Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A response about questioning leaders

In response to "Can leaders be wrong?"

Of course leaders can be wrong. They are human. But they are humans with authority. Their being wrong doesn't happen very often, and we still have a responsibility to sustain and support them, even if they goof once in a while. (Minus extreme abuse or other situations that should be reported, but that's a different issue.) I get uneasy with discussions that want to push the point of "can leaders be wrong?" What I have seen happen is that advocating "thinking" about what they say often means challenging what they say (or do) and/or morphs into criticizing them.

So, if you sense my hesitancy to focus on possibility of leaders being wrong, you are right -- in part because of the above. My own experience with the few times I have thought a leader was wrong and vocalize that sentiment is that criticism of leaders offends the Spirit. (A recent experience also revealed that I was the one wrong, not the leader. I think such is usually the case.) So, "can a leader be wrong?" Yes, but what are we to do about that when it happens? Is it our place to correct them or point out their error to them or others? IMO, no, it's not. If we ever feel we receive direction contrary to theirs, I think we should keep that to ourselves. It's our responsibility to show charity and support in spite of their weakness. My experience is that it helps me keep the Spirit. Supporting my leaders is what builds my testimony, not questioning them or what they say or do (not that I never have, but when I have and have judged my leaders in a negative way, it's basically not been something of benefit to me and my testimony, but rather a detriment. (Thinking for further understanding, however, is a different issue altogether.)

Incidentally, I have been on the receiving end of criticism (unfairly leveled, I might add) and it undermined my ability to serve in my calling, and caused other people to mistrust me until they figured out that lies were being told. It was one of the worst experiences I have ever had in the Church in part because it took so much away from what good could have been done.

I have found the following to be meaningful when I have considered the question you pose. (This is not the first time I have had this discussion. I realize others may have a different approach.)

I have given the following counsel to Church members—those who have committed themselves by upraised hands to sustain their church leaders:
"Criticism is particularly objectionable when it is directed toward Church authorities, general or local.... Evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed is in a class by itself. It is one thing to depreciate a person who exercises corporate power or even government power. It is quite another thing to criticize or depreciate a person for the performance of an office to which he or she has been called of God. It does not matter that the criticism is true. As Elder George F. Richards, President of the Council of the Twelve, said in a conference address in April 1947,

“ ‘When we say anything bad about the leaders of the Church, whether true or false, we tend to impair their influence and their usefulness and are thus working against the Lord and his cause.’ (In Conference Report, Apr. 1947, p. 24.)” ...


[For example, consider how it's nearly impossible to discuss Elder McConkie's point of view in the 'nacle because he has been criticized so much around here. I can't imagine the Lord is pleased about that, because Elder McConkie was His apostle, and did so much for the work.]


In our system of Church government, evil speaking and criticism of leaders by members is always negative. ...
(see D&C 121:16.)

The counsel against speaking evil of Church leaders is not so much for the benefit of the leaders as it is for the spiritual well-being of members who are prone to murmur and find fault. [Again, this has been consistent with my personal experience.]

[In addition] the Bible teaches that rejection of or murmuring against the counsel of the Lord’s servants amounts to actions against the Lord himself. How could it be otherwise? The Lord acts through his servants. That is the pattern he has established to safeguard our agency in mortality. His servants are not perfect, which is another consequence of mortality. But if we murmur against the Lord’s servants, we are working against the Lord and his cause and will soon find ourselves without the companionship of his Spirit.


(Dallin H. Oaks, “Criticism,” Ensign, Feb. 1987, 68, emphasis added)

As a side note, regarding BY's quote, I find it interesting, too, to note that BY lived in a day where he saw half the Quorum of the 12 apostatize. I wonder if that is part of the reason he said what he did. (We should also consider all the times he talked about following the prophet, too.) I don't hear any current leaders underscoring what he taught in that one quote, but rather putting much more emphasis on following our leaders in faith and trust. I tend to look for patterns in what is said, and the pattern I see is definitely on the side of following in trust.

But again, I realize other people may have a different approach. But now you can understand mine a little better. This is not just based on quotes in a vacuum. It's based on my own personal experience as well, and what I have seen in others. I don't see questioning leaders and their rightness as a prerequisite to testimony. For some, maybe that helps in the journey somehow, although I don't relate to that at all. That has simply not been the case for me.

28 comments:

M&M said...

I can think of an exception to my approach -- if a local leader is teaching doctrine or giving counsel contrary to what the prophets teach, and such error can put someone in spiritual jeopardy, I would probably say something, with chapter and verse. For example, I once had a bishop give me advice relative to morality that I think was not wise or right. Had I found out that someone had heard that counsel, I probably would have shown counsel of the Brethren to consider. I realize there are exceptions to nearly every approach with things like this.

Bored in Vernal said...

M&M,
Thank you for your considered reply to my question. I really appreciate you spending so much time and energy on my questions. There is absolutely nothing wrong with your approach. I find it quite in line with mainstream thought.

You are not the only one who equates thinking with criticism. I am feeling bothered about why this should be so. Maybe I'm not typical, but I absolutely love talking an issue to death. Maybe it stems from my youth, when my parents would come home from (non-LDS) church services, lie on the bed, and deconstruct the sermon. I was usually to be found under the bed, listening. I learned. I felt my intellect expand. I felt the stirrings of religion in my breast. I felt it no criticism to the minister to discuss and perhaps disagree with aspects of his sermon. So I have perhaps carried this over to my relationship with Church leaders. They do have authority, but are also human. I haven't felt that the Spirit is offended by discussing issues and coming to a greater understanding. Sometimes I'll conclude that the leader knows something I don't know, and I'll strive diligently to find out what that is. At these times, I feel I'm further along than if I had just accepted without putting any thought or mental exertion into it.
I can see that I have quite a different approach to the Church than you do. I still don't see why members are so afraid of thinking. Again, thinking is not criticism, thinking is not disobedience, thinking is not offending the Spirit. We really don't need to be anti-intellectual in this Church.

Steve M. said...

Their being wrong doesn't happen very often, and we still have a responsibility to sustain and support them, even if they goof once in a while...So, "can a leader be wrong?" Yes, but what are we to do about that when it happens? Is it our place to correct them or point out their error to them or others? IMO, no, it's not.

I'm sorry, but I have to take issue with this. I don't think that "sustain and support" implies that we should gloss over error. In fact, I think it means quite the opposite.

In D&C 6, the Lord gives Oliver Cowdery, the second elder of the Church, instruction about how he is to support Joseph:

"Therefore be diligent; stand by my servant Joseph, faithfully, in whatsoever difficult circumstances he may be for the word’s sake.

"Admonish him in his faults, and also receive admonition of him. Be patient; be sober; be temperate; have patience, faith, hope and charity" (verses 18-19).

One might argue that this specific revelation has no practical application to us, but I beg to differ. Oliver was clearly instructed to support Joseph, the first elder of the Church, but the command to support Joseph was accompanied by a command to admonish him in his faults. While there are certainly countless unimportant faults in our leaders that should just be overlooked, I think the take-home principle is that in sustaining our leaders, we occasionally have the (respectfully) responsibility to speak up when potentially damaging or misleading errors are made.

Even in a hierarchal organization like the Church, I don't think criticism should strictly flow in a top-to-bottom fashion.

I'm in no way advocating evil speaking or destructive criticism. But as members of the Church with an interest in its improvement and success, I fear that we may be doing more damage by keeping our mouths shut than we would by respectfully voicing constructive criticism.

I don't see questioning leaders and their rightness as a prerequisite to testimony.

I must also beg to differ with this statement. I think we have a right and responsibility to put any teaching our counsel coming from our leaders to the test (Elder Eyring seems fond of encouraging this type of investigation). The whole process of studying it out in our mind and seeking confirmation seems silly and pointless if we aren't open to the possibility that a leader's counsel is not correct. I think we can appreciate the truth of a leader's words more if we've seriously investigated and tested their veracity (which means that we shouldn't be resolved to arrive at any pre-determined answers).

-L- said...

This is a very interesting topic to me and I appreciate your thoughts.

I remember on my mission when my mission president made rules that seemed arbitrary and ridiculous to me (we were actually required to take daily herbal supplements of his choosing, for example) I had to sort this out for myself. I criticized him in a letter home one week and got a grave reply from both parents warning me that I was teetering on the edge of apostasy. I thought their letter was a little over the top, but it made me realize that if we seek to put the brethren's (or local leaders') views through a personal approval process, we're more likely to get things wrong than if we err on the side of following them. My dad promised me that if I followed priesthood leaders, if there was a mistake made, it would be on their heads and not mine. It's a simplistic view for a young guy, but aren't simplistic views superior sometimes?

And (in regard to Steve) I do think that there may be disagreements among the brethren (as in Oliver and Joseph) but they resolve them and come to a consensus to lead the church. The rest of us aren't in a position to criticize them justified with an appeal to Oliver's counsel to help Joseph.

M&M said...

. I think we have a right and responsibility to put any teaching our counsel coming from our leaders to the test (Elder Eyring seems fond of encouraging this type of investigation). The whole process of studying it out in our mind and seeking confirmation seems silly and pointless if we aren't open to the possibility that a leader's counsel is not correct.

Steve M., I understand what you are saying, and yet I don't see things in quite the same way. Of course we should seek confirmation, but they way I read Elder Eyring, I see him inviting us to discover the truth of what they say for ourselves), not to figure out if the leaders are wrong. Consider this:

"Every time in my life when I have chosen to delay following inspired counsel or decided that I was an exception, I came to know that I had put myself in harm’s way. Every time that I have listened to the counsel of prophets, felt it confirmed in prayer, and then followed it, I have found that I moved toward safety. Along the path, I have found that the way had been prepared for me and the rough places made smooth. God led me to safety along a path which was prepared with loving care, sometimes prepared long before.

"Sometimes we will receive counsel that we cannot understand or that seems not to apply to us, even after careful prayer and thought. Don’t discard the counsel, but hold it close. If someone you trusted handed you what appeared to be nothing more than sand with the promise that it contained gold, you might wisely hold it in your hand awhile, shaking it gently. Every time I have done that with counsel from a prophet, after a time the gold flakes have begun to appear and I have been grateful."
(Henry B. Eyring, “Finding Safety in Counsel,” Ensign, May 1997, 24)

That has been my experience. Elder Eyring says nothing about considering that our prophets are are wrong if a confirmation doesn't come right away. Rather, I hear Elder Eyring inviting us to accept prophetic words in faith, believing the confirmation will come if we don't cast the seed of their words out by our disbelief. I believe the words of our prophets are full of gold -- and that it is up to us to mine their words and find the treasure therein, not to judge their words for their rightness or wrongness. (Note that I'm mainly addressing the things that are repeated by our leaders, not anomalies here and there that have no significant bearing on our lives and understanding. Elder Eyring made it clear that repeated words from the prophets invoke the law of witnesses that helps us know when what we are hearing is prophetic counsel and doctrine. When we see such patterns, he said we should "rivet our attention" -- not wonder if they are really right.)

Tigersue said...

I finally found your blog!!! I am so happy about it. I hope I can be a frequent visitor. I will add you to my blog roll so I can remember to come. I would also like to add you to the calling all LDS women bloggers list if you don't mind. Let me know if you don't want it there and I will take it off.

Steve M. said...

This will be a lengthy comment, and I apologize in advance.

-l-,

My dad promised me that if I followed priesthood leaders, if there was a mistake made, it would be on their heads and not mine.

This philosophy worries me. It reminds me of a short story I read by Chinese author Liu Binyan called "At the Bridge Site." It told the story of the building of a bridge in early Maoist China. The overseer in charge of the bridge project had unfailing faith in his superiors, and refused to act, except according to their instructions. Although many younger engineers could see problems with the construction project, the overseer would not heed their cautions, directing his entire attention and allegiance to his superiors. Ultimately, catastrophe struck and the bridge collapsed. The overseer was hardly bothered by the disaster; rather, he was totally relieved because he knew he had been acting in strict compliance with his superiors' orders, and therefore could not be blamed for the failure.

If we have any kind of interest in the Church's progression and success, I don't see how we can slip into such complacency. It's not acceptable to just say, "Well I'll go along with things, and if something goes wrong, at least I can't be blamed." We've been given the mental and spiritual capacities to discern right and wrong--why don't we use them in productive ways?

And (in regard to Steve) I do think that there may be disagreements among the brethren (as in Oliver and Joseph) but they resolve them and come to a consensus to lead the church.

There are disagreements among the Brethren, we just rarely see them. There was constant tension among members of the Twelve and First Presidency over the priesthood restriction, from the time of Brigham Young until 1978, despite the image of unity presented to the public.

The rest of us aren't in a position to criticize them justified with an appeal to Oliver's counsel to help Joseph.

First off, I'd like to make an important distinction. When we talk of criticism, most automatically assume it's the negative, destructive kind (i.e., "evil speaking," fault-finding). That's not what I'm advocating. I'm advocating constructive criticism through open and respectful dialogue.

And Oliver's counsel in the D&C was not merely to "help" Joseph. It was to "admonish him in his faults." The other early revelations made it very clear that Joseph was the head of the Church and that none other was authorized to receive revelations on behalf of the Church. The hierarchy was in place almost from the beginning, and Joseph was clearly above Oliver. Nonetheless, the Lord gave clear instructions indicating that "standing by" Joseph did not preclude admonishing him in his faults.

So I'm curious to know why this particular revelation has no practical application to us, as you say.

M&M,

Rather, I hear Elder Eyring inviting us to accept prophetic words in faith, believing the confirmation will come if we don't cast the seed of their words out by our disbelief. I believe the words of our prophets are full of gold -- and that it is up to us to mine their words and find the treasure therein, not to judge their words for their rightness or wrongness.

This is a perfect principle, assuming that the counsel received is correct. But that's a weighty assumption, and I don't think it's reasonable to take that for granted. Like it or not, leaders can and do give uninspired counsel, by virtue of their humanity. It happened to Joseph, it happened to Brigham, and it happens to our bishops and stake presidents and general authorities today. Not all the time, but it does happen, and I don't think we can realistically deny that reality.

My question then is, what do you do when incorrect counsel or teaching is given? Imagine that you lived 140 years ago, and heard Brother Brigham proclaim that Adam was actually Heavenly Father, and that your salvation would hinge upon your acceptance of that doctrine. This happened. Brigham taught the doctrine for several years, publicly and privately. Many accepted it, but some didn't. McConkie later declared the doctrine a "heresy." Imagine that you were there listening to Brigham. If you have any kind of an inkling that the doctrine being taught or counsel being given is not true, what do you do?

Anonymous said...

"So, 'can a leader be wrong?' Yes, but what are we to do about that when it happens? Is it our place to correct them or point out their error to them or others? IMO, no, it's not. If we ever feel we receive direction contrary to theirs, I think we should keep that to ourselves. It's our responsibility to show charity and support in spite of their weakness."

Elder Oaks 1987 talk continues as follows:

"So what do we do when we feel that our Relief Society president or our bishop or another authority is transgressing or pursuing a policy of which we disapprove? Is there no remedy? Are our critics correct when they charge that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are 'sheep' without remedy against the whims of a heedless or even an evil shepherd?

"There are remedies, but they are not the same remedies or procedures that are used with leaders in other organizations."

Elder Oaks lists five appropriate remedies, one of which includes pointing out to the leader the disagreement.

The five are, to paraphrase:

1. Overlook the difference, which I take to be the approach M&M advocates. This is the approach I usually follow. It might also be called the "grin and bear it" school.

2. Reserve judgment and postpone action--sort of the Camilla Kimball "put it on the shelf" approach. I also follow this quite often.

3. Take up the matter privately with the leader. I have done this sometimes, and almost always adjustments or explanations are made as a result of the discussion that are satisfying to us both.

4. Take the matter to higher human authority. I have done this
on a very few occasions, but rather than ask for the higher authority to "correct" the other authority, I generally have communicated to the higher authority, almost "in passing", what has occurred, and let them decide what, if anything, should occur.

5. Appeal to the highest authority, God, for resolution--to correct the authority if he or she is in error, or to correct us if we are in error (or to correct us both). This can be connected to alternative 2, reserving judgment. Many of us followed this approach with respect to the former practice regarding withholding the priesthood from certain peoples, or the former practice of requesting sizeable budget and building contributions in addiction to tithing.

********

These five approaches are what I would call the "correlation" approaches to differences of opinion, and generally help the Church operate more effectively as an institution.

I don't think mere expressions of honest differences of opinion are the corrosive type of criticism warned against. For example, I do not think it was a harmful criticism, before the advent of two piece garments, to observe that it certainly would be more convenient and comfortable if garments were available in two pieces. I don't think it undermines testimony honestly to express a desire, as Gladys Knight has, that LDS music have more "oomph". I do think it is harmful to the institution and to the individual to criticize anyone or anything with harshness or shrillness, or without offering the benefit of the doubt.

DavidH

M&M said...

DavidH,
Thanks for including that from Elder Oaks. I should have clarified that I don't think it's always inappropriate to say something when something doesn't seem right. What I meant is that we shouldn't be _preaching_ personal revelation over general revelation, esp. when it comes from our prophets.

I also think there's less problem giving feedback re: policy or procedure that has no direct sacred nature vs. doctrine, ordinances, etc. that do (or may) have more "weight."

My question then is, what do you do when incorrect counsel or teaching is given?

I think DavidH's comment handled that beautifully. (I will say that I am of the opinion that usually if doctrine is considered to be incorrect, it is the person thinking that who is wrong, not the doctrine. I will almost always err on the side of the leaders than on someone who thinks they are wrong. Again, this comes from years of putting this approach to the test and finding it is what works and feels right to me.)

Most of the time, if some teaching is incorrect, we can let it go. If it is at the local level and seems to be potentially problematic (spiritually dangerous), we could contact "higher-ups." At the higher level, I think we need to be ever-so-careful, because my experience has been that the leaders generally aren't the ones who are wrong, esp. on matters of doctrine. And if they are, it is on things that don't really matter. Procedures aren't always perfect, and that's a different story. We will probably always be finding ways to improve there. But on matters of doctrine, I think we need to be much more careful. My experience has been like Elder Eyring's. Following our prophets' counsel has been a tremendous blessing to me.

Part of what makes this all so tricky is that not everything our leaders will say will be comfortable or pleasant, because part of what they are supposed to do is to invite us to repent and to call us out of Babylon and away from her Siren songs. If we allow ourselves to take issue with everything we don't like, we could put ourselves in spiritual danger. This is part of the reason I typically like to err on the side of letting things go or letting things sit.

I also think the law of witnesses is key to understanding when doctrine should be embraced vs. when a teaching might be more personal point of view. If a leader were to preach something that was new, I would let it sit, ponder and study, and wait to see if it was repeated by a different leader. (Again, I thinking especially of things at the prophetic level.)

Anon for this said...

Question -
To what does this extend? What if a church leader refuses to let a handicapped person be baptized? The bishop denies baptism for lack of accountability, even though the caretaker feels that the child really does have capacity. Later, that same bishop refuses the child the ability t o participate in the youth programs (not the complicated activities, merely sunday school with the attendance of a parent). Does the person have the obligation to sustain the leader? Could a temple recommend be denied? Even after the person is no longer a bishop? What if insults were directed from the bishop to the indiviual? Hard call.

M&M said...

anon,
In situations where ordinances and other such important issues are at play, I would say this would probably be an example of a situation where it might be appropriate to talk to the leader's leader (in your example, the stake president). Again, I am not saying there isn't ever a situation where something shouldn't be said or done. I also think that even in tough situations, sustaining and supporting can be continued, even if there are disagreements on certain things.

Again, though, I do think such situations are the exception and ought to be treated as such -- not talked about as though commonplace or widely applicable and/or appropriate. This is part of what I respond to. Sometimes I feel this concept of the exception becomes adopted as the rule more than it should, at least in conversation.

M&M said...

I thought I would post a comment I made on Blogger of Jared on this topic, FWIW.

My question is this. How do we figure out when something doesn’t jive with our understanding of the world, that the prophet really is inspired?

I think Elder Eyring gave us the key to help us figure this out: when the law of witnesses has been invoked, we can know inspiration is at work.

One of the ways we may know that the warning is from the Lord is that the law of witnesses, authorized witnesses, has been invoked. When the words of prophets seem repetitive, that should rivet our attention and fill our hearts with gratitude to live in such a blessed time.

In my mind, it is THOSE kinds of prophetic patterns about which we are speaking in particular when we talk about following the prophets. Not that I'm not a fan of following individuals' words, too, but in my mind, this system (law of witnesses) probably removes some of the "exceptions" that people like to bring up (over and over and over...). ("Well, so-and-so said this weird thing 150 years ago, and it was wrong, so that means prophets can be wrong." I think this is a weak argument for not following the prophets, [because most of the time, they are simply right and inspired].) When we speak of following the prophets, I think we should be talking about the rule, not the exception.

I agree with Ryan as well. One key way to know if what they are teaching is true is to test it. Live it. Try it out (think Alms 32). "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God or whether I speak of myself." (John 7:17) I think that can also protect us from spiritual laziness, which Doc addressed above. I think it's possibly as spiritually lazy (if not more so) to spend too much time "thinking" about and analyzing what the prophets say to determine whether their words are inspired) as it is to just hunker down and follow them. My feeling is that the confirmation will more likely come while doing than while simply thinking and not acting on what they say. Faith is a principle of action, after all. And reason alone can be the devil's tool. Ask Korihor. :)

I will say that my own convictions about topics such as the inspired nature of the Proclamation, the stand on gay marriage, the doctrine of the divine design of gender roles, etc. have not come in an instant, nor solely by thinking about them. It is by accepting on faith and acting in faith, pondering as I go, that the truths therein have distilled on my mind and spirit. The more I live and accept these things, the more real and true they become to me. And the more likely I am to follow the prophets -- because I have tested and tasted their words and have found them to be delicious. Easy? Not always. But sweet and true nonetheless.

JM said...

I like Moroni's questioning of Pahoran in Alma 60. Specifically verses 18 ans 22.

I also like his ideas presented in 27 and his "fear" of authority in 28.

If we had more members with this level of resolve in living the gospel, perhaps we would have better leadership.

Where much is given... much is required!

M&M said...

JM,
Thanks for your comment. I'm a little confused at your point, though. Moroni was a great person, to be sure. He wasn't afraid to approach someone in authority about his concerns. Ironically, though, he was dead wrong about Pahoran's motives. He had legitimate concerns, but didn't understand what was really going on. Pahoran responded with true love, but also helped Moroni see his "constructive criticism" of Pahoran was unfounded, based in a lack of understanding. I think there is a message for us there as well. :)

But, all of that said, I want to know what it was you wanted to bring out from that story? The fact that Moroni challenged Pahoran? Moroni's words about authority? Pahoran's amazing grace and humility? There's much to look at...I'd be interested to know more about what you were trying to say....

jm said...

My point can be summarized in Alma 48:17.

Regardless of the fact that he was dead wrong and extreamly critical of his leaders, he is looked upon as a hero because he was more concerned about what is right, not who is right.

The only reason why Moroni didn't understand what was going on was because he didn't have all the information. Typical of most leaders fighting to keep their heads above water, they neglect to communicate with the right people to keep things running. If Pahoran would have sent an epistle a little earlier, perhaps he would have had more timely help from Moroni.

My point is that the bretheren need to hold the leadership of this church more accountable. We seem to be raising the bar for everyone except the leadership. Why do they get a free pass while the flock suffers?

While I appreciate Elder Oak's and Eyring's views on sustaining and following leadership, I believe we are taught the proper order of sustaining and following in the temple. Eve is instructed to follow and harken to the counsel of Adam, only as he harkens to the counsel of the Lord. If he doesn't, Eve is under no obligation.

If our leaders refuse to stick to "whats right", we are under no obligation to follow their meaningless and trival programs. I submit that we even have precedence to call them on it and challenge them as did Moroni to Pahoran.

Now, is it risky? Yes. If they are inspired in whatever the issue may be, then that will always win. But if that be the case, then I should be able to receive a confirmation by the spirit as well. But when confirmation is absent, I think we all need to find the little Moroni inside each of us and stand up for what's right.

Anonymous said...

Prophetic Inspiration @ Nine Moons:

http://www.nine-moons.com/?p=306

Tim J.

Steve M. said...

At the higher level, I think we need to be ever-so-careful, because my experience has been that the leaders generally aren't the ones who are wrong, esp. on matters of doctrine. And if they are, it is on things that don't really matter.

Unless we count Brigham's Adam-God or blood atonement doctrines, or McConkie's teachings about blacks in the pre-existence. Believe it or not, I agree with a lot of what you've said in your recent comments, but I do have to take issue with this one. Sometimes incorrect things are taught about doctrines that really do matter.

M&M said...

SteveM,
OK, "don't matter" sounded strong. I'm not sure about the Adam-God thing and how much it was repeated, but other examples seem to me to be, again, not repeated, constant, "mainstream" doctrines that have been taught repeatedly by our leaders.

Also, I think at some point it doesn't do much good to focus on a very few past examples of doctrine that was wrong (or possibly misunderstood! -- I've read at least one thing that suggests that "Adam-God" is not being understood correctly).

In a crude way of thinking, if you simply look at the statistical chances of prophetic guidance being right, they are very high. Again, especially when you consider the law of witnesses being clearly invoked, I see little validity in assuming prophets might be wrong. I will take the approach, especially when I see those patterns, that any discomfort I feel is ME being wrong, not them.

JM, thanks for clarifying. I guess it all boils down to figuring out what is "right." It sounds like maybe you have some specific things in mind on which you think our leaders "aren't right"? Or am I reading too much into that?

While I understand why you say what you do, I see potential problems with trying to determine if they are "right" -- especially that sometimes, frankly, we can be deceived, and sometimes we don't like what they are hearing, and that clouds our ability to get a confirmation. Still, Elder Eyring suggests that even if we don't get an immediate confirmation, that we let the counsel sit, waiting on the Lord to see if gold flakes do appear. Add that to the fact that scriptures support the idea of following the prophets in faith, even when their counsel is not popular, not challenging them. (You will note that the Moroni-Pahoan example is more about someone challenging the government and not being afraid of consequences in that way, not someone challenging a church leader...might be an important distinction....) And, again, when the law of witnesses has been invoked, I think the Lord is inviting us to pay attention, even if what we hear doesn't quite gel with us -- yet.

But, as you know, this is my approach. I have made the decision that I will follow the prophets. To me, that is the only way to safety and really knowing what's right in this confusing world! :) You may have different approaches to things. As I say, to each his/her own, I suppose. Thanks for the follow-up clarification on your thoughts. (And if I've misread you, please clarify again!) :) )

jeff g said...

I see two serious problems with the first paragraph, problems which have already been somewhat addressed by Steve:

1) You claim that leaders are only wrong on rare occasions. How do you know this? The best answer I think you can give is that what they say is not disconfirmed very often. Notice, however, that this could be for two reasons: a) they really are right most of the time, or b) they speak about things which simply cannot be disconfirmed. The fact of the matter is that even if (a) is true, (b) is certainly true without a doubt. Thus, it would seem that we have no way of knowing whether (a) really is true or not.

2) You say that since they still have authority we should support them. I disagree. What their authority means to me is that no matter how much I disagree with them, or even criticize their decisions, they are still their decisions and not mine. In other words, their authority make the decisions they make thiers, implying absolutely nothing as to how I should react to these decisions. I absolutely refuse to give up personal responsibility when it come to the thing which matter most in my life. I don't care if God supposedly offers to put the responsibility on the heads of the mistaken leaders... I want that responsibility for myself, be it good or bad. The responsibility, in this case, is not only for myself and my own wellbeing, but also for those around me and this opens the door to a moral justification for criticizing leaders. This is no a case of uncritical love, or loveless criticism, but rather a lovers quarrel of sorts with the church. I love it so I want it to be better.

Tigersue said...

I'm just going to through my two cents in here. Perhaps it will be simplistic, but here is goes.
1. A leader will never be wrong if he is following the impression and promptings of the spirit. That does not mean personal opinion and ideas may or may not be wrong. There is a huge difference between what is offered as inspiration and what is personal philosophy.

2. It is up to me as an individual to gain that testimony that what is said is correct, therefore it is up to me to listen to the guidance of the spirit and listen to its teaching. When that is done I can be in harmony with what the leaders decide. I can also be lead to speak my mind if I feel that what they tell me is wrong. This of course works best with local leaders and should only apply to me not to the area as a whole. I will never have those keys, I can only know if a calling or counsel is appropriate for me and my family.

M&M said...

Thus, it would seem that we have no way of knowing whether (a) really is true or not.

I think John 7:17 shows us how we can know. I feel that living their counsel helps me discern the truth of what they teach. I also think Al. 32 demonstrates how we can know. This has also been my experience. I have been testing this experiment for nearly two decades and have found it just works and feels right and true to me. Can I prove that to anyone? No. But it's real to me. It's real to a lot of people. Very little in our faith can be "proven" but that is the nature of faith, is it not?

I absolutely refuse to give up personal responsibility when it come to the thing which matter most in my life.

I understand that sentiment, but I don't understand how you think following leaders abdicates personal responsibility. I don't think my personal responsibility is lost by having faith that the Lord speaks through His leaders. I exercise my agency to listen to our leaders, have faith that they are teaching truth, and try act on what they say. No one is "making" me do this. I choose such a path. Each and every one of us has that agency. Maybe you can explain how you think personal responsibility is somehow lost when following leaders in faith.

This is no a case of uncritical love, or loveless criticism, but rather a lovers quarrel of sorts with the church. I love it so I want it to be better.

I love it, too, and want it to be better. I'm all about making organizations better. It's my professional expertise, actually. I hope I have expressed that sometimes their are ways and situations where feedback might be helpful in the Church. I have given feedback on occasion to local leaders, for example. If one has feedback, there is an order to follow to give that feedback.

That said, I believe, however, that there is also a time to realize that the Church isn't a democracy, and it's never going to please everyone. As someone recently said in another discussion of this type, if the Church were simply run by people's opinions, there would be chaos.

I personally think that the best way we "make the Church better" (generally speaking -- again, I realize once in a while feedback can be helpful) is by being true and loyal as the prophet has asked us to be. The city of Enoch (a Zion people) didn't get to where they were by lots of people giving feedback and voicing opinions until the organization was "better." The people were of one heart and one mind; they followed Enoch who showed them how to follow Christ and become like Him. Enoch was their prophet, God's mouthpiece. Again, such following was their expression of their personal choices. God has always invited His people, through His prophets, to follow, but never forces them to. He has used that pattern whenever His gospel has been on the earth.

JM said...

Perhaps I should clarify my definition of leaders.

I'm specifically talking about locak church leadership (i.e. Bishops, Stake Presidents, Mission Presidents).

I can't recall any time I have ever had a major disagreement with doctrine or programs put forth by the bretheren. The only fault I find in them is not providing enough training to local leadership. Perhaps that's just the logistics of having such a large organization.

jeff g said...

I see a number of things wrong with your response, many of which will probably lead well beyond the present scope of the post:

1a) There is a huge difference between actually being true and simply working for you. Just because Newtonian mechanics works, doesn't mean it is true.

1b) The situation is actually worse, however, than Newtonian mechanics for we are dealing with matters in religion which are entirely subjective. This means that what you think is working in your life cannot be compared against anything at all, for you can only experience one life and you can only imagine and judge other lives by simple guessing.

1c) Worse still, but closely related, we are dealing here with value and morals, things which cannot be subjected to tests of any kind at all. Indeed, it is a seriously open question what it even means for some moral judgment to be "true." In other words, not only are value judgments practically unverifiable due to their subjective nature, but they are unverifiable in principle due to their being either far too complex or simply non-cognitive in nature.

1d) I also worry about your using the scriptures, the sources for most of what the leaders say, as a test for the truth of the statements which these leaders pronounce from those same scriptures. Internal consistency does not imply truthfulness of any kind.

1e) There is no such thing a something being true for a particular person. Of course something can be true from a particular perspective, but not so some people. To say that something in only true for a particular person, as opposed to context, is simply to say that it's not true.

1f) The approach to truth, advocated in those versus you cite suffer from the logical fallacy of affirming the consequent. If A implies B, and B is true (or works), this does not say anything at all about the truth of A.

2a) You must be working with a rather limited sense of responsibility. I want to take credit not only for what actions I make, but also for the beliefs which I have. I want my actions to be expressions of what I think, not what somebody else thinks.

2b) You can't claim that God is going to put the responsibility for you doing something on the shoulders of somebody else in one breath and then claim that we are not giving up responsibility by following our leaders in the next. Either we are accepting responsibility for our actions or we are not, be those actions good or bad. I utterly refuse to give up responsibility either way.

2c) It is possible to freely give up one's agency by giving themselves up to somebody else's discretion. This is exactly what I see you advocating, but this is the very antithesis of creativity and responisibility as I see it. This is the difference between choosing a path which somebody else lays out for you (this BTW, is exactly what those who followed Satan in the preexistence are supposed to have done), and creating a path which you take full responsibility for.

3a) Just a little note, I was talking about making myself and those around in the church better, not making the church as an organization better. I don't really care what happens to an organization, only to those people which are in it.

3b) That is the difference between feedback and criticm. Feedback is going to the leader (which you seem to think is only okay when such feedback is requested) and telling them what you think, and criticism is telling somebody else what you think about what that leader is doing. Of course, I advocate the first, even when it's not requested, but I also think that second is justified as well. Remember, I care about the people and what they think and do, not the organization.

3c) No, the church is a democracy, but it is a construct. What the church is depends upon what people, both inside as well as outside, think about it. This, it seems to me, is yet another reason why I should discuss these things (read: criticisms) with people.

3d) That said, however, democracies do not please everybody either, nor are they as chaotic as you seem to imply. I don't see how the admission and recognition of bottom-up revelation or criticism denies either of these elements within the church.

3e) Indeed, since criticisms are the expression of people not being pleased, do you really suggest that the best approach to such a situation is for such people and their criticisms to go unrecognized?

4a) Yes, I understand how you happen to think that church can best be made better. Nevertheless, this isn't simply a matter of "I have my opinions and you have yours." The question is whether somebody's opinion can be justified in any way.

4b) Your definition of being loyal and true to the prophet is disappointing. Is your definition of a wife's being loyal and true to a husband her simply following along with whatever he says, even when she has serious problems with it?

4c) We know very little of wha the City of Enoch was like. We also have little idea what, exactly, was entailed by the "one heart and one mind" description. If it is really meant to be a city where everybody thinks and feels exactly alike, as your version would seem to suggest, I would never want to live there. Talk about stifling creativity to the extreme!

4d) Yes, the prophet is supposed to be God's mouthpiece. The problem is that they are also their own mouthpiece's, and when they don't distinguish when they are being one rather than the other, they simply make it fair game to be criticized in a responsible manner.


Again, sorry about the extraordinarily tedious response. Nevertheless, I think that I have set up some serious objections which could use a bit more detailed attention than they seem to have gotten.

M&M said...

Jeff,
I think we are operating on different assumptions. My assumptions include that:
1. There is such a thing as capital-T truth. One of the roles of prophets is to teach such Truth, especially about the Savior, the plan of salvation, and God's commandments.
2. Scriptures and prophets can be relied on for Truth. That does not mean they are 100% perfect all of the time, but they are there to give us God's Truth to guide us in our mortal and spiritual journey. God's Truths have always been taught through prophets. Not that we can't receive our own inspiration as well, but in the case of Truths that apply to everyone (who we are, who God is, what His commandments are, etc.), including the standards by which we will be judged, those are the prophets' job to delineate.

I am frankly confused by some of your responses, because you seem to be challenging basic assumptions of our faith that most members accept. Taking those things away really takes away a large part of what the Restoration was. It was a restoration of authority, of living prophetic guidance, of revelation of Truth and divine direction in a living Church led by the Savior.

I hesitate to respond much more, but will give it another try, since you seem to want me to address your points. In no particular order....

2a and 2b. OK, I understand more of what you mean by personal responsibility. If you don't want someone (i.e., a prophet) giving you Truth in which to believe, then what appeals to you about Mormonism? (I'm making the assumption you are a member of the LDS Church.) I feel the leaders do have a special responsibility on their shoulders, but I don't believe that completely absolves me from mine, either. On the flip side, I believe the Lord will hold me responsible for how I respond to them one way or the other, so that's another layer of responsibility that means something to me. The Lord has said that one way to receive Him is to receive His servants.

To say that something in only true for a particular person, as opposed to context, is simply to say that it's not true.

I think this may be an issue of semantics. Someone may not believe in God, but that doesn't mean that God does not exist. But no one can be forced to accept Truth. The degree to which people accept Truth does not determine if such Truth is indeed true. Some Truth just is.

2c, etc. I hear you placing creativity and individuality as of higher importance than obedience. Is that correct?

Worse still, but closely related, we are dealing here with value and morals, things which cannot be subjected to tests of any kind at all.

I disagree. There are objective measures that demonstrate that sexual purity, for example, is beneficial. There are also subjective measures that show that values such as kindness, integrity, and many others are beneficial.

That said, the test of Truth will not usually come from mortal sources and measures. At some point, the test becomes spiritual, and that is a do-able test. (This is yet another assumption of Mormonism that I wonder if we share.)

This is the difference between choosing a path which somebody else lays out for you (this BTW, is exactly what those who followed Satan in the preexistence are supposed to have done), and creating a path which you take full responsibility for.

God was the one who presented a plan, a path. Satan simply wanted to destroy agency. God, however, has given us a path that we need to follow in order to return to Him. I don't follow your logic here. He never said, "Go down and make your way! Good luck!" He established a pattern whereby we could know the path -- and know the way (and the Way).

Your concept of "full responsibility" almost seems to ignore the Atonement, for if we had to take full responsibility (carry the full weight of our choices), none of us would have a chance at eternal life. I don't understand your logic here.

1d) I also worry about your using the scriptures, the sources for most of what the leaders say, as a test for the truth of the statements which these leaders pronounce from those same scriptures. Internal consistency does not imply truthfulness of any kind.

You worry about me using the scriptures. Again, I am confused. The assumption within our faith is that scriptures are a source of Truth, especially when their Truths are confirmed by living prophets and the Spirit. If we don't agree on that, I fail to see how we will really be able to agree on much of anything.

Feedback is going to the leader (which you seem to think is only okay when such feedback is requested) and telling them what you think, and criticism is telling somebody else what you think about what that leader is doing.

Just to clarify, I never said we only give feedback when requested. I have given unsolicited feedback before.

4c. I don't think Enoch's city lacked individuality and creativity. But I do suspect they had some shared beliefs and assumptions about Truth. And I think we know more about the city of Enoch than you seem to want to admit.

4d. I think the law of witnesses helps us figure out when they are speaking as prophets. There is so much consistency in what they teach that I don't think it is hard to see where the divine threads are in their words.

3e.
I think our leaders are much more aware of people's displeasure than you may think, and I think they care about people's perspectives. They are constantly traveling among the people and meeting with local leaders and members. I believe they care deeply about people, and do all they can to reach out and help. However, they also expect us to do our part in caring about and sustaining them - not because they seek that for their own egos, but by virtue of their callings.

4b.
I see my relationship to the prophet and my relationship with my husband as very different. I am not a personal partner with the prophet but I am with my husband. I am to work with my husband and counsel together. That is not my role with my leaders. They have their councils and I take their counsel to heart. I'm sorry you find my approach disappointing. What's confusing is that I'm not an anomaly. Most people in the Church have a dedication to following our prophets, believing them to be the Lord's mouthpieces. Again, I see that we have different assumptions.

3d. Actually, I find our politics often very chaotic. :) But, in a sense, this is comparing apples to oranges. We are not supposed to run like a government. Inspiration and divine authority add dimensions to the Church that make it different from any organzation on earth.

The question is whether somebody's opinion can be justified in any way.

A foundation of our faith is prophetic guidance. I think that adds a level of justification that is significant when discussing and searching for Truth, especially related to the plan and commandments of God and the Atonement.

3a) Just a little note, I was talking about making myself and those around in the church better, not making the church as an organization better. I don't really care what happens to an organization, only to those people which are in it.

What standards do you look to toward that end? What "truths" are the basis of what "better" means? What measures, values and morals do you base your assessments on? I confess I'm not quite sure what your ideals are in this regard.

Feel free to respond if you would like. I am thinking, however, that we might be getting to a place where we will have to agree to disagree. I think we will probably end up going 'round and 'round.... :)

M&M said...

jm,
Thanks for your clarifications.

Tigersue,
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. (Thanks also for the link you mentioned in another comment...glad to have you here!) :)

Floyd the Wonderdog said...

I've had a mission president and a stake president called on the carpet by the General Authorities. The SP changed the HT and VT program to monthly group meetings. The mission president taught his opinions as gospel, such as *if you're not married within a year of returning from your mission, you won't go to the celestial kingdom.* In the case of the SP, he clearly and knowingly went against the program of the church and the teachings of the brethren in pursuit of higher statistics.

In the history of the church, there have even been apostles who have apostacized. The scriptures promise us that if we follow the prophet, we will not go astray. I would contact church headquarters if my SP tried to reinstate polygamy without an announcement from church headquarters.

Steve M. said...

I'm not sure about the Adam-God thing and how much it was repeated, but other examples seem to me to be, again, not repeated, constant, "mainstream" doctrines that have been taught repeatedly by our leaders.

Adam-God was taught primarily over a period of about 5 years. Brigham mentioned it in both public and private discourse (it is attested to in the personal journals of many Saints), explained it in detail, and even added it to the lecture that took place in the temple before patrons passed through the veil. Eventually, the doctrine worked its way out of his preaching, but there's evidence that suggests he believed it right down to the end. Most of the Brethren embraced the doctrine, but others (esp. Orson Pratt) never accepted it, which caused some tension.

I've read at least one thing that suggests that "Adam-God" is not being understood correctly

You're probably thinking of McConkie's attempt in Mormon Doctrine to reconcile the doctrine with modern Mormon theology. Unfortunately, McConkie was either unaware of or ignored the many sources that spell out the details of Brigham's doctrine. He based his reconciliation solely on one BY statement (which is probably the most oft-quoted one relating to Adam-God): "[Adam] is our Father and our God, and the only God with whom we have to do." McConkie reasoned that Brigham was probably referring to Adam as the father of the human family, and indicating that he had gone on and received his exaltation, or godhood. That sounds reasonable, but it doesn't take into account Brigham's statements to the effect that Heavenly Father came down to earth as a resurrected being with one of his wives, Eve, and they partook of earthly fruit until they were able to give birth to mortal children. In light of these (and other) statements, McConkie's reconciliation really doesn't hold up.

In a crude way of thinking, if you simply look at the statistical chances of prophetic guidance being right, they are very high. Again, especially when you consider the law of witnesses being clearly invoked, I see little validity in assuming prophets might be wrong.

What "statistical chances" are we talking about? What basis could there possibly be for such calculations? I don't think there's any way to quantify the likelihood of prophetic infallibility.

There are examples of erroneous doctrines that were consistently taught by a number of leaders (most notably would be the racist myths about blacks), but I'd rather not get into those at this point. The point is, sometimes incorrect ideas are advanced by not just one, but several leaders, which means the law of witnesses may not be an absolute, fool-proof test of validity. It helps, but is not sufficient in to establish the truth of any particular teaching.

Well, I'm beginning to think this conversation has run its course, at least as far as my involvement goes. I hate to say it, but we may have to agree to disagree. How the leaders of the Church figure into spirituality is going to differ from person to person. If you've got something that works for you, that's great, but I honestly feel that my take on things is what works best for me. It may sound too relativist, but that is the way I see things.

M&M said...

Yup. I think this conversation has about run its course. Thanks for the lively conversation. :)