A Time for Prophecy

samuellamanite1

Amos 3:7 reads, “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” I know this because it was a Seminary scripture, a Missionary scripture, and perhaps the most important Latter-day Saint proof text in the entire Old Testament. At different points in my life, I have used it to “prove” that the Church is true because it has prophets, that revelation is and has always been important, and that God is a woman and her name is Shirley. It is really a remarkable proof text.

And like most proof texts, you can use it for a long time without having any idea what it is saying. Or who is saying it. For most of the years that I quoted him regularly, I had no idea who Amos was or why he said stuff. I would have been completely unprepared if someone had asked me, “what sorts of things did Amos say? And what did the Lord share with His prophet?”

But context matters. And the context of Amos matters a lot. He was one of only a handful of prophets who worked in the Eighth Century rather than the Sixth, and most scholars rate the Book of Amos as the oldest of the prophetic books in the Hebrew Bible. Even though it appears towards the end, it really represents the beginning. And though Amos he hailed from the Southern Kingdom of Judah, he prophesied in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. He was, in other words, an alien.

And what did he prophesy about? Mainly he prophesied about the people forgetting their God and about the way that their society treated the poor and disenfranchised—and, as Amos presented the issue, these were the same things:

Thus saith the Lord; For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes; That pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor, and turn aside the way of the meek: and a man and his father will go in unto the same maid, to profane my holy name: And they lay themselves down upon clothes laid to pledge by every altar, and they drink the wine of the condemned in the house of their god. (Amos 2:6-8)

It was sort of the major theme of prophecy in the Old Testament. Jesus didn’t invent the idea that God’s most important requirement of a society is to care for its most vulnerable members. This is important to Christianity because it was important to the Prophets that Christ read and quoted. It is the job of the people in a society to comfort the afflicted. It is the job of the prophets to afflict the comfortable.

This is the job of prophets in the Book of Mormon, too. Or at least of the one that Jesus specifically referred to when He showed up. Like Amos, Samuel was an alien—a Lamanite among Nephites. And after his first round of prophecy, Samuel couldn’t even get back into Zarahemla. He had to stand on the wall (yes they had a wall, because of course they did). Samuel stood on the wall and said what prophets are supposed to say in societies of great wealth and dire poverty:

Behold ye, the people of this great city, and hearken unto my words; yea, hearken unto the words which the Lord saith; for behold, he saith that ye are cursed because of your riches, and also are your riches cursed because ye have set your hearts upon them, and have not hearkened unto the words of him who gave them unto you. Ye do not remember the Lord your God in the things with which he hath blessed you, but ye do always remember your riches, not to thank the Lord your God for them; yea, your hearts are not drawn out unto the Lord, but they do swell with great pride, unto boasting, and unto great swelling, envyings, strifes, malice, persecutions, and murders, and all manner of iniquities. (Helaman 13: 21-22)

Latter-day Saints, I fear, often become so wrapped up in establishing the organizational need for prophets that we ignore the spiritual need for prophecy. We confuse the incidental functions of a prophet—such as overseeing the day-to-day management of an organization—with the essential function: forcefully reminding anyone who will listen that remembering God and creating a society that cares for vulnerable people are actually the same thing. That is what prophecy means–and in a world of wars, walls, refugees, and hearts set firmly on riches it is exactly what we need.

Comments

  1. christiankimball says:

    When you think about it, prophet and president are fundamentally incompatible jobs.

  2. Well said. I would emphasize that the administrative duties of a prophet are MINIMAL compared to the true responsibility – prophesying, seeing, and revealing God’s message to the world. Besides Jesus, Amos and Samuel, many other prophets were aliens, outcasts, or from outside the established religious hierarchy. The pivotal figure in the Book of Mormon, Abinadi, was a great example of this also. And his work changed the course of Nephite history.

  3. Many Mormon Church presidents, including many in the twentieth century, have not been shy about raising a prophetic voice. Right now, though, our president is incapacitated by age. That leaves a gap that can’t be filled by consensus among the Q15; as a practical matter, only the president can speak authoritatively as the prophet. At moments like this one, when we need prophetic leadership, the shortcomings of our Mormon gerontocracy seem crippling.

  4. The biggest problem I see is that most people only choose to follow the prophet when it suits them. Especially on this site. Don’t get me wrong, both sides (left and right) do pick and choose what they want to listen to from the prophets, no argument there, but I have found it especially bad in this echo chamber. While I completely agree with this article and how we should be caring for the poor (I imaging in reference to the refugees) I find it ironic how now all of the sudden you are promoting this idea that we should follow the prophet here on this site. Usually when I read an article here, most people are quick to cite prophets when it comes to charity and refugees, but when it comes to gay marriage or abortion you get articles like one I saw a while ago about the merits of cafeteria Mormonism (getting to pick and choose which commandments you want to follow). Most of the articles here also spend considerable time criticizing the brethren and undermining their legitimacy for not be progressive enough, complaining about not letting women have more leadership positions, or being diverse enough. So while I agree whole heatedly that we should be following the prophets and being charitable to those in need, if you really want to have your message carry any weight, this whole site in general should follow this proclamation to follow the prophets. If you don’t want the other side to pick and choose which commandments are important, like charity towards refugees, you should follow the same advice here on things of other topics as well. In short, there is plenty of hypocrisy on both sides to go around and very few who actually follow the prophets. Especially here.

  5. Sarah, I fear you’re radically misreading the OP. Mike isn’t speaking of following the prophet; he’s speaking of the prophet acting prophetically. We will oppose Trump’s immoral actions whether or not the church speaks to them. But for the church to preserve its moral authority, it must speak to moral injustice, or else it cedes its ability to be taken seriously on moral issues.

  6. No, not misreading. At the end he says, “Latter-day Saints, I fear, often become so wrapped up in establishing the organizational need for prophets that we ignore the spiritual need for prophecy.” Yes prophets are important for the organization, but much more important is the need to spiritual guidance, I agree 100%..,.. I am not disagreeing with the article so much, as the site in general. The author gives us reason to follow the prophet on this issue, but when other spiritual guidance is given (like the proclamation to the family and marriage being ordained of God) this site finds so many excuses and reasons to not follow the prophets and their spiritual guidance I find it very ironic. This article is an argument for not ignoring the prophet on this issue, but what about all the other ones? That is my question. If we truly are going to follow the prophet then we should do it on this issue, and all the other ones too. Which most people reading this site don’t do.

  7. Also Sarah, perhaps the problem with the modern day principle of “following the prophet” in all things, which had no scriptural basis. Prophets share a message, and the message is either received, or rejected. It is our responsibility to study the matter out, and come to the conclusion as to whether message is the mind and will of the Lord, or not. But this I know, we are not to let the beggars’ petition to fall upon us in vain. The scale of scriptural support for caring for the poor registers very heavy. That is a true message. And I understand where you are coming from in relation to what church authorities have said about LGBT issues, but with the lack of canonical support for how to go about that issue, we are left to study it out, meditate on how the Savior would act in the same situation, and choose. This is not the same as “cafeteria mormonism.”

  8. Which most people reading this site don’t do.

    Why would you presume to know that? The overwhelming majority of people reading this site don’t even comment. For example, this post has been viewed almost 500 times yet has attracted fewer than 10 comments so far, which is a typical ratio.

  9. “At different points in my life, I have used [Amos 3:7] to “prove” that the Church is true because it has prophets, that revelation is and has always been important, and that God is a woman and her name is Shirley.” However, I lost all confidence in my proof-texting ability when I had as clients a married couple from Texas. His name was Shirley; hers was Billie. My staff was terribly confused.

  10. delegatefromiceland says:

    Thanks for this. Your words are appreciated.

  11. This is excellent, thank you.

  12. ManifestDestiny says:

    I’ll prophesy right now: it is quite possible that our missionaries will be expelled from other countries at a scary rate as the US/Trump admin burns more and more bridges. Local leadership in these countries will need to stand on their own. We are about to see some difficult things. Don’t be surprised over the next few years to see more frequent mission calls to Pocatello Idaho and South Dakota…

  13. Great point, Michael.

  14. Really timely, important, and insightful post, Michael. Thank you.

    And thank you Sam for that succinct encapsulation of the post’s message!

  15. Sarah: “I am not disagreeing with the article so much, as the site in general.”

    I mean, that’s not a bad way to look at it

  16. Sarah, I think you’re unfairly judging/accusing people you know next to nothing about. Disagreeing with opinions is fine. Questioning another person’s good faith is beneath us.

  17. JKC, I don’t think I am unfairly judging anything. I mean, if I were to say I were a disciple of Christ and then turn a blind eye to all of these refugees and not care while they were dying I would be a flaming hypocrite right? And there are many articles on this site condemning that type of behavior too. Which is also what this article is pointing out when it cites both Amos and Helamen and how the rich are drinking to their own condemnation in similar moral failings.

    The same works on the flip side though. You can not write and post an article about the need for following the prophets spiritual guidance and the importance of it because it happens to align with your current views on this topic, and then spend this next 30 articles dishing on the prophets and tearing down their competence and authority on every other perceived flaw or other ill favored policy. And lets be honest, that is mostly what this site is devoted to doing, ragging on the church and criticizing its policies and leaders on almost every little thing. And by extension it would probably be fair to say its target audience is composed mostly of people who share the same criticisms of the church who oppose its leaders and policy.

    I try to read from multiple sites and many points of view, and I am ok with opposing views too as long as they are honest and well reasoned. We don’t have to agree. What I don’t think is kosher is playing the holier then thou card and promoting listening to prophetic counsel on one hand, and then in the next breath condemning them in everything they do.

    The brethren are either money grubbing (getting paid 120k a year), racist (only white guys on the 12 and leading BYU schools), chauvinistic pigs (won’t let women have the priesthood, leadership roles, or say prayers in general conf), who are out of touch and support antiquated positions (same sex marriage/prop 8) as this site loves to write about most of the time. Or they are prophetic leaders who are led by God and when the church makes statements about illegal immigration or Uchtdorf talks about his experience and how we should support refugees we should listen them. AND we should listen and support the rest of the church positions too.

    Having questions and looking into difficult issues isn’t a bad thing, which is why I read sites like this even though I disagree with a lot. But you can’t praise prophetic counsel and purpose, both ancient and modern, in one breath because it suits you today and then for the rest of the month trash them. And that is very questionable way to be a member of the church. Either they are or they aren’t led by God. Make up your mind.

  18. See supra.

  19. Sarah, I think you’re still fundamentally misreading the point of the OP. Read Sam’s comment again. This isn’t a post about following the prophet on any one particular issue. It’s a post about what it means to be a prophet in the first place, i.e. a prophet is not an executive position; a prophet is one who afflicts the comfortable.

  20. it's a series of tubes says:

    It’s a post about what it means to be a prophet in the first place, i.e. a prophet is not an executive position; a prophet is one who afflicts the comfortable.

    In that regard, a simple skim of the LDS.org search function reveals many statements from THM regarding the divine commands for service, charity, and caring for the vulnerable. Perhaps the issue is more a failure on the part of church members (including, and perhaps especially including, myself) to heed the prophetic words we have been given, rather than a failure to prophesy?

  21. Thanks Sarah for your comments. This largely reflects my perception of BCC as well.

  22. Johannesdedoper says:

    Sarah makes a good point, if you truly believe that prophets are inerrant. The Church still promotes the concept that it’s either all true, or it’s an elaborate fraud. But to be faithful, there is no room for acknowlegement that any mistake can be made by prophets in acting on behalf of the Church. In other words, the Church teaches that all words that come out of the prophet’s mouth need to be followed if we want exhaltation because he is a direct conduit from God. This requires us to believe everything, without questioning any aspect of his pronouncements. I don’t believe that, and choose to believe we must all evaluate the prophet’s words based on our own conscience and our spiritual and intellectual understanding. There are many examples of erroneous prophetic pronouncements in the past and present. But I realize I probably fit in to the set of “cafeteria” Mormons who rightly der serve derision. So be it. It’s the best I can muster.

  23. Johannesdedoper, Some persons promote or have promoted the concept you describe. President Uchtdorf does not. (“And, to be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes.”) And none of the other 15 have contradicted him on that. There have been widely varying statements from Church leaders on that concept. Sarah’s approach may be the best she can muster. It is, however, exactly her kind of all-or-nothing thinking that resulted in some Mormons’ participation in the Mountain Meadows Massacre and currently results in some resigning their membership in the Church. Learning to deal with ambiguity and uncertainty, exercise of agency, not being commanded in all things, and understanding and following promptings of the Spirit are far more difficult than what I am able to perceive of Sarah’s approach.

  24. Johannesdedoper says:

    Sorry, “deserve”. Now that DOES deserve derision. Apologies.

  25. Johannesdedoper says:

    Indeed, JR. There are signs of hope, especially emanating from Pres. Uchtdorf.

  26. Just because you acknowledge prophetic counsel and follow it doesn’t mean you think the prophets are perfect. The prophets aren’t perfect, and they make mistakes.. I doubt Sarah is implying that. The church isn’t run perfectly either and some mistakes have been made. But there are some really big things, like key doctrine, which are pretty crystal clear. Yes we have tons of agency and need to think for ourselves on A LOT of issues, but God also has some key commandments and truths which aren’t really up for negotiation either. I think the beef is more on blatant hypocrisy and ignoring key principals, then hanging on every word and idolizing the prophets.

  27. Patty, it may be that you have correctly identified the “beef.” On the other hand there is significant difference of opinion (at least over time) even among latter-day prophets as to whether certain things are or are not key principles. It seems dangerous to judge another’s hypocrisy based upon one particular view among others as to what principles are “key.”

  28. Sarah, you seem to be arguing for some sort of infallibility from our leaders. They are flawed. Dealing with those flaws is central to Mormonism. If you want me to decide between sustaining and disregarding all faults, forget it.

    If, on the other hand, you’re saying that the balance at BCC is off, fine. We can have a rational discussion about that. Calling us to repentance ain’t the best wind-up, though.

  29. You know, Sarah, if you’re still reading, my earlier response was glib and I’m sorry. As Steve says, if you’re saying that the balance is off, that’s something we can talk about. I think it’s important though, to not assume that all bloggers here are a monolith. It could well be that some BCC bloggers agree with you that a given post crosses the line, while others disagree. I don’t think it’s fair to assume that everyone who blogs here agrees 100% with everything that her or his co-bloggers say. That’s why I think the charge of hypocrisy is unfair, because it seems to rest on the assumption that the same mind is writing things that you find contradictory. Put simply,what you seem to see as hypocrisy is more likely the result of having a diversity of opinion on certain issues.

  30. christiankimball says:

    Permit me a peep? In the midst of mud-slinging.
    There are allegations being made about what readers (that would be me) believe. They are wrong, as is almost always the case. Speaking for myself only, what I believe is most of what I hear from the Church is corporate-speak. Institutional keep-the-ship-moving language. I believe the prophet is not saying enough. Not enough about women and priesthood (which needs to change but will take action from top to change). Not enough about deeply embedded structural racism. Not enough about gay men and women and their place in God’s plan. Not enough about emigration and refugees.
    Whether or not I will personally agree or feel comfortable with those messages when they come, is my business. But at the present moment I mostly feel a lack.
    (And for what it’s worth, I think that’s what the OP is about.)

  31. Patty: “but God also has some key commandments and truths which aren’t really up for negotiation either. ”

    What are those, do you think? Love God and love your neighbor? Did I miss any?

  32. It seems to me the underlying issue here is what role people want the church/prophet to play and how that is defined and how we interpret those roles being fulfilled and whether or not we believe those are being successfully fulfilled.

    I think that scripture, the ministry of TSM, and the call to help refugees over the past year is an adequate call for members who are listening to take action. Do you need a further call to action? I believe the traditional role of “prophet” has been fulfilled.

    If however you are hoping the church will speak out more forcefully regarding the recent Trump administration actions then you are really asking for the church “President” to step forward. It seems to me that speaking out to a government is more of an institutional or corporate role.

    So I guess I disagree with the premise of the OP that it is a time for “prophecy”. It seems to me people are kind of critical of the corporate church while wanting it to do more at the same time.

    Thanks for the enlightening discussion.

  33. I don’t understand this comment, AJ. Prophets throughout the scriptures have preached repentance to both individuals and to collective societies, including governments. Why would preaching repentance to a government not be a prophetic role? I mean, I get why, practically, its something that should be done with caution, but I don’t understand why it would not be prophetic.

  34. I guess I am trying to address what it looks like in actual practice for a prophet to speak to a government in 2017 and I agree with you that it needs to be done in caution.

    When I think of a classic prophet I think that he or she will best be received by those who recognize the individual as a prophet. In the LDS case I think we have gotten clear direction from our prophets to care for refugees. In my case I don’t feel I need a further call to be involved in such service.

    I admit a true prophet can speak to society at large and those outside their faith, but it does have to be done with caution in our day. In the LDS case I see this as more of a function of the corporate church, through a press release, etc. You can obviously disagree with that and argue for a more vocal role from our prophets, I just don’t think that would necessarily be wise.

    My main point is that our prophets have spoken to us. We don’t need any further guidance to get involved in caring for refugees, so I don’t agree that this “a time for prophecy”, it’s already here. We may just view things differently.

  35. Jenny Harrison says:

    i am late to this discussion. I think the writer is simply saying, “Where is the prophecy?” How do we know the prophet is real??

    In Acts Chapter 3 it says:
    Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour.
    And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that entered into the temple;
    Who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple asked an alms.
    And Peter, fastening his eyes upon him with John, said, Look on us.
    And he gave heed unto them, expecting to receive something of them.
    Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.
    And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength.
    And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God.
    And all the people saw him walking and praising God.

    What do our leaders do?
    First, they couldn’t say ‘silver and gold have i none’ because they are PAID. Peter was poor and was told to go and preach and hope the people in each city would feed and house him.

    Second, they avoid the members like the plague. They travel in underground tunnels to the temple in golf carts so as not to have to meet anybody that needs a miracle/blessing, because they are UNABLE to say, ‘rise up and walk’.

    Third, if they were real apostles and prophets, they would be out on the streets with the poor and helpless and needy giving blessings, healings, money, food, housing etc. Peter never hid himself from the people.

    I am reminded of the parable that Jesus gave of the good Samaritan. Who was it that left the man to die in the streets? It was a Levite and a Priest on their way to the temple.

    I am inclined to no longer believe that the current leaders are called of God.

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