Obedience vs. Self-Sufficiency

July 17, 2014    By: Jeff G @ 3:11 pm   Category: Apologetics,orthodox,Personal Revelation,Truth

Over at Wheat and Tares, Hawkgrrrl wrote an interesting post on the difference between obedience and self-sufficiency.  She mentioned how pretty much everybody teaches both perspectives to their children, but if push came to shove and they could only teach one, religious people would teach obedience while secular families would choose self-sufficiency.

In the comments to that post I pretty much rehearsed the reasoning behind my post, “The False Prophets We Follow”, wherein I suggest that self-sufficiency in the sense of not following or obeying what anybody else teaches us is a myth which serves to reinforce secular values at the expense of religious values.  Our thoughts and values have almost entirely been taught us by other people and/or spirits.  Thus, the question is not whether we or our children will obey or be self-sufficient (this is not exactly the question that Hawkgrrl was asking); the question is whether we or our children will construe the choices we make in our lives in terms of obedience or self-sufficiency.

Unfortunately, while I do think that my perspective sets the problem up differently and in a certain sense more accurately, I don’t think it really does justice to that perspective which sees itself in terms of self-sufficiency.  This perspective does not see itself as believing and valuing things totally independent of the people who teach or profit from them.  I think a careful reading would not suggest that these “self-sufficient” people believe themselves capable of escaping or rising above the web of discipleship in which we inevitably swim during this life.  Rather, they see themselves as not allowing any other person to evaluate these teachers and their teachings for them.  They see themselves as being self-sufficient in their evaluation of all teachings and teachers, all prophecies and prophets.  Obedience is not following the person who says something, but following something because of who says it.

This reframes things squarely in terms of the Euthyphro dilemma which I think is at the heart of the disagreement discussed in my last post:  We all agree that personal revelation trumps both authority and human reason, but does priesthood authority trump human reason or the other way around?  It is my contention that the gospel can be framed as follows:

Human reason ? Priesthood Authority ? Personal Revelation = Private

In one sense, this equation definitely puts a premium on obedience over self-sufficiency, but in another sense it does not.  Yes, our obedience to priesthood leaders is trumped by our personal – and therefore self-sufficient – revelation.  The problem is that this personal revelation is not at all a clear case of self-sufficiency in the relevant sense.  When we pray about the Book of Mormon, the church or its priesthood leaders, we are thus allowing another person to evaluate these teachings and teachers, these prophecies and prophets for us.  We are most definitely not given reasons or information about these things according to which we can then self-sufficiently decide for ourselves.  In other words, our discipleship and testimonies are, at bottom, also a case of obedience winning out over self-sufficiency.

Even more importantly, I would argue that this obedience to authority generalizes down the chain of command.  In the same way that we are typically not given reasons or information regarding the church and its leaders in order to self-sufficiently decide for ourselves what we should do with respect to them, we cannot assume that our priesthood authorities are given such reasons and information in their efforts to exercise righteous dominion.  Furthermore, we should not expect our priesthood leaders to necessarily give us reasons and information on some topic after which we can then self-sufficiently make our own decisions.  It is for this very reason that the Lord has given a measured amount of the exact same authority that He has – including the authority to evaluate teachings and teachers for those within their stewardship.

In conclusion, there is no self-sufficiency in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Not only do we inevitably follow some person or another in essentially all of our beliefs and values, but the gospel actively encourages us to trust the evaluation of these teachings and teachers to those in authority.  Personal revelation is the most basic case in which we trust and obey somebody else’s evaluation of various teachings and teachers.  Priesthood authority is an extension of this same expectation that we trust and obey somebody else’s evaluation of various teachings and teachers.  In neither case are we expected to allow our self-sufficient evaluations of various teachers and teachings to trump our faith, trust and obedience to these authorities.

64 Comments »

  1. There is a huge difference between following God or the spirit and following a mortal with divine authority but no apparent divine power, the two do not necessarily coexist. When you follow someone or a group of someones in authority but lacking power you are following their biases, you are not following God. This is one reason following the spirit trumps.

    Comment by Howard — July 17, 2014 @ 3:46 pm

  2. Jeff G. “Not only do we inevitably follow some person or another in essentially all of our beliefs and values”

    What about values like “Obey your thirst” is that self-sufficient or obeying others?

    Comment by Martin James — July 17, 2014 @ 4:50 pm

  3. If someone teaches a child that they will have to decide their own values because no one knows anything or that their is no such thing as values, and then that person decides that hopping on one foot is the meaning of life, does that count as learning values from others or discovering one’s own.

    It would seem you have a bit of infinite regress here where new values always come from prior values. Aren’t new values being created by all of us all the time?

    How could anyone have been taught that the bloggernacle was good or bad in the past? Values relating to the bloggernacle are new.

    You seem to live in some kind of archetype world where there are principles that apply to all cases invented and not yet invented.

    There are no such principles.

    Comment by Martin James — July 17, 2014 @ 5:00 pm

  4. Martin,

    The whole point was my trying to move past assigning a teacher to every teaching. What matters (for the sake of this post) is who we are trusting to evaluate such teachers and teachings.

    Howard,

    I have no clue what relevance your comment has to the post. Nobody is saying power and authority are the same and nobody is saying that personal revelation doesn’t trump priesthood authorities.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 17, 2014 @ 5:03 pm

  5. Jeff G,

    I’m trying to get you to see that the problem isn’t between types of authority, its between the past and the future.

    The chain of command is just too slow. Authority can’t keep up because change is too fast and that’s as true for secular values as religious values. New religions come faster than secularist can counter them just like the opposite.

    The question is whether you believe the increase in speed and complexity is of God or not. If its not from God, then withdrawl from the world is the only option – in the world but not of the world is not happening. That is why your argument needs to be made. If one is defending authority, its already gone. You are right that authority needs give no reasons, yet you are giving reasons. Why? because you long for a lost authority. You can’t reason someone in to putting reason lower in priority – its unreasonable – you can only unreason them into it. You are just using the wrong tool for the job.

    On the other hand, if you are wrong and the change is of God, then you are standing in the way of the creation of newly revealed values among all of God’s children. In that case you are using the tool of reason for the wrong purpose.

    Comment by Martin James — July 17, 2014 @ 5:17 pm

  6. Jeff G wrote: When we pray about the Book of Mormon, the church or its priesthood leaders, we are thus allowing another person to evaluate these teachings and teachers, these prophecies and prophets for us.

    Who is the other person you are referring to here that we allow to evaluate these things?

    Comment by Howard — July 17, 2014 @ 5:23 pm

  7. Howard,

    That would be God.

    Martin,

    I see no reason to assume that the chain of command is too slow. Either way, I’d rather move on to your more interesting criticism.

    I do not see reason as being quite so problematic as you suggest. I think that we can use reason to make us self-conscious of the contingency of our use of reason. This is fully compatible with the belief that authority trumps reason – even my reason – when the two disagree. I’m trying to persuade others, using human reason, to accept that priesthood can trump human reason. This is only problematic is my own use of reason contradicts priesthood authority – and such a thing would be truly devastating to my position.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 17, 2014 @ 5:45 pm

  8. Well that draws my #1 comment into relevance doesn’t it?

    So yes we are allowing another person to evaluate these things for us, that person happens to be God! That is quite different than allowing my Bishop or my GD teacher or the correlation department dairy to evaluate them isn’t it? And this is one reason following the spirit trumps.

    Comment by Howard — July 17, 2014 @ 6:09 pm

  9. Right, but it’s still a case of us not being self-sufficient.

    You seem to think that priesthood leaders are nothing but a device by which we communicate with God such that any of the decisions or speech acts that come from these leaders can only contaminate the message. But this is a very stripped down version of authority, if we can call it that at all.

    I, on the other hand, think that God gives authority to our leaders precisely so that they can make decisions and speak on His behave. This is not unlike a military organization, a team organization, lawyers, etc. In these cases one person is authorizing another to make decisions and speak on their behalf trusting that they will not contradict His will. In this case, authority is not idealized at parroting what God says, but adjusting and elaborating on His will to suit the case at hand.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 17, 2014 @ 6:27 pm

  10. Yes, so let’s call it mortally self-sufficient then to differentiate it. There is a big contamination potential when mortals are involved, we’re always better off following the spirit or confirming with the spirit.

    Comment by Howard — July 17, 2014 @ 6:41 pm

  11. But there is a big difference in how we see contamination. I see contradiction as contamination. You seem to see human elaboration as contamination.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 17, 2014 @ 6:57 pm

  12. Where do you see contradiction?

    Comment by Howard — July 17, 2014 @ 8:06 pm

  13. Jeff,

    I’ve read many of your posts and think they are interesting and well argued. However, I think a close reading of the end of section 121 in the D&C squarely contradicts your foundational argument:

    D&C 121 37-42 (emphasis added)
    …when we undertake to…exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man. No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and **pure knowledge**…

    As I read these verses, the moment we appeal to priesthood authority as our reason for action we negate the foundation upon which priesthood authority is meant to act: i.e., persuasion using knowledge (pure knowledge, or as I would interpret the phrase: correct facts and sound interpretation shared by all parties involved).

    Comment by bwv549 — July 17, 2014 @ 8:48 pm

  14. Dude, you and Howard will never agree on this. The core issue is whether or not personal revelation gives you a right to publicly oppose church leaders. Self-sufficiency in the Mormon sense incorporates personal revelation as well as God-given reasoning (therefore you are correct that it includes obedience to Deity). When competing against Obedience, then, we must be specific that Obedience is to the mortal priesthood leadership (since obedience to Deity is already covered under the Mormon concept of Self-Sufficiency).

    Is there a case, then, when personal revelation (under Self-Sufficiency) could possibly instruct someone to PUBLICLY contradict mortal priesthood authority (under Obedience). Howard says yes. You say it is impossible, because personal revelation must remain in the private sphere. Publicly then, Obedience to mortal priesthood authorities always trumps Self-Sufficiency (including personal revelation).

    Comment by Mary Ann — July 17, 2014 @ 9:34 pm

  15. Anyone whose personal revelation is instructing them to publicly oppose priesthood authorities is also effectively being instructed to start or join another church.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 18, 2014 @ 4:53 am

  16. JeffG, it strikes me as a mistake to allow the progressives to define the terms. The “obedient” admit to being interested in hearing, and perhaps even acting on, opinions that don’t jibe with their preconceptions, if the source is trustworthy enough. The “self-sufficient” simply aren’t.

    In other words, “obedient” and “self-sufficient” are really just Newspeak for good old “humility” and “pride”.

    Comment by JimS — July 18, 2014 @ 7:44 am

  17. “I’m trying to persuade others, using human reason, to accept that priesthood can trump human reason.”

    How’s your conversion rate?

    I don’t see anyone changing their mind. I do see some people agreeing with you and possibly changing how they think about what they already believe.

    For myself, you just make me depressed. Your arguments are so different from my 1970’s mormon upbringing that they seem like a parody trying to drive people away from the church. Its like you are creating a straw man of yourself for good people to revile.

    So, what role do other members play in the justification of authority? If we are all supposed to follow the chain of command, what roll does the peer pressure of the obedient on the non-obedient play in your theory.

    All I see is pride in power and ignorance. You are idolizing authority not following it meekly and with long-suffering.

    What happened to make you think this is the right road?

    Comment by Martin James — July 18, 2014 @ 11:05 am

  18. JimS,

    One of the advantages progressives have is that language changes. Nobody knows what plain old humility and pride mean.

    Pride is the name of a parade, right?

    Comment by Martin James — July 18, 2014 @ 11:18 am

  19. JimS, I think you are spot on. I can think of no better definition of pride (as used in the BoM) than the ideology of reason and self-sufficiency.

    Martin, Do not think for a second that take comments like yours lightly. I am very worried that my posts do not have their intended effect: to make faithful members second guess the intellectual values that might lead them out of the church. If my posts become the very reason why people would leave, then I’ve definitely got to change something.

    Here is my first post which started me down this online path. Since then I have gotten pretty polarized feedback, as you might imagine. Some people really appreciate my posts, while others are pretty hostile. I’ve also gotten some really nice emails from people, thanking me for helping them, but I have also been banned from a couple of the more liberal blogs as well.

    Of course, I had no expectations of anybody changing their mind on the fly. We are, after all, only human. In both of my worldview conversion it took a lot of time and thought, approach the issues from several different angles, before the structure of my new worldview could support its own weight.

    This, then, is my strategy: to approach my ultimate thesis from as many angles as possible with the hope that in the long run I will have made an overall difference for the better.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 18, 2014 @ 2:52 pm

  20. Jeff G.,

    The respect for obedience and authority isn’t my issue. I get that.

    My issue is that you want to assume that authorities are right. In your chain of command theory, one follows orders but the orders are not good orders just because they are orders. There are bad generals and there are bad prophets. You are taking away the agency of the leaders and the members by assuming that the leaders are “right” by definition.

    If the prophet says build an ark because there will be a flood and there is no flood – bad prophet not God’s will that the prophet is wrong.

    Its a very different thing to follow prophets because that is one’s best chance of being right and assuming they are right just because they are prophets.

    Likewise it decreases our agency not to call prophets to account for their words and actions.

    You seem to want unaccountable leaders and an unaccountable God and that is inimical to mormon theology. God is not right because he’s God, he’s God because he’s right.

    Comment by Martin James — July 18, 2014 @ 3:30 pm

  21. What do you mean by “right”? If you mean that they properly answer to human reason, then you are begging the question. But let’s assume that you mean something else.

    I do not assume that they are “right”, only that their calling and authority has some amount of intrinsic legitimacy which is not and cannot be recognized by the world.

    I do suggest that our reason is just as fallible as theirs and that they have a right and duty to seek revelation for their stewardship. This definitely makes their being right the default.

    How does this take agency away from anybody? Again, personal revelation (not authority) is at the very core of my model. I also do not see how my model affects the degree to which anybody is accountable. It might change who people are accountable to, but not the amount of accountability that they live with.

    Where did you get the idea that prophets and priesthood leaders ought to answer to us? This is not a rhetorical question – what is the genealogy behind that idea? It certainly makes sense in a democratic organization, but not in a theocratic one.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 18, 2014 @ 4:14 pm

  22. Martin wrote: My issue is that you want to assume that authorities are right.

    It’s much, much worse than that, both his premise and his conclusion are LDS leaders are to be followed. Any evidence to the contrary becomes the catalyst for his next OP. So it is a statement of faith that he makes as if it were a statement of fact. He’s using it in an apparent attempt to incubate an eventual defensible apology. He prefers to logically jettisoned reason because his position cannot prevail with it but in doing to he also jettisons God and agency becomes limited to the option of opting in or out. Truth is assumed rather sought.

    The only redeeming feature is that he abandons indefensible ground as he goes, so while he’s attempted to hold as much ground as possible he has incrementally given way to something that now falls in between the church’s implied position and it’s written position. For example he recently acknowledged spiritual confirmation as a legitimate modifier.

    This is as close to an explanation I have seen for it so far:

    if one believes that God (in some sense) leads this church in a way that He does not lead others, then this changes everything.

    but this is a conflation that assumes a more or less continuous *some sense* rather than the occasional every few decades *some sense* that is actually arguable and the human fallibility factor is largely ignored.

    Comment by Howard — July 18, 2014 @ 4:28 pm

  23. Not at all, its a reality thing, not a democratic thing. Righteousness is required of all.

    You have a personalized view of legitimacy that I think is worldly.

    People have genealogies. Ideas are eternal and prior to God. I knew that in the pre-existence, and you?

    Comment by Martin James — July 18, 2014 @ 4:37 pm

  24. Here you go:

    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genealogy_(philosophy)

    Comment by Jeff G — July 18, 2014 @ 4:57 pm

  25. Like, I thought, incorrect worldly philosophies.

    Its the Nietzschean turn that I’m trying to get you to avoid. I don’t believe in human reason, I believe in experience.

    Comment by Martin James — July 18, 2014 @ 5:13 pm

  26. What most people don’t know is that the war in heaven is in the future and this is the pre-existence and your arguments are on the side against agency.

    Comment by Martin James — July 18, 2014 @ 5:16 pm

  27. I must admit that that is one objection that I did not anticipate at all. Care to elaborate?

    Comment by Jeff G — July 18, 2014 @ 5:49 pm

  28. I don’t know how to elaborate but its seems to me that you are going farther than you need to in order to avoid the conflict that led you away from the church.

    I don’t have any easy ways to convince you but here is what strikes me as off. Your argument is mainly structural and doesn’t seem to depend on much specifically mormon truths. Its just God’s hierarchy. That sets off warning signs for me already. Mormonism has always had lots of very specific beliefs, prophecies, etc. Your approach seems to minimize those and, to me, this is both a contraction and a potential avoidance.

    Also, our scriptures are full of stories of the Lord’s anointed not being completely reliable messengers. This is why I bring up agency. If leaders are not allowed to make errors they won’t have agency. There are scriptural references to people calling them to repentance outside of a strict top-down command and control style hierarchy.

    This is one of the main differences of satan’s plan. How do you think satan was going to get everyone safely home other than by reliable authority? That’s why I teasingly say you are on Satan’s plan – you are assuming God leads the church the way a general leads an army. It just doesn’t seem to fully describe the Jesus approach of the war in heaven at all.

    Its like you are drawing stick figures of the church -its not that they are posed wrong, they are just so incomplete as to be unreliable.

    Those points I think are historically mormon.

    These are more speculative. The world is clearly changing. Many more people, many more cultural contacts, many more tools for communication and learning. I just can’t believe that God doesn’t have bigger things in store for us that our historical ways of understanding the world, ourselves, our neighbors.

    Mormon theology is pragmatic; by their fruits shall ye know them. I think it is an incredible mistake to attempt to argue with people about doctrine or world views.

    I appreciate your reconversion and I’m glad it worked for you, but I think you would make more converts by showing how following authority has helped you love better and serve better and experience more richly and know more and perform more miracles, rather than just play defense on the why.

    Think of how President Hinckley dealt with things. he didn’t make a huge emphasis on authority; he talked more about being grateful and educated and friendly. Why?

    You posts would be greater in the same way Hegel would be greater if at the start it said
    “Consider the following thought experiment…”

    or “understanding the church this way, even if it is incorrect has brought me insights into living the gospel better.”

    Again, its not that you are wrong, its just that the loving spirit you intend doesn’t necessarily radiate from the posts.

    I know you are trying to use academic tools to convince but why do that when at the end of the day you think life is more than than that and lived better outside of that.

    I think that Rorty’s pragmatic approach is much better. No one is ever really convinced by an argument, its just that different ways of talking win out and the old people die off.

    Otherwise you are just preaching to the choir. I just don’t think a structural argument about authority will ever convince the people that feel bad following authorities that make them feel immoral. Its got to be a content argument. Some way specifics are responded to differently by following authority. There are just too many mormon scriptures about pragmatic fruits, morals and feelings of conscience to sway them without showing that and for good reason.

    Again, I’m on your side about authority being important but I think you are creating a dichotomy rather that needs a synthesis.

    Another part of my problem with your approach is that it just doesn’t seem like how Jesus did things in person.

    So, take Ordain Women for example. Why is it less like Jesus if the apostles would have offered to let them pray, gave them a blessing and then offered up a mighty prayer themselves and then come back the next day with “Nope, same answer.”

    Again, I’m not saying that is what they should have done, I’m just saying that sounds a lot more like how Jesus led the church. That’s got nothing to do with democratic values or worldly values or protest tactics, its about how Jesus handled people: in person, sincerely and as an authority.

    Why tell people that they are defying authority and being worldly to expect that kind of treatment? Again, I’m not saying its practical or that they deserve it, but I don’t think its charitable to say they are misguided and violating Jesus’s norms to want it.

    After all, wouldn’t it be completely within our experience for God to chastise his leaders for not being compassionate enough. Surely the Apostles think so because they said they have special concern for these people.

    Again they may be wrong to have these expectations but they don’t seem to me to be wrong in a worldly way. Can’t they just be wrong is a childlike spiritual way.

    I’m not a supporter, but to me the Ordain Women are living their religion completely in what they asked for and who they ask it of. It was only in not abiding by the request to not come to temple square and in the website that had certain materials on it.

    When they petitioned humble they were humbly received. Your military metaphors seem totally inappropriate to our religious communication. Questioning authority is core to mormonism.

    I know you have personal revelation at the top but its not what’s driving you. You can’t argue people into the gospel.

    Anyway, I’m glad you found a way to support your faith and you share it and I hope it bears good fruit. But its just not virtuous and lovely to me right now.

    Comment by Martin James — July 18, 2014 @ 7:21 pm

  29. Sigh.

    The only Mormons who have reason to be flipping out over the model Jeff is proposing are Mormons who don’t know how to get personal revelation from God.

    As I read it, Jeff is saying that personal revelation from God trumps all. (I’ve said the same thing for a long time, BTW)

    Among the first things Mormons should have a dialogue with God about is the status of current church leaders in God’s eyes. Should their counsel be followed or not? Are they reliable leaders? Is God really guiding them? If the answer is yes, then one can confidently follow their counsel.

    Keep in mind that even as we follow the counsel of church leaders, personal revelation is always available to re-confirm our decisions. When we get the Gift of the Holy Ghost it is so we can “always have his spirit to be with” us.

    So basically, Jeff’s arguments are hardly controversial. All the whining about his positions I have been seeing is somewhat baffling. Either the whiners don’t comprehend his actual position, or maybe they don’t believe in the existence of personal revelation so they find his model scary and dangerous.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 19, 2014 @ 1:13 pm

  30. Geoff J,

    By word count how much of what he writes is personal revelation trumps all?

    Under your model, why all the ink about reason vs. authority?

    I prayed about it and God revealed to me his arguments are wrong and I should stand against them as a witness of Christ.

    Comment by Martin James — July 19, 2014 @ 4:14 pm

  31. Martin,

    I agree that Jeff is guilty of being overly verbose. But I’ve been harassing him about that for a decade now.

    In my view, God’s reason trumps human reason. I think that is the case in Jeff’s model too.

    I prayed about it and God revealed to me his arguments are wrong and I should stand against them as a witness of Christ.

    First, I doubt you are telling the truth. But even if God did tell you to do that, then you’ve met that requirement here already.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 19, 2014 @ 4:29 pm

  32. Under your model, why all the ink about reason vs. authority?

    I rather suspect it’s because JeffG is hinting that a certain element in the Church, either because they are sincerely confused or because they think they’re being cute, prefer to shroud their philosophical/scientific reasoning with the cloak of “personal revelation” in order to make it more palatable to a Mormon audience–even though, if they searched their souls, they’d realize that they’ve really not received any revelation at all.

    So, take Ordain Women for example. Why is it less like Jesus if the apostles would have offered to let them pray, gave them a blessing and then offered up a mighty prayer themselves and then come back the next day with “Nope, same answer.”

    Again, I’m not saying that is what they should have done, I’m just saying that sounds a lot more like how Jesus led the church.

    Jesus had a rather uncanny knack for cutting through all the BS and understanding people’s core motivations.

    Even outside of any unique and specific inspiration/revelation that Monson & Co. may have received with regard to OW’s motivations, there was plenty out there to allow an observer to conclude that neither Kelly nor the core of her following were prepared to take “no” for an answer. Jesus didn’t waste inordinate amounts of time being gamed by people like that–he proclaimed their secret thoughts, denounced them for their duplicity, and then moved on to audiences He knew were willing to conform their lives to His will.

    Questioning authority is core to mormonism.

    Correction: Questioning illegitimate authority is core to Mormonism. Lucifer and his followers were also very big on questioning authority–but they made the mistake of questioning legitimate authority; and it didn’t/won’t turn out very well for them.

    Comment by JimS — July 19, 2014 @ 4:47 pm

  33. Geoff J.

    So let’s put JimS’s assessment about motivations into action.

    I have a strong faith that if you pray about it, you won’t doubt what I said and furthermore, that if you reread my post and then pray about it, you will be inspired to tell me a scripture that will show me something that is missing in what I wrote.

    I’m not seeking a sign, I’m just sharing my faith that we are brothers and if you exercise your faith you will teach us both something valuable.

    Comment by Martin James — July 20, 2014 @ 7:36 am

  34. I find it hilarious when people try to ape spiritual language in an attempt to make it look ridiculous. All they do is demonstrate how little understanding of such processes they really have.

    Martin, if you think his posts are ridiculous, why are you bothering to spend so much time, energy, and sarcasm trying to convince him of that? Especially when it shows a distinct lack of reading comprehension and logical acumen.

    Comment by SilverRain — July 20, 2014 @ 8:16 am

  35. Martin (#33).

    Uh, thanks for sharing. Knock yerself out with those beliefs of yours.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 20, 2014 @ 9:55 am

  36. Martin, maybe you should try that with the person who actually has the priesthood stewardship to give you the kind of spiritual counseling and correction you say you want.

    Once you’ve given your bishop this url, please post your ward and your bishop’s phone number so we can get some independent verification.

    Comment by JimS — July 20, 2014 @ 11:29 am

  37. I haven’t had time to properly respond, but I think Martin does have some good feedback worthy of consideration.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 20, 2014 @ 12:03 pm

  38. JimS,

    I think my bishop has better things to do than get involved with these conversations but I appreciate your thoughts and will talk to my Bishop. After seeking his advice I will pursue the rest of your suggestion.

    Geoff J. have I completely misunderstood the New Testament? I am open to correction and you gave me rejection. Taking Jim’s’ advice I will ask the Bishop what this all means.

    Comment by Martin James — July 20, 2014 @ 12:38 pm

  39. Thanks Jeff.

    Comment by Martin James — July 20, 2014 @ 3:46 pm

  40. Martin: Geoff J. have I completely misunderstood the New Testament?

    Yes, I’d say there is a very high likelihood this is the case.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 20, 2014 @ 5:41 pm

  41. SilverRain,

    I spend time on posts of people who think and care and sometimes gain insight through thinking and caring. Jeff G. seem that way to me. I used to spend a lot of time on Nathaniel Given’s posts also for the same reason.

    I don’t know who you were referring to about aping spiritual language but keep in mind that miracles always look ridiculous.

    Geoff J.

    Maybe, SilverRain is right and my reading comprehension and logic are faulty (although they’ve tested out fine in the past), but based on your posts it would seem that you are only right if the Sermon on the Mount is meant ironically. This I doubt.

    I’ve learned a lot from SilverRain and generally find her to be fair, and so I will assume I’ve communicated poorly. Nonetheless, I’m still perplexed at your response.

    Paradoxically, this highlights one of my concerns I’ve raised with Jeff, if two people (Geoff and I) can interpret the commands of scripture and prophets on things like “Love your neighbor” and “Pray for your enemies” so differently then how does authority work?

    Again paradoxically, it almost seems like he would be under a greater burden to pray for me, if I was insincere (and therefore his enemy) than what is actually true which is that I was sincere. But if he thought me sincere why not pray for me?

    JimS raised some jurisdictional issues and that is a very good point that I will take up with my Bishop, but I wasn’t asking for anything I though required any special keys or relationship, I was asking for knowledge and succor that I thought we were all both free to give each other and under a burden to give each other.

    Geoff, since I stand by my belief that we are brothers, I will bow out as follows,

    “the reason that I have to love thee
    Doth much excuse the appertaining rage
    To such a greeting: villain am I none;
    Therefore farewell; I see thou know’st me not.”

    Comment by Martin James — July 20, 2014 @ 11:18 pm

  42. Martin, I didn’t have particular issue with what you’re saying (just in a few details,) until you started a bad aping of spiritual revelation in #30 and #33. Maybe I misread you. I’d not be surprised if I did, my little gray cells are quite attenuated right now.

    From what I see, Jeff’s point can be distilled thusly: when your reason conflicts with authority (of which you have testimony,) give the benefit of doubt to the authority until you receive personal revelation. Then rely on personal revelation, but remember it is personal thus not widely applicable.

    There are several points of disagreement.

    1) You don’t have a testimony of that authority. In which case, why are we even discussing it? If you don’t have a testimony of it, don’t do it. End stop. But don’t pretend you’re a “believing Mormon” when you don’t believe in it. Seriously over that.

    2) Don’t give benefit of the doubt to that authority. If you don’t, what’s the point of authority at all? If you have doubts between your own (non-revelatory) inclinations and the (revelatory, see #1 above) authority counsel, listen to the authority until you gain your own revelation. If you don’t do that, your testimony of authority is pointless. But don’t pretend to a testimony that you aren’t going to exercise.

    3) Don’t receive personal revelation. Either because you don’t trust your own revelatory ability, or you don’t want to listen to it because it’s telling you something you don’t want to hear. Either way, if your “revelation” always aligns with your previous notions, you need to work on your relationship with the Spirit.

    4) Believe you receive it for more than your own stewardship/authority. If you do receive personal revelation, it’s only applicable to those over whom you have authority: namely yourself, your family, and those you have a calling over (in decreasing order of compulsion.) You can, ultimately, only receive revelation for yourself—e.g. prompting to say something to someone—NOT revelation for others, even those, ultimately, in your stewardship. That applies to prophets, etc. as much as to you when acting in your own sphere of authority. It is ultimately up to each individual to receive revelation for themselves. If you don’t get that, you don’t get divine authority.

    Because of the above, I don’t see the value in your points save one. Maybe I don’t get what Jeff’s saying, and my recap is off. If that’s the case, I apologize and concede you understand Jeff better than I, and it’s my own reading comprehension that needs work.

    The one point I do agree with is that logicking out those who worship (but poorly understand) logic themselves is a less effective methodology. However, I’ve learned to step back and allow others the mode of expression they understand. Jeff’s posting and explanation style appeals to him, therefore there are probably others to whom it appeals. This is partially why the Lord calls many to His work: we are all somewhat different in how we can best approach the gospel. I’m not going to quibble with the methods, so long as they are aimed the right direction.

    His posts may not appeal to many, but they likely appeal to some who see no appeal in my approach. Therefore, to me, it has value and I encourage them in it.

    Comment by SilverRain — July 21, 2014 @ 7:43 am

  43. In #3 in #42, I meant to add that not receiving personal revelation is where many of the more conservative err. If you don’t try to receive personal revelation, you’re letting your spiritual muscles get flabby. That will burn you later. In fact, most of those accounts of exmos I’ve read starts with them making that exact error, and assuming that is what is intended by the Church.

    Comment by SilverRain — July 21, 2014 @ 7:45 am

  44. SilverRain,

    Thank you so very much. I realize that my comments in 30 and 33 seem inappropriate to the forum and so awkward as to seem disgusting but why do they? Aren’t these discussions something we should pray over?

    What I’m trying to say is that the issue isn’t logic and authority, its semantics, at least for some people.

    Jeff’s argument is that the main issue is people incorrectly wanting authority to be reasonable and justify itself and he says that that’s not the right view of authority.

    And like you say, for people that don’t believe in authority what’s the point. But I think they do believe in authority.

    But I think the more critical issue is the semantics of love. The people who look like they are questioning authority feel like the instructions they are getting are in conflict, they are, to use one example, being asked to be loving and to have gender roles they believe are unloving.

    It looks like a conflict of authority but at heart its a conflict over meaning. They can’t understand the words. In Jeff’s top down military metaphor the generals speak a different language than the troops.

    We so much take semantics for granted and when people do speak the same language it seems impossible that semantics can be different, but try teaching semantics to a computer. So far we don’t understand semantics.

    Our hunch is that we learn them by watching but its a big mystery.

    Now part of the story is that the authority side thinks tough love is the only real love. But it doesn’t seem that way to me from our authorities. Sometimes love is just love – service, smiles, forgiveness and all of that, right?

    That’s what I’ve been trying to say. To convince, he needs to change the meaning of words in the minds of those he wants to convince not their logic. He’s doing that to some extent with truth. But I think that that if you go that path with truth there is no hope we’ll ever get semantic agreement.

    But, Geoff J. seems to be saying that my semantics is so off as to be unreachable by communication. I’ve likely misread all the “nice” parts of the gospel in the NT.

    So, JimS makes the consistent point from the authority point of view- we can’t help you with your semantics, that’s your Bishop’s job. OK, and now I’m curious, but if my Bishop answers like Geoff J. I won’t know how to follow that authority. I don’t know what it means or even where to start to figure out what it means.

    Comment by Martin James — July 21, 2014 @ 9:05 am

  45. #30—because you were claiming to revelation to make a rhetorical point. I have received too many people doing that to stomach it well.

    #33—the sarcasm and suggestion that “I’ve received revelation that if you’re righteous, you’ll do this.” Again, too much of that to stomach it well.

    It seemed to me you were aping unrighteous dominion to show how all authority is bad. That is why I suggested your reading comprehension and logic needs work. Jeff, I believe, would not condone the exercise of unrighteous dominion. In fact, trying to wield priesthood in that way automatically negates it. As far at the point goes, using a misuse of power to show how all Power is bad is fallacious.

    Semantics are never an issue to me. Words are merely tools to express meaning. Each word is a brushstroke to clue in what the author is trying to say. Making someone an offender for a word is something we’ve been warned against. I feel inclined to call it out when I see it.

    If you want to use semantics to explain how/why you understood something a certain way, that’s fine. But using it to prove someone wrong is a logical fallacy, as well. You are saying “you said this, I interpreted this way, therefore you’re wrong, whatever you originally meant is unimportant.” That kind of communication tends to irritate me, especially when I just spent way too much time wading through the verbosity.

    I don’t believe it is a conflict over meaning. That is where the Spirit comes in. Whatever words we use in our imperfect language, the meaning is the same when heard with a heart open and teachable to the Spirit. Whatever side of a discussion you’re on, inviting the Spirit breaks down the differences in meaning. We just don’t have all the words we need in English, and we’re left with what we have.

    Authority, in an LDS sense, has been defined quite thoroughly. It is a definition that freezes out blind obedience and summary expectations of it. It is a definition that not only allows for, but relies on personal revelation. Trying to twist Jeff’s meaning out of that pre-clarified sphere just seems like trolling to me. It was then that I piped in.

    Again, explain how Jeff was understood and why, semantically, that is the case. Give him the chance to clarify. But it’s better not to try to pick his arguments apart on merely a semantic case. Nor to twist meanings to something you know full well he didn’t intend, then parrot it back. That stops communication by putting people on the defensive, rather than acting as an invitation to elaborate.

    Maybe you’re trying to say the same thing. Maybe that’s what you mean by “changing the meaning.” Maybe you were trying to backhandedly point out the different ways the same words could be used. But if you want to truly come together semantically, you have to do so generously so that Jeff (for example) can meet you halfway. Do so by trying to understand and demonstrate that you understand, not by trying to make them understand.

    Does that make sense?

    Either way, Jeff’s a lot more patient with that than I am right now. *L*

    Comment by SilverRain — July 21, 2014 @ 10:48 am

  46. Whatever side of a discussion you’re on, inviting the Spirit breaks down the differences in meaning.

    That is what I attempted to do in 33. It never would have crossed my mind that someone would have thought that I was using it as evidence for an argument, just as evidence for being spiritually motivated.

    Jeff might be more patient because he has also experienced frustration at being misunderstood in saying things in ways that aren’t precisely conventional.

    Comment by Martin James — July 21, 2014 @ 12:14 pm

  47. So am I—used to being misread. But I am a woman, and have been the target of too many invalid claims of spiritual motivation to stand silently by when I see it.

    Hint: if the Spirit is prompting you to tell someone that if they are righteous/were to exercise their faith, they will agree with you, it’s probably the wrong Spirit.

    It mocks the genuine experience.

    Comment by SilverRain — July 21, 2014 @ 12:43 pm

  48. So, JimS makes the consistent point from the authority point of view- we can’t help you with your semantics, that’s your Bishop’s job.

    Not quite. In your #33 you indicated a wish to receive a particular revelation by means of GeoffJ. I suggested that the proper priesthood stewardship for such a revelation lies with your bishop.

    It looks like a conflict of authority but at heart its a conflict over meaning.

    Indeed. But rather than being a conflict (or, to put it more softly, a “language barrier”) between the generals and the footsoldiers, as you portray it; I think rather it’s (to use the proportionate Facebook followings of Mormon Women Stand versus Ordain Women) the generals and 6/7 of the footsoldiers, speaking a different language than the remaining 1/7 of the footsoldiers (many of whom–let’s be honest–went AWOL from the “army” years ago).

    The people who have spent the last thirty years vilifying Benson for his conservativism instead of actually listening to him may have forgotten what plain-old “humility” and “pride” mean; but the rest of us still remember.

    Comment by JimD — July 21, 2014 @ 12:51 pm

  49. (Apologies for the shifting monikers, by the way–an earlier typo kept populating in the “Name” field.)

    Comment by JimD — July 21, 2014 @ 12:52 pm

  50. Alright, let’s see…

    Martin,

    “Your argument is mainly structural and doesn’t seem to depend on much specifically mormon truths. Its just God’s hierarchy. That sets off warning signs for me already. Mormonism has always had lots of very specific beliefs, prophecies, etc. Your approach seems to minimize those and, to me, this is both a contraction and a potential avoidance.”

    This is a fair representation of what I’m doing. My aim is not to analyze any particular doctrine or claim within Mormonism, since I do not see reason as being at all well-suited to such a thing. (This is why I don’t take the “you’re poo-poo-ing reason by using reason” objection very seriously.) Instead, I trying to challenge the tendency of people within the bloggernacle to interpret such doctrines and claims within a modern, intellectual framework. Such a thing systematically misinterprets Mormon doctrines in a way which reinforces secular rather than gospel values.

    “How do you think satan was going to get everyone safely home other than by reliable authority?”

    I think this seriously misrepresents my position. I think your criticism would work well against a form of priesthood authority which does not allow for voluntary disassociation (the Catholic church during the middle-ages comes to mind). My model, on the other hand, places an immense emphasis in the voluntary nature of church association and activity. In no way do I criticize people leaving the church or criticizing the church from outside. (If anything, I give a moral justification for the later.) What my model does delegitimize, however, is criticism from within the church like we see all over the ‘nacle.

    “I think you would make more converts by showing how following authority has helped you love better and serve better and experience more richly and know more and perform more miracles, rather than just play defense on the why.”

    Points like these are, I think, your best and strongest criticisms of my approach. I was trained in the tradition of analytic philosophy which both explains the verbose and long-winded nature of my posts as well as their impersonal nature. I do, however, have some partial justification for these tendencies. First, I want to meet the analytic intellectual on his or her own ground in order to attack that worldview from within that same worldview. Second, I feel constrained to focus my reasoning about reason, my critique of criticism in the way I do so as to stay true to my claim that reason and criticism are not the ways to approach Mormon doctrine. I think you’re right, however, that I could package my position within more personal and positive language. You are spot on when you say, “Again, its not that you are wrong, its just that the loving spirit you intend doesn’t necessarily radiate from the posts.”

    For the record, my approach has a VERY strong base in Rorty’s approach to philosophy. Indeed, my view of the liberal democratic tradition just Rorty’s ironic self-identification. My position, then, could very well be construed as a kind of ironic Mormonism – even though I think this would probably be a little too weak.

    Finally, I would point to a strange tension in your claim that a military approach to the gospel is not well suited to Jesus’ side in the war in heaven. Indeed, I would say that construing ourselves as christian soldiers in some kind of war against Satan reinforces a militaristic conception of authority.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 21, 2014 @ 3:55 pm

  51. Geoff,

    To a certain extent you are right, in that I’m pretty sure that we all agree that personal revelation trumps all (which is exactly why I never highlighted it all that much). The point that I’m really harping on is my priority of authority over reason, since I think the contrary position serves to systematically misconstrue the relationship of personal revelation to the church and its leaders. As Jim put it, people in the bloggernacle systematically use their interpretation of personal revelation to excuse the intrusion of human reason into the gospel. These people have serious objections to my endorsement of priesthood authority, but the reasons have very little to do with a (lack of?) faith in personal revelation. That is a total smoke screen, since the real objection has to do with the very real contradictions which exist between Mormonism and Modern Democratic society. Thus, these people scream “personal revelation” because they (rightly) see that their democratic version of personal revelation is incompatible with my model. Again, it’s a total smoke screen.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 21, 2014 @ 4:08 pm

  52. Jim,

    “a certain element in the Church, either because they are sincerely confused or because they think they’re being cute, prefer to shroud their philosophical/scientific reasoning with the cloak of “personal revelation” in order to make it more palatable to a Mormon audience–even though, if they searched their souls, they’d realize that they’ve really not received any revelation at all.”

    I think this is a bit too strong. While I do think these people are not being very reflexive or conscious of the reasons behind the actions you speak of, I would not call them “being cute” or “confused” per se. I definitely would not say that these people haven’t really received revelation. I do think, however, that we have just been trained by the entire world around us to think that democratic values are (at least part of) THE one true and timeless morality. It is for this reason that they try to reinterpret the gospel along democratic lines so as to minimize the contradictions and tensions between the two – what they take to be true – moralities. I, on the other hand, see this synthesis of democratic and gospel values as being a subversive power play in which secular forces erode the gospel from within. That was my own personal experience.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 21, 2014 @ 4:14 pm

  53. SilverRain,

    I think your depiction of my argument is pretty accurate. We could construe my argument as “when we go the Lord to seek personal revelation on some subject, the position of priesthood authority rather than human reason ought to be the default position which any doubt or ambiguity falls back on.” My systematic approach doesn’t entail sentences such as “give them the benefit of the doubt” very well, but that is a nice every-day way of putting it.

    I do think that Martin is on to something when he brings up the difference in semantics. I don’t think he is trying to say “that word doesn’t necessarily mean that, therefore you’re wrong” in any kind of offender for a word sense of the term. Rather, I think he and I both agree that a systematic reinterpretation in the meaning of words is exactly what my posts are about.

    Where he and I seem to differ, however, seems to be in our solution to this problem (assuming that he even sees it as a problem to begin with). I think that a structural analysis like mine is capable of exposing these systematic shifts in meaning for what they really are – trojan horses by which secular culture methodically invades and corrodes gospel faith from within.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 21, 2014 @ 4:32 pm

  54. What are “the very real contradictions which exist between Mormonism and Modern Democratic society” that require the elevation of authority over reason?

    If there are benefits from following LDS authority aren’t they born out in a rational cost benefit analysis? If so why displace reason? If not, why not?

    Comment by Howard — July 22, 2014 @ 12:39 pm

  55. J. Reuben Clark:

    If we have the truth, [it] cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed.

    Comment by Howard — July 22, 2014 @ 3:45 pm

  56. “In neither case are we expected to allow our self-sufficient evaluations of various teachers and teachings to trump our faith, trust and obedience to these authorities.”

    Jeff G.,

    I strongly believe that you are grossly misrepresenting LDS church doctrine is saying that obedience is to the priesthood authority. Can you show me anywhere in LDS doctrine where it says that we are to be obedient to an actual mortal human being? We are to be obedient to ordinances, principles, God’s commandments, and the spirit, but I cannot find anywhere in the scriptures or the words of the Quorum of the 12 or First Presidency over the pulpit at general conference where obedience to human beings is advocated. Priesthood authority merely authorizes a person to officiate in ordinances and receive revelation in how to fulfill their calling. It doesn’t give any human being the right to dictate what people should do or what they should believe. The idea is that the God transmitted his words through priesthood authorities and that it is through the priesthood authorities that we know what God’s commandments are. But LDS church leaders aren’t telling the members to obey them, they are telling the members to obey God and God’s commandments. Now if you are to believe that the LDS church leaders are actually in direct communication with God, isn’t there always a possibility that the leaders can get the transmission wrong? How else do we explain Brigham Young’s Adam-God theory (which President Kimball said was not doctrinal) or George Albert Smith’s claim that interracial marriage was contrary to church doctrine (which ended up changing without any revelation)? The priesthood authorities are best understood as guides, not dictators.

    At any rate, you seem to have an unhealthy obsession with religious authority, and seem to think that it is somehow runs counter to human reasoning. It doesn’t. The means through which religious authority of all types became established was through human reasoning. Religious authority is a product of human reasoning. You need to recognize that.

    Comment by Steve Smith — July 28, 2014 @ 10:55 am

  57. Steve,

    I think you might be misrepresenting me at least as much as I’m misrepresenting the church. Do you really think that we haven’t been told to trust, listen, hearken, follow, have faith in, cling to, look to, sustain, believe or otherwise obey our mortal and yet duly-ordained leaders?

    Here is a post of mine that discusses the misinterpretation which I think it at the root of your comment. (Since my main thesis is that a modern mentality has led many of us to systematically misinterpret the scriptures and church teachings, it become very difficult to cover all of my bases in each and every post. This is one of the reasons for the long-winded-ness of my posts.)

    I think a interesting way of cashing out this misunderstanding can be found the Habermas’ account of the public sphere that I’m planning on discussing in another post. Habermas suggests that the public sphere was aimed to totally replacing voluntas (will of the sovereign) with ratio (impersonal rationality or law).

    Within Mormonism I would agree that God and His will are constrained in some sense and to some extent by law. But nowhere does it say that His will is totally constrained or just a contextual expression of that law. Furthermore, I see no reason to suspect that our allegiance to and worship of God is – at bottom – an allegiance to and worship of the laws which constrain Him. In other words, we obey not just impersonal law, but God’s will.

    I see a very similar thing in priesthood authority. Yes, church leaders and their wills are constrained by laws which they are commanded not to transgress, but nowhere are we told that their will is to be totally constrained by or just a contextual expression of those laws. Accordingly, I see no reason to suspect that our loyalty and obedience to our priesthood leaders is fully circumscribed, defined and limited by any such laws. Our priesthood leaders are called and set apart to make decisions as an expression of their wills within the bounds of law, and we are to support, sustain and even obey our leaders’ wills so long as they do not transgress the laws of God.

    In other words, priesthood leaders are not called to merely transmit God’s word and will, but to actually represent God’s word and will. Their job is not one of a court reporting, but one of legal representation.

    At any rate, you seem to have an unhealthy obsession with religious authority, and seem to think that it is somehow runs counter to human reasoning. It doesn’t. The means through which religious authority of all types became established was through human reasoning. Religious authority is a product of human reasoning. You need to recognize that.

    I strongly object to almost every part of this paragraph. Why is my defense of priesthood authority “unhealthy”, “obsessive” or (as many others have called it) “authority worship”? I’m hardly advocating any kind of dictatorship. Who taught us the all authority, especially priestly authority, is unhealthy? It sure wasn’t the prophets. Who taught that we should blindly obey authority? It wasn’t me any more than it was the prophets. To be clear, I am not promoting authority as much as I am demoting human reason – and I think we find plenty of support for this in the scriptures.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 28, 2014 @ 2:52 pm

  58. “Do you really think that we haven’t been told to trust, listen, hearken, follow, have faith in, cling to, look to, sustain, believe or otherwise obey our mortal and yet duly-ordained leaders?”

    Jeff G., the list of words that you mentioned are not synonyms of obedience. They may be components of obedience, but obedience is something much different, and in LDS church discourse, obedience is a term reserved for something other than just following human authority. Just look at how the term obedience is used in LDS scripture and the talks of general authorities.

    Article of Faith no. 3: “We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.”

    Acts 5:29 – “Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.”

    James Faust (1999), “Obedience: The Path to Freedom”: “I add that obedience to righteous principles would have offered them freedom from social diseases, shame, degradation, and feelings of guilt…. We are individuals, but we live in families and communities where order provides a system of harmony that hinges on obedience to principles.”

    “Ephraim Hanks is a remarkable example of a young man’s obedience to spiritual promptings”

    Dallin H. Oaks (2009), “Love and Law”, “God’s love is so perfect that He lovingly requires us to obey His commandments because He knows that only through obedience to His laws can we become perfect, as He is”

    Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Stake President,” 2000: “He did this at least in part because then and now all of us need to know God more fully in order to love Him more deeply and obey Him more completely”

    Thomas S. Monson (2012), “Believe, Obey, and Endure,” “Next, young women, may you obey. Obey your parents. Obey the laws of God.”

    Here President Monson admonishes young women to obey parents, and of course, it makes sense for kids who are not of age, who cannot think critically, obey the commands of parents.

    These are but a few examples. I challenge you to go to General Conference Corpus (http://corpus.byu.edu/gc/) and type in ‘obedience’ or ‘obey’ in the search bar to see how the term is used. In the overwhelming majority of cases ‘obey’ and ‘obedience’ is used in the context of following principles, the spirit, God’s commands, God’s will, and the gospel. In fact in only one recent instance, a talk given by Claudio R.M. Costa in 2010, did I find the words “obedience to the prophet.” But since he is merely a general authority with no prospect of becoming an apostle or prophet, his words carry little weight. Plus, he was extrapolating from Ezra Taft Benson “14 Fundamentals” talk, which never even mentioned the term ‘obedience.’ Benson advocated following the prophet, but never said anything about obeying the prophet. Again, following and obeying are different. When you follow someone, you see them as a guide but are free to not follow. While there may be consequences to not following, they are not imposed upon the follower by the guide. Obedience is very different. If I, as a child, fail to obey my parents’ commands, they will impose punishment upon me. If I fail to obey the commands of a superior officer in the military, I am punished by the military. If I fail to obey God’s commands, God will punish me. The members’ relationship with the church is NOT like that between a child and parent or soldier and the military. We are God’s children, not the LDS president’s children. The LDS church invites all to participate and persuades them to believe, but it does not punish those who choose not to. God may. But punishment is outside the stewardship of the LDS leaders’ authority.

    Authority in the context of LDS church doctrine simply seems to mean power to carry out select functions within the LDS church structure, and that’s it. It doesn’t mean license to dictate. And while you say that you agree with me on this, the overall tone of your discourse does not. Authority in and of itself is not to be obeyed, God’s will is to be obeyed. The authorities help orient people towards God’s will as is part of their stewardship. But they overstep the bounds of their stewardship when they tell people that they are the ones to be obeyed.

    You really need to rethink what not only you yourself, but the LDS church, means by the terms ‘authority’ and ‘obedience.’ Because you’re getting it wrong.

    Comment by Steve Smith — July 29, 2014 @ 10:09 am

  59. It should come as no great surprise that none of the prophets straight out say “obey me”. Your position seems to require God’s principles, commandments and teachings coming from something other than a prophet. But such things simply do not exist. There will always be some mortal in between us and the word of God (even if that mortal is ourselves) so to think that we are to obey God’s word without obeying some mortal or another seems strange to say that least.

    But then, I think your problem is that you just don’t like the word “obey” which means that you are bringing a very specific definition to the table. So specific, in fact, is your definition, that you think it’s possible to trust, listen, hearken, follow, have faith in, cling to, look to, sustain and believe a prophet without obeying them. That is a strange definition indeed which runs totally counter to temples equivalence of “hearkening” with “obeying”.

    “When you follow someone, you see them as a guide but are free to not follow.”

    One interpretation would be: To follow somebody is to follow them unless you don’t – which is a pretty empty statement. Another, slightly more defensible interpretation would be that prophets and apostles are simply here for convenience and that we are free to not obey them whenever we see fit since we do not own them any kind of loyalty. But this again is clearly not the message we take from the scriptures.

    Here are a couple of other misconceptions that you bring to your definition of obedience:

    1) There is no license to dictate whatever one wants within the church – as if this happens all that often. Like I already said, there are laws and boundaries.

    2) Obedience is not the abdication of agency at all. This is a total misrepresentation of what the church teaches.

    3) Just because we are not allowed to dismiss priesthood council whenever the think or desire differently does not mean that obedience is blind. Like I made perfectly clear in the post, personal revelation and only personal revelation can legitimately lead us away from our priesthood leaders.

    4) Priesthood authority is not just the authority to officiate in various functions and nothing more. It is the authority to make decisions for the body of the church. It is the authority to receive revelation for the church. In short, the priesthood give somebody the authority to know and speak God’s word and then we are (as you already acknowledged) commanded to obey what they know and speak.

    “You really need to rethink what not only you yourself, but the LDS church, means by the terms ‘authority’ and ‘obedience.’ “

    I might suggest the same of you since your very specific definition of these words is descended almost entirely from secular sources who wanted nothing less than the total dissolution of authority and obedience.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 29, 2014 @ 5:22 pm

  60. “I think your problem is that you just don’t like the word “obey” which means that you are bringing a very specific definition to the table.”

    You tell me what ‘obey’ is supposed to mean according to church doctrine. Be sure to actually use scripture and the words of church leaders to back yourself up. Show me anywhere in LDS church doctrine (be it the standard words or words of the First Presidency and Quorum of the 12) where there is a consistent trend of advocating obedience to priesthood authorities. I find it ironic that you criticize me for appealing to reason (which is what you seemed to be saying when you criticized me for supposedly deriving my definitions from secular sources, which I have not) in coming up with a definition of ‘obey’, because I’ve actually used the scriptures and words of the church leadership to buttress my claims about church doctrine when you do nothing of the sort. In fact you seem to invoke a heavy, heavy dosage of ‘secular’ reasoning to construct your philosophical narrative of the LDS church. I should be criticizing you of being too secular.

    “Another, slightly more defensible interpretation would be that prophets and apostles are simply here for convenience and that we are free to not obey them whenever we see fit since we do not own them any kind of loyalty. But this again is clearly not the message we take from the scriptures.”

    Not according to my reading. The scriptures consistently emphasize agency. They talk of how we are all imperfect sinners and in need of frequent and continual repentance (Romans 3:10 – “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one”). They talk of God’s forgiveness and mercy. God allows people to choose however they wish to live in this life without exacting immediate punishment upon them. The punishment comes in the afterlife (Alma 34:32-34 – “For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.”). You also have to take into consideration that the LDS church welcomes all to attend, even the fence sitters. If I decided that I wanted to drink alcohol and that people should be allowed to, I would still be welcome to attend church. I may not be able to get a temple recommend and may be called to repentance. I may lose some other privileges too. But I would always be welcome, if not encouraged, to attend church and be a member of the community. After all the church is like a hospital that is meant to help sick people. Jesus informed people of his purpose best in Mark 2:17, “They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” If members or leaders tried to manipulate or coerce me to stop drinking alcohol or believe that drinking alcohol was wrong, they would be out of line with LDS doctrine. For invitation and persuasion (D&C 121:41 – “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned”) are the only approved methods of getting someone to do or believe something. According to LDS church doctrine it was Satan’s plan to use force to get people to return to God, Jesus’ plan was through invitation (Matthew 4:19 – “Come, follow me”).

    “Just because we are not allowed to dismiss priesthood council whenever the think or desire differently does not mean that obedience is blind”

    1) We are allowed to dismiss priesthood counsel. The church is a voluntary organization. You can leave it if you want without formal penalty. The leaders have the right to deny certain privileges to you and call you to repentance if you desire to remain but have a lifestyle or advocate certain beliefs that are out of line with its teachings, but that’s it. You’re always invited back. Even Kate Kelly was invited to come back to church after being excommunicated. My point isn’t actually about obedience being blind. It is about obedience being to God, the spirit, and the principles and ordinances of the gospel only, not actual church leaders.

    “Like I made perfectly clear in the post, personal revelation and only personal revelation can legitimately lead us away from our priesthood leaders.”

    OK, so I guess James Strang was validated in his decision to not follow Brigham Young because he claimed to have a personal revelation. You could say, “ah, but that wasn’t a personal revelation, he was delusional or deceived.” OK, how am I supposed to know, personal revelation? Also, what if Kate Kelly claimed personal revelation was leading her to challenge the church leaders? Would she be validated then? What about all of the supposed liberal democrat-influenced writers in the bloggernacle? Would claims to personal revelation validate them?

    Comment by Steve Smith — July 29, 2014 @ 6:58 pm

  61. Steve, yes, personal revelation.

    We are obedient to leadership as they are obedient to God. We submit to the voice of God through the priesthood leadership. If they are not speaking the voice of God, we have no obligation to do as they say.

    HHowever, having a testimony that someone has been called of God shifts the default to trusting that they are speaking for God until otherwise told by the Spirit, rather than distrusting they are speaking for Him unless specifically told.

    I am baffled by how difficult this balance seems to be for people. It’s simple. What it isn’t is easily predictable. It doesn’t allow you to sit back on your laurels.

    Perhaps Jeff is overstating to balance out the prevailing attitude of constant criticism. But it seems to me you are also caricaturizing his stance.

    Comment by SilverRain — July 30, 2014 @ 4:38 am

  62. SilverRain, I’m taking a pragmatic approach to being an LDS person. The fact of the matter is that the LDS church boasts a membership of 15 million, the majority of whom are inactive. Contrast this with the Jehovah’s Witnesses who tend to not count inactives as part of their membership.

    So what does someone need to do to be an LDS person? Have their name on the records. That’s it. All kinds of people with different lifestyles and beliefs can count themselves among the ranks of the LDS membership. Of course many times, certain lifestyles and beliefs will exclude them from certain privileges (some of which cultural Mormons don’t really care about anyway, i.e. temple recommend). But the point is that there is technically room for cultural Mormons in the LDS church, like it or not. The LDS church considers them members, and many of them consider themselves members. They typically inform their beliefs through their own reasoning instead of through what the leadership says, and often pursue lifestyles that are outside the norm of those of the core membership.

    At any rate, Jeff G.’s position on obedience and authority in actually inconsistent with church doctrine. That should be apparent to anyone who digs deeply on the matter. He thinks that obedience should be to actual church leaders. That’s not right. Obedience is to God and God alone. He also seems to envision the church as a sort of government wherein authority means the right to dictate what should be done. The church is a voluntary organization.

    Comment by Steve Smith — July 30, 2014 @ 10:49 am

  63. I’m not sure what relevance your “fact of the matter” has. That doesn’t have anything to do with “a pragmatic approach to being an LDS person.” Nor your second paragraph.

    I submit that your interpretation of Jeff G.’s position on obedience and authority is inconsistent with church doctrine. Or your understanding of church doctrine is.

    It is possible to speak to one half of a doctrinal equation without going into detail about the other half.

    Trying to discount my education or intelligence on the matter doesn’t bolster your argument. Your distinction between being obedient to Church leaders vs. God is only meaningful if you don’t believe the Church leaders are called of God. And if you don’t, whatever you consider yourself, you definitely don’t have a testimony of the restored Church.

    I don’t see where Jeff is saying that authority means the right to dictate, nor that the Church is involuntary. So…your point?

    I’m fairly certain Jeff understands that the authority he discusses is only efficacious when exercised under God’s will. He’s not addressing that part of the doctrine, but the part that many people claim allows them to do whatever they want while still claiming a testimony of the prophets, seers, and revelators.

    Comment by SilverRain — July 30, 2014 @ 11:00 am

  64. “I’m taking a pragmatic approach to being an LDS person.”

    I doubt that because, pragmatically speaking, there is very little difference between obedience to prophets and obedience to God. That’s why I don’t see very much hanging on your objection.

    Nobody is saying “obey the prophet no matter what.” Nobody is saying that prophets get to autocratically command anything they want. Nobody is saying that we don’t have choices to freely make.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 30, 2014 @ 12:03 pm

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