Monday, February 27, 2012

True or False for Mormons:

If you think that we should never disagree with the prophet because God will never let him lead the church astray, then you actually believe in prophetic infallibility (which Mormons claim not to believe).

[For the purposes of this conversation, disagreeing means deciding not to follow a certain counsel—not saying it doesn't make sense to you but you'll do it anyway.]

Discuss.

17 comments:

  1. True, I think that we should never chose to disagree (or not follow certain council as you have stated).

    True prophets and apostles are imperfect and not infallible.

    Dallin H Oaks said, "Revelations from God are not constant. We believe in continuing revelation, not continuous revelation. We are often left to work out problems without the dictation or specific direction of the Spirit. That is part of the experience we must have in mortality. Fortunately, we are never out of our Savior's sight, and if our judgment leads us to actions beyond the limits of what is permissible and if we are listening, . . . the Lord will restrain us by the promptings of his Spirit."

    This is not a black and white issue like you have stated. There have been retractions made in conference statements, but nothing huge. Nobody has ever said "We all need to be doing this." Then later on "My bad, that was my idea and not aligned with the will of God, stop doing the life changing thing I told you all to do." I believe God will never let them lead the church astray because I have faith in Him, in the system, and in the men he has chosen to lead us, and asked us to listen to.

    I have faith in God, I believe that the Church of Jesus Christ was restored on this earth through Joseph Smith, the prophet. Having faith in God doesn't always mean being faithful, but if you are faithful you will chose to obey his council. We are admonished to listen to our prophets and leaders and that they will guide us. I believe that we are given certain council as a test of our faith, or to build our faith. For example, choosing not to take out that second pair of earrings won't condemn you, but failing to do so might enable you the next time to ignore council because it isn't something that works for you. One step towards disobedience to the council (not the commandments, but suggestions) makes it easier the next time, while taking the step towards obedience will strengthen your faith and resolve to continue to follow the prophets when the big stuff crops up.

    Yes, I've slid off topic :)

    To sum up, because of my faith in God, and in the prophets and apostles He has chosen, I believe we shouldn't disagree, or chose not to follow as you say. I believe this because I believe that God loves us, and his servants love us too. I believe that they sincerely want us to be happy and to chose to be righteous is to chose happiness.

    Out of curiosity, what is your testimony of the prophets and the "system" as it were? If you don't want to post it on your blog I understand, it is pretty personal, but you have my email if you want to share :) How do you discern what is doctrine or what is their personal idea. Do you seek using the spirit or do you decide based on how your personal beliefs align? I'm not trying to be argumentative, just curious.

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  2. Honestly, it feels like I am darned if I do and darned if I don't. Prophet and apostles, imo, are great for guidance. Usually great advice and guidance and a compass... however, I think we need to take all the wisdom and guidance and sort through our own beliefs and relationship with God because, frankly, I don't think they know where to draw the line between prophet advice and their personal feelings.

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  3. I don't mind sharing what my testimony is of the subject, and I'll gladly go into detail about it for you. But I'd like to wait until others have shared their thoughts about it so I don't take over the discussion myself. :) I will admit this, though, to further the conversation: I don't see how those two things can both be possible as they are generally interpreted by most members of the church.

    There are two statements here: "the prophet will never lead the church astray" and "prophets are imperfect". I already know that the second one is true, because prophets are human. Period. There is only one way that I can see for the first statement to be true at the same time (and I read a definition recently that sums it up perfectly): "I’ve always interpreted the whole 'prophet will not lead the Church astray' language to refer to the governance of the Church as a whole. In other words, the duly constituted leadership of the Church, with the Prophet at its head, will (despite mistakes) bring the church to the destiny that Christ has planned for it when he comes again."

    Which means, to me, that the prophet not leading the church astray refers to the grand scale of the church—not every piece of individual counsel that ever comes out of his mouth in General Conference.

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  4. I belive that my personal revelation confirmed by the spirit trumps council from the leadership. I think we focus too much on obey and not enough on teaching our memebers to receive and act upon personal revelation. But i do consider and ponder all council and then pray and move forward. I almost always in agreement with council but not alway maybe 90%.

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  5. I know what you mean, Blythe, and I agree with you that we are supposed to take outside counsel and run it through the filter of our own personal beliefs. Jessica, like you said—I believe that my personal relationship with God trumps anything I get from leadership. And it's a good thing, too, because it is notoriously difficult for Mormons to distinguish between "thus saith the Lord" (because no one actually uses that phrase) and just the human, personal advice of a spiritual leader. :)

    I don't believe that every sentence in every General Conference talk was put into a General Authority's brain by God himself. I believe that GAs are prayerful, spiritual people, and when they are inspired to say something I think it's, for the most part, the same as when you or I are inspired to say something in our sacrament meeting talks. (Yes, they are allowed to receive revelation for the church, but I think we use the word "revelation" more loosely than we should. I don't think someone's ability to receive revelation for the church means that everything they say has been revealed to them.)

    I don't believe that the number of earrings you have is relevant to the gospel of Jesus Christ. I don't believe that boys' hair length is or has ever been relevant to their spirituality (and that's something that has been addressed in General Conference, especially in the 70s). I don't believe that the length of your shorts or the visibility of your shoulders determines your worthiness or virtue (especially since the design of garments has already changed enormously since they were first introduced to the church, even though past prophets have said that the design never could be altered. Garments—like a lot of things—adapt to changes in culture). I don't think any of these things were revelations; they were just the personal preferences of the men who said them. And that's how I will take them.

    But I think the most important point, what it really comes down to, is this: I believe it's okay to disagree with the prophet. I believe that I have a personal relationship with God, and in the end, that is the important thing. The prophet is a human leader to guide the church as a body; he receives revelation for the workings of the church. I believe that I am in charge of my own personal life. It is my choice how I dress, what I eat, how I vote, and how I spend my time. It is my choice and my responsibility. And I believe that my own spiritual growth is a more important virtue than obedience.

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  6. I agree with a lot of what you say Miri. I in no way believe that every thought or word spoken by the prophets or G.A.s is doctrine or scripture. I believe that they are good guidelines to how to live our lives though. I've never been told to vote one way or the other. Funny story, I went to a young single adult fireside in 2009 (I was married but it was L Tom Perry so I wanted to go) and Elder Perry said "We recently had an election in which I hope each of you participated in and you got to vote for the President of the United States." Then he added with a chuckle "I didn't vote for him....but you all did." There was a big laugh and he went on to talk about the great freedoms in our country etc. No judgment, no reprimand for those who voted for President Obama, just a funny joke in which he recognized that the young adults were a different generation.

    I also don't believe the number of earrings you have or the length of the hair etc. is relevant to spirituality. HOWEVER If you were to have three, four, or 15 earrings after the talk in which a Prophet addressed the youth and told them that it was a good idea to take them out and you were to ignore it, with the attitude that it wasn't relative to spirituality I think that person would be judged differently than someone who DID think it was relevant to spirituality and chose not to take them out (if that makes sense). I think attitude is everything. I think the person who willfully chose to be disobedient will have a different consequence to the one who just decided it wasn't important enough, or meant enough to comply.

    Also, do you draw the line at something that you might take as advice or do you cross into commandment territory. Example: We are told not to have sex before marriage but that is becoming increasingly uncommon in society. If someone felt like they should be able to do that, that it was important to the relationship do you think that person should be able to break an iron clad commandment because they thought it was ok for them? Pretty random I know haha.

    You closed with "I believe it's okay to disagree with the prophet." What I heard is my little two year old singing "Follow the Prophet, he knows the way." I think Heavenly Father gave us these men, and they give us guidelines because they are relevant. They are an important part of His plan and design. Obviously they are mortal men with mortal problems, thoughts, desires, but when it comes down to it they are helping to lay out the plan of happiness. I guess in that sense we just need to agree to disagree. :)

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  7. That might be where this particular conversation is going, Melissa. :) I see what you're saying with that second paragraph, and I think I would've agreed with you a few years ago. I don't, however, feel that choosing not to adopt a certain point of counsel in your life is a sign of any kind of "attitude" (because, as you point out, there are plenty of different motivations behind people's choices). And, like I said, I don't believe that obedience is the ultimate virtue—which is why the point people often make about "if you disobey on the small things you'll disobey on the big things" doesn't really resonate with me.

    "I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves." I think it's very important that we govern ourselves—and I don't see how choosing to be obedient to everything the prophet says (including his opinion on jewelry) can be considered governing myself. "Follow the prophet" is great for kids, and for teenagers who are still learning those correct principles. But frankly, I think that usefulness starts to diminish in adulthood. Principles are what we should follow—the principles of the gospel. And in order to grow spiritually, we need to govern ourselves.

    As far as your question about commandments... Well, all I can say with certainty is I don't know for certain. :) There have been times when people broke even the commandment against murder, but it wasn't a sin. To be honest, I don't think it's necessary for us to be able to draw that indelible line—that's what personal revelation and the gift of the Holy Ghost are for. We can speculate all we want, but in the end we can only rely on our relationship with God to know what is right for us.

    P.S. Your story about Elder Perry made me laugh. Whenever they've addressed the issue, General Authorities have made it perfectly clear that political affilitation is not a sign of worthiness one way or the other. It's too bad more people can't follow that counsel as well as they do other kinds. :)

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  8. We've already talked about this a little, so what I'm posting here is more for the purpose of polling than for the purpose of argument. :) This makes me think a lot about President Benson's 14 Fundamentals in Following the Prophet (http://www.lds.org/liahona/1981/06/fourteen-fundamentals-in-following-the-prophet?lang=eng&query=following+prophets), which I think we've talked about a little before. In it he says,

    "The prophet does not have to say “Thus saith the Lord” to give us scripture.

    Sometimes there are those who argue about words. They might say the prophet gave us counsel but that we are not obliged to follow it unless he says it is a commandment. But the Lord says of the Prophet, “Thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you.” (D&C 21:4.)

    Said Brigham Young, “I have never yet preached a sermon and sent it out to the children of men, that they may not call scripture.” (Journal of Discourses, 13:95.)"

    I think that there's a difference between disagreeing with what the prophets say and prayerfully asking God for additional understanding it vs. actively filtering everything they say through our personal feelings and preferences and forgetting that they are actually called to speak for God. I know that in my life, I've found that when I disagree with what the leaders of the church say, it's usually not because they're out of touch - it's because I am.

    Yes,the prophets are not perfect people, and yes, we shouldn't get hung up on little things while disregarding the bigger picture, but for me, it's also not helpful to go through every tiny thing the prophets says and go, "Is THIS something that comes from God? Is it really their place to be telling me that?" when the Lord has specifically said to give heed to all of the prophet's words. If the living prophet is more important to us than the standard works then how much of our time should be spent deciding what doesn't apply to us? Does that make sense?

    One of the other things President Benson mentions is the fact that the prophet can receive revelation on any matter - temporal or spiritual, and he quotes Brigham Young again who said, "I defy any man on earth to point out the path a Prophet of God should walk in, or point out his duty, and just how far he must go, in dictating temporal or spiritual things. Temporal and spiritual things are inseparably connected, and ever will be." Latter-day prophets are not the first who have mentioned jewelry or dress (I know it pops up in the Book of Mormon and the Bible), and just because they perhaps aren't the most vital things to our salvation doesn't mean the prophet doesn't receive revelation about them.

    Finally, I know that part of this comes from your frustration about the way other people fixate on less-important things (or things the prophets didn't actually say in a prophetic setting, like political things) while forgetting the big principles, which I agree is frustrating. All I can say to that is - they are all interpreting what the prophets say according to where they are spiritually, just as you do. It's not the prophet's fault if someone took something he said the wrong way and now you want to punch that person in the face. :)

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  9. It's funny that you brought up the Fourteen Fundamentals talk, Megan, because it's one about which (you may not be surprised to hear) I have some reservations. :) I think it's important to point out, first of all, that it was a speech given at BYU, not a General Conference talk. It was actually pretty controversial at the time—in fact I want to say that I've read something about President Kimball not being thrilled about it, to the point where Benson offered to retract it. In any case, I don't agree with those fourteen fundamentals as a group. I'll have to look at each of them more closely, but this one: "When the prophet speaks, the thinking has been done." I do not agree with that statement.

    I think part of the problem is that we've conflated "will not lead the church astray" with "will never be wrong". If the prophet is human, then we must accept that he can be wrong. We have a lot of trouble doing that. (We even have trouble saying that something was just his opinion, and not a statement from God.)

    Like I said in my earlier comment, I think the promise that the prophet won't lead the church astray refers to the overall direction of the church; it does not mean that the prophet will never say anything wrong. Example: I believe that Brigham Young was wrong to take away the priesthood from black people, and I believe that all subsequent prophets were wrong to continue the practice until the 1978 revelation. There's no "they weren't ready" about it; it was just wrong. Brigham Young didn't have a revelation about it, and several black men already had been given the priesthood; black people had been going through the temple and then were thereafter prevented from it. I believe it was wrong—and then, because God will not let the church be led astray, it was corrected.

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  10. Also, I think it's interesting that, in that same talk, Benson said the prophet should also be our political leader. Not like the church's stance now, in which they're politically neutral except for certain big issues; he mentioned that Alma was the head of the government, and that Joseph Smith was mayor of Nauvoo. Coming from the guy who believed the civil rights movement was run by Communists, that's actually a fairly terrifying idea.

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  11. Wait, where does it say that when the prophet speaks, the thinking has been done? I just looked at it four times and couldn't find that. Also, he doesn't say the prophet should be our our political leader, just that he may advise in civic matters. I think his examples were mostly to show that prophets have been involved in government, since he also mentions that Isaiah advised in some political matters.(Also, while this talk was originally given at BYU, it's been quoted in Conference in depth recently, so I don't think it's an idea the church rejects outright. But yes, President Benson had some really crazy political ideas.)

    No, I don't think the prophets infallible, but it kind of seems like the argument from your original question could quickly devolve into, "Since the prophets ARE fallible, if I disagree with something the prophet says, it is most likely because he made a mistake and not because my will is not yet perfectly in line with the Lord's." (And no, I'm not saying that couldn't happen, and I'm certainly not discounting the importance of personal revelation here - just saying that if we start consistently disagreeing with the prophet, we might want to make sure we're listening to the Spirit and not to our own opinions.)Yes, we are to learn correct principles and govern ourselves, but the prophets help to clarify those principles and remind us of what we should be doing. I don't know about you, but I am still learning how to live those correct principles, and I'm certainly not living them perfectly. I am grateful for guidance, and I trust the prophets to guide me in the right direction and help me stay on track so that I can improve individually.

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  12. Oops, you're right, I was thinking of something else. He definitely doesn't say that in this speech.

    I understand what you're saying, and it makes sense. I think where it goes wrong for me is that this line of thinking is usually used to say something like... "Questioning anything is risky and since we know the prophet won't lead us astray, we need to just be obedient and not worry about finding anything out for ourselves." From what I have seen, it seems that Mormons believe in prophetic fallibility only in a theoretical sense, which is what I was hoping to discuss here. We say we believe the prophet is human, and that we believe in thinking for ourselves and receiving personal revelation, but it seems always to be with the caveat that we should come to the same conclusion--or, if we don't, that we should obey anyway. Essentially, for all intents and purposes, prophetic infallibility.

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    1. Those don't seem to be one in the same. I beleive they are human and fallible. BUT, I also have faith that when they are speaking from the pulpit (specifically at General Confernce) that those words have been created with the Spirit's guidance and hopefully eliminated most personal opinion and error. Fallible humans can still have prophetic infallibility.
      I don't always agree with the news but I do believe in the blessings I will receive by choosing obedience regardless of my OPINION. My opinion and the Spirit aren't always in agreement. It's rare that I don't get that confirmation that obedience is the right answer for me. Thus my deepening my belief the Spirit is guiding those voices.
      I also believe that any 'crazy' talk from the pulpit can be banished...meaning I think God would stop it and 'tie their tongue' or change their words if it was wrong in any extreme way.
      And on that note, another thing we have to consider is that ONE mention of something doesn't make it doctrine either. Elder Bednar talks about the need to hear 'repeatedly' things before they would be consider solid 'answers'. It's the law of the second witness.
      If we were to each find personal revelation about the teahings there wouldn't be this he said, she said stuff. Too many people are seeking for someone else to define the line and that's not what is given (generally speaking). Occassionally a line is formed (piercings for example) but usually a principle is given and then our culture decides how to define the line and find fault in other's interpretation of that same guidance. Whereas if everyone would independently seek that, I think there would be less 'confusion' about what is mandated law...or maybe not, we do seem to like to judge one another!

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    2. That's an interesting point about Elder Bednar, Janeen; I hadn't thought of it. That actually seems like it could be helpful for figuring things out—if it's only been mentioned once, it might not be a big deal.

      I really, really like your last paragraph. I think you are very right. One thing that I've actually found funny at times (but frustrating at others) is that there are several issues on which you can find contradicting statements from General Authorities—most notably/ironically, the very question of just how much thinking we should do for ourselves.

      About never taking anything blindly and investigating even the most solemn pronouncements from the prophet, we have quotes from Joseph Smith, Joseph F. Smith, Charles Penrose (counselor to President Smith), Brigham Young, George Cannon, and others. About trusting the prophet absolutely and doing everything he says no matter how wrong it seems to you, we have quotes from Heber Grant, N. Eldon Tanner, Boyd Packer, Wilford Woodruff, Brigham Young (helpful, isn't he?) and others. There are so many different approaches to any given question, so many different answers even from the General Authorities, and that's exactly why I think it's so important for people to "govern themselves" as Joseph Smith said.

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  13. P.S. Megan I figured out where I went wrong before. My brain combined this:

    "When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done."
    (Improvement Era, 1945)

    with this:

    "When the prophet speaks the debate is over."
    (N. Eldon Tanner, 1979)

    Both of which are statements with which I disagree. In support of my position (and in evidence of the reply I just wrote to Janeen about contradictory statements):

    “We talk of obedience, but do we require any man or woman to ignorantly obey the counsels that are given? Do the First Presidency require it? No, never.” (Joseph F. Smith, Journal of Discourses 16:248)

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

    "I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken the influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually.” (Brigham Young, JD 9:150)

    “I do not wish any Latter-day Saint in this world, nor in heaven, to be satisfied with anything I do, unless the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, the spirit of revelation, makes them satisfied… Suppose that the people were heedless, that they manifested no concern with regard to the things of the kingdom of God, but threw the whole burden upon the leaders of the people, saying, ‘If the brethren who take charge of matters are satisfied, we are,’ this is not pleasing in the sight of the Lord.” (Brigham Young, JD 3:45)

    "Now those men, or those women, who know no more about the power of God, and the influences of the Holy Spirit, than to be led entirely by another person, suspending their own understanding, and pinning their faith upon another’s sleeve, will never be capable of entering into the celestial glory, to be crowned as they anticipate; they will never be capable of becoming Gods. They cannot rule themselves, to say nothing of ruling others, but they must be dictated to in every trifle, like a child. They cannot control themselves in the least, but James, Peter, or somebody else must control them. They never can become Gods, nor be crowned as rulers with glory, immortality, and eternal lives. They never can hold sceptres of glory, majesty, and power in the celestial kingdom. Who will? Those who are valiant and inspired with the true independence of heaven, who will go forth boldly in the service of their God, leaving others to do as they please, determined to do right, though all mankind besides should take the opposite course. Will this apply to any of you? Your own hearts can answer.” (Brigham Young, JD 1:313)

    “President Joseph Smith read the 14th chapter of Ezekiel… said the Lord had declared by the Prophet [Ezekiel], that the people should each one stand for himself, and depend on no man or men in that state of corruption of the Jewish church — that righteous persons could only deliver their own souls — applied it to the present state [1842] of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — said if the people departed from the Lord, they must fall — that they were depending on the Prophet, hence were darkened in their minds, in consequence of neglecting the duties devolving upon themselves…” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith p. 237-38)

    It almost gets absurd, doesn't it? :)

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    1. Also, about the politics. You must read it differently than I do, because despite the rather mild first sentence ("a prophet may well advise on civic matters"), I really just do not get a laissez-faire vibe from the overall message. "When a people are righteous, they want the best to lead them in government." Head of the government, mayor, governor... Even Isaiah was "deeply involved in giving counsel on political matters". Those are political leaders, and to me it seems that he is obviously all for it.

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  14. One more thing to add to that...if you wanted to actually bring in scripture...Nephi asked God himself BEFORE he succomb to the directions Lehi commanded. Nephi went and found out for himself. That's why he was such a fierce leader AND follower because he went to the Lord. His brothers however conflicted over everything because they failed to take it to the Lord, they just heard Lehi and decided their own opinion and went with it and suffered within confusion and frustration toward Nephi and Lehi.
    There are so many parrallels here. Those who interpret the prophets words and those who personalize them...which produces better servants to the Lord?

    ..it's all about taking it back to the Lord for everything, it's personal!

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