President Nelson and the Problem of Prophetic Infallibility

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T. L. Peterson is an editor who lives in Utah. He is also known as Loursat.

Peterson would like to express his upfront gratitude to Sistas in Zion, whose insightful tweets on the day of President Nelson’s sermon suggested the key idea for this post.

Treating our leaders as though they are infallible is a problem for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  With his energy and bold language, President Nelson might be showing us a way through that problem.  But his solution comes with some nervous questions and a new conundrum.

A popular saying among Latter-day Saints purports to tell the difference between Catholics and Mormons: Catholics say the pope is infallible, but they don’t really believe it*; Mormons say the prophet is fallible, but we don’t really believe it. This saying started as a joke, but I think it has become a truism.

Mormon prophetic “infallibility” has been a topic of many posts over the years at BCC. Here are two more from Times and Seasons.  These blog posts just scratch the surface of what’s available on a subject that never stops simmering.  I’m convinced that when we act as if we believe in prophetic infallibility, it really is a problem.  It stagnates us.  We are unwilling to do things that we fear might cast doubt on the callings of past prophets, so when we are faced with the need to change, our changes are incomplete.

We abolished polygamy, but we did not disturb its doctrinal foundations. We are left with lingering ideas that justify the subservience of women.  We ended the racial restriction on priesthood and temple activity, but we have never acknowledged that it was wrong.  We are left with lingering ideas that legitimize a legacy of racism in the Church. Our fear of criticizing prophets leaves creeping residue of error that distorts our present views. We try to change without fully changing. To put it more forcefully, we try to repent without really repenting.

How can we fix this? I think the way forward is to acknowledge that prophetic infallibility is a practical problem, not a doctrinal problem.  It must have a practical solution. JKC’s post at BCC several months ago illustrates the difficulty. His argument, which is focused on doctrine and a careful reading of past statements by Latter-day Saint leaders, is thoughtful, faithful, enlighteningand dense. The issue of prophetic infallibility has become a Gordian knota problem that is so complicated by layers of tradition and speculation and folk practice that it can’t be solved with doctrinal explanations. Academic and theological analysis is necessary, but it’s not sufficient to untangle the knot in the minds of the laity.  The knot can only be sliced through with practical action. In our Church, corrective action must come in the form of a pronouncement from the prophet.

President Nelson has now made such a pronouncementif we choose to accept itabout the name of the Church.  He proclaimed that a practice adopted by every previous president of the Church, including Joseph Smith, is offensive to God and a victory for Satan.  I am not aware of any occasion on which a Latter-day Saint prophet has criticized his predecessors in such stark, absolute terms.

Why did President Nelson use this striking language?  It could be that he disregarded practical concerns and uttered a visionary proposal based on his prophetic convictions. It might also be he was influenced by pragmatism: President Nelson knows he will need all the leverage he can muster to get traction for this change. He knows as well as anyone there will be resistance. Whatever his motives, though, President Nelson has set the precedent we need to get beyond our spurious belief in prophetic infallibility.

Embracing this opportunity is complicated. For one thing, it means following President Nelson’s rejection of our Mormon sobriquet.  To judge by the reaction in the bloggernacle, this change has perplexed Latter-day Saints at all points on the Church’s cultural spectrum. It is not clear yet how President Nelson’s rejection of “Mormon” and emphasis on Christ will play out.

There are also deeper complications. By his willingness to speak in terms of revelatory authority, President Nelson is disrupting the status quo. Our reluctance to repudiate past mistakes creates problems, but it also creates a comforting steadiness; we might not be fully repenting when we need to, but at least we’re not tearing things down and starting over all the time. Genuinely confessing and forsaking our mistakes might diminish the authority of past prophets. It would also increase the power of living leaders to enact change. If we follow the path of new revelation, we will have to work our way toward a new status quo that embraces more expansive possibilities of change. We cannot know where that path will take us.

Some of us with progressive sensibilities might hesitate to be led along this path by President Nelson. He appears to be as committed as any current Church leader to policies that marginalize our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. And judging from their talks in the most recent women’s session of General Conference, President Nelson and his counselors largely favor keeping women on patriarchy-approved pedestals. On these issues, what might President Nelson do with increased prophetic authority? In the future, what might other prophets do with expanded authority? It turns out that a solution to our conundrum of prophetic infallibility leads to another conundrum involving changes in the basic patterns of Church governance.

I pray for and sustain our leaders, especially President Nelson. I love them. I also pray for those who suffer the burden of our sins as a church. I want us to be able to repent, and I want us to get it right. As we move into a complicated and somewhat murky future, I hope we persevere. I believe that eventually, with God’s help, we can get it right.

*The Catholic doctrine on infallibility is much more nuanced than the saying would have it—see this canon law discussion about ex cathedra pronouncements—but our saying is really meant to reflect Latter-day Saints attitudes, not what Catholics believe.

Photo by Erica Magugliani on Unsplash

Comments

  1. I know that Cafeteria Mormonism has been frowned upon by church leaders, but perhaps it shouldn’t be. If we’re to pray for a confirmation about everything the President of the Church says, there needs to be room for what happens when we don’t get a confirmation about what he says.
    Elder Holland gave a talk about how sometimes we end up going down the wrong path for a short bit, perhaps to gain confidence that the right path is the right path. If I remember correctly Elder Eyring’s talk from two General Conferences ago was about forgiving church leaders (or something to that affect). I think that there needs to be an honest engagement about what happens when after you’ve given council from the President serious though, ponder and prayer, but the confirmation doesn’t come. Put the issue on your back burner, but stay in the church. Don’t preach that you haven’t received a confirmation, but ponder about what it means for your understanding of the gospel that you didn’t receive a confirmation. That sounds Cafeteria Mormon-esque, but it certainly is something that every adult should go “struggle” with.

  2. serious thought, not serious though. Off by one error.

  3. Good post. What we have in the Church is what I call de facto infallibility. We don’t believe our leaders are infallible, but we treat them as if they are. And they encourage us to treat them with this sort of deference. The only way to get past this is for current Church leaders to actually identify mistakes their predecessors have made in the past and to admit that they might make similar mistakes in the future. Does this lead to a potential crisis in confidence among Church members regarding their current leaders? Yes, and it should. As Brigham warned us, we ought to be considering everything they say and ask God if it’s right. If it isn’t, well, we are not bound to support it. “Sustaining” a leader does not necessarily mean blindly following everything he or she says.

  4. Fallibility vs. infallibility is not a framework we see the writers of scripture actually engaging with very much, so maybe it’s not the right framework for us to evaluate someone like Nelson?

    I know I said this on the other thread, but I really think that any discussion of prophetic (in)fallibility needs to include a consideration of the strong things scripture in general (and Jesus in particular!) says about false prophets. I’m not trying to be coy here or beg the question–I do think that there are probably a lot of different ways a person can deal with that, and I certainly don’t know what the answer is. But refusing to seriously grapple the issue definitely doesn’t seem like the right answer.

  5. Last Lemming says:

    I honestly don’t think President Nelson intended to throw his predecessors under the bus. I suspect he was thinking of the many unsuccessful attempts the Church has made to get people to use the full name of the Church (you can find the list on other threads) and intended to chide those of us who helped make those attempts unsuccessful. But it does establish a precedent. He may be dismayed at some point when he looks down from the spirit world and watches one of his successors do something similar to his legacy.

  6. Happy to connect a name to a tag, Loursat.

    The possibility that President Nelson’s path makes the Church more nimble (my shorthand for “expansive possibilities of change”) has occurred to me. I think there’s something else going on, but my views on this point are sufficiently heterodox (even for BCC) that I’m headed to a different venue.

    I do think the Catholic experience (the more nuanced version referenced in footnote) is instructive and merits study. Questions like the proper scope or application for ex cathedra or revelation-type statements (having to do with faith or morals only, or also with practices?) Any requirement of consistency—With scripture? With past statements? Is some kind of rationalization or explanation expected? Or is “thus saith” enough? Is there any expectation of consensus? By the Q15? By the church? (Is “common consent” really a dead letter?) Is there a formulaic way to distinguish opinion? Is there an additional step or declaration required to define something as binding, as an article of faith? As opposed to something about which one can disagree and still be regarded as within the faith?

    Clearly the Mormon tradition does not have fully explicated answers to these questions, but I think they are worthy of consideration. And I think President Nelson is breaking with traditional practice in a number of ways. Also worthy of considerations.

  7. Kullervo, I think the weird Latter-day Saint idea of prophetic infallibility distorts any discussion about the difference between false prophecy and true prophecy. A true prophet can make mistakes, even in consequential matters. But if we don’t really believe this, we can’t recognize either true prophets or false ones.

  8. There is no “problem” with LDS prophetic infallibility because history plainly shows LDS prophets are not infallible. The problem is that LDS leaders seem unable to acknowledge that fact and most Mormons seem unable to acknowledge that fact. Normally we call it fantasy people deny obvious facts and who live as if their wishful thinking was, in fact, an accurate description of how the world works. But it would impolite to apply that label to our fellow Saints. Maybe we could call them extreme optimists. Or naively faithful. Irrationally faithful?

  9. I don’t see Nelson’s aggressive dismissal of the word “Mormon” as upending anything at all regarding the Latter-day Saint idea of prophetic infallibility because I think that infallibility has always primarily rested on the LIVING prophet. There’s always been the idea that continuing revelation could change or expand the teachings of dead prophets.

    The difference I see with Nelson is rhetorical. His words were harsh toward his predecessors, in a way I’ve never heard before.

  10. Thanks, Chris. There very well could be something else going on. A whole range of possibilities opens up when we start to disturb the status quo. I’ve chosen to focus here on what I think are the most hopeful possibilities, but other discussions are definitely possible.

    Any organization needs good rules to operate efficiently. Organizations that continue existing for many generations especially need rules that facilitate change. Our church hasn’t yet deliberately, consciously worked out those rules. I’m not a sociologist, but I suspect that the trauma of the Manifesto channeled us into the way we’ve handled this in the twentieth century. General authorities decided that the highest priority was to avoid conflict and schism, so they developed a very conservative practice of requiring consensus. They came to use the language of revelation much less often than nineteenth-century leaders did. Their de facto rule governing change: Don’t do it!

    President Nelson might be guiding us in a new direction now. I have no idea, really, where that leads. However, I hope the organization starts thinking more deliberately about rules that can more rationally handle the effects of revelation.

  11. Dave B., at least one leader (Uchtdorf) has acknowledged the fact of “mistakes”, that is of fallibility. Interestingly, he did it again in this recent conference. I’ve had local leaders acknowledge mistakes often. (Of course, I’ve also been one who acknowledged mistakes! But I’d rather not be one again — leader that is; I’ll continue to acknowledge plenty of mistakes.) :)

  12. Should have added at least one example in addition to Elder Uchtdorf:

    J. Reuben Clark “When Are the Writings or Sermons of Church Leaders Entitled to the Claim of Scripture,” Address given to seminary and institute teachers, at BYU, on July 7, 1954, published in Church News (July 31, 1954): 9–10; reprinted in Dialogue 12 (Summer 1979), 68–80.

    “There have been rare occasions when even the President of the Church in his preaching and teaching has not been ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost.’ You will recall the Prophet Joseph declared that a prophet is not always a prophet….This has happened about matters of doctrine (usually of a highly speculative character) where a subsequent President of the Church and the people themselves have felt that in declaring the doctrine, the announcer was not ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost.'”

  13. This is a bit of a thread jack, but I would throw irrelevant in there too. As a never-married, childless woman (not by choice) so much of what they preach about women is so irrelevant to me I have had no choice but to pray, ponder and study and then go my own way. Since it has become second-nature to decide things for myself, its not my natural impulse to do what they say when it comes to something like the name of the Church. This might be one of the costs of always “preaching the ideal.”

  14. I agree with this post. President Nelson has specifically addressed arguments a predecessor (Hinckley) made in support of the use of the Mormon nickname, and has declared them flawed and insufficient. Not only has he put down the arguments (heck, even the Church has disavowed racist arguments), he has implied past *actions* of sitting presidents of the Church (pushing members to participate in the I’m a Mormon campaign, for one) offended God. Quote: “And if we allow nicknames to be used or adopt or even sponsor those nicknames ourselves, He is offended.” This is significant.

  15. Throwing out a thought—
    In myself I discover an expectation that revelation will be (a) extra-ordinary (not an everyday or casual event), (b) about a matter of salvific importance, and (c) a call to repent, to change. Applying this test, the Manifesto fits and 1978 fits. The name does not (fails (b) on my scorecard), and statements about LGBTQI issues do not (fail (a) and (c) in my scoring when directed to the Church, but maybe I should consider them as directed to the world?)

    Not incidentally, my (c) would suggest that the issue of fallibility is inherent in the system. If every truly prophetic pronouncement is a change to the status quo we will forever ask these questions.

  16. Christiankimball, I don’t know what other venue you’re referring to, but would like to hear your other thoughts. Where else can I find you?

  17. Yes, Chris. In developing rules for orderly change, one of the things to consider is what we mean by “revelation.” Revelation has many flavors. What it means at an individual level–as in “personal revelation”–is very different from what it means at an institutional level. We need to make these distinctions more explicit so that everyone can see more clearly what drives changes.

  18. JY, there may be rules against answering. If this gets through . . .
    I have promised a piece to my brother Miles Kimball at supplysideliberal for a week from Sunday. He runs a religion column on Sundays that tends toward sociology (my view), not particularly Mormon and with low-to-zero expectation of loyalty or faithfulness to any tradition.

  19. I have to agree with Last Lemming. If Pres Nelson were to give a media interview similar to those Pres Hinckley gave, there is 0% chance that he would say his predecessors or the current Mormon.org website creators were scoring victories for Satan. But this doesn’t minimize the points of the OP. We now have to grapple with the issues of infallibility and prophetic authority like never before, but it may lead to more positive change than ever before.

  20. Michael H. says:

    “Catholics say the pope is infallible, but don’t believe it; Mormons [sic!] say the prophet is fallible, but don’t believe” used to be a joke, meant for chuckles. Eventually, we stopped chuckling. We looked around nervously. Now the “joke” isn’t repeated at all, except when folks like us here bring it up as a kind of artifact. It seems to have gone the way of Three-Nephites stories, and around the same time as the emergence of the “Apostles-meet-the-resurrected-Christ-in-the-flesh,-so-that-they-can-be-‘witnesses-of-Christ'” urban legend. (Maybe there’s a built-in quota for such supernaturalisms.)

    Brigham Young used to routinely correct apostles, individually and collectively. (And maybe that’s one of the reasons we’ve been warned away from the Journal of Discourses, claiming transcription errors.) Can you imagine Pres. Nelson saying, “Elder Anderson wasn’t quite right when he said blah blah blah,” or “Members of the Quorum of the Twelve could stand to learn this lesson?”

    Bro. Peterson, I appreciate your show of good faith in Pres. Nelson. For what it’s worth, I’m scrupulously, meticulously saying “Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints,” but I confess that, inside, I’m thinking, “I can’t wait for THIS one to blow over.” To heed means to pay careful attention to–not unquestioningly obey. To sustain means to nurture, support, keep alive–not unquestioningly obey. I also think that to heed and to sustain means to be very wary of behavior or speech that does the opposite of sustain, i.e., that undermines. I try to be careful, but I frequently fail. Having descended from moonshining hillbillies and hobos, I suffer from chronic trouble with authority. I’m a weak mortal creature, in constant need of repentance. Thank God for Christ and the atonement.

    I take for granted that the offices of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve are necessary. As for the individual, mortal, flesh-and-blood creatures who occupy those offices, I don’t believe they’re any more infallible than the individual, mortal, flesh-and-blood creatures who occupy offices at the stake and unit levels. They’re not a breed apart. They’re not demi-gods. They’re no more entitled to revelation (or visions or visitations or “impressions”) than the primary president or the Sunday school teacher or the mom or dad or individual, per their stewardships. As you say, Bro. Peterson, to believe they’re infallible is a serious problem. It’s idolatry.

  21. Michael H., I’m trying to follow President Nelson on the “Mormon” thing. I was skeptical about this change when it was first announced, but I’ve mostly come around to it now. Or at least I’m buying into the purpose of it. Honestly, I have no idea how to actually do it yet.

  22. Michael H. says:

    I think there’s a kind of continuum: Warfare, public opposition, private opposition, disregard, tolerance, appreciation, admiration, adoration, veneration, worship. Home base for me is around tolerance and appreciation, but I definitely slide down a couple notches here or up a couple notches there.

  23. Michael H. says:

    Loursat: I’m at least a step or two behind you. Trying, but skeptical.

  24. Harpoon Hannah says:

    I find it a little bit sad that we’ll now spend more effort discussing the process of this revelation like Pharisees debating their theology, rather than giving efforts to actually implementing the intended outcome of it. But that’s rather plain in comparison to this whale of a tale you swallowed:
    “He appears to be as committed as any current Church leader to policies that marginalize our LGBTQ brothers and sisters”

    First of all in your binary use of brothers and sisters, you’ve also marginalized them! But only if you accept the moral-political framework.

    You’ve swallowed the bird to catch the marginalized spider, but you still haven’t swallowed the cat to catch the bird.

    Don’t be so absurd, to swallow the marginalized axiom. The mere presence and existence of an ideal, is necessarily judgmental. But to abuse the reality of the fact that we don’t all measure up to become a marginalized victim erases the Christ.

    He’s the ideal and the judge. And he can forgive. And he can redeem. And he can enable us to become like him.

    There are plenty of others in society still trying to swallow dogs and horses, while you’re shaming the Lord’s servant for not joining in your feast on spiders and cats.

    Look to God and live. I swear by my tattoo.

  25. Eric Facer says:

    T.L., I appreciate your thoughts on this question, but I’m not sure President Nelson’s pronouncement provides a strong foundation for abandoning, once and for all, the notion of prophetic infallibility. Rather, instead of repudiating the practices of his predecessors, he may have been simply doubling down on the name change announcement he made a few months ago. In other words, he may have believed that people didn’t take his first declaration on this topic seriously enough so he decided state it more emphatically during general conference, giving little thought to how this might reflect on those who came before him.

    It is worth remembering that he took a similar tack on the exclusion policy. When people began to point out the numerous inconsistencies in the stance the church was taking towards its LGBTQ members, he responded by saying that this policy was a direct revelation from God—a statement, it is worth noting, that wasn’t exactly greeted with a chorus of “what he said’s” from his fellow members of the Q12.

    I hope you’re right—that this sea change on the name issue will provide an impetus for finally rejecting the notion of prophetic infallibility. But I fear that we will return to square one the moment a General Authority says that he and his colleagues “we will never lead you astray,” the euphemism du jour for infallibility. And I prophesy that this will occur on April 6 or 7, 2019. Mark your calendars.

  26. Thank you, Eric. I don’t think that historic change in this matter is a sure thing. It’s just one possibility opened by President Nelson’s sermon. You are right that there is plenty of room to retreat from that possibility. (I think Last Lemming’s and Bro. B.’s comments get at a similar point.) This General Conference talk is not an initiative to correct our misguided ideas about infallibility.

    But I do think President Nelson understood what he was saying. His sermons have sometimes been provocative and questionable, but he doesn’t just stumble into controversy. I think he knows where he wants to go with this. I don’t know whether he’s thinking along the same lines I am in the OP, but I’m quite sure he has thought carefully about his plan.

    Regardless of what President Nelson might have in mind, his statement is something unprecedented that we needed to hear. I doubt that it’s possible to completely take it back.

  27. @jader3rd

    Going off of what I hear you saying, I think there is something to the idea of not going public about your confirmed opposition to what is being taught by those in authority. Or in other words there is something about claiming revelation without stewardship in direct opposition to what is being taught as revelation by those who do hold stewardship, that doesn’t feel like the proper order. (Unless someone is being or will be overtly and seriously harmed by following what is being said by those in authority, and God confirms it to you, then I’d argue putting one’s membership on the line and publicly opposing that thing is the only right thing to do before God.)

    I think if something were confirmed to me as wrong or different than what is publicly being taught (and the caveat above didn’t apply), I think the appropriate way to voice that difference of view would be from the place of personal opinion (and not revealing my personal confirmation / revelation on the subject), then putting forth the evidence the best as I can see it and stating that I could be wrong in my view / interpretation of the evidence. I think in this way a person can acknowledge prophetic fallibility and put perhaps important alternate considerations in the public sphere, while also respecting the authority structure, God’s order and timing within that structure, and acknowledging personal fallibility.

  28. One more thought on whether President Nelson’s sermon could lead to changes in our ideas about infallibility. It’s not only up to President Nelson and the Q15 to decide. The rest of us also have to agree to go down that path, with all of its uncertainty. If all of us rank-and-file Church members would rather go on believing that prophets are infallible, then we’re screwed, no matter what the living prophet says.

  29. Eric Facer says:

    Loursat, I’m not sure I share your belief that he has carefully thought this through. But I can’t say for certain that you’re wrong. In all events, I thank you for starting this conversation. Much food for thought.

    While there is no denying that we live in interesting times, I’ve yet to figure out whether that is a blessing or a curse.

  30. If the prophet is fallible then that means that each member has the duty/opportunity by way of personal revelation & confirmation to accept or reject the counsel of their church leaders.
    A big hurdle to adopting this sort of kingdom of priests is the fact that my ability to participate fully in the church hinges on whether or not the people around me (especially my bishop) believe that I am worthy and fully committed.

    People who get confirmation of everything the prophet says (or just happen to agree with him anyway) will always see those who don’t get the same confirmation as being lazy, willful, prideful, selfish, and/or looking for excuses to be disobedient. People who tend towards confirmation will feel at-ease during church meetings, bear testimony of their confirmations and will be the first picks for leadership callings. People who trend away from confirmation with what the prophets say will feel perpetually unsure of themselves (maybe I am just prideful?), will not share their lack of confirmation publicly, and will be seen by their peers as ‘struggling.’

  31. jaxjensen says:

    Pres. Nelson opening up the discussion about the not infallible nature of “prophets” makes it easier for me to say that his stance on what we call ourselves is itself not infallible. I don’t believe at all that this policy is inspired and that all previous Presidents were in error.

  32. “On these issues, what might President Nelson do with increased prophetic authority?” Watch The Handmaid’s Tale and you will see what Pres. Nelson might do with increased prophetic authority. It’s frightening.

  33. I don’t think I have a problem with the name change explanation. It could be that the “victory” statement is most relevant to the current times (to excuse the history of the usage) and less important in previously. It could also be a little hyperbolic. I think it was Neil Anderson’s talk in the prior conference that had a footnote from Elder Oaks I believe that referenced that the “why” of the revelation —the reasons we give to support it—are not as sure as the “what” of the revelation. That point may apply to the “victory” statement as well.

    More interesting to the question, I think, is President Nelson’s statement of fact in the last session that the temple rites are ancient. Are we so sure of that? And why? Do I need to believe that? And is that just another “why” statement of supporting rationale for a revelation that the rites are important?

  34. Glenn Thigpen says:

    “A popular saying among Latter-day Saints purports to tell the difference between Catholics and Mormons: Catholics say the pope is infallible, but they don’t really believe it*; Mormons say the prophet is fallible, but we don’t really believe it. This saying started as a joke, but I think it has become a truism.”

    This has become a popular meme on the bloggernacle. And it seems that it prefaces just about every article that I read where the author is preparing to somehow show that a policy or declaration of the current prophet us in error. It seems that for some the prophet is only when such prophet agrees with whatever views the author of the article espouses.

    This one is certainly on that course. Loursat notes areas where he feels former prophets were wrong on certain policies and chides the current president for failing to chime in on those beliefs and pronounce that all former prophets were wrong on those items. Then Loursat takes the current pronouncement on the name of the church and pronounces it wrong because it disagrees with all other presidents (well most all of them) up to this day. Hmmmm.

    Actually this is not the first time this subject has come up. It has been noted as far back as at least George Albert Smith. I remember several times in the past that efforts have been made to get people to use the full name of the Church, citing the same passage of scripture that President Nelson quoted. President Nelson has felt very strongly about it for decades. President (as second counselor in the First Presidency at the time) Hinckley seemed to be resigned to the fact that people in the world were not ever going to use the full name of the Church in his talk given six months after a speech by then Elder Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve. President Hinckley referred to that talk and recommended that everyone go back and reread that talk. But inertia is a monstrous weight and people succumbed.

    So, now we have the current prophet reminding us again what the correct name of the Church is and who named that church. There has been an expected amount of cynicism because President Nelson declared that the Lord has impressed this upon his mind. But even without that, he is the Prophet of the Lord and is expressly says that he is speaking for the Lord, citing canonized scripture. And yet, he is wrong?

    Glenn

  35. Glenn, I don’t think most of the reaction is simply because he said its was impressed upon his mind. It has more to do with the other part–the part about a victory for Satan. I think nearly everyone here is aware of past attempts, etc. to get people to say the name. As well, they are well aware of past efforts to embrace the word ‘Mormon.’ You seem to paint in just as broad strokes as those you are questioning here. But your comment doesn’t really engage with with the discussion. Instead it engages with your preconceptions. You are reading something that isn’t here.

  36. Glenn, what I actually wrote is very nearly the opposite of what you claim that I wrote. I did not write that President Nelson’s statements about the name of the church are wrong. In fact, I am earnestly trying to follow his counsel. You have entirely misunderstood the point of this post. Please read more carefully.

  37. jaxjensen says:

    What saddens me the most about this is imagining the meetings during Pres Hinckley/Monsons times as President, with a then Elder Nelson sitting there thinking “these plans/actions/choices are a victory for Satan”; or thinking to himself about those two men, “they are complete failures at defending Christ”; or even, “do they not even understand that Atonement.” He’s had these ideas for a long time, and it seems like no small thing for him to have harbored such thoughts during his predecessors time.

  38. Sidebottom says:

    We place an awful lot of stock in Wilford Woodruff’s claim that the President of the Church will never lead us astray. It’s a comforting organizing principle but it’s theologically problematic, especially in light of the rest of our canon. If we step back from that statement we’re left with the problem not just of prophetic fallibility, but the possibility of a fox in the henhouse. Nothing that President Nelson is doing or saying makes me suspect he’s somehow a fox, but I believe we outsource our responsibility to square prophetic counsel with the teachings of Christ at our own peril.

  39. Several people have made comments, here and on other threads, that express various kinds of discomfort, disapproval, or anger over aspects of President Nelson’s talk. I think these are legitimate comments, and I don’t want anyone to read what I say next as a rebuttal. I don’t intend it that way.

    A prophet’s divine calling is not the only reason to pay attention to what he says. An equally important reason is our commitment, individually and collectively, to the Church and its purposes. Each of us has to work out what that commitment means in our own circumstances, and that commitment can legitimately change over time. But the commitment is not just to follow the prophet. Our commitment must also be to the community of the Saints. Each of us fallible people, from the prophet on down, has to figure out how to turn our friendships and our stewardships toward the love of Christ and the building of Zion.

    When we hear the prophet speak, we should receive his words not as marching orders, but rather as teachings of love to our community. Yes, the prophet will be wrong about some things. There might even be deep, lasting disagreements. But if he is wrong, that doesn’t mean that we can ignore him or that we’re off the hook. We still have to make our best path forward, hopefully together—all of us together. When we stop expecting flawlessness from the prophet, I think forgiveness, patience, and mercy ought to be easier.

  40. @jaxjensen: I, too, have thought about that — how Elder Nelson may have been harboring these kinds of reservations for years. Perhaps he expressed his concerns with the nickname “Mormon” at times, but withdrew his concerns to avoid gridlock or something else to maintain the full unity of the upper quorums of the Church that is supposed to be important in the decisions they make. It makes me wonder — if Elder Nelson could be harboring these kinds of reservations without fully “resolving” them in the quorum, what other concerns are some of the brethren harboring? Are any of them thinking “Pres. Nelson is right that we need a greater emphasis on the Savior, but completely eradicating Mormon from the lexicon is a little too much”? Are there other controversial issues where one or more of the brethren’s concerns are not fully resolved, but they don’t insist on resolution to avoid gridlock?

  41. Kristine N says:

    Not feeling friendly today.

    I’m sorry, but Pres. Nelson’s focus on the name of the church really left me cold. Shortly after conference ended the IPCC released a report detailing the likely climate impacts of 1.5 degrees of warming, and what we as a global society would have to do to keep global warming that low. The presentation was very sobering. The fact that Pres. Nelson’s focus was on not using the term ‘Mormon’ felt like fiddling while Rome burns. It feels like a distraction from much more important matters that actually do require immediate attention.

    Climate change is going to cause untold suffering for millions and millions of our brothers and sisters. The nick-name ‘Mormon’–not so much.

  42. Could revelation from God be “accomodationist” (for lack of a better word)? This thought took root for me reading Ben Spackman’s blog post about Philemon and the Bible’s tolerance for slavery http://www.patheos.com/blogs/benjaminthescribe/2015/10/gospel-doctrine-lesson-40-colossians-and-philippians-but-mostly-philemon/ Most explanations (in the Church and in broader Christianity) seem to adopt this idea that God/the Bible tolerated slavery because the ancient world was not ready for any kind of abolitionism. So God included rules for slave ownership in the law of Moses, and St. Paul did not outright condemn Philemon for being a slave owner.
    In the same vein, I notice that the Church’s Race and Priesthood essay spends a lot of text talking about the racist attitudes of 19th century America. My impression is that, if the priesthood and temple ban is a revelation, it was “accommodating” those racial attitudes, waiting for the day when the Church and the broader society were ready for desegregation.
    Other discussions I have had on this take note of the lost 116 pages episode — where God seems to “cave in” to Joseph Smith and Martin Harris and give them the revelation they want — even if it is not the revelation God wants to give.
    Of course, this sort of thing — if it is a thing — is easier to see in hindsight. Looking forward, could we as a Church finally be ready for the revelation to throw off our old familiar nickname? Or is it a temporary thing to bring us closer to Christ, then, when that purpose is fulfilled, we can go back to the convenience of using our old nickname?
    What do you think?

  43. Geoff - Aus says:

    I agree with Kristine that if the lord is going to impress something on his prophets mind it might be something more important. Climate change, gay marriage, equality for women all would move the church from the back of the pack. Prophets used to be ahead of the curve, part of the meaning. Instead he has a rerun of an idea he had years ago.
    But it might be difficult to get inspiration that goes against your previous perceptions. This makes for a problem when we are to get personal revelation to confirm the leaders beliefs, If our previous perceptions were different.
    Back to; is the lord impressing something on your mind that was already there revelation? Is the 15 agreeing (even though it may be they all don’t agree) revelation. I have ideas to solve problems I am working on, in the night, and sometimes they work. But I am not claiming them as revelation.
    Early in the conference someone cited the prophet who had the competition with the priests of baal, and called down fire from heaven that consumed his offering. I thought he might do a similar demonstration, and that that would be impressive and make the news. He didn’t.

  44. FWIW, also from October conference describing some Church members without excluding GAs or President Nelson from this description:

    “You will find that this Church is filled with some of the finest people this world has to offer. They are welcoming, loving, kind, and sincere. They are hardworking, willing to sacrifice, and even heroic at times.
    And they are also painfully imperfect.
    They make mistakes.
    From time to time they say things they shouldn’t. They do things they wish they hadn’t.
    But they do have this in common—they want to improve and draw closer to the Lord, our Savior, even Jesus Christ.
    They are trying to get it right.
    They believe. They love. They do.
    They want to become less selfish, more compassionate, more refined, more like Jesus.”

  45. Two scriptures come to mind:
    John 12:5 – “Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?”

    2 Kings 5:10-13 – “And Elisha sent a messenger unto him, saying, Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean. But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the LORD his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper…So he turned and went away in a rage. And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?”

  46. This is great, thoughtful post, Loursat. You’re right that my post a while back on this is dense. Were I rewriting it today I would probably refine it to tackle just one or two of the several threads it draws on.

    To my mind, the infallibility issue all goes back to President Woodruff’s statement that God would not let the prophet lead the church astray and the ways we continue to deploy that statement today. Throwing that statement out isn’t really a faithful option. But contextualizing it and understanding its limits is essential. It’s one thing for me, some guy on the internet, to do that, but when the President of the Church stands up in conference and declares that his predecessors were wrong about something that gave a great victory to Satan, that’s a lot more powerful. However you feel about President Nelson’s statement on the merits, he has now established that whatever President Woodruff’s statement means, it does not mean that the Presidents of the Church can’t make significant mistakes that give a great victory to Satan and offend God.

    The practical Holy Grail to resolving the fallibility issue, of course, is an apology for the priesthood and temple ban and an acknowledgment that it was always wrong. I don’t know that we’re any closer to that than we were before, but if nothing else, President Nelson has given us the raw materials that one day could be used, if we choose to use them, to build a bridge to that Holy Grail.

  47. JKC, thanks. For the record, in my view your essay on this is dense because it needed to be. Nothing wrong that. It helped me a lot.

  48. Ryan Mullen says:

    Geoff – Aus, while I too long for prophetic direction on a host of socially and scientifically relevant issues, framing prophets in times past as “ahead of the curve” seems to be viewing history with a bit of rose-colored glasses. While Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, as two examples, were certainly radical, their records with respect to “the curve” are mixed. Along with a clear warning against tobacco, JS also endorsed underground polygamy. Along with supporting women’s suffrage, BY also created the racial priesthood and temple restriction.

  49. The only question is the standard by which we judge the prophets so-called “fallibility”. There is only one such standard: God Himself can tell you to go a different direction in all righteousness. (But even this doesn’t authorize you to spread your wayward opinions – except, perhaps, to your own family – for you do not have such authority.) All other standards are simply lumped under the heading of “human reason” and are invalid.

    As far as I can see, there isn’t anything deeper to say on the issue.

  50. A thought, based on Last Lemming and Mr Shorty posts. When I heard Pres. Nelson “striking language” it makes sense that he’s “breaking gridlock.” Maybe his talk was not even for us, but for the few in church leadership who are responsible for the URLs lds.org and mormon.org still not redirecting to alternate URLs, or scrubbing online “Mormon” mentions on the church sites. The only way to get that done may be to position those who resist as apostate by using hyperbole. He seemed to be most concerned about how the church itself uses the terms.

    But what names, URL’s to use? I suspect there is not solid direction given on that, or there would already be announcements and agreement. I’m seeing a “kill first, build later” approach on most program changes. This is true in big organizations where decisions are choked by committees– the leader has to just end programs or products and sometimes insult the status quo to make the change. That’s the Trump management style – kill DACA, kill Iran nuclear deal, try to kill Obamacare. Just get rid of and disparage things you don’t like and hope that competent people will put together a reasonable replacement to fill the void. Not saying that church leadership and Trump are alike in any other way, just similar in dealing with changing a large organization.

    Presidents of the church aren’t always complementary to the status quo when making a change. One that came to mind is Pres. Hinckley saying in Apr 1995 “The organization has become somewhat unwieldy” when he released the Regional Representatives in conference. I wouldn’t say Pres. Nelson’s talk set precedent, but it definitely had stronger language.

  51. If you are wound up about this conference’s announcements, just wait until next conference! President Nelson will go down in history as the most transformative leader since Joseph Smith.

  52. A Different Old Man says:

    Old Man, I doubt your second sentence. The end of polygamy and of the priesthood and temple ban and the beginning and development of correlation were, I think, more transformative than recent or expected changes — unless, of course, you think President Nelson will do an about face and ask for and receive revelation on the place of LGBT folks dramatically different from the one he has already claimed.

  53. Agree with Different Old Man. Besides some disruption of dated or progressive-era programs, we haven’t seen anything that approaches the long-term effects of the ministries of Presidents Woodruff (end of plural marriage and adoptive sealings) and Kimball. Not that it’s a contest.

  54. James Muir says:

    This from you: “The issue of prophetic infallibility has become a Gordian knot—a problem that is so complicated by layers of tradition and speculation and folk practice that it can’t be solved with doctrinal explanations. Academic and theological analysis is necessary, but it’s not sufficient to untangle the knot in the minds of the laity.”

    Oh, really? No doctrinal explanations you say? How about the doctrine that you cannot be an apostle or prophet if you never took upon you the name of Jesus Christ as he commanded his apostles and prophets to do in Acts Chapter One? If one has never forsaken the world to take the name of Christ with full purpose of heart it becomes obvious that they were never initiated into the Church by the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost. Further, if these same individuals have never once in their decades of service so much as preached Acts Chapter One or alluded to the same precepts found abundantly in the Book of Mormon it proves they cannot value it as it is of unknown worth to them. They can only teach the carnal commandments to join the church and sustain the brethren and receive the priesthood ordinances. And that is ALL they have ever done.

    So the doctrine here would condemn all the GAs of the LDS Church as sycophants and false prophets and false apostles and woe, woe is the doom of the LDS laity who sustain such wickedness in high places. These scoundrels are the sort of fellas that cast out the righteous from among them since the righteous cannot help but condemn them to a man and without exception.

    President Nelson is proving the corruption of the church in spades.

  55. To James Muir – I could not have said it better!

  56. The irony of the spirit of apostasy – so quick to condemn the righteousness of others while while simultaneously manifesting the spirit of contempt and hatred. The fruits of the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost are love, not contempt and self-righteousness.

  57. Glenn Thigpen says:

    Loursat, Your disagreement with President Nelson seemed to be implicit in your dialog. You left that at least ambiguous, as it came right after a paragraph where you do seem to clearly disagree with certain policies of the past and present. Maybe it would help if you would just declare that you think President Nelson is correct or incorrect without beating around the bush with calls to give up on the idea of Prophetic infallibility that no one seems to have but that some people still talk and act is if ‘other people do believe that the prophet is infallible.”

    It also seems to be a problem with other fallible people that believe that the current president of the church is evidently more fallible than they.

    You opine that we have repented, but not really repented completely. And finally, say. “I want us to be able to repent, and I want us to get it right.” Who is this we of which you speak?

    Glenn

  58. Elder Russell M. Nelson, October General Conference 1997:
    “I have selected as a model for my message President Gordon B. Hinckley.…. His teachings are always inspiring and relevant. They should be studied carefully and applied individually. They represent the word of the Lord for His people.”

    President Gordon B. Hinckley, October General Conference 1990:
    “I suppose that regardless of our efforts, we may never convert the world to general use of the full and correct name of the Church. Because of the shortness of the word Mormon and the ease with which it is spoken and written, they will continue to call us the Mormons, the Mormon church, and so forth. They could do worse. … We may not be able to change the nickname, but we can make it shine with added luster.”

  59. Glenn, you are insisting that this post must be about President Nelson’s “Mormon” policy, but it’s not about that. The subject of this post is in its title. Given the actual subject of the post, a discussion of the merits of the “Mormon” policy would have been off topic.

    If you care to read my comments in the comment thread, you will get some sense of where I am at this point with respect to the “Mormon” policy. You will also get a sense of how I feel about President Nelson and our relationship to him as our prophet. I especially refer you to my comment of October 18 at 9:40 p.m. But if you had read the OP carefully, you would already have noticed my personal expression of love and support for him.

  60. Glenn, the last sentence in my last comment to you has a sharper tone than it should. I regret that, and I hope you will forgive me. I hope you will look beyond the sarcasm to see the substance of what I have tried to express. Thank you for engaging with what I have written.

  61. Glenn Thigpen says:

    Loursat, I never take umbrage at a post from another in reply to any comments I have made. But your article and subsequent posts leave me with mixed messages.

    You brought up the fallibility of prophets in the context of polygamy, (“We abolished polygamy, but we did not disturb its doctrinal foundations.”) the priesthood ban (“We ended the racial restriction on priesthood and temple activity, but we have never acknowledged that it was wrong.), and the policies on the LGBTQ members of the church (“He appears to be as committed as any current Church leader to policies that marginalize our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.”), among other things. This is implying, to me at least, that you feel the prophets are wrong on those issues, that those are instances of the prophets making mistakes.

    So, this brings up a question. Who gets to decide when the prophets or a particular prophet is wrong in a policy or doctrinal question? Is it by the number of people who disagree? Or is it by the elite non-prophets, those who have been enlightened by some type of spiritual awakening to the fact that in this or that instance the prophet is or was wrong? But then, there is the question of just who those enlightened ones are? Suppose that we have a group of enlightened ones that declare that the prophets are wrong about allowing women to give talks or even prayers in church services and General Conference, stating that they have researched this subject and feel they have received a spiritual confirmation that the prophets are wrong to allow this, even citing scriptural authority. I do not think you would be on board with that, no matter how many people climbed on that band wagon. I think that you would probably come to a spiritually opposite conclusion.

    Isn’t this something that should be left to God to judge and correct? Isn’t it God’s place to judge “our sins as a church,” to advise us of our sins as a church, and call us as a church to repentance both collectively and individually? I could cite a few scriptures on this, but I am pretty sure you already know them.

    You noted that “In our Church, corrective action must come in the form of a pronouncement from the prophet.” And I am in complete agreement with that, and that pronouncement should also come through a revelatory process. But your criticism of different doctrines and policies is sending a mixed message. I hope that you can see my point here without further elaboration on my part.

    You also stated “I pray for and sustain our leaders, especially President Nelson.” Do you really believe that public criticism is actually sustaining our leaders? Public criticism only creates polarization and discord. It is not productive and often (but not always) leads to apostasy by some who make the criticisms and those who hear them.

    Glenn

  62. Glenn, we often speak as if the purpose of the Church—and the primary task of the prophet—is to pronounce great truths. That is only a secondary purpose, at most. By far the most important purpose of the Church is to teach us how to live with love in Christ. We don’t learn that kind of love by resolving questions of propositional truth. Nor do we learn by always having God step in, like a playground nanny, to tell us who is right. We learn to love by working things out together.

    Of course, having an orderly church is important. We are blessed to have the Spirit work among us, and we are blessed to have inspired leaders. It is right to sustain them. But sustaining our leaders does not mean that we should turn off our brains and stop thinking about the problems that the Church has to solve or the mistakes that the Church has made. Those problems are not only the leaders’ responsibility.

    I’d like to suggest that you consider the issue of so-called “criticism” from a different angle. It is wrong to assume that people who raise questions or concerns are conjuring problems to undermine the Church. In reality, questions and disagreements already exist. It is normal for people to wonder, doubt, and disagree. There are many people in the Church who need to know that others have the same concerns. Stifling these issues might make some people feel more secure, but that comes at the cost of quietly pushing many people away. That cost is not acceptable in the Church of Jesus Christ.

    Finally, a comment on who should decide when change is needed. We don’t have an orderly way to do that right now. That’s part of what the OP is suggesting; it’s one of the implications of our erroneous belief in prophetic infallibility. See also my exchange with christiankimball earlier in this thread.

  63. Glenn Thigpen says:

    Loursat, You said, “But sustaining our leaders does not mean that we should turn off our brains and stop thinking about the problems that the Church has to solve or the mistakes that the Church has made.” This again goes back to the problem of who decides what the mistakes have been. You mentioned several issues as if it has been settled that those were and are mistakes by the church. Yet such matters have been claimed as revelation and in order for them to be superseded or corrected, it must come by revelation. That is rock upon which the church is built. I do not have to turn off my brain in order to understand that.
    As to my remarks on “so called criticism,” it fits the definition “to censure or find fault with.” It is not stifling issues to refrain from public criticism. There is a major difference between seeing where changes could be made at different levels of the church and seeking input with different church authorities as opposed to stating that doctrine x is wrong and policy y is wrong that have been declared to have come through the revelatory process. Public criticism is not the way to go. It only creates discord.
    The church does have an orderly process for deciding when mistakes have been made. Throughout our religious history God has sent His prophets to tell us when mistakes have been made and to issue course corrections. Some of those prophets made serious mistakes, and the Lord issued a course correction to those prophets. Those mistakes and course corrections have been preserved for us for our benefit. Case in point is Moses. He made some mistakes and the Lord chastised him. At one point God had even sent an angel to cut Moses off, literally and was only saved by the action of Zipporah. Another seemingly trivial incident happened with Moses when he struck a rock to bring forth water for a thirsty Israel, but did not do it the way God had decreed. Moses made other more minor mistakes also, and was enjoined by counsel.
    Moses was also criticized, even by his own brother and sister over the case of an Ethiopian woman Moses had married. They were chastised by the Lord. There is the case of a group of people that took it upon themselves to challenge Moses on priesthood authority. It did not end well for them.
    Then there is the case of Jonah. He was sent to issue a course correction to the people of Ninevah, but shrank from the task. The Lord issued him a course correction and Jonah took that correction and went to Ninevah and the story ended well for all concerned, even though Jonah was a bit peeved because Ninevah was not destroyed.
    Another case was with a prophet-king by the name of David. He was issued several course corrections in his lifetime by Nathan the prophet.
    Joseph Smith also made mistakes. The serious ones in the eyes of God have been preserved for us and the course corrections God issued.
    And there are others. But the main point is that it is God who makes those calls. He is the one who knows whether or not a doctrine or policy came from Him and whether a prophet has erred. I do not believe that any of the prophets were or are infallible but I know that God is infallible. And it is in Him that I put my trust. I believe that God, that Jesus Christ Himself is at the head of the Church and I have faith that He will guide it and us through His prophets, and that if a serious mistake is made, He will issue a course correction.

    Glenn

  64. Ryan Mullen says:

    “Who gets to decide when the prophets or a particular prophet is wrong in a policy or doctrinal question?” Institutionally, the “common council of the church” (D&C 107:82) is given authority to censure the church president. Such a council was called to hear case between Joseph Smith and Sylvester Smith (Joseph was exonerated), so it’s included in our canon that there needs to be a mechanism for judging the church president.

    Informally, the same processes are at play for the church president as for anyone else (e.g. my neighbor, a co-worker, the US president)—we all make our own decisions individually based on whatever criteria we find most compelling.

  65. Thomas Haugh says:

    As a Non LDS I find President Nelson words quite wise. In my world, the Word Mormon means Cult and weirdness. The Broadway show “The Book of Mormon” is evidence to that. I do not embrace this view though at one time I did. This blog as been a blessing to me. President Nelson is a heart Surgeon he is bold not timid. You can’t cut into a chest and be timid. He knows how to diagnose disease and blockages. He knows in the Outside world, many do not know Jesus Christ is the center of your faith, and maybe even he sees within the church that same issue. The faith is not built upon the Name of a Book or upon an angel, but upon Jesus Christ. Maybe for the sake of the Identity of the church and for the sake of evangelism he has boldly cut into the blockage at the heart of all our churches.
    Wisdom not infallibility, is what makes changes. We live in a time when we always want our own identity to be affirmed whatever that is, but Jesus wants us to take upon us his identity. I think President Nelson may be expressing a truth sorely needed by all of us.

  66. Kristin Brown says:

    Thomas Haugh- Such good insight…my favorite comment. Thank you for posting.

  67. In my world, the Word Mormon means Cult and weirdness. The Broadway show “The Book of Mormon” is evidence to that.

    What this shows is that your world is defined by pop culture.

    You are certainly in good company in this regard, so please don’t take this as a criticism of your person, but I see previous prophets as trying to reclaim the term Mormon from the clutches of those who mocked it.

    Maybe they weren’t entirely successful, but this business of not just abandoning the old ship Mormon but triggering demolition charges in its hull—”To remove the Lord’s name from the Lord’s Church is a major victory for Satan. When we discard the Savior’s name, we are subtly disregarding all that Jesus Christ did for us—even His Atonement”—remains a strange turn of events.

  68. Ah yes, the infallibility discussion. And it appears to be similar to past infallibility discussions. There are two competing and contradicting narratives that I hear, and these narratives can come from the very same person just depending on the context.

    Narrative 1) The leaders are imperfect people, give them a break. This is said usually in response to criticisms of leaders for past racism, plural marriages to teenagers, and when they have made changes to policy and teachings. Often said with the idea in mind that ex-Mormons are leaving because of black-and-white thinking (which is incorrect given the fact that one of the most commonly used metaphors used by ex-Mormons to describe their decision to leave the church is that of a shelf collapsing, suggesting that they were tolerant of some nuance, imperfection, and ambiguity).

    Narrative 2) It is wrong to criticize the leaders, even if they are wrong. The idea is that loyalty and “covenant” trump the actual correctness and consistency of ideas. Dallin Oaks has strongly emphasized this idea and it reverberates in word and spirit throughout LDS communities. Most believers seem attached to this idea. In essence they treat the leaders as infallibles and frown on anything said about them that can be construed as negative. Believers will acknowledge that they make mistakes but shy away from actually mentioning what those mistakes might be.

    Conclusion: the LDS leaders promote themselves as fallibles who should be generally treated as infallibles. It is a sort of Trumpian doublethink. They deftly thread the needle of the question of infallibility very carefully. They will say whatever they need to say in order to keep members paying tithing, active in church, and not openly and extensively questioning teachings and policies.

  69. N. Bailey says:

    Who is playing the old man and who is playing the prisoner in the conversations that occur here? Who is playing Alyosha and who is playing Ivan?

    “My intention is to end it with the following scene: Having disburdened his heart, the Inquisitor waits for some time to hear his prisoner speak in His turn. His silence weighs upon him. He has seen that his captive has been attentively listening to him all the time, with His eyes fixed penetratingly and softly on the face of his jailer, and evidently bent upon not replying to him. The old man longs to hear His voice, to hear Him reply; better words of bitterness and scorn than His silence. Suddenly He rises; slowly and silently approaching the Inquisitor, He bends towards him and softly kisses the bloodless, four-score and-ten-year-old lips. That is all the answer. The Grand Inquisitor shudders. There is a convulsive twitch at the corner of his mouth. He goes to the door, opens it, and addressing Him, ‘Go,’ he says, ‘go, and return no more… do not come again… never, never!’ and—lets Him out into the dark night. The prisoner vanishes.”
    “And the old man?”

    “The kiss burns his heart, but the old man remains firm in his own ideas and unbelief.”

    “And you, together with him? You too!” despairingly exclaimed Alyosha, while Ivan burst into a still louder fit of laughter.

  70. Mormons, or whatever we are going to call ourselves, make up about 1% of the US population and even a smaller portion worldwide. It is foolish to attempt to coop the title The Church of Jesus Christ. Only in the echo chamber of the valleys of the Wasatch mountains is this even thinkable. Elsewhere it is insane.

    Even more troubling is the complete absence of the word Christian in President Nelson’s revelation. It seems we have turned the corner and are no longer trying to be part of the Christian community. We used to howl when Christians define us as not Christian. By the same token we cannot define the billions of Christians world wide as not members of The Church of Jesus Christ.

    Add to this the fact that our meetings to evangelical guests appear to be Christian lite or worse. Rather than focusing on the name of the church or other important issues like global warning, why do we not attempt to make our church more Christ centered in what we do in meetings and in the community?

    I am not the prophet but I prophecy that this too will pass. It is a flash in the pan and will not represent any major change in course. As has been the case before. I have not folded up my Mormon identity and put it away in the dust bins yet.

  71. Aussie Mormon says:

    “why do we not attempt to make our church more Christ centered in what we do in meetings and in the community?”

    Well I’d suggest that making sure people know that Jesus Christ is a major part of our church would be a good start, but apparently people prefer to use the term Mormon.

  72. “Mormons, or whatever we are going to call ourselves, make up about 1% of the US population ”

    That would be like a small minority cooping rainbows, bathrooms, and kindergarten curriculums!

  73. One pattern that I observe is that people know the Prophet to be fallible BUT they see the prophet as the messenger. “Do not shoot the messenger for the imperfect delivery of God’s message.” It seems to me that many members imagine Jesus himself sitting down at executive level meetings or otherwise making his will known in clear and unambiguous methods. Therefore the fallible prophet is just the spokesman or PR guy for God. The man is fallible but the message isn’t.
    I believe understanding God’s will (even for ordained and sustained Prophets to be much more messy). When we talk of leaders being imperfect and sometimes making mistakes, we can be talking past one another. One member imagines a past prophet being unkind to his wife … another thinks of a past prophet teaching false doctrine.

  74. James Stone says:

    When modern prophets speak or ask us to do something instead of wondering “Is this true?” (or “Are prophets fallible?”) our question should be “How can I live this?”

    Truly a transformative experience.

  75. I think rather than focusing on fallibility we should perhaps see a burden of proof. I think the concern for many leaders is that as soon as people focus on fallibility they completely neglect those burden of proof issues. (Although proof probably isn’t the right term in this context)

  76. “When modern prophets speak or ask us to do something instead of wondering “Is this true?” (or “Are prophets fallible?”) our question should be “How can I live this?””

    Unfortunately, “How can I live this?” is only answered by convincing oneself: that they have been making “not inconsequential” errors for a long time; that the previous (2 at least) Presidents of the Church have been misguided; that they don’t understand that Atonement to a sufficient degree; that by doing things like promoting Mormon.org, wearing a yellow ‘Mormon Helping Hands’ vest, and by participating in “I’m a Mormon” movements on social media that they were in fact failing to fulfil their covenants to defend Christ, were keeping others from coming to know their Savior, and ultimately were giving victories to Satan.

    Once a person has accepted those things and has seen their desperate need to repent, then they can begin to make the changes that will no longer sadden/anger Christ and will begin to use the full name of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints each and every time they refer to said organization.

    Doing anything less (thinking one can simply change the words they use without acknowledging the seriousness of their past errors) would mean that they don’t take Pres. Nelson’s counsel seriously. Such a person might think that that Nelson is mistaken or overzealous; that things weren’t really that bad in the past… but Pres Nelson’s entire talk was organized to dispute such a soft understanding. Truly, the only people who take Pres Nelson at his word, and believe in them totally, are those who are now reviling against the poor leadership from the recent past.

  77. I agree with James that “Are prophets fallible?” is a dumb question. Because of course they are. That’s not worth debating. And I agree with jax that this is not one that can be so easily swept aside. Either President Nelson is right, or Presidents Hinckley and Monson were. They can’t really both be. I’m not sure that I need to conclusively decide who is right and who is wrong, but I think jax is right that I have to at least acknowledge that somebody is wrong. And for the record, I’m okay with prophets being wrong.

  78. James Stone says:

    @JaxJensen — Or one can simply read 3 Nephi 27 and see that President Nelson is simply getting us back to where we should have been in the first place.

  79. jaxjensen says:

    James Stone… not according to HIS words… according to him we were in serious error, failing to defend Christ, making a “not inconsequential” mistake… You can’t take Pres Nelson seriously any other way… because that IS WHAT HE SAID. People who think this is simply a change of direction for the future either weren’t listening, or don’t believe the actual words spoken by the “Prophet.” This wasn’t a “the Lord has directed a new path” talk. It was a “we need to repent because we (and those leading us do to so) have failed in our duties” talk.

  80. I agree with the intent of this article/post. In my view there is no rational apologetic way to not see this as a significant example that a prophet or more made errors that affected the whole church. I’m not claiming to know which prophet. However, I offer another conjecture for consideration. Maybe God was OK with the temporary emphasis and use of the noble name of Mormon in order to get some social traction or something. But, God felt like it was now time to circle back and emphasise the real name of the Church for the long term. God impresses President Nelson who takes it to and gets support from the 12. Then, President Nelson let’s his strong personal feelings affect his delivery in conference and involves Satan in the dialogue. Ouch! The course is right, but descriptive details were overeach. It seems this isn’t that uncommon. The Lord gives direction and often explanation isn’t with it, so the leaders in an effort to justify the directon come up with reasons, and they’ve been wrong. Could this be such a case?

  81. jaxjensen says:

    KarlS, then why wouldn’t Pres. Nelson’s message be “the use of Mormon in the past was acceptable to God for His own purposes, but it is His will that from this time forward we discontinue the practice of calling ourselves ‘Mormon'” ? Your conjecture on God’s will, if true, would have produced this kind of message. That is not at all what we received. We got a ‘our past actions were serious error and a failure” message. If it was all Pres Nelson’s personal feelings that changed the message from what it should have been into what we received then it is he that is wrong/erroneous. That means that rather then mistakenly following Pres Monson/Hinckley, it would be wise for us to use extreme caution in listening to/following Pres Nelson since the message so drastically changed. It means I couldn’t trust him on doctrinal issues since that is what he got wrong this time – the ‘why’ part of the gospel. Your conjecture means instead of failing prophets in the past, we have a failing one in the present.

  82. Just *knowing* that a current prophet is debunking our past prophets over something so insignificant is totally empowering me to disregard our current prophet over the really significant things like equality for all of God’s children, their right to love, civil rights, protecting LDS children, etc. This most recent conference opened a can of worms, but a good one for those of us who have received strong personal revelation that our prophets have been neglecting/hurting too many vulnerable children of God for too long. By disregarding prophets himself, President Nelson kind of gives the rest of us a green light to do the same. That whole doctrine about living prophets meaning more than dead ones is a moot point in a church that spent so much time and money teaching us “Praise to the Man,” filling “Preach My Gospel” with discussions about Joseph Smith, and cranking out manuals for more than a decade of RS/PM dedicated to even more dead prophets. Making matters worse is how Google now supplements those manuals for us, telling us what they conveniently left about the dead prophets.

  83. “Your conjecture means instead of failing prophets in the past, we have a failing one in the present.”

    I don’t know about that. I don’t know exactly where you draw the line between “mistaken,” or “overstated the point” and “failing,” but I think it is possible to draw it somewhere where you accept the possibility of Karl’s point that a renewed emphasis on the church’s name is the product of revelation, but President Nelson’s expression and delivery of that message went too far, without concluding that he’s therefore failing in his role as a prophet.

  84. There is an extreme way of reasoning about these questions that we ought to get away from. It’s a mistake to think that a prophet is always right. It’s also a mistake to think that if a prophet is wrong about one thing, then everything else he says is unreliable, or we can ignore what he is saying. That’s not a decent way to treat people. It’s not how we should treat the prophet.

    As I’ve written elsewhere in this thread, it’s a bad idea to sustain the prophet just because we think he has a hotline to God. We ought to sustain the prophet because we love him and because sustaining him is a necessary part of our commitment to Jesus Christ and his church.

    I understand that we can’t sit down with the prophet and talk about our differences face to face. I understand that defining our commitment to the Church can be a complicated, evolving process. Our relationship to the prophet is certainly different from our relationship to our friends and neighbors. However, if the man is fallible—and he is—we shouldn’t treat him as if he were perfect. Patience, forgiveness, mercy, and a humble awareness of our own faults should be part of the way we deal with the prophet, just as they should be when we deal with anyone else.

  85. Well said, Loursat.

  86. Where do I draw the line for “failing”?? Well, if Pres Nelson is willing to sat the our past prophet-led efforts were a failure rather than a mistake, then I’ll use the same standard. If his proclamations of why we need this change, being so severe, were not actually God’s inspired message, then he IS failing.

  87. “We ought to sustain the prophet because we love him and because sustaining him is a necessary part of our commitment to Jesus Christ and his church.” Amen. Likewise, Pres Nelson should hold the same standard for his predecessors, and refrain from calling their efforts (and ours) failures to defend Christ.

    My biggest problem with his talk is that it drew such a stark division between the current position and the previous ones that I can only conclude that either the current President or the previous ones were NOT “prophets” at all. That’s disturbing.

  88. jax, I don’t blame your for finding it to be disturbing. I respectfully disagree with you that the only conclusion you can reach is that either Monson & Hinckley or Nelson are not prophets at all. If President Nelson is wrong, I believe the spirit will make that known to the body of the members of the church in due time. In the meantime, for me, the best course of action is to sustain him and ask the Lord to inspire him to be the best prophet he can be. But I sympathize with you.

  89. jax, I appreciate what you are saying. I felt deeply troubled after listening to President Nelson’s talk. It was hard for me to explain my feelings, but I think it was probably for some of the reasons that you are talking about here. I wrote the OP to explain the insight that gave me some peace. Even if there were no other merit to President Nelson’s talk, I think it is a blessing to the Church that he has acknowledged the fallibility of prophets. I think he probably had to say this in a really forceful way for it to make any impression. I also think that it is probably easier for us to assimilate this statement in the context of an issue that is unexpected and somewhat peripheral.

    I’m not saying that you should feel the same way I do. Just describing my own experience of this.

  90. James Cook says:

    Could it be that President Nelson is fallible himself? I remember in 2003 when the USA went to war with Iraq and that President Nelson was outspoken in his criticism against the war, to the point that President Hinkley, had to step back those remarks and assert that the Church supported President Bush. I wrote in my journal at the time to be wary of President Nelson.
    His pace of enacting changes seems out of character with past presidents. I have to be honest that I disagree with less church, less a conference priesthood meeting and less a priesthood quorum. If the LORD’S original apostles (Who I believe were far more righteous than our current apostles), could fall away and were fallible, then certainly current apostles can be corruptible. It is ok to say hey, wait a minute, GO read scriptures and pray and see if the current revelations are aligned with scripture and the comforting of the HOLY GHOST. If they are not, we need to have the courage of our convictions to speak up and speak out or we are no better than a blind man.
    If President Nelson reveals that it is now ok for women to hold the priesthood or for openly gay same sex couples to now go to the temple and serve in good standing in the priesthoods or various offices, he needs to be checked and we (the Saints), need to do it. Why? Because that kind of revelation refudiates all previous revelations and commandments. If not then, where is your red line? If he says, we are bringing back the Nazi party, is that your red line? What is your red line? Just have the courage of your conviction to do the right thing, whatever that is.

  91. The Book of Mormon play on Broadway also went nationwide. It may have compelled the change if the Lord or Pres. Nelson believed it sullied the name. Profane jokes and laughter, etc. That would explain why the name change now. Yes, people have always said nasty things about us but this upped the ante and made it okay in mainstream America more than under any other prophet’s administration.The emotion we saw in Pres. Nelson may have been because he finally had enough with the mocking.
    The change from 3 to 2 hrs. was tried in a few states before deciding to implement it for all of us.
    It must have been a positive change for many members but I don’t know the details. Personally, I thought it was in line with it being time for everyone to be ready for the Second Coming, instead of depending on the church to do it for them. After the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting and other church shooting in Texas, the time may come when our being in a church building less could prove to be a blessing–something no one would have thought 30 years ago.
    Something that is different about Pres. Nelson from our other past prophets is that he’s a doctor.
    The doctors I have known tend to be protective people who instinctively feel responsible to look out for the well being of those they have charge over. Much the way law enforcement reacts to protect those around them when something happens even when they are off duty. I see Pres. Nelson a bit like Peter–he’s the one apostle jumping up with sword, smiting the soldier to protect Jesus from being taken. His heart was as right as the other apostles but his personality was to act. Peter didn’t think his fellow apostles, Judas excluded, were failed apostles because they didn’t jump up with their swords and join him. They have different personalities.

  92. p.s If you recall Pres. Nelson’s first conference talk after losing his wife Danzel, how traumatized he was. The dear man was shaken.
    They’d finished doing the dishes that evening and were sitting on the couch watching tv , when out of the blue she just died suddenly without warning–and he’s a doctor and he couldn’t bring her back to life. Can you imagine? I was listening from another room and came right in to sit down, focusing him–my heart went out to him. He was in such emotional pain. When some people feel emotion deeply, it moves them to speak and act
    from their heart. If how they did it was not how another would have, their heart was right and the Lord looks upon our hearts to judge us.

  93. Left Field says:

    James, President Hinckley did not say that the church supported President Bush or that it supported the war. He made comments that could be interpreted in various ways, but there was no explicit declaration of support from the church.

  94. James, Also, Nelson spoke before we went into Iraq. Hinckley spoke after. Not insignificant. Let’s not revise history to support our agendas.

  95. jaxjensen says:

    “this upped the ante and made it okay in mainstream America more than under any other prophet’s administration” … but this didn’t happen during the Nelson administration. the BoM play went “viral” during previous Presidents, so if the Lord had a change of heart because of that, then His reaction time was quite disturbingly slow… especially considering the amount of pro-Mormon things the Church did in the interim.

  96. jaxjensen–Yes, it grew steadily under the others and finally came to a head under Nelson. The Lord is slow to anger.

  97. James–It turned out Nelson was right to be against going into Iraq. The B of M advises not to make the first strike against another. That’s what Nelson was saying.

  98. These comments on here that the Prophet could make a mistake & is not infallible are abhorrent! Those faithless members who pick & choose should repent immediately. The Prophet spoken on the use of the bad word/nickname that we can not ever use it or it’s VICTORY FOR SATAN!
    What more do you need to know than that? These discussions about not complete compliance is of the devil himself! I will never ever again admit I am M$#*!n again if asked because a Prophet Of God spoke to God in the Temple on Thursday & in that revelation was told to tell all of us not to use the name M$#*!n ever again! Please comply 100% no slackers! Or you will need to see your bishop ASAP!

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