Here are the keys to the kingdom, President. Bring ‘er back in one piece and with a full tank.

June 16, 2005    By: Geoff J @ 11:40 pm   Category: Mormon Culture/Practices,Theology

There were lots of great comments and complaints about my new theory that I informally presented in the last post. They made me really consider what the theory entails and what it doesn’t. I think it would be helpful to step back a little and look at this theory in a larger context.

First, it should be noted that this is not as much a theory about obedience or prophets as it is about God. This is really about the way God interacts with humankind. The focus is on the behavioral counsel we receive from church leaders — where it originates and what God thinks of it.

One of the concerns brought up was that the idea that God lets his stewards make things up and then He supports them in their decisions gives too much power to fallible men. Craig aptly asked:

If the prophet told us that we all need to start walking backward from now on are you implying that God would say, “Yes I agree”?

There are at least two safeguards in place to make this scenario unlikely if not impossible. One is the quote from President Woodruff that promises God would never let the prophet lead the church astray. The other comes to us in the experience Nephi had when he received the sealing power:

4 Blessed art thou, Nephi, for those things which thou hast done; for I have beheld how thou hast with unwearyingness declared the word, which I have given unto thee, unto this people. And thou hast not feared them, and hast not sought thine own life, but hast sought my will, and to keep my commandments.

5 And now, because thou hast done this with such unwearyingness, behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will.

6 Behold, thou art Nephi, and I am God. Behold, I declare it unto thee in the presence of mine angels, that ye shall have power over this people, and shall smite the earth with famine, and with pestilence, and destruction, according to the wickedness of this people.

7 Behold, I give unto you power, that whatsoever ye shall seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven; and thus shall ye have power among this people.
(italics mine)

The point here is that God only gives this sealing power to those who have proven they can and will properly handle it. He only turn the keys of the car over to those he can trust to bring it back in one piece and with gas in the tank. He also has safeguards of 14 other men to protect against things like physical or mental health failures. We have seen more than one case of that in the last few decades and never once did we get bad counsel. God is directly involved in this process after all.

Matt questioned how to separate underlying doctrinal assumptions and the behavioral counsel. I think it is an easy thing to do. For example, Elder Peterson counseled against interracial marriages for young people at BYU in 1954. Did God approve of that behavioral counsel or not? I think he did for that audience at that time. When it came to behavior, all of the explanations he gave at the time for the counsel are moot. All that matters is that a behavior was recommended and God agreed. (Rusty posted on explanations recently too.)

More recently we have been counseled against gambling and on how many earrings LDS women should wear. President Hinckley gave some examples of problems that arise due to gambling. But those examples again don’t really matter. The question is does God agree that we should avoid gambling or not? If he does then what else matters? And regarding the earring counsel: Does God agree that it is a good idea for LDS women to wear only one set of earrings or not? If he does then what else matters?

Perhaps the shocking aspect of my theory to most is that I am suggesting that not all these ideas originate with God. Maybe, as some have asserted, his steward thought of the gambling counsel or the earring counsel on his own. My theory is that even if that is the case, God will agree with and support it anyway. I am asserting that the sealing power of a prophet can extend further than many realize and that things that God may not have cared about before He will care about after his steward says we should care.

Craig was also worried that those stewards are giving counsel that he would not give and that he was not comfortable with. This is a separate issue but the same test of importance applies. Does God agree with the counsel or not? If he does then it really doesn’t make much difference if we like it or not. We are left to freely choose to follow or ignore it.

The good news for us and God is that finding out of what He cares about requires personal revelation. It requires true dialogic prayer. That is what he really wants anyway. After all “…this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17: 3)

Of course so far I have only talked about what I think happens. The question of why God might have such policies is probably even more fun… We know God likes variety after all, and since the future in not fixed this sort of thing must make being Him a lot more fun… So many theological questions to speculate about and so little time…

34 Comments

  1. There are at least two safeguards in place to make this scenario unlikely if not impossible. One is the quote from President Woodruff that promises God would never let the prophet lead the church astray. The other comes to us in the experience Nephi had when he received the sealing power:

    Geoff,
    If I remember correctly, President Woodruff’s quote was taken out of a news paper, and it’s context was him convincing the rest of the church to abandon polygamy. Many of the brethren did not want to support him in this action, they believed that if they abandoned this practice that the church would be thrown back into apostacy. His argument was that God would not allow that to happen. I’m not arguing that Pres. Hinkley’s counsel, or any other prophet’s counsel that I don’t agree with is going to throw the church into apostasy, but it may be the cause of some unrighteous behavior, if at least only indirectly.

    Nephi’s quote is another thing. The sealing power is a very mysterious subject. This passage in particular brings up lots of questions in my mind. Wasn’t Nephi the prophet of the church before he recieved this power? Why didn’t he recieve it right when he was given the keys? Does the power automatically come with the keys? This passage makes it sound like Nephi was not given the power with the keys, but after proving himself to God earned the power. Now comes the obvious question, have any of our prophets, beside Joseph of course, recieved the sealing power in this way? Is there a difference in degree or kind between the sealings in the temple, and the control over the elements? I’m not proposing any answers to these questions, it just seems like your making a lot of assumptions over mysteries we know little about.

    “Craig was also worried that those stewards are giving counsel that he would not give and that he was not comfortable with. This is a separate issue but the same test of importance applies. Does God agree with the counsel or not? If he does then it really doesn’t make much difference if we like it or not. We are left to freely choose to follow or ignore it.”

    I’m not sure what your getting at here. Are you assuming that God does agree? Because that’s the very issue I’m bringing up. I don’t think he necessarily does agree with every little bit of counsel that is given. The comforting thing is, it seems that most of the really bad counsel fades with time. We justify this by saying it only applied to the Saints at that time, but I think it is just as likely that some of the counsel that was given was bad counsel and so eventually died out. This new counsel concerns me though because of the principle that was already so prevelent in our culture (judging outward appearances as signs of righteousness)and now is justified by our religion. Since this is not only bad counsel, but also appeals to the culture in the way that it does, it may not die out, but only become more prevelent.

    Comment by Craig Atkinson — June 17, 2005 @ 5:22 am

  2. Interesting thoughts, Geoff. I think I agree with you that the Lord holds us to the words of His prophets. Enoch is another example you might have cited:

    Moses 6:31 And when Enoch had heard these words, he bowed himself to the earth, before the Lord, and spake before the Lord, saying: Why is it that I have found favor in thy sight, and am but a lad, and all the people hate me; for I am slow of speech; wherefore am I thy servant?

    Moses 6:32 And the Lord said unto Enoch: Go forth and do as I have commanded thee, and no man shall pierce thee. Open thy mouth, and it shall be filled, and I will give thee utterance, for all flesh is in my hands, and I will do as seemeth me good.

    Moses 6:33 Say unto this people: Choose ye this day, to serve the Lord God who made you.

    Moses 6:34 Behold my Spirit is upon you, wherefore all thy words will I justify; and the mountains shall flee before you, and the rivers shall turn from their course; and thou shalt abide in me, and I in you; therefore walk with me.

    Like Enoch, I am sure that our modern prophets are abundantly aware of their own humanity and weakness. I imagine that, upon becoming a prophet, they worry about the possibility that they might teach something incorrect. But with the Lord’s assurance that His Spirit is upon them and with the confidence that He will “justify” all their words, they are able to proceed. And the Lord holds us to their words.

    Comment by J. Max Wilson — June 17, 2005 @ 8:12 am

  3. JMW: Nice pull on those verses. They are an excellent support for this theory.

    Craig: Good challenges. Here are some responses.

    President Woodruff’s quote was taken out of a news paper

    In any case I happen to believe it. In the end it is either true or not and I’m afraid I can’t prove it one way or the other.

    I’m not arguing that Pres. Hinkley’s counsel, or any other prophet’s counsel that I don’t agree with is going to throw the church into apostasy, but it may be the cause of some unrighteous behavior, if at least only indirectly.

    The problem with your complaint is that it wants to make any counsel about outward appearance off limits to the prophets. The scriptures are full of counsel about outward appearance, though — especially the book of Mormon with its’ constant warnings about “fine apparel”. Judging others based on their outward appearance is in no way unique to our culture either. If the scriptures are to be believed, this has been a problem since the beginning.

    So yes, I am assuming that God agrees with this counsel. But again I can’t prove it so we are left to go to the Lord ourselves and see what he thinks about it.

    Nephi’s quote is another thing. The sealing power is a very mysterious subject.

    You are right that the Nephi example is no solid proof of this idea, but I think it serves as interesting evidence. There appears to be a great deal of such evidence both in ancient scripture and in modern church history — enough for me to continue to consider this to be a viable theory about God’s methods of interacting with humankind.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 17, 2005 @ 9:01 am

  4. Hi, Geoff. I want to pick up on one point from the last thread. You wrote

    I am only applying this principle to practices, not theological questions. The truths of the eternities exist independently of any leader’s opinions-they are fixed-so either the leaders get them right or they don’t.

    I wonder if you have any thoughts on why God would bind us to follow counsel but not necessarily to accept doctrinal teachings.

    I assume from what you’ve said that you don’t think God will hold those who disagree with Peterson’s speculations about race or Benson’s assertions that socialism was inherently evil or any number of odd nineteenth century theological speculations accountable. Why, then, would he hold us accountable for following instructions based on these ideas?

    You argue that God does so because he will not let the prophet lead the church astray. I don’t think it necessarily follows that everything a prophet instructs therefore becomes divine law. I think that the Church succeeds despite the flaws of its leaders – indeed, that it does so is testament to the guidance of God and ability of those leaders to overcome their flaws and recieve divine direction when it comes to the important things. There was a lot of apprehension among non-John Birch Society sympathizers that Benson would take the Church overtly into politics when he became president – but he didn’t. Instead, he let his politics fade into the background and stressed more fundamental religious issues. I think that says something about what’s really important to God.

    The point here is that God only gives this sealing power to those who have proven they can and will properly handle it.

    I think that’s true, but again, I don’t think it necessarily follows that all the counsel they give is binding.

    Indeed, I would tie this to the Enoch verses, where I want to point out this important part:

    Moses 6:32 And the Lord said unto Enoch: Go forth and do as I have commanded thee, and no man shall pierce thee. Open thy mouth, and it shall be filled, and I will give thee utterance, for all flesh is in my hands, and I will do as seemeth me good.

    It seems to me that God is clearly in control. He is directing Enoch rather than the other way around. I think you see the same thing in the Nephi verses:

    4 Blessed art thou, Nephi, for those things which thou hast done; for I have beheld how thou hast with unwearyingness declared the word, which I have given unto thee, unto this people. And thou hast not feared them, and hast not sought thine own life, but hast sought my will, and to keep my commandments.
    5 And now, because thou hast done this with such unwearyingness, behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will.
    6 Behold, thou art Nephi, and I am God. Behold, I declare it unto thee in the presence of mine angels, that ye shall have power over this people, and shall smite the earth with famine, and with pestilence, and destruction, according to the wickedness of this people.

    What I get here is that Nephi is being blessed so long as he is going about the work God has directed him to. The “thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will” part seems to me an assessment of Nephi’s character, not a transfer of power.

    Comment by Matt Bowman — June 17, 2005 @ 9:11 am

  5. J. Max Wilson says: “I am sure that our modern prophets are abundantly aware of their own humanity and weakness. I imagine that, upon becoming a prophet, they worry about the possibility that they might teach something incorrect.”

    I’m not sure how much they worry…here’s a quote from the talk on loyalty by Pres. Hinckley:

    “I want to give you my testimony that although I have sat in literally thousands of meetings where Church policies and programs have been discussed, I have never been in one where the guidance of the Lord was not sought nor where there was any desire on the part of anyone present to advocate or do anything which would be injurious or coercive to anyone…..I make you a promise, my dear brethren, that while I am serving in my present responsibility I will never consent to nor advocate any policy, any program, any doctrine which will be otherwise than beneficial to the membership of this, the Lord’s Church.”

    He seems pretty confident that good intentions and prayer are all it takes to avoid mistakes.

    Comment by kodos — June 17, 2005 @ 9:27 am

  6. I also want to say that I agree with Matt. I’m not sure how you can justify the position that we aren’t obligated to believe everything the prophets say but we are obligated to do everything they tell us to. The traditional rationale for following the prophet is that he passes on messages from God, and that rationale would seem to apply equally to doctrine and practices. You also seem to be relying on some notion about “obedience being the first law of heaven,” (which, by the way, is not a phrase found in cannonized scripture). What about the notion of “faith” as the first principle of the gospel.

    As I said before, if you remove the rationale that we should follow the prophet because he speaks for God, you have undermined the whole appeal of the restoration, and that is why you won’t be finding any of these ideas in the missionary discussions.

    Comment by kodos — June 17, 2005 @ 9:36 am

  7. I don’t think that current Mormon culture does a very good accounting of the sealing power. We currently associate it with Temple marriage. The reality is that it is much further reaching. It is bestowed upon the righteous by ordinance and holds the power to seal people up into eternal life or to hell.

    The sealing power is all about sealing…about making specific pronouncements and having good ratifity it. The 19th century saints were quite explicit about this. If an indavidual uses the sealing power he does so by pronouncement not by default.

    Comment by J. Stapley — June 17, 2005 @ 10:16 am

  8. An example of the natural abuse that can arise from such doctrine is Signey Ridgon’s Salt Sermon and July 4th Sermon (Check wikipedia for details). This lead to the organization of a secret society known as the “Daughters of Zion” or the Danites, whose purposes included obeying the church presidency “right or wrong” and expelling the dissenters from Caldwell.

    These 2 sermons were done by Signey while he was in the Presidency in good standing. The natural reaction to this doctrine lead to the Danites that lead to the ill-fated Mormon War that lead to the Extermination Order by Gov. Boggs. Violence begets violence as usual.

    Now imagine what would had happened if the members who became Danites said to themselves: oh those two sermons are from the First Presidency but I believe that its his opinion and conflicts with turning the other cheek. I’d rather turn the other cheek and love my neighbor. A lot of bloodshed could had been prevented and an ugly stain of Mormon history avoided.

    Comment by Speaking Up — June 17, 2005 @ 10:17 am

  9. SU has a great point; if only Sidney had been the Prophet, then it might actually be a good example of his point.

    Comment by lyle — June 17, 2005 @ 12:20 pm

  10. “We are a ruined people,” William Marks quoted Smith; “this doctrine of polygamy, or Spiritual-wife System, that has been taught and practiced among us, will prove our destruction and overthrow. I have been deceived … it is wrong; it is a curse to mankind, and we shall have to leave the United States soon, unless it can be put down, and its practice stopped in the Church.” Marks said that Smith ordered him “to go into the high council, and I will have charges preferred against all who practice this doctrine; and I want you to try them by the laws of the Church, and cut them off, if they will not repent, and cease the practice of this doctrine … I will go into the stand and preach against it with all my might, and in this way, we may rid the Church of this damnable heresy.” But Smith was killed shortly after this conversation, and when Marks related what Smith had said, his testimony “was pronounced false by the Twelve and disbelieved.”

    Of coures it helps to realize that the Twelve at the time were deeply involved with polygamy, so they had heavy incentive not to believe it. I still wonder if Joseph Smith was removed for polygamy, but that leaves me with the question as to why Brigham was not. Polygamy caused and still causes so much trouble for the church. It was a doctrine AND a practice that lead to far more destuction than it could had ever been beneficial.

    Comment by Speaking Up — June 17, 2005 @ 1:32 pm

  11. Who in the world is William Marks, and what is his relationship to the prophet?

    Comment by Craig Atkinson — June 17, 2005 @ 3:29 pm

  12. One thing that ought to be clarified is that I am mostly talking about the President of the Church with this concept. I think it could apply in many cases to other apostles, but to a much lesser degree. The weight of the “binding” would be proportional to the position. Therefore, while behavioral counsel from a single apostle may fit this model exactly, it seems to me that it has several earthly approval hurdles to pass through before it has the weight of behavioral counsel from the single individual that holds all the keys — namely some form of agreement from the 12 as a group, and the First Presidency. The promise for president Woodruff only applied to the president of the church after all.

    Matt (#5) and kodos (#7): You both seem to be advocating a pretty standard approach to looking at the counsel from prophets — namely God tells then all the things they are supposed to say (correct me if I’m misreading you). Then you want to hedge your bets and say that occasionally they make things up themselves based on presumably false theological assumptions and in those cases we are not required to follow that counsel. Mat asked: Why, then, would he hold us accountable for following instructions based on these (presumably inaccurate) ideas? kodos adds: if you remove the rationale that we should follow the prophet because he speaks for God, you have undermined the whole appeal of the restoration.

    To Matt I would say that if the behavioral counsel was good counsel the justifications/reasons don’t make much difference. To kodos I would say that if the appeal of modern prophets is that they are merely puppets for God then there is something seriously wrong. First, that concept is contra-scriptural. Second, it implies some level of infallibility that none of us here seem to believe. So then the problem with this argument you seem to be making is that it is all or nothing — either God thought of the idea and the prophet acted merely as a mouthpiece or the servant made it up and we can ignore it. Can you see the slippery slope these extremes leave us in? We must either believe that God cared enough about extra earrings to command his servant to ban them or that He cares nothing about them and that we can completely ignore this counsel for the prophet. It is clear that some people commenting here are leaning toward that latter camp. I just don’t buy either of those extremes. I believe there is a middle ground and that is what I am advocating here.

    I should mention that the first post in this series was really about what tools God gives us to generate enough faith to approach his throne and work mighty miracles. I likened some of these behavioral rules to Dumbo’s feather. The idea is that as we enter a dialogue with God these little things can give us extra confidence in the presence of God when we are asking for miracles. We can examine our lives and say “I even have followed such and such little rule”. I recommend checking out that post as well because I think it helps explain why God would even encourage these behavioral rules from his servants. He would be in favor of anything that pushed faith over the precipice where it becomes a principle of power.

    That said…

    If anyone here is regularly engaging in dialogic prayer, and working mighty miracles on behalf of their fellow beings while at the same time wearing tons of earrings and ignoring or spurning other behavioral counsel from our leaders then I say “carry on”. For those here who are having more trouble as we approach the throne of God seeking revelation, inspiration, prophesy, mighty miracles, etc. I think following the big and little rules our leaders teach us might serve to increase our faith sufficiently to allow us to actually work those miracles.

    If we are not actively working toward (and achieving) goals like that then all of these conversations are a waste.

    Last, I want to make it clear that in saying God honors and backs these rules that may be made up by his servant I am not advocating obedience for obedience sake. Rather I am advocating obedience for the sake of celestial power. I am advocating obedience for the sake of miracle-generating faith.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 17, 2005 @ 4:17 pm

  13. Speaking Up — I have to say that William Marks claim is about the silliest thing I’ve read in a long time.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 17, 2005 @ 4:20 pm

  14. D&C 6:19 “Admonish him [The prophet] in his faults, and also receive admonition of him. Be patient; be sober; be temperate; have patience, faith, hope and charity”

    D&C 102:20 “But should the remaining councilors, who have not spoken, or any one of them, after hearing the evidences and pleadings impartially, discover an error in the decision of the president, they can manifest it, and the case shall have a re-hearing”

    D&C 107:82 “And inasmuch as a President of the High Priesthood shall transgress, he shall be had in remembrance before the common council of the church, who shall be assisted by twelve counselors of the High Priesthood”

    Comment by Daylan Darby — June 17, 2005 @ 8:29 pm

  15. Matt (#5) and kodos (#7): You both seem to be advocating a pretty standard approach to looking at the counsel from prophets-namely God tells then all the things they are supposed to say (correct me if I’m misreading you). Then you want to hedge your bets and say that occasionally they make things up themselves based on presumably false theological assumptions and in those cases we are not required to follow that counsel.

    Not quite. There’s a middle ground between “Counsel comes from God through the prophet, who is merely a pipeline” and “God backs the counsel that the prophets say.” That middle ground is this: not everything a prophet says is divinely relevant. I think there’s perfectly good counsel, like advising against tattoos, that is neither specifically inspired nor based on false doctrine. I think it’s entirely possible for the prophets to give good advice that’s only that; good advice that is not directly tied to great questions of theology or linked to our eternal fates. They’re wise men, after all. But they’re as capable of misreading a situation or suffering occasional lapses of judgement as any of us are.

    I guess what’s troubling me here is that your theory seems to ascribe a type of infallibility to BYU fireside talks. In the same YSA fireside of Elder Oaks’s that I recently cited, he stated that young people should pair off and date rather than hang out in groups. Will I be held accountable for hanging out tonight in a female friend’s apartment when, theoretically, I could have gone on a date instead?

    To Matt I would say that if the behavioral counsel was good counsel the justifications/reasons don’t make much difference.

    Thanks, but that’s not quite the question I was asking (here :) ). What I wanted to know is this: why do you believe this statement to be the case? Why will God back up Elder Peterson’s counsel against interracial marriage but not require those BYU students to believe the doctrinal reasons for it that Peterson taught? Are you saying, perhaps, that what we do is more important than what we believe?

    Comment by Matt Bowman — June 17, 2005 @ 10:22 pm

  16. I think that the Lord is very clear that he will support church leaders when they speak as church leaders.

    D&C Section 1 v38 What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same

    D&C Section 84 verse 36 For he that receiveth my servants receiveth me;37 And he that receiveth me receiveth my Father;38 And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him.39 And this is according to the oath and covenant which belongeth to the priesthood

    D&C Section 124 verse 45 And if my people will hearken unto my voice, and unto the voice of my servants whom I have appointed to lead my people, behold, verily I say unto you, they shall not be moved out of their place.46 But if they will not hearken to my voice, nor unto the voice of these men whom I have appointed, they shall not be blest, because they pollute mine holy grounds, and mine holy ordinances, and charters, and my holy words which I give unto them

    That can create a tremendous challange for both the leaders and the flock and requires a great deal of faith.

    Comment by Spencer — June 17, 2005 @ 10:37 pm

  17. Matt,

    First, thanks for staying on subject!

    Second, the tattoo question is a good one. Let’s say you are in need of a big miracle. You are trying to break through to God to talk him into giving it to you. (I call this the Enos-o-meter) Perhaps a close friend is investigating the church and you desperately want God to send his spirit to touch this person. You are approaching God and as you do so you take stock of your life… You think about your sins and the right choices you’ve made. You realize, yes I have been keeping my covenants… you begin to feel pretty confident approaching God’s throne. As you move through the more fundamental commandments you start thinking about the little things. As you list off the little things you have been counseled you say to yourself “yeah I even decided to forego that tattoo as a sacrifice for God”. It is those little things that gives your faith the turbo boost you need. You break through. God is there responding back to you in your prayers. You are able to then secure the incredible (and charity motivated) miracle you are seeking.

    Conversely if you had previously said, “forget it — I’m getting the tattoo no matter what the old guy says. It’s my life” perhaps that turbo boost in faith would not have appeared and you close your prayer still wishing and hoping but without securing your miracle. That is what I’m talking about when I say the little things can be a Dumbo’s feather.

    The same could very well apply to someone that seriously was praying to find a companion to fall in love with and get married to. At some point in their Enos-like prayer experience they will have to ask themselves “am I doing all that the shepherds have asked me to do?” (like going on real dates instead of hanging out in groups) If not then the faith to get divine intervention may not be generated.

    Regarding the Elder Peterson talk — Since you have brought that example up so often can you please explain to me what the proper doctrinal reason is for blacks not being given the priesthood for all those decades? You seem certain that he got it wrong so I wonder what he should have said instead.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 17, 2005 @ 10:52 pm

  18. Nice pulls, Spencer.

    Daylan: Intersting verses. What were they responding to?

    Comment by Geoff J — June 17, 2005 @ 10:55 pm

  19. Geoff,
    Thanks for these two posts. I think there is very little ambiguity here, as Spencer points out, but I don’t think we recognize that we are responsible for our place in the kindom often enough. Our leaders are certainly respnsible for how they use their stewardships. Our duty is not to act in their place, but to sustain them. That means, if our leaders institute a program, we should be eager to jump in and work at it. That’s the way stewardships and sustaining works. And I don’t think this is just something that belongs to the president of the church. I think it works with quorum leaders, stake leaders, etc. Part of the principle here is that if we all pull against our leaders, whatever we feel we would do in their position, then we go nowhere as a church. If we believe that the Lord has really chosen these men, then they are the men he wanted to give us the counsel they gave. If so, then we should listen and obey. If we have doubts, there is no reason not to express those to the leaders in question. I know plenty of leaders that are happy to have input and to know more about the situations in which those under their stewardships find themselves. I know of none that simply want to be ignored when they are trying their hardest to lead in the way the Lord would want.
    If we feel our leaders are really a problem–the bishop is not worthy–that is a problem to take up with the proper higher authorities. However, if the Lord called someone, and if that person is doing their best, then their best should be good enough, and we should jump on board–even if that means a leap of faith when we don’t immediately see the value.

    Comment by Steve H — June 18, 2005 @ 12:52 am

  20. There’s also this, from Joseph Smith, which implies that God backs up his servants. (Maybe applies more to the other thread…)

    “the Lord once told me that if at any time I got into deep trouble and could see no way out of it, if I would prophesy in His name, he would fulfill my words.” Recollections of Daniel Tyler in JI 27 (February 15, 1892): 127. as quoted in Madsen, Joseph Smith the Prophet.

    Comment by Ben S. — June 18, 2005 @ 6:34 am

  21. Ben (#25) We rarely get “prophesy in His name” anymore. (“Thus saith the Lord”)

    Geoff (#23) The Prophet is capable of making mistakes.

    PS. The President Woodruff quote is not cannonized scripture (in the sense of promise obedience to in the endowment ceremony).

    Here is how I see it (It basically boils down to ‘trust but verify’):

    The Prophet (and quorum of twelve in equal authority) is the only authorized person(s) to receive instructions from God for the entire church. However, we have just as much priesthood/authority/right (if we have enough faith – think Nephi seeking to understand Lehi’s vision) to receive (or confirm) the exact same instructions.

    We also have the priesthood/authority/right to receive personalized (for ourselves and/or family and/or whatever leadership position we hold) instruction, which instruction may or may not (think Nephi killing Laban) jive with ‘standardized’ instruction.

    Comment by Daylan Darby — June 18, 2005 @ 11:03 am

  22. Perhaps it’s been a matter of semantics, but, Geoff, is what Steve is saying essentially what you are saying? I certainly think God will expect us to sustain our leaders – that is, acknowledge their authority and approach what they say and do with openness and good faith. However, I have problems with the idea that they are therefore capable of creating commandments equal in force to those God may choose to give.

    I think that the Lord is very clear that he will support church leaders when they speak as church leaders.

    Ah, and there’s the rub. Joseph Smith said that a prophet was only a prophet when he spoke as such (or something like that). They have authority to teach and direct in the things of the Kingdom. But they’re fallible and entitled to personal opinion like everyone else, and I don’t think we as members will be held responsible for following every such quirk. I don’t believe that European Saints who voted for socialist parties in the years following Elder Benson’s conference talk condemning socialism (discussed further in the other thread) will be denied any blessings – particularly as other members of the Twelve, paricularly Hugh B. Brown and Joseph Fielding Smith, disapproved of the sometimes fuzzy nature of the lines Benson drew between his church duties and political involvement.

    Regaring why I think Peterson was wrong:
    1)President McKay stated that the priesthood ban was policy, not doctrine. This implies to me that there had been no divine explanation for it, and that therefore the various theological speculations that Peterson and others engaged in were nothing more than that. I think that if you were to approach a current member of the Twelve or First Presidency and asked them if they agreed with what Peterson taught, they would decline to do so.
    2)Elder McConkie, when asked about what he had written about race in _Mormon Doctrine_ and elsewhere after the ban was lifted, stated that he had been wrong.

    There. Now maybe you’ll address my question? :)

    Why will God back up Elder Peterson’s counsel against interracial marriage but not require those BYU students to believe the doctrinal reasons for it that Peterson taught?

    Comment by Matt Bowman — June 18, 2005 @ 11:03 am

  23. Matt: Now maybe you’ll address my question? Why will God back up Elder Peterson’s counsel against interracial marriage but not require those BYU students to believe the doctrinal reasons for it that Peterson taught?

    I guess we do have a disconnect here Matt because I thought I had answered this question for you a couple of times already. But to be clear, here is my answer: If God approves of the policy then the reason given for the policy doesn’t matter at all. We hear the counsel and then choose to conform with it or not. God has blessings lined up for those that follow the counsel and those that ignore it forego those blessings. I am fairly certain that this is what Steve H meant in his description of “sustaining our leaders”.

    I don’t believe that European Saints who voted for socialist parties in the years following Elder Benson’s conference talk condemning socialism (discussed further in the other thread) will be denied any blessings

    You are certainly entitled to that belief. Do you have any evidence that this statement is correct? Are sure that saints in Europe didn’t receive extra blessings for trying to heed an Apostle’s counsel?

    The problem with the examples you are using here is that you are assuming both Elder Peterson and Elder Benson were so wrong that God would not back them in the behaviors they advocated. But why make that assumption? What evidence is there that God did not back them and give extra blessing to those saints that heeded them?

    The other things we have been discussing here temper this concept anyway. First I am saying such policies fade over time if current leaders don’t re-iterate the counsel. Second, if the counsel/policy was wrong enough there is a president of the 12 as well as a First Presidency to get things fixed. Third, God himself is involved here — he tends to intervene when all else fails.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 18, 2005 @ 1:48 pm

  24. If God approves of the policy then the reason given for the policy doesn’t matter at all.

    I believe that the Twelve are there to teach us to understand the things of the Kingdom, to instill us with the desire to learn to see with the sight that they have – to learn why it’s important to follow commandments rather than merely to instruct us to do so. It’s disinheartening to think that they may be there merely to tell us what to do. I think God wants us to understand why we are asked to do things in order to help us grow as moral beings – though, it’s true, we should not necessarily make understanding a condition of doing them.

    Are sure that saints in Europe didn’t receive extra blessings for trying to heed an Apostle’s counsel?

    Actually, I think it’s entirely possible that they did (though it’s awfully difficult to break down blessings in a quantifiable way). I think, though, those blessings would not have come because God thought, “Well, if Elder Benson thinks socialism is evil, then socialism will be from this time forth evil.” Rather, I think socialism itself is value-neutral; blessings would come for commitment to the Kingdom, not for voting a certain way.

    I have greater problems with the racial issue because it seems to me – from the evidence I have presented – that leaders of the Church were frankly been wrong when they embraced folk doctrines like those Peterson enunciated.

    Second, if the counsel/policy was wrong enough there is a president of the 12 as well as a First Presidency to get things fixed.

    God indeed intervened, though on his own timetable. And from President McKay’s statement that the church’s position on race was a policy rather than doctrine, I don’t know that Elder Peterson was right to speculate about God’s reasons (though the BYU speech predated McKay). Elder McConkie admitted he had been wrong – something I admire him terribly for.

    Comment by Matt Bowman — June 18, 2005 @ 2:43 pm

  25. Geoff, if you want to understand my position I should make clear that in my heart I’m basically un unbeliever in church teachings about prophets. I see the same problems with assumptions “infallibility” as you do (and I agree that they’re couner-scriptural), and I admire your efforts to reconcile them. My conclusion is that the president of the church receives inspiration (or not) pretty much on the same level as my local bishop, and both can make equally big screw-ups.

    But even though I admire your effort, I think that your idea is quite different from what the church teaches, and I don’t think that your idea is tenable as a basis for widespread faith in prophets. Explicitly or tacitly, our leaders seem to WANT the members to believe in something pretty close to infallibility. They do this because it works, and most faithful members don’t the problems with the idea that many in the bloggernacle do. I think Spencer’s comment is pretty typical of what is taught and believed by the mainstream of the church, and I don’t think it would really work any other way.

    BTW, I don’t understand how you can take the “oral sex incident” that FSF mentioned as support for your theory. The teaching was never withdrawn, it was just silenced (don’t ask don’t tell), and it continues to exert influence today.

    Comment by kodos — June 18, 2005 @ 4:20 pm

  26. Matt:

    I believe that the Twelve are there to teach us to understand the things of the Kingdom, to instill us with the desire to learn to see with the sight that they have – to learn why it’s important to follow commandments rather than merely to instruct us to do so.

    It sounds like you are hoping for more doctrinal infallibility then we are going to get. It turns out that there is no secret club of individuals who are “in the know” on all the mysteries of God. That explains why apostles disagree on some doctrinal issues at times. I wrote about this subject some time ago. Jeffrey Gilliam recently quoted Elder McConkie as once saying “I don’t fully know the purposes of the Lord, but I do know that He allows false doctrine to be taught in His church.” I don’t have a source on that but I like the quote…

    It’s disinheartening to think that they may be there merely to tell us what to do.

    I am not implying that is all our leaders are there for. They can teach us doctrines. But the scriptures make it pretty clear that God insists we come directly to Him for our real understanding of the mysteries of God. We may get help from the prophets but as has been said before, knowing about God is no substitute for knowing God. There is no getting around our need for lots and lots of personal revelation in life. As I quoted before “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3)

    Having said that, I think God does also authorize them and even encourage them to tell us what to do. I think the Brother of Jared story is the best example of how this works. There are probably lots of policies that will get the purposes of God done and I think God lets his stewards pick. (There were lots of things besides glowing stones that could have solved the Brother of Jared’s problem after all).

    In fact, I think this is all part of the variety that makes being God so interesting and fun. Who could possibly imagine an eternity as a God where you know and even dictate everything that can or will happen. That sounds like horribly boring misery to me. (Now we’re really getting into speculative theology, eh?)

    Comment by Geoff J — June 18, 2005 @ 5:06 pm

  27. kodos,

    You may be right that there is no great effort to disabuse the minds of the mainstream of the church of the false notion of prophetic infallibility. I can’t think of good reasons for leaders to do so myself though. They have much more fundamental issues to fight against like the pernicious effects of pornography etc. It would be neglectful to focus on these more cerebral issues as the general body of the church os locked in mortal combat fighting the Devil’s GPA (and mostly the A part of that GPA at that).

    In answer to you question about this 1978 FP statement issue, I think it is an illustration of 1) how counsel can be overridden by succeeding counsel, and 2) how old advice fades out and no longer has any binding effect on saints over time when it comes to blessings available. I do think that it might have a lingering status in the minds of some people, but then again some people think it would be wicked for me to stop at 4 children too. The part of my theory that is mostly likely to chap the hides of the more conservative among us is that I say that if policies are not re-iterated by succeeding leaders they are no longer matter to God either. If that is th case thn there are no extra blessings associated with the lapsed policy anymore. But as you noted in your first comment — knowing when the policy has truly lapsed in God’s mind is the hard part. Again it leads us back to the need for personal revelation (the ultimate win-win).

    Comment by Geoff J — June 18, 2005 @ 5:25 pm

  28. It sounds like you are hoping for more doctrinal infallibility then we are going to get. It turns out that there is no secret club of individuals who are “in the know” on all the mysteries of God. That explains why apostles disagree on some doctrinal issues at times. I wrote about this subject some time ago. Jeffrey Gilliam recently quoted Elder McConkie as once saying “I don’t fully know the purposes of the Lord, but I do know that He allows false doctrine to be taught in His church.” I don’t have a source on that but I like the quote…

    I agree with all of this – except the first sentence. :) I thought I was arguing _against_ infallibility. But then again, I don’t perceive the separation between doctrine and instruction that you seem to, and I notice you clarified your use of the term ‘infallibility’ with ‘doctrinal.’

    But the scriptures make it pretty clear that God insists we come directly to Him for our real understanding of the mysteries of God. We may get help from the prophets but as has been said before, knowing about God is no substitute for knowing God. There is no getting around our need for lots and lots of personal revelation in life.

    I suppose I’m having a hard time reconciling this with your earlier statements to the effect that we shouldn’t worry about the reasons why we’re instructed to do things by the Apostles, but should simply do them. I can’t think of a reason why what you say here shouldn’t apply to things like earrings or socialism – and, like I said before, I can’t imagine God deeming socialism evil because Elder Benson declares it so.

    Comment by Matt Bowman — June 19, 2005 @ 9:48 am

  29. Matt: I can’t imagine God deeming socialism evil because Elder Benson declares it so.

    I think this gets to the heart of the difference between eternal principles and practices. Does God deem wine consumption evil? How about consumption of coffee or tea? Are my neighbors sinful for enjoying a cold beer on occasion? Obviously the aswer to all of these questions is “no”. But is it evil for me to consume any of those substances? The answer is yes. Why? Because God’s prophets decided that we as a church ought to completely avoid those things at all times. We are under covenant to support and sustain those stewards. God backs up the behavioral counsel they give us. Therefore if I have a glass of wine tonight with dinner it is evil — not because wine consumption is inherently evil, but because I am breaking my covenants with God and thus mocking him.

    There is an eternal principle that supports for all of the behavioral counsel we receive — including the number of earrings that should be worn, etc. That principle is that God will not be mocked. When we disregard the behavioral counsel of the men we promised God we would sustain as our earthly leaders we are breaking covenants with God. Breaking covenants with God is clearly wrong.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 19, 2005 @ 11:20 am

  30. I know many RM’s from the early 80′s who apostatized over a book Drawing on the Powers of Heaven that was pushed in a lot missions then. When they realized the book was utter rubbish doctrinally and, contrary to the book, usually the most relaxed missionaries make the best proselytors, they just couldn’t handle being lead astray by the GA’s that pushed that Nazi BS book.

    Actually, I enjoyed the book, though I read it in law school and was, perhaps, not as fervent as you were.

    Seems like the discussion has gotten much too heated, especially when we get to the oral letter issued by some over anxious CES types while the First Presidency was indisposed (to put it politely). The letter was withdrawn, people were disciplined and I rather hope that people got the idea that attempting to speak for God or his spokespersons without authority wasn’t a good idea, though I see people doing it now.

    Interesting discussion. Back to reformatting and reinstalling all of my five-year-old’s software.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — June 19, 2005 @ 6:39 pm

  31. Stephen M,

    I actually found that book quite useful as a young missionary in ’89 as well. I have heard several people rail against it in the Bloggernacle so I picked up a copy to check it out again but I haven’t got around to actually reading it again to see what I think sixteen years later.

    Seems like the discussion has gotten much too heated

    I’m sorry my comments came across as heated. I was going for frank, but not heated. Anyway, I have decided to delete the whole episode from the blog. I hope this thread remains coherent.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 19, 2005 @ 7:40 pm

  32. Geoff,
    No problem from me w/ the deletion. While I don’t agree with your opinion here, I do respect it. For the record, I’ve have been personally troubled but some of the issues you’ve raised and I have had lengthy “cards on the table” discussions with my church leaders regarding my lack of respect for some of the Apostles. To date, they always give me the temple recommend, even though I would fully understand and accept it if they chose not to. I have come to the conclusion that most Bishops/SP’s are on autopilot and that if Joe/Molly Mormon follows the emphasized parts of the WofW, LofC and pays tithing, everything else is minor in their minds and they don’t want to deal w/ it. And I understand that too because they’re such busy unpaid volunteers who I don’t envy at all. Think of me as a free thinking black sheep, not a wolf.

    My friends who apostatized over some GAs’ pushing the aforementioned book that was pushed after my service in Europe and the Hales “tough love” speeches while I was there, did so because they were told a big lie. That is doing A+B+C = lots of baptisms. Post-Christian Europe is a tough mission field. I was fortunate to have baptized a lot there, which I openly attributed to having a very relaxed attitude about my missionary service. My opinion: by going with the flow so to speak and being free to ignore silly rules, work late into the night in the Summer, etc, the HG could more easily work through me, prompt me where to go, what to do, etc. Our most effective proselyting was on the golf course and other out-of-uniform (still wore name tag) activities. In short, I worked hard and played hard, and my stats, unfortunately meant the typically “diligent” missionary didn’t baptize, for which they were unfairly condemned. The real kicker was two Elders, one American and one European, who lead the mission stats and were off the LofC wagon.

    Stephen M,
    You seem to know more about the oral letter origin. Was it really a church bureaucracy conspiracy that the GA’s didn’t approve? To those who fell away over it, the impact was tragic. Assuming the conspirators were disciplined, shouldn’t that have been publicized to help repair the damage to peoples’ testimonies? I don’t seem to recall any formal recall of the letter to that effect.

    Comment by Steve (FSF) — June 20, 2005 @ 6:04 am

  33. There is an eternal principle that supports for all of the behavioral counsel we receive-including the number of earrings that should be worn, etc. That principle is that God will not be mocked. When we disregard the behavioral counsel of the men we promised God we would sustain as our earthly leaders we are breaking covenants with God. Breaking covenants with God is clearly wrong.

    I’ll buy most of that, though I’m not nearly as confident as you are of the connection you draw in the part I bolded, because I don’t believe that uninspired counsel is binding in Heaven. This is not to say that blessings don’t come from heeding it, nor is it to say that our leaders are not capable of giving inspired counsel. Surely both those things are true. It is to say, though, that I don’t think our leaders have the power to make divine law. I’ll go ahead and leave it at that.

    New tangent:

    The part of my theory that is mostly likely to chap the hides of the more conservative among us is that I say that if policies are not re-iterated by succeeding leaders they are no longer matter to God either.

    I’m a bit confused about the progression of ideas here. Let say that in 1980, President X pronounces counsel Y over the stand in General Conference. Y is repeated over the stand by Apostles A, B, and C over subsequent years. After President X dies in 1990, President Z stops mentioning Y. Was this entirely President Z’s perogative? I’m not sure if you mean that God doesn’t care anymore because President Z doesn’t think Y is important, or that President Z doesn’t repeat Y because God no longer cares. That’s an important distinction, I think.

    Comment by Matt Bowman — June 20, 2005 @ 7:43 am

  34. (Sorry for the deletion annegb — my filter now looks for the word “p-ker” – Editor)

    I haven’t read that book, but I always heard good things about it. And from inactive and active members.

    I think if President Hinckley said, “thus saith the Lord, I command thee not to gamble…or take out that extra evening,” boy, I would toe that line. As it is, he’s giving us what he considers good advice. He is wise, learned, and close to the Lord, so he probably knows what he’s talking about. In most cases, somebody could go to Vegas and play a few hands of p-ker and be okay, but if you’re not okay, your life is screwed. Why take a chance?

    I give my kids that kind of advice all the time. It’s different than a commandment.

    I’ve also known that in my lifetime, the men who became prophet changed some of their rhetoric once they had the job, most noteable Ezra Taft Benson. Bottom line: God is in charge, whether we realize it or not.

    Comment by annegb — June 20, 2005 @ 8:56 am