Monday, October 6, 1890, Salt Lake City, Utah. Reported in Deseret Evening News, October 11, 1890, p. 2.)” from

    Note, this is not part of the text of Official Declaration 1 but it is included in the scriptures as part of OD1 under Excerpts from Three Addresses by President Wilford Woodruff Regarding the Manifesto.

  19. Reese, you should understand that President Woodruff never said that the Lord had told him that He (the Lord) would not allow His leaders to lead the church astray; rather, Woodruff was engaging in the worst form of circular reasoning: “I won’t lead you astray because God won’t let me do so and the reason I know this is because I’m the prophet and I just said so.”

    This utterance by the prophet was an act of desperation, an effort to prevent a schism in the church that threatened to occur by reason of the church’s decision to abandon plural marriage—something, by the way, that Messrs. Woodruff and Taylor had promised the members that God would never let happen (oops!).

    The bottom line is that you cannot find any instance in the scriptures where the Lord has provided such a guarantee to his followers. Simply stated, it is false, nothing more than another example of Latter-day exceptionalism: “We are special. We were saved for the last days. So of course the Lord won’t let the prophet lead us astray.”

    In the words of Colonel Potter, one of my favorite 20th Century philosophers: “horse hockey”!

  20. For prophets, and the rest of us, the best of course of action when you make a mistake is to openly acknowledge your error instead of trying to conceal it or pretend it never happened. Maybe someday our leaders will actually do this instead of making oblique references to the fact that some of their predecessors might have made one or two inconsequential booboos which, by the way, shouldn’t be discussed in polite company.

    If and when that sea change occurs, my faith will increase considerably. I will follow to hell and back an ecclesiastical leader who concedes he made a mistake and promises to try to do better in the future. Whenever, however, a church leader assures me that he is incapable of leading me astray, I count my spoons.

  21. Reese (1:39pm) – You noted that the “astray” language is “not part of the text of Official Declaration 1 but it is included in the scriptures as part of OD1…” It did not appear in editions of the scriptures prior to 1981. I do not believe it has ever been canonized, but I could be wrong. If it has not, then it is in no way “part of OD1” but is, instead, included there by some unidentified person’s decision on what might be helpful. For additional, sometimes confusing comments as to the additions in 1981 see

    Among many times the same concept has been echoed, see: A Prophet’s Counsel and Prayer for Youth Ensign, January 2001
    President Gordon B. Hinckley
    “I make you a promise that the authorities of this Church will never lead you astray.” ___________________
    You Are Different Ensign, January 1974
    Elder David B. Haight, Assistant to the Council of the Twelve
    President Lee once remarked that President Heber J. Grant counseled: “Brethren, keep your eye on the President of this Church. If he tells you to do anything and it is wrong and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it. But you don’t need to worry; the Lord will never let his mouthpiece lead this people astray.” (Brigham Young University address, April 19, 1961, quoted in the Ensign, October, 1972, p. 7.)
    Obedience to the Prophets Liahona, November 2010
    Elder Claudio R. M. Costa, Of the Presidency of the Seventy
    Reviving Ezra Taft Benson on Fourteen Fundamentals of Following the Prophet, including the prophet will never lead you astray. Note: this talk of Benson’s was not appreciated by the then Prophet Spencer W. Kimball. Some historians report that Benson was required to explain himself to the Q12 and that they were not happy with his explanation. I think I’d go with President Kimball’s dissatisfaction with that talk regardless of what Elder Costa or the Priesthood/Relief Society manual on teachings of President Benson have done with it. BTW, that series of manuals should be named something like: Some of the Teachings of ____ Who Sometime Later (in Many but Not All Cases) became President of the Church, Selected According to What the Correlation Committee Wants to Talk About and Not with Any Effort to Give a Complete Picture of the Man’s Thought or His Teachings as President of the Church.
    Continuing Revelation Ensign, August 1996
    President James E. Faust, Second Counselor in the First Presidency
    How, then, one might ask, can we be so sure that, as promised, the prophets, seers, and revelators will never lead the people astray? (see Joseph Fielding Smith, in Conference Report, Apr. 1972, 99; or Ensign, July 1972, 88). …

    These statements are in significant conflict with statements of (mostly older) General Authorities like these:

    “Do not, brethren, put your trust in a man though he be a bishop, an apostle, or a president. If you do, they will fail you at some time or place; they will do wrong or seem to, and your support be gone…” – Apostle George Q. Cannon, Millennial Star, v. 53, pp. 658-659, as quoted in Gospel Truth, v. 1, p. 319

    “President Wilford Woodruff is a man of wisdom and experience, and we respect him, but we do not believe his personal views or utterances are revelations from God; and when ‘Thus saith the Lord,’ comes from him, the saints investigate it: they do not shut their eyes and take it down like a pill.” – Apostle Charles W. Penrose, Millennial Star, v. 54, p. 191

    These two very contradictory strains of thought have existed in teachings of the leaders of our Church at least since the time of Brigham Young and, by some accounts, during the time of Joseph Smith. With respect to one of them “ordure” is only slightly more genteel than “horse hockey.” See FarSide (2:08 pm).

  22. JR, I was not familiar with the Penrose quote. I’ll add it to my collection. Thanks.

  23. Clark Goble says:

    Part of the problem is that many of these men, at all levels of leadership, automatically assume their own righteousness, and hence that the first thing that pops into their head on any given topic must be the Still Small Voice.

    I’ve been around some bad leaders but boy the above sure isn’t my experience. Maybe it’s just being aware of my own weaknesses the times I’ve been in even limited leadership positions, but even the bad leaders seemed pretty aware they didn’t necessarily know what they were doing. This overconfidence and lack of any conception they didn’t know what to do hasn’t been what I’ve seen. Again, even with leaders I’d say, to be polite, might have struggled in having consistently good decisions.

    I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. And certainly both those who tend to make good decisions and those who tend to make bad decisions will often not deal well with criticism. But that seems a different issue than thinking their every inclination is the word of God.

  24. Clark Goble says:

    FarSide (2:17) I don’t think that’s fair to what Pres. Woodruff was saying. I also don’t think it’s inherently circular. You’re making a ton of assumptions regarding Woodruff’s epistemology there not to mention religious conceptions of revelation in general.

    Regarding your larger point, while I tend to favor that view I think you are wrong if you think that most people would react as you say you would. Now in my opinion we tend to coddle too much those with weak testimonies who seem quasi-loyal as compared to those with weak testimonies who seem to had their faith shaken in ways that doesn’t appear quasi-loyal. Rather I think we just need to acknowledge some things will try faith and use that as a catalyst for people to gain a real testimony.

    But I’m not a GA and there’s probably a good reason I’m not and that’s not what the brethren want to do. I’m just cognizant of how I might be wrong enough to not get worked up if the Church takes a different strategy towards those weak in faith.

  25. Clark, I, of course, am not the first to perceive circularity in Brother Woodruff’s desperate plea to the members who were losing faith in his leadership after he backtracked on his promises regarding the permanence of polygamy (“If we were to do away with polygamy, it would only be one feather in the bird… Do away with that, then we must do away with prophets and Apostles, with revelation and the gifts and graces of the Gospel… and finally give up our religion altogether…. We just can’t do that….”Journal of Discourses, vol. 13, p. 166.) To ignore the context in which he made that plea and to try to find a way to give it some revelatory legitimacy is truly grasping at straws.

    Lamentably, his latter-day aphorism—”the Lord won’t allow us to lead you astray”—has become the “go to” replacement for the myth of prophetic infallibility and the most popular tool in the church’s arsenal for discouraging inconvenient questions about its policies. And to describe the apparent infantilization of the membership as nothing more than “we coddle too much” is to gloss over the extent to which the church, with its hagiographic and homiletic versions of history and doctrinal evolution, has sought to perpetuate that myth. Regrettably, that mindset has exacted a heavy price—members leaving in droves in the most serious apostasy, according to church historian emeritus Jensen, since the Kirtland era. Of course, if you don’t believe there is any connection between the church’s past portrayal of its leaders, history and doctrines and the decision of so many to leave in recent years, then I suppose it’s easy not to get worked up about it.

    When the Wizard of Oz was exposed as nothing more than a fallible man pulling some levers behind a curtain in order to deceive people into thinking he was something more powerful, that wasn’t the end of the story. He discovered that if he was open and honest about his weaknesses and limitations, he could win the trust of those around him and use his natural, God-given abilities to help others. The church is showing tentative signs of seeing the wisdom of that approach, though how this chapter in its history is ultimately written remains to be seen.

  26. Clark Goble says:

    You’re of course not the only one to make the circularity claim and I’m sure you’ve read the rather obvious ways out of the circularity. i.e. people getting personal revelation on the subject; Woodruff saying what he says because of revelation and not some hermeneutic magic in just being President.

  27. @ Clark Goble –

    An irony of Woodruff’s statement about not leading us astray, of course, is that this began a 15 year period where individuals at the highest levels of the Church, including Woodruff himself, lied to authorities about their continuing involvement in polygamy with their post-manifesto marriages.

    What moral and philosophical justifications will you give for this behavior?

  28. Wesley Dean says:

    From Wilford Woodruff’s sermon as quoted by FGH , “As to President Young his labors have been with us. It has been remarked sometimes, by certain individuals, that President Young has said in public that he was not a prophet nor the son of a prophet. I have traveled with him since 1833 or the spring of 1834; I have traveled a good many thousand miles with him and have heard him preach a great many thousand sermons; but I have never heard him make that remark in my life. He is a prophet, I am a prophet, you are, and anybody is a prophet who has the testimony of Jesus Christ, for that is the spirit of prophecy. The Elders of Israel are prophets. A prophet is not so great as an Apostle. Christ has set, in his Church, first, Apostles; they hold the keys of the kingdom of God. Any man who has traveled with President Young knows he is a prophet of God. He has foretold a great many things that have come to pass. All the Saints who are well acquainted with him know that he is governed and controlled by the power of God and the revelations of Jesus Christ. His works are before the world; they are before the heavens; before the earth; before the wicked as well as the righteous; and it is the influence of President Young that the world is opposed to. This Priesthood, these keys of the kingdom of God that have been sealed upon him, the world is at war against; let them say what they may, these things are what they are at enmity with. Their present objection to the Latter-day Saints, they say, is plurality of wives. It is this principle they are trying to raise a persecution against now. But how was it in Missouri, Kirtland, Jackson County, Far West, Caldwell County, in all our drivings and afflictions, before this principle was revealed to the Church? Certainly it was not polygamy then. No, it was prophets, it was revelation, it was the organization of an institution founded by revelation from God. They did not believe in that, and that was the objection in those days. If we were to do away with polygamy, it would only be one feather in the bird, one ordinance in the Church and kingdom. Do away with that, then we must do away with prophets and Apostles, with revelation and the gifts and graces of the Gospel, and finally give up our religion altogether and turn sectarians and do as the world does, then all would be right. We just can’t do that, for God has commanded us to build up His kingdom and to bear our testimony to the nations of the earth, and we are going to do it, come life or come death. He has told us to do thus, and we shall obey Him in days to come as we have in days past.”

    I think it’s clear from the added context that what is meant is not that plural marriage will never be rescinded, but that revelation is the key to everything that is done in the Lord’s kingdom, and that the world hates new revelation.

  29. Clark Goble says:

    FGH, I think the idea that lying for the greater good is justified if it actually achieves the ends. In this case they didn’t (in terms of how Woodruff thought of it) which is why we look so askance at it. Yet, to give a different example, Nephi pretending to be Laban gets a pass. The way we judge these sorts of things tends not to be in terms of the intents and understandings of the actors but in the consequences in actual (not potential) history. I’m not sure that’s entirely fair.

    Clearly Woodruff’s intent, whether justified or not, was to stop the practice as a public doctrine and practice but move back to how it was handled in Nauvoo. That should have been obvious to him that it would not work but clearly he thought he had to do it.

  30. Jack of Hearts says:

    Thanks for the context, Wesley. You’re right; it seems clear that Woodruff was arguing that the problem wasn’t because of polygamy, but because the Mormons weren’t like mainstream American Christians. His reasoning seems to be that if they got rid of polygamy, their persecutors would just move to a new target. That message is a good deal different from the one you would draw from the truncated version.

  31. How are we to let our Church leaders know when they are wrong? It has been my experience most do not take kindly to correction, especially from people they are over in the hierarchy, which includes all women.
    The one time I did make the effort to try to correct a rather egregious error, I met first with my bishop, then my stake president, then with our Seventy. He forwarded a letter to the First Council of Seventy for me explaining what had happened. I received a very polite brush off letter back. They were doing enough already about the problem and were not responsible for what had happened. I was stunned, then furious. Priesthood leaders from bishops to general authorities had been involved every step of the way. There was no question they had made terrible mistakes. Their uninformed advice given and actions taken had done enormous damage. I have thought since then that Heaven will need to include an area where Priesthood leaders who served here are forbidden to enter so that many can finally heal from the damage they did us.

  32. What should happen when they are wrong?
    First, I would remind myself that this is a serious issue that comes up in many places and for many reasons. Just put “clergy” in place of “they” and the variety and frequency jumps out.
    Next, I want a correction, i.e., get it right for the future. But my direct experience and observed second-hand experience is that correction comes eventually but slowly, so I build my expectations around “next generation.”
    Finally, sometimes I want them fired. Out. Barred from positions of authority. But my experience and observation is that that almost never happens. There are exceptions, but in the main — Clergy, Priests, Ministers, Leaders — they survive. I build my expectations around “no consequences.”
    Next generation and no consequences might sound extreme and bitter. I think it’s just realism.

  33. Clark Goble says:

    I think contention over leaders at the local level is fairly common. Not just Bishops but Relief Society Presidents or Primary Presidents. If anything I’d be not at all surprised to learn there was far more conflict over the latter (or Sunday School Presidents) where perhaps the stakes are a little lower.

    How to respond seems difficult to say since it seems like there’s a big divide between those who might disagree but don’t mind just living with bad decisions and those who might be more psychologically affected by conflict or bad decisions. I mean I can think of lots of examples of what I’d say was unfair treatment when I was younger. But by and large I didn’t care. So someone said something stupid and wrong about me. But from my perspective it’s not their church so who cares? Someone else in the same situation may have been horribly offended and perhaps it became a canker in their activity. It seems the background and psychology of people varies so much it’s hard to say there’s any “solution” of what to do.

    Of course I might advocate the Stoic solution and say worry about what you can change and don’t be bothered about what you can’t. But I recognize few feel that way. (grin)

  34. I believe, with christiankimball, that it is “just realism” to build expectations around “no consequences” and “next generation.” Once in a while, e.g. 1978, such generational expectations are exceeded, but, on the 1978 scale, that is uncommon. I find that I am incapable of making sense out of “the authorities of this Church will never lead you astray” except by redefining terms to make it mean only that they won’t mess up so badly that the Lord, if you let him, can’t fix the eternal consequence of the mess-up sometime, even if not in this life. That, however, seems not to be what is understood by the adherents of that strain of thought about the rightness of Church authorities. One of the clearest examples of doctrinal leading astray is in the conflict between Brigham Young’s Adam-God teachings and Spencer W. Kimball’s declaration that they were false doctrine. At least one of those two prophet-presidents of the Church must have been mistaken and have led at least some of the Church members astray on a doctrinal matter. Leading some astray on matters of action may also have happened. Examples range from changes in permissible forms of dancing to the conflict between OD1 and approval of post-manifesto polygamous marriages.

    If there is a healthy and reasonable way to understand the never-lead-you-astray talk, I hope someone will point it out to me. I have so far succeeded only in seeing it as either (a) demonstrably, historically false, or (b) essentially meaningless, at least in this life, except for those who want or need comforting assurance of relief from personal responsibility and can accept it without intolerable cognitive dissonance. (But I won’t be holding my breath, despite the occasional odor of ordure.)

  35. The “lead you astray” comment was made by President Woodruff when cementing the Manifesto. It was said to a generation told to abandon the very doctrine which had caused them and their parents to be harried from one home to another, persecuted, raped, killed, and terrified.

    I think, in as much context as I have access to, it means that a declaration of that magnitude can only be made through inspiration and commandment from the Spirit, that if a man in charge of the Church tried to revoke a commandment of God by any other means, he’d be removed.

    People have extrapolated that comment to mean “in any way, any where,” but in light of the doctrines of the Church, that is patently ridiculous, and generally said by people who aren’t challenged by what is said anyways.

    I believe that the leaders of the Church do their best to follow God’s commandments and place God squarely in the driver’s seat of the Church. That doesn’t mean they are inhuman, or somehow above their mortal experiences and perspective. But it does mean that they try every day and in every way to humble themselves, seek the Spirit of the Lord and be led as a group by Him when directing the Church.

    Of course they can still make mistakes. But so can I. So, given that they are a group of fifteen men who spend every waking minute trying to understand the Lord’s will for the whole of the Church, and I am just one person with a full-time job, children to raise, and barely enough time to breathe, I will focus on the Lord’s will for ME in MY life and trust those who are called to do their best with the stewardships they have been given.

    Their calling and humility don’t absolve us of the need to access personal revelation when applying their teachings in our own lives. If it were that easy, we could turn off our agency altogether, do only what we are told, and find ourselves smack in the middle of Satan’s plan for us.

  36. People have extrapolated that comment to mean “in any way, any where,” but in light of the doctrines of the Church, that is patently ridiculous, and generally said by people who aren’t challenged by what is said anyways.

    Great point Silver Rain!

  37. Clark Goble says:

    Yup. What Silver Rain said. Woodruff was saying the President wouldn’t lead the church astray into outright apostasy. It seems to me when the church goes to apostasy it’s because the Lord takes his leaders away.

  38. Regarding the Wilford Woodruff quote, I find it helpful, whenever it’s cited, to insert the contextual phrase “I’m telling you now the opposite of what I have taught your whole life and mine, but . . .”

  39. yes, context matters!

  40. Silver Rain, while I agree, for the most part, with the second half of your comment, I find your reading of Woodruff’s “never lead you astray” guarantee a bit strained.

    First, there is no scriptural precedent for such an assertion. The Lord has never given this assurance to His people since the beginning of time. (I know that we think we’re different, that we’re special, but we’re not. Really, we’re not.) Indeed, you can make a compelling case that the actions of certain Old and New Testament religious leaders and prophets (e.g., Solomon, David, Noah, Eli, Caiaphas) contributed significantly to the Lord’s decision to turn His back on the Israelites at times. If that isn’t leading the people astray, I don’t know what is.

    Second, Woodruff did NOT say: “The Lord told me that He would never would allow me to lead you astray.” If he had, we wouldn’t be having this debate. Rather, when read in the context of Woodruff’s desperate circumstances—and they were truly desperate, given the very real threat of schism—the more plausible reading, in my opinion, is that he was grasping at straws, trying to find some way to convince his fellow polygamists that this abandonment of a doctrine that they had been previously told was essential to their exaltation in the celestial kingdom was the right thing to do.

    Third, the notion that the Lord would strike a prophet dead rather than allow him to lead the church astray compromises the moral agency of the prophet, something that is arguably contrary to the fundamental precepts of the plan of salvation.

    Fourth, it is noteworthy that the prophets of the Book of Mormon admonished the people to follow the Savior, not a prophet. Read the counsel of Alma to his sons. He didn’t say, “follow me.” He said: “Follow Christ.” Alma 36-39.

    Fifth, even if your strained reading of Woodruff’s original utterance is somehow defensible, this is not how it is employed today. Rather, it is used by many church leaders as a substitute for the myth of prophetic infallibility; indeed, it is the most popular tool in the church’s arsenal for discouraging inconvenient questions and silencing dissent.

    President George Q. Cannon git it right when he said:

    “Do not, brethren, put your trust in man though he be a Bishop, an Apostle, or a President. If you do, they will fail you at some time or place; they will do wrong or seem to, and your support be gone; but if we lean on God, He never will fail us. When men and women depend on God alone, and trust in Him alone, their faith will not be shaken if the highest in the Church should step aside. They could still see that He is just and true, that truth is lovely in His sight, and the pure in heart are dear to Him.

    “Perhaps it is His own design that faults and weaknesses should appear in high places in order that His Saints may learn to trust in Him and not in any man or men. Therefore, my brethren and sisters, seek after the Holy Spirit and the unfailing testimony of God and His work upon the earth.” Millennial Star Vol. 53 #43 p. 674.

  41. Silver Rain, Thank you for your response. I agree with much of what you included.

    I had not considered the possibility that President Woodruff may have meant only “that a declaration of that magnitude can only be made through inspiration and commandment from the Spirit, that if a man in charge of the Church tried to revoke a commandment of God by any other means, he’d be removed.” In that case, his unfortunate diction has led some people astray by encouraging them to read it as “in any way, any where.” But that contextual understanding of his stray [ :) ] remark does not help me with its reiterations in the contexts of the statements of at least President Hinckley, David B. Haight, Claudio R. M. Costa, Ezra Taft Benson, and James E. Faust noted in an earlier comment. If it is true, as some report, that President Woodruff was also aware of or a participant in new post-manifesto plural marriages, then I cannot see how your contextual limitation of his public statement could be correct. I am more concerned with the later reiterations by other authorities.

    I very much appreciate your statement “I will focus on the Lord’s will for ME in MY life and trust those who are called to do their best with the stewardships they have been given.” I try to do the same, but must note that sometimes “their best” sometimes appears not to be good enough to avoid significant damage to some of the flock. Sometimes even the stewardship I’m given through a Church calling has required engaging in discussion of those times when it appears that authorities of the Church have led someone astray. At least at those times, the problem cannot be simply shrugged off because focusing on the Lord’s will for ME in MY calling requires helping someone else deal with the result of times when “their best” was not good enough.

    christiankimball, You noted “Regarding the Wilford Woodruff quote, I find it helpful, whenever it’s cited, to insert the contextual phrase ‘I’m telling you now the opposite of what I have taught your whole life and mine, but . . .’ ” I’d like to understand how that is helpful to whom. Did you mean helpful to your own acceptance of or your privately discounting the quote? Or did you mean that your inserting that contextual phrase is helpful to others with whom you discuss the quote? I have more trouble understanding how it might be helpful to others.

    While as a practical matter, it may not be much help, some are encouraged by remarks such as S. Dilworth Young’s: “You must work through the Spirit. If that leads you into conflict with the program of the Church, you follow the voice of the Spirit” (quoted in D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power. Signature: Salt Lake City, 1997, p. 17).

  42. Farside:

    First, there is no scriptural precedent for such an assertion. The Lord has never given this assurance to His people since the beginning of time….
    Okay, how is this an argument against my assertion to read President Woodruff’s comment in context and not extrapolate it past that context? Just because there is no scriptural precedent for a broad application of Pres. Woodruff’s statement, doesn’t invalidate the application for which it was intended.

    Second, Woodruff did NOT say: “The Lord told me that He would never would allow me to lead you astray.” If he had, we wouldn’t be having this debate… he was grasping at straws….
    Which is basically what I said, if you look at it a certain way, except I said it without ascribing desperation to him. “Grasping at straws” indicates a state of mind I doubt he had.

    Third, the notion that the Lord would strike a prophet dead rather than allow him to lead the church astray compromises the moral agency of the prophet….
    Actually, no it doesn’t. Any more than death ever “compromises the moral agency” of anyone. The scriptures are full of examples of people struck dead because they did not follow the Lord’s will.

    Fourth, it is noteworthy that the prophets of the Book of Mormon admonished the people to follow the Savior, not a prophet….
    You are correct, so long as you ignore the fact that the BoM is entirely a story of people who follow their righteous prophets. Oh, wait, actually you’re not correct at all. There are several scriptures that address listening to the prophets.

    Fifth, even if your strained reading of Woodruff’s original utterance is somehow defensible….
    Ah, you make the tragic mistake of assuming I’m here to defend it. I’m not. I’m offering my perspective. I have no need to defend it. It is plain to see (or not) for anyone who cares to go back and read the source. I don’t care how other people use it. That isn’t what was asked. What was asked is that I share MY way of seeing it. Which I have done.

    I have no interest in rising to your bait past what I have already. Your use of provocative adjectives notwithstanding.

  43. JR, I hear you. Life is messy, listening to the prophets is messy. Damage can be done. I’ve had my share. But the doctrine is clear that we must do our best to listen to the Spirit, submit to God’s will, and serve as best we know how. The Atonement is powerful enough to heal the damage. I’ve also experienced my share of that.

    But the interpretation of any of those speakers’ statements that we should switch off our agency is obviously false. I read each of those comments to which you refer as an exhortation to sustain the prophets, to trust their teachings in absence of personal revelation, and to trust them that they are also doing the best they can with the stewardships they have been given.

    I have made too many mistakes myself to hold the leadership of the Church so firmly accountable for theirs. It’s not my place. And I trust the One whose place it is to handle it.

  44. Clark Goble says:

    FarSide, I don’t think Eli or Caiaphas fit. Rather if we’re looking at the Old Testament the closest analogy would be Elijah or those main prophets before him. Part of the problem is that by the time we have good history and texts for – roughly the era around Isaiah to Lehi – the prophets were handled in a different way. (One could make the case there’s something like a school of the prophets – but it’s not as formal) That is in a certain sense the Church is largely already gone as a stable formal thing. Likewise in the New Testament it’s a tad trickier since the focus of the texts we have is Christ not the leadership in Jerusalem who we learn about in a very fragmentary way. There the closes thing we have might be John’s Revelation which Mormons read as telling the people the church is going away.

    The issue isn’t that leaders can’t go astray. There have obviously been excommunicated Apostles within the last century for instance. Rather the issue is a claim about the church itself I think. More Rev 12:6.

    This isn’t to say we can be complacent. Far from it. The scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon, also make a point of noting that the church frequently is pretty screwed up in terms of the people. To the degree the Book of Mormon was written as a warning (in part) to us then that’s something we need to pay attention to.

  45. FarSide says:

    Clark, I understand your point. I just don’t agree with the proposition that a prophet can’t lead the church astray.

    Further, I don’t believe that Brother Woodruff was offering the type of nuanced statement that apologists today try to attribute to him. He actually said nothing about the “church”; he simply said that the Lord wouldn’t allow him to lead YOU astray—the “you” being the small faction practicing polygamy that were baffled by a policy change they were told—and not just by him but by John Taylor and many others—would never happen. Heck many, if not a majority of the saints, never embraced polygamy and likely felt “good riddance.”

    But my biggest complaint is the way our modern leaders use Woodruff’s statement. They have expanded it to include virtually all general authorities and they never—and I mean never—qualify their statement by saying: “‘Leading you astray’ only means leading you into apostasy; that doesn’t mean we won’t make some serious mistakes like denying an entire race priesthood and temple blessings for five generations.” Such candor, sadly, is not in their DNA.

  46. your food allergy is fake says:

    I just want to insert my thanks to the commenters for this thoughtful discussion. This is a good community of people and I believe discussions such as this are helpful to a lot of people. I find Silver Rain’s comments particularly interesting, consistently. Anyway, carry on!

  47. Somebody has to be a party pooper, and it might as well be me. I hate this post. No Church leader in this dispensation has been a “total screw up” or “completely wrong.” You misrepresent and malign every Church leader when you say that. Pick whichever man, or the whole string of them, where you want to pin the blame for whatever colossal error you find, or think you find. Yet that error is not the totality of the man or his deeds or his teachings. No error any one of them, or the collective totality of them, ever made is equivalent to what Judas did, or what “a Judas” metaphorically means in our culture, either.

    I’ve made mistakes. I’ve sinned. I’ve hurt people. What I feel for you, and for those who comment approvingly here, is a sin. Yet I don’t deserve to be labeled a “total screw up” or condemned as “completely wrong” because of it — I’ve done some things right, believe it or not, and I am at least occasionally correct, after all. And you don’t deserve to be judged a “total screw up” and “completely wrong” for one incredibly tasteless post. But according to the judgment and mercy you measure out, those labels are exactly what you do deserve.

  48. Ardis, I read the guest post very differently from your reading. I do not believe the author said any Church leader in this dispensation has been a “total screw up” or “completely wrong.” Instead, she wrote: “I do not believe that our leaders seek to exercise unrighteous dominion. I believe them to be good men, with compassionate hearts and authority from God. I sustain them.” The phrases you quote came from the author’s question (not an assertion) about reconciling faith with the possibility that a general authority could be a “total screw up” or “completely wrong”. I read the possibility in question as the possibility that some one or more of the general authorities could be completely wrong about a particular thing or in a particular statement, not at all as a judgment on the totality of the man or his thought or teaching. The Judas issue I read as having been inserted as an example of what we clearly do not do — reject Christ because he chose a disciple such as Judas. I read the message as that we similarly do not reject the restored Church, its priesthood authority, or the teachings of our leaders as a whole because some one or more of them makes a mistake or even heartily believes and teaches something that turns out to be wrong. I do think the author’s final paragraph, pulling Judas back into the discussion by labeling the possibility of mistakes by our leaders (several of whom have recently acknowledged that mistakes are sometimes made) as the “Judas reality” was both unfortunate and unnecessary because it facilitated your reading of the post. But still, I cannot find anything in this post to suggest that the author believes any current general authority is a Judas or that any of them individually or collectively is a “total screw up” or “completely wrong” in the sense you criticize. I suspect that the author might agree with me that at least some of them have sometimes been wrong in a particular belief or statement, but that is very far from your reading.

    I hope my reading reflects what the author intended. I have rarely been accused of being too charitable.

  49. To that final paragraph, JR, add the title which sets the tone and announces the conclusion we are expected to reach.

    Thank you for taking my comment seriously and responding thoughtfully to my recoil. That’s not the response I have to brace myself for when I disagree here … whether or not you’re ever too charitable, you are charitable.

  50. @ Ardis – Reviewing what she actually wrote: “…we all are supposed to stick with General Authorities with the idea that they could be a total screw up? That all the authority in the world doesn’t change the fact that they could be completely wrong?”

    The verb tenses are clearly present/future; the verbs “could be…” show the use of the conditional. She is not referring to any past leaders, but referring to the admonition that we commonly hear – that we should follow the brethren (with no mention that what they might propose in the future might be in error).

    I think you read through the post too quickly, and far too harshly (her post was “incredibly tasteless?”). But hey, differences of opinion are what make the bloggernacle vibrant.

    Thanks again, Rebecca, for the great post.

  51. Ardis, I disagree with your conclusions, but I respect your views.

  52. Ardis: I see your point, and if it were mine to do I would change a few phrases and maybe the title. But mostly I subscribe to JR’s comment above.
    JR: The value of context, for my own examination and in conversation with others, is that it informs the meaning of “[not] lead you astray.”
    When President Woodruff announced the end of [public?] polygamy, the Saints had for a generation or more been taught that plural marriage is not just permitted or recommended but required. Plural marriage was a defining characteristic of the Utah church. They had been persecuted (Mormon point of view) for the practice—legislation, disenfranchisement of women, litigation all the way to the Supreme Court, occupation by the U.S. army, leaders imprisoned, Church property confiscated. In that context, what does it mean to say “stop that . . . and follow me”?
    Does it mean that nothing changes? Obviously not. (I think polygamy was a mistake from the beginning, but I’m not interested in debating the point; “change” is enough for this discussion.)
    Does it mean that nothing important changes? That the bedrock is solid? In the context of polygamy as a defining characteristic, understood as a requirement, it’s difficult to make that point.
    Does it mean that all will be well for you and yours, and for the Church, if you follow the President? Perhaps . . . if you take a long view. Surely the previous 30 years didn’t feel like “all is well.” In fact, the evidence of history is that following the President can lead to suffering in this life and difficulties for the terrestrial Church.
    Does it mean that the Church will survive? Yes, I think that’s what it’s really all about. And I acknowledge the circularity that the Church survives only if a significant number of the members hear and accept and follow. A circularity that is unavoidable in schismatic times.
    Does it mean that the angels in heaven, silent notes taking, will give you the gold star when you follow the President and no demerits even if the President is wrong in some particular instance? I’m probably too flippant in this rhetorical question, because it doesn’t work for me. I get lost at the note taking. But flippancy aside, I think this really is what it means for some and I’m happy to acknowledge it.

  53. christiankimball, Thanks for the further explanation. The context of President Woodruff’s remark clearly informs its meaning for me. I haven’t yet tried to examine the context of the similar language from more recent authorities, but whatever that context is, I think I will have to agree with Silver Rain’s interpretation.

    To some it means, rightly or wrongly, that you get a “gold star when you follow the President and no demerits even if the President is wrong in some particular instance?” (Some of our leaders have expanded the idea to include more of themselves than the President, but that can be left aside for present purposes.) My question arose out of an unfortunate combined PR/RS meeting in our ward in which the Bishop wanted to have a discussion of whatever concerned anyone. Since no one spoke up for a time, I rephrased a provocative question I’d heard in a similar context, approximately: “What do you do when, in your heart of hearts, after diligent study and prayer, you cannot agree with the FP/Q12?” This resulted in what seemed to be a healthy, thoughtful discussion until one fine couple bore their testimonies that the question was misguided because the leaders of the Church could never lead us astray. That shut the discussion down completely, apparently because no one in the room could think on the spot of a non-harmful way of responding to that testimony. Should the situation arise again, you have given me a way to respond: “I think this really is what it means for some and I’m happy to acknowledge it.”

    Of course, even that statement includes some possible prepositional ambiguity. “[W]hat it means for some” could mean “what it means to some”. It could also mean that it is true “for some”. The broad interpretation of not leading us astray isn’t true for me, but if the situation arises again, I think I can find a way to stick with the ambiguity and move the discussion along.


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