Beliefs Culture Faith Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

‘The prophet will never lead the LDS Church astray,’ and other Mormon here …

“The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty.”

Pres. Wilford Woodruff, October 1890, after the announcement that polygamy would no longer be practiced by Latter-day Saints

“The prophet will never lead the Church astray.” How many times do we hear that comforting statement in Mormon circles?

Some Mormons use it to comfort themselves when the Church has done something that just doesn’t feel right, whether it’s prohibiting the baptism of children of same-sex couples or denying the priesthood to blacks: “This must be God’s will despite what my conscience is telling me, because the prophet will never lead the Church astray.”

Others use it to bludgeon people who can’t fall in line behind whatever policy the Church has supported: “You must be apostate, because the prophet has spoken, and we have been taught that the prophet will never lead the Church astray. So either get with the program or get out.”

The problem with this understanding of prophets is that it contradicts one of the bedrock doctrines of Mormonism: agency.

Mormon theology is predicated upon a belief that every person is free to choose right from wrong, and that for individuals to progress in the gospel toward eternal life, there must always be an opposition so their choices are real.

Believing that, de facto and without exception, no prophet will ever lead the church astray removes this agency three times over.

First, we strip agency from LDS church members when we tell them there is only one way to think, and it happens to be whatever the prophet is teaching right now, at this particular moment, even if that contradicts what other prophets have said in the past about the same issue or will likely say in the future.

Second, we deny agency to the prophet when we teach that he has no choice but to do the Lord’s will. Prophets in scripture don’t typically carry this burden; they blunder often. They might run away (Jonah), ply their prophetic trade for financial gain (Balaam), or succumb to serious depression (Elijah, Jeremiah)—in other words, be human.

And third, we deny agency to the church as a living creation whenever we teach that it cannot make a real mistake. The church is a dynamic and life-giving organism with its own origin story, mission, and holy end. We do it a disservice when we cease to remember that it is not an institution that stands outside of the beautiful, agentic human beings who are its living members.

So many Mormons say this is the “true and living” church  . . . but then proceed to squeeze the very life out of it. Let’s think about this. The secret sauce that makes something alive as opposed to merely existent is its capacity for growth. And in classic Mormon belief, a capacity for growth and progress isn’t possible without an equal capacity for screwing it up.

We owe it to the church, and to ourselves, to allow it to be the true and living organism we insist that it is.

With that in mind, what if there is another, less facile, way of understanding this notion that the prophet cannot lead the church astray?

What if, instead of envisioning the church as a brittle, fragile, abstract concept that needs to be protected at all costs, we recognize the power and resilience in the church’s flawed humanity from the prophet on down?

And what if, along with that, we understood that when (not if) the prophet makes mistakes, the church possesses within itself the resources to not only recover but to grow and thrive because those very mistakes have enabled it to learn new truths?

The church, that marvelous collection of all of us saintly sinners and sinnerly saints, will err and repent and err and repent, just like we do individually, on its path toward the sterling end that God has promised.

And what a promise that is. The church will not be led astray because at the end of all things, it will be made one with God.

That is a powerful and precious telos. Let’s not pollute its promise with idolatrous fantasies about how every step of the path to that divine end will be an unrelenting linear progression toward God.

The church is on a journey, just as we are. Let’s give it the space it needs to be true and living, not just true and dead.


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About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (Random House/Convergent, 2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church" (Oxford University Press, 2019). She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

110 Comments

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  • Wait a second… So Wilford Woodruff, wasn’t making a mistake when he said that…later prophets just made the mistake of interpreting him too narrowly…? Yeah, its all making sense now.

  • Brigham Young gave a talk to SLC 3rd ward, June 21, 1874 where he said that the saints as a general assembly 107:32 could overthrow the unrighteousness of the upper quorums and serve as a checks and balances and thereby declare if the president of the church, first presidency or quorum of twelve were preaching “things of this world”, or “things that are not of God”. He said that the saints had to live so that they could discern whether he [the prophet] was teaching truth or not. Brigham then laments and half jokingly gives a prophecy “how easy it would be for me to lead you astray!”

  • Jana, I enjoyed your post. BTW, Rock Waterman’s blog Pure Mormonism did a thorough takedown of Woodruff’s promise. I can be pedantic and don’t mean to patronize with my comments. Your analysis has implications that go to the core of mormonism…implications that suggest why the Church can’t take the track you suggest.

    If the prophet CAN err, and in egregious cases lead the church astray (think polygamy, polyandry, race and the priesthood, etc.) what does that imply about Mormon “specialness”? I mean, what sets Mormons apart from other religious groups, if not the belief in the unerring guidance of God directly in the Mormon church? When I was a missionary I preached out of the Bruce R. McConkie-written rainbow discussions that people on this earth are confused, fearful, and don’t know where to turn. I taught that God has called a living prophet today, no different than Isaiah, Moses, or Jeremiah. That the modern day prophet walks and talks with God just as the prophets of old did. Of course, the overwhelming evidence is that none of that is true. But I did not have the internet in the 80s.

    What are we to make of the church’s claims that IT ALONE administers the Gospel of Christ in its “true” and “correct” manner?

    Further, what then supports the top-down authoritarianism that marks current Church governance? If I no longer believe leaders to be “inspired”, my disagreement with them no longer suggests a rift with God him/herself. Instead, my disagreement is merely with a mere mortal and no longer takes on cosmic implications.

    These are just a few of a host of questions that inevitably follow when we acknowledge that perhaps the Church CAN make a mistake. If we are susceptible to error like other groups, what makes Mormons singular and an organization to join? It was brutal enough tracting in South Africa when I thought the Church was unique on all of these points. I can’t imagine trying to obtain a baptism now with all of the factual information available through Google. The Church has painted itself into a corner with its fantastic and absolutist claims that are now crumbling with ever-mounting evidence and scientific analysis.

  • I have always held this attitude and have been able to remain strong in the church. However we can’t allow small groups of dissenting members to direct the course or doctrines of the church, just because they believe the prophet has made mistakes regarding a certain issue.

  • What makes the LDS Church “true and living” is the ability for all individual members of the Church to be inspired by the Holy Ghost, both to follow the prophet as well as to perceive errors or problems. The errors and problems are of men, not of the Spirit or revelation. “There have been times when even the President of the Church has not been moved upon by the Holy Ghost. There is, I suppose you’d say, a classic story of Brigham Young in the time when Johnston’s army was on the move. The Saints were all inflamed, and President Young had his feelings whetted to fighting pitch. He stood up in the morning session of general conference and preached a sermon vibrant with defiance at the approaching army, declaring an intention to oppose them and drive them back. In the afternoon he rose and said that Brigham Young had been talking in the morning but the Lord was going to talk now. He then delivered an address the tempo of which was the exact opposite of the morning sermon.” – Teachings of Harold B. Lee, p. 542.

  • I stand by the concept that the Lord’s prophet will not lead those who follow him to stray from the path of salvation, whether or not individual items may not be perfection. I have no such confidence in the rantings of the church’s dissidents who are worthy of no such allegiance or consideration.

  • Elder Marion G. Romney concluded his October 1960 General Conference address thus:

    I remember years ago when I was a bishop I had President Grant talk to our ward. After the meeting, I drove him home. At that time there was a great deal of criticism against the President of the Church because of a front-page editorial some of you may remember. We talked about it. When we got to his home I got out of the car and went up on the porch with him. Standing by me, he put his arm over my shoulder and said: “My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church, and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it.” Then with a twinkle in his eye, he said, “But you don’t need to worry. The Lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray.”

    I have thought much about that. I remember that counselors in the Presidency have been deceived. I remember that members of the Twelve have been deceived and left the Church, and men in every other Council in the Church have been deceived. But there has never been a President of the Church, and according to President Grant, and I believe him, there never will be a President of this Church who will lead the people astray.

    We need not be led astray, my brethren. The safest way to avoid being led astray is to magnify our Priesthood. We should go on our knees, each one of us, morning and evening, and plead with Almighty God to keep us in the way of magnifying our callings in this great Priesthood. We should live righteously. We should resist every temptation of lust. When we harbor lustful thoughts and participate in lustful practices, we cannot see these great principles clearly, and we get into the dark.

    If, in addition to living righteously, we will study and learn what the Lord has said and apply the tests I have suggested, we shall never go astray. God help us, I pray, that we shall remain true and faithful ourselves, and help all of the members of the Church to see clearly, thereby placing themselves among those who take the Holy Spirit for their guide and are not deceived, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

    http://scriptures.byu.edu/gettalk.php?ID=1103

  • Warren Jeffs is the True Real Prophet of the Church, the LDS church fell away when they rejected plural marriage and after gave the priesthood to blacks.

  • Except, Jeff’s church has yet to fulfill prophecy. Has it filled the whole earth? Are they sending missionaries to all corners of the world? Have they made the desert blossom as the rose?

  • Well said, Castiel. I would add that the polygamy policy change was not supported or popular with a number of members of the Church at the time, even an apostle or two. There remain dissident groups to this day who reject the policy change against plural marriage saying that the Holy Ghost tells them something different and so they can go ahead and continue polygamy. The examples of prophets being human in this article do not seem to have to do with doctrines of salvation. The problem with this blog is that policy changes away from animal sacrifice or plural marriage can also be questioned if the Holy Ghost is just about individual members. No error impacting salvation will be permitted by THE prophet. The Lord would immediately correct it. And those other errors? God has chosen those spiritually and temporary experienced leaders who counsel together often and seek God’s guidance carefully, and they do have the Holy Spirit, and if we feel differently from them, then there is a strong presumption we are the ones in error.

  • And my favorite quote comes into play again (response to article, not to the comments).

    “We should bear in mind that, as yet, its [the Restored Gospel’s] practice is but imperfectly developed. Although perfect principles may be readily enunciated, it is a slow process, and one that requires time, for a people with minds filled with all the false traditions of the age, and with habits commingling with the most extreme opposites, to attain to perfection in practice. But this is an event which, although it may be far in the distance, is surely before us, for we know we have the true starting point.”

    -Eliza R. Snow, 24 July 1874 address

  • I have to agree with you, Castiel. And in all honesty, this sounds like someone trying to justify feeling differently from the Church and believing that our Prophets are wrong because it would be convenient for their opinions if they were so. I honestly do believe, looking at some of church history, that there has been a prophet or two taken from this earth before being allowed to lead the church in an improper direction from which it would be difficult to turn. Agency is all well and good, and yes, I think the Lord HAS allowed even great prophets to make some real mistakes. But when one man’s agency affects millions of people, that’s a very different story. A loving God would not make His church pay for the mistakes of its leaders. He gives them the chance to correct their mistakes, but when there are such far-reaching consequences, then He must step in at some point.

  • Small groups of dissenting members don’t have the institutional power to direct the course or doctrines of the church. However, if we can feel comfortable with the idea that the leaders and church can get something wrong, we can listen with compassion and grace to dissenting voices, still embrace them as part of the church, and entertain the idea that there may be much to learn from them – rather than silencing them and missing the opportunity to grow.

  • Well said. It should be noted also that when it comes to things like polygamy, or blacks and the priesthood…throughout those times, the apostleship was somewhat divided on those issues, many believing those policies to be in error and not, ultimately, where God would lead His church. Heck, even Joseph Smith seriously hesitated when it came to polygamy. When an entire governing body of apostles is in unanimous agreement on an issue, that says something a little different to me. Apostles often differ in their approaches to policies and applications, but rarely, if ever, on points of genuine doctrine. Particularly these days, when Prophets are very careful about what they say, and when, and how. One man may be wrong, even several. But when ALL are in agreement, when ALL have prayed and fasted and sought guidance from the Lord and come to the same answer…that is the way the Church is meant to go. We have witnesses for a reason. These men are all witnesses to the Prophet. We need to listen to that, whether we like what we hear or not.

  • If the prophet is wrong, then what’s the alternative? Just do our own thing, I guess? Then why have a prophet in the first place?

  • I think the point being made here is that too many dissenters feel that because their opinion is different, or they feel less comfortable with a doctrine, then that must mean that the Prophets are wrong and will eventually change course to align more with the dissenters’ beliefs. It can become dangerous to assume that the Prophets are making a mistake simply because we don’t like what they’re saying. Compassion is necessary, yes, but when compassion takes on the form of total allowance for any predilection no matter how contrary to doctrine, I consider that more enabling than compassion. This mantra of “compassion” has become twisted to mean that we have no business telling people that something they may be doing is wrong or harmful. We are more concerned about a person’s mortal ego than we are about their eternal progression, and that is where compassion takes it too far. Contrary to popular belief, people can be loving and compassionate and still firmly disagree or even disapprove of a particular habit or action or behavior.

  • I am struggling to understand your premise that the maxim “the Prophet will not lead the Church astray”
    (whether or not actually accurate) somehow removes agency. All three groups you identify are still free to act and choose and make decisions, with opposition readily apparent. I believe you are confounding the actual choice-making with the inevitability of the consequences.

    But doesn’t that reflect the entirety of the Gospel? We are told that ultimately Satan will lose and be cast out and Christ will reign. For those who believe that sort of prophecy, have the believers lost their agency by knowing the ultimate destiny of the universe?

  • There’s more going on than just people not liking what church leaders are saying. People are feeling the spirit telling them that teachings or policies are not only wrong, but actually harming people in profound ways. If you feel the spirit telling you that, you have a duty to speak out.

  • OK. Let’s say you are right about this with all the caveats about “when all are in agreement”. How do you know when they are all in agreement? I think official pronouncements by the leaders as a group are very rare. However, I think the apostles and other church leaders make dogmatic statements that reflect their own personal beliefs all the time. In fact, Elder Bruce R. McConkie (who I enjoyed listening to much of the time) published a book with the audacious name of “Mormon Doctrine” even after President McKay asked him not to. It got edited, but the prophet still didn’t want it published. But Elder McConkie did it any way. And the book was widely quoted in church meetings, and is still today, although it is not a church sanctioned work. It is not equivalent to scripture. And it asserts things as doctrine that has since been disavowed–like racial identity being a punishment for behavior in the pre-existence (where in the heck did that racist idea even come from?).
    I am not saying this to bash Elder McConkie. I just want to be clear. Church leaders talks almost always fall into 3-4 categories: 1) doctrine, 2) policy, 3) practice, custom or cultural norms in the church, and 4) their own opinions. It is important to differentiate between these categories when we listen to our leaders. They have different weight and meaning to them. If a prophet likes the New York Yankees or French Onion Soup and publicly states it, it doesn’t make it doctrine. Or if He says I like it when women wear dresses and not pants to church, it isn’t doctrine or even policy–it is a practice. Taking the sacrament with your right hand is a practice. Being buried instead of cremated is somewhere between a practice and a policy–certainly not doctrinal. There are many examples of this.
    There is a famous story where someone went into President Harold B. Lee’s office and saw he was reading a Cleo Skousen book and had made 3 kinds of notations in the margins: “D”, “O” and “BS”. When asked about it, he replied that the D was for doctrine, the O was for opinion and the BS stood for “Brother Skousen”. Great sense of humor, and also a lesson for all of us for how to think about things we hear in church meetings, from missionaries and from local and general leaders. President Lee was showing the way for how to think about books and ideas that are being taught as “truth” or “doctrinal interpretations”. The leaders are not all clones of each other who agree on everything–they have agency. God does not dictate or interfere with everything the church does.
    It is also completely legitimate response to give a church leader to say, “I want to study this out in my mind and heart and pray about it before I am ready to accept this new idea”. And I am willing to wager that most of the people who participated in Mountain Meadows probably came to wish, later on, that they had not taken part in this instruction from church leaders and that they had taken time to ponder and pray about it before getting involved. That is the most extreme example, but not the only one.
    I love the prophet. But he is not God or Jesus. He does not always speak for them. He is not infallible. And I think most prophets are very cautious, as has been said here, about issuing new doctrinal types of statements. Many have expressed that they do not want church members to take everything they said as a “revelation from God”. You can read Joseph F. Smith’s long discussion of this topic given under sworn oath before a committee of congressmen during the Reed Smoot hearings.

  • the LDS church DEMANDS Exactness from members; is there a less-demanding, less exacting standard for ‘the only true church…’? I guess so.

  • “Heck, even Joseph Smith seriously hesitated when it came to polygamy.” LOL! I guess “30-40” wives as per the lds.org essay counts as “seriously hesitated”.

  • the LDS church DEMANDS exactness from members in the most minute matters… Is there a lesser standard for ‘the only true & living church’? Remember, the prophet’s Only function is to SERVE as a conduit for God’s mind/will! (see ‘Profiles of a Prophet’!) Cutting the church so much slack (‘Give brother Joseph a break’) is nauseating!

  • My friends occasionally post articles like these, and I wander over out of pure curiosity. It never fails to remind me how glad I am that I escaped this religion. The amount of mental gymnastics in both the article and the comments makes me smile.

    I wish you all the best of luck in your continued justifications and rationalizations.

  • IMO, there are only six types of church offices that have any power to exercise “dominion”, righteous or unrighteous, in the church. Those offices are, 1) General Authorities, 2) Area Authorities, 3) Mission Presidents, 4) Temple Presidents, 5) Stake Presidents, and 6) Bishops. Nobody else has any authority to speak or pass judgments officially on behalf of the church.
    A very interesting side note about this is that the last part of Section D&C 121, as far as it pertains to the church, is pretty much written exclusively to the above list of people. A parent might exercise dominion in their home, and others have the power to do it elsewhere. But in the church, only the above people make decisions.
    To me, that very clearly means that the Lord’s cautionary warning about how to exercise authority and not to exercise unrighteous dominion, as far as it pertains to the church, is being given exclusively to these people. No one else can do it even if they were of a disposition to do so. The Lord’s warning is that it is the “nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they have a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion”.
    I think it is a pretty bold statement to say, in contradiction to this, that our leaders do not have the “nature and disposition” to ever exercise unrighteous dominion. If you believe the D&C is revelation, then this expresses God’s voice on this subject. I think the more humble leaders in the church are well aware of the authority and accompanying responsibility they have and are very cautious about making pronouncements that could be interpreted as “speaking for God”.
    But, they are all human (in this case, male humans), and I think that it is possible for them to slip into this area if they are not careful, judicious and humble when they are speaking in public or semi-public places.

  • Believing that a prophet is the end all and that everything that comes from a prophet’s mouth is to be believed is called brainwashing. If a person wants to be brainwashed, that’s up to them.

  • The Holy Ghost inspires people. ?Well I believe that everyone, Mormons or not, every one on this planet has a spiritual guide and have the same opportunities to live a worthy life filled with opportunities to progress. The Mormon church does not have the so called benefit of the Holy Ghost to guide them. A Heavenly Father does not give one group of people access while another group does not. Or one group, such as spiritual leaders , or prophets, apostles, in this day and age the sole responsibility of receiving revelation. All of us non members have the spiritual ability to receive inspiration.

  • When I was an active member 10 years ago, it was my understanding and we were taught this that the Counsel of the Twelve apostles were also prophets and we were to follow them unquestionally.

  • Thank you for your post Jana. The fact that current church leadership has let it be known that there were no doctrinal reasons for previous church leaders to deny the priesthood to blacks demonstrates that church leaders can and have indeed guided the church down wrong paths. David’s murder of Uriah is another example of a prophet leading people astray. I find it ironic that President Woodruff’s declaration, which is so often interpreted as prophetic infallibility, is included in the official declaration reversing a previous President’s implementation of the temporal practice of polygamy. Of particular interest to me in this case is the vision President Woodruff relates that the Lord would not protect the church if it continued in the practice of polygamy.
    This doesn’t mean that one can’t sustain the prophet, it just means we can acknowledge their direction can sometimes be wrong. Hopefully in those cases, such guidance is eventually corrected sooner than later.

  • You just asked the $64,000 question. Why does God require churches? WOrship? MOney? dominion?

  • Outstanding post, Jana. Thanks for taking on this misunderstanding, and for showing a better alternative way of thinking about the issue.

  • The agency of the Prophet is certainly in question if we are to believe the Lord will not allow him to make a wrong choice; that is someone else’s plan. Now I don’t believe the Lord forces us to make one choice over another; you state as much in your comment. That means, then, for you and I, it MUST be possible for a Prophet to make a wrong choice to include one that will lead the church astray in spite of President Woodruff’s statement.

  • Very good point. If these leaders couldn’t make wrong choices for the church, there would be no reason for the Section 121 instructions you mention.

  • I didn’t say church in that case, I said people. Uriah certainly didn’t benefit. It certainly shows to be false the premise that prophets are infallible.

  • Sometimes the truth hurts. If a “spirit” is telling them something contrary to God’s prophets and scripture, then it’s the wrong spirit.

    “For the kingdom of the devil must shake, and they which belong to it must needs be stirred up unto repentance, or the devil will grasp them with his everlasting chains, and they be stirred up to anger, and perish;
    For behold, at that day shall he rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good.” (2 Nep: 28:19-20)

    Fifteen prophets, seers and revelators can’t all be wrong.

  • Jana makes good points. Bruce McConkie gave a talk years ago called the seven deadly heresies. This would be the next on the list. Even reading the comments there are people bending themselves into a pretzel trying to defend the idea the prophet or all 15 united will never lead us astray.

  • We have to believe that is true otherwise how can we know what God’s will is for the church as a whole or why even have a church? Without such a quorum of leadership keeping doctrines pure and consistent we would be blown by every wind of doctrine coming from all different angles. No need to bend into a pretzel; just stating a necessary fact.

  • I think Wilford Woodruff’s statement stands. A prophet unwilling to do the Lord’s bidding can be removed by his death. Even Joseph was told he could be removed from his place. Are the prophets perfect? No. Did Peter question the Lord (and need a later reminder) about Gentiles and the Gospel? Yes. But still the revelation was to him and it was for him to implement. So the prophet retains (at least some) agency. But given the prophet is changed by his death, it is reasonable to conclude that he can be stopped from misusing his position of authority (or at least of continuing to do so).

    As to us? The prophets leave our agency fully intact. We can elect to follow or not. That is always the choice we face (over and over again). And it is at the very heart of the opposition we constantly face. I have covenants to keep and keeping them is not always easy. But whatever I decide to do with my agency does not give me the means or standing to set the course for the church – only for myself.

    The agency of the church is simply the aggregate agency of the individual members. It has no separate existence of which I am aware so speaking of its agency simply doubles down on the agency of the members.

    But I do agree that the church is not a “brittle, fragile, abstract concept that needs to be protected at all costs”. It will thrive and go onward with or without me as an individual. Agreed also that “at the end of all things, it will be made one with God.” But for us to receive that blessing as individuals we must be living in accordance with our covenants and in harmony with the Holy Ghost.

  • Some people start with an idea(never lead astray) because they have a certain view of the gospel then circle the wagons around the idea. The historical record tells us otherwise. It may be unsettling and scary but that’s where the evidence leads.

  • But there really haven’t been that many “mistakes” in the history of the church that have put a lot of people’s eternal lives in jeopardy. And we also know that even if we do follow a prophet who has made a mistake; God will not hold us responsible for it; but rather the one who made the mistake will have to answer for it.

  • The record is clear and unmistakable that huge mistakes can be found in the church. That idea seems very unsettling to you Tyson. I get it. It is easier to believe we will never be led astray. You sleep better at night.

  • Did I say it was unsettling to me? No. There is so much that is good and right about the church and gospel that makes my life happy and fulfilled that I don’t worry at all about a few mistakes that someone might make.

  • The quote by Wilford Woodruff, the prophet will never lead the church astray is more than just a 1890 conference talk, it is in the Doctrine and Covenants and the LDS Church accepts it as scripture. It is the mind, will, voice of the Lord. Following the sustained leaders of the Lord’s church is a hallmark of discipleship. A disciple does not openly, consistently question the teachings of sustained
    leaders as if they are “authentic.”

    In contrast, a hallmark of Lucifer’s teachings is to teach the doctrine and commandments of women mingled with scripture. Those who harden their hearts and reject the teachings of the prophets today their words will one day turn to their own condemnation.

  • The LDS church does not claim exclusive access to the Holy Ghost. We do claim, through confirmation, entitlement to guidance from the Holy Ghost as a consequence of living God’s laws and serving others. The difference is that Mormons enter into an explicit agreement with terms and conditions that must be met, something of a contract with God, signified through a priesthood ordinance. This agreement is not required in order to feel the influence of the Holy Ghost, but we do believe that God has commanded that His children commit to living righteously in this way.

  • Jana Riess is an apostate. She needs to practice her faith to convert to it, because the Church is true, instead of maligning her faith to convert it to loose liberal license.

  • I don’t like giving examples like this because I know they can potentially harm faith, which is not a goal or ideal of mine. But how about these:
    1) Paul withstanding Peter “to the face” on the Gentile issue, and Peter changing his views and teachings and ending up entombed in a Gentile Vatican sarcophagus, as legend claims. 2) According to Nephi, (we don’t have Lehi or Laman’s accounts, which would be fascinating), Nephi had to call his father, the prophet, to repentance for losing his faith. 3) Joseph Smith teaching polyandry. 4) Joseph Smith ordering a group to smash the Nauvoo Expositor, which had reported pretty factually, but just uses different words than what Joseph called spiritual wives. 5) Brigham Young teaching that couples with mixed race marriages would go to hell. 6) Brigham Young teaching Adam was God—and never backing off from it. 7) Brigham Young and Joseph Smith keeping a few hard cases around to do dirty work for them, including Porter Rockwell, Bill Hickman, John D. Lee, Dr. Samson Avard. and others. 8) Joseph Smith urging Saints to invest in the Kirkland Safety Society, causing many to lose lots of money. 9) Spencer Kimball saying a woman would be better off dying rather than giving up her “virtue” in a rape. Besides being sexist, it also diminishes the power of Christ’s infinite atonement, as if the atonement couldn’t cleanse a rape victim 100%. And in fact, in many cases these victims are not sinners and don’t even need the atonement’s healing power. They are victims. 10) President Hinckley getting duped and buying Mark Hoffman’s forged documents. 11) Current command that all YM must go on a mission. Attrition rate for non-missionaries is almost 100%, as I understand it. 12) Joseph Smith claiming the Book of Abraham was “translated”, when it clearly was not a true physical translation.

    Point is, the prophets were not, and are not perfect. They are not beatified or deified. They are hard working, sincere men trying to lead in the God’s way. But whether we like it or not, they sometimes make mistakes. Now whether those teaching will cost our salvation, I am doubtful. But I am glad that we have the institutional humility to recognize and be honest on some of these issues and tell the truth.

  • Jana, you make the same mistake in your argument that those you complain about make — paying attention to only the first phrase of President Woodruff’s statement. What is completely missed by both you and others, is the second part, “…if I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place…”
    That is a fact that has been repeated throughout Church history, as Apostles, other General Authorities, Stake Presidents and Bishops have been removed out of their place before they could create too much damage to the Church.
    Woodruff’s statement is the foundation of what the Lord was telling Joseph Smith in D&C 3 — “Get in line, or I’ll find someone else to do it,” was the paraphrased message in verse 4. Thankfully, the Lord is merciful and kind, and allows for repentance. Both for us, and for prophets!

  • “We deny agency to the prophet when we teach that he has no choice but to
    do the Lord’s will. Prophets in scripture don’t typically carry this
    burden; they blunder often. They might run away (Jonah), ply their
    prophetic trade for financial gain (Balaam), or succumb to serious
    depression (Elijah, Jeremiah)—in other words, be human.”

    Okay, lots of problems here: How do you reconcile this line of reasoning with Christ who said that he only does what he has seen the Father do? According to what you’ve stated, Jesus has no agency.

    What’s wrong with using our agency to follow the prophet, exactly? ‘Oh, that’s blind obedience,’ Yes. Exactly. What’s wrong with that? Is giving up our will to do what we believe the Lord is asking us to do (yes, through following the prophet) some kind of evil thing? What do you think- that Abraham standing there ready to kill his only son knew an angel was going to come down and call the whole thing off?

    And let’s not forget about Mosiah 15:7: “Yea, even so he shall be led, crucified, and slain, the flesh becoming subject even unto death, the will of the Son being swallowed up in the will of the Father.”

    Because of Jesus allowing his own will to be subjected to the will of the Father, in the very next verse, we see the outcome is Christ’s triumph over death itself.

    There’s a lot to be learned about the power of subjecting one’s will to the will of the Lord. Those who trust the prophet will be blessed by the Lord. Yes, even if they do it blindly.

    Attacks coming in 3…2….1…

  • Hasn’t the LDS church at times said the leaders of the church that Christ founded lead the church into spiritually fatal errors, the ‘Great Apostasy’, for most of history, with God’s acquiescence?

    If we look back at Christian history, when groups of Christians became convinced that God would not net them make mistakes, tragedy usually resulted. The Hebrew Bible is filled with examples where leaders went astray, and were called back by lonely prophets, working outside the institutional structure (Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Elijah, for example).

    As Jana says well, God’s promises are about His ultimate plan for us, and are not guarantees about every about every step we take in life, whether we are the laity, or a church leader. This is why we must approach this with humility, realizing that we are all fallible, and placing our ultimate trust in God’s goodness and his plan for us ‘at the end of the day’.

  • You’ve basically dragged the very words of the prophets that the Church will not be lead astray through the mud such that they no longer have any meaning and should never have been uttered. Here are your fundamental flaws:

    The fact that the Church once didn’t give the priesthood to blacks and then changed policy is not necessarily a change from wrong to right, but a change from right for then to right for now. Thus again the Church was not lead astray by God’s prophets, and is not now.

    Likewise we all understand that prophets are fallible humans, but the idea that major Church policies such as who can or can’t be baptized can fit into their fallibility would certainly be leading the Church astray.

    So yes I find that God must have a purpose for this policy despite your clear political motives for opposing it, and a very appropriate response to your criticisms is in fact, “The prophet can’t lead the Church astray, so get with the program or get out.”

  • The LDS Church owes its existence to people being led ‘astray’ initially by Joseph Smith’s fraudulent tale of the gold plates. And then certain other people became known as prophets, and continued to perpetuate the holy hoax. The only question is whether these so-called prophets were/are gullible true believers, or whether they were/are clever people who saw a great scam opportunity to gain power, prestige, and some wealth . . . or maybe the awesome opportunity helped to delude them into being ‘true believers.’

    PS: I want to clarify that I am not singling out the LDS Church as a holy hoax. I feel the same about Christianity. But, because the LDS Church is a relatively recent invention right here in the United States, the fraud is just so much more obvious than in religions that originated thousands of years in another part of the globe. For this reason I think the LDS story is a great lesson in how religions are created.

  • If everyone would just read the scriptures for themselves and not just listen to the “Brethren,” pray to God and tell Him your concerns, ask Him for knowledge and Enlightenment, He will send His Spirit to reveal all truths to you. We must not trust in the arm of flesh. Put your trust in Jesus, who died for each one of us. Read your scriptures (especially when Christ visits the Nephites in 3rd Nephi, especially 3rd Nephi 16: 10-15, pretty scary stuff). You’ll notice that Christ talks of the fullness of the Gospel going to the Gentiles (the Mormons) and the Gentiles will sin against it and it WILL be taken away. It’s only a matter of time people. The Prophet (well actually Prophets because the Mormons consider all 15 of the Brethren to be Prophets, even though none of them ever prophecy or enlighten us with direct revelation from God like every other Prophet in the Scriptures has done) can, and will lead us astray. It’s up to the Body of Christ (the church) to be able to discern the truth of what the prophet says. Check out Ezekiel 14 (verse 9 especially.) The Lord says “And if the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet…” At the end of the day, I’d much rather put my trust in the Lord than any man. I’ve seen the “Brethren” from the stake I grew up in do some really terrible things to people. Things that ultimately ended up killing an elderly person my family used to take care of. At least the “Church” got a free house and some property in exchange for the man’s life. Very sad. Never again will I blindly follow. Christ is the way, let no man stand before you and tell you otherwise.

  • You need to be careful with this line of thought. Talking like this got me excommunicated. My bishop point blank told me I had to chose between Christ and him. When I chose Christ he set up a trial where he accused me of following Jesus over blind obedience to him. He even called me a billboard for Jesus. I challenged the discussion and a letter I was not allowed to see or read was read to me letting me know that Monson supported my excommunication. I fully agree with this article and pray that my fellow Mormons can wake up the leaders from spiritual darkness and apostasy.

  • The apostasy took place with the loss of the Apostles such that the keys were no longer on the earth.

  • The idea that “the lord will never allow the [leader of the LDS church] to make an error” is obviously absurd on its face. I have never understood how anyone can react to any statement by the church with anything but laughter.

    Beliefs like this are the reason the LDS church discourages members from doing too close a study of history. I am thinkg of such infamous statements as those of apostles Boyd Packer and Dallin Oaks, such as this well-known 1981 talk by Apostle Boyd K. Packer, “The Mantle is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect”, as reported in BYU Studies, Vol. 21, No. 3, pp. 259-271:

    “Church history can be so interesting and so inspiring as to be a very powerful tool indeed for building faith. If not properly written or properly taught, it may be a faith destroyer.”

    “There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not.”

    “Some things that are true are not very useful.”

    Or this similar one from Apostle Russel M. Nelson:

    “.. in some instances, the merciful companion to truth is silence. Some truths are best left unsaid.”

    The LDS church is all about surveillance, control, authority, and power over others. So it’s no wonder that analysis of its history, analysis of statements by leaders, etc. are strongly discouraged.

  • “The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray.

    Isn’t a key question here, “how can you tell? How can you tell if the lord is leading someone astray, or not?” Well, if the person listening to the lord is the sole arbiter…..

  • Wow! And what is it about you that exempts you from the commandment to “Judge not”??
    Jana is a very thoughtful, inspirational and valuable child of god. I have found her blogs to be uplifting. I am so grateful that our church has a big enough tent for people like her. She is a wonderful voice for reason and truth accompanying our spirituality. She never has a harsh tone.
    The people in the church who scare me most are the ones that start judging and condemning other people, groups and ideas as if their own opinions were self-evident gospel truths. There are some who just can’t wait to say what kinds of people we don’t want in our church, and that Christ thinks are apostate and in need of condemnation. There is a Spirit around this kind of talk that chills my heart. Where is Jesus in this type of thinking?
    Judge not, that ye be not judged. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Before you try to take the moat out of someone’s else’s eye, take the beam out of your own eye.
    All good advice from the leader of our church and faith.

  • Latter-day Saints should exercise more restraint when speculating on the priesthood question. Just as speculation prior to the lifting of the ban was largely inappropriate, speculation since the lifting of the ban is really no better. Present-day leaders acknowledge the lack of documented substantiation for the ban, but that cannot and should not be interpreted to mean that Brigham and his successors necessarily acted on their own and in error. Not one of us knows the details of the communications between the Lord and His prophets on the matter. Accepting Brigham Young as a prophet of God, I therefore grant him the benefit of the doubt pending further light and knowledge. After all, the same Brigham who implemented the ban also taught that the day would come when blacks would receive every blessing afforded to the rest of mankind. This not only suggests that there may well have been some reason we are unaware of, and which may be far from anyone’s speculations, but also that Brigham wasn’t as racist as people too quickly ascribe him to be, considering that he could have just simply stated that the ban was eternal if he felt such contempt. We really only have a small glimpse of the story. Taking the collective teachings of the prophets into account, along with personal spiritual manifestations of gospel truths, I give them the benefit of the doubt. They’ve more than earned it. I see no reason to put myself in a position to judge in such a manner that it comes back to bite me when the Lord takes my own life into account. I prefer to optimize grace on my behalf.

  • Your account of the publication of Mormon Doctrine is simply not accurate. The second edition was published under the guidance and direction of Spencer W. Kimball who suggested about 50 corrections to Elder McConkie and he made other changes himself to tone and content. But the idea that he published the second edition against permission is simply inaccurate. He he was called to the quorum of the 12 a few years later. It seems highly unlikely that someone who willfully disobeyed the First Presidency would be called as an Apostle.

    Here are some links with a more accurate account:

    http://ldsmag.com/article-1-2189/

    http://ndbf.net/002k/index.htm

  • Every time I read something inspiring and thoughtful by Jana Riess and others, I think, “Maybe there is room in Mormonism for different ideas and philosophies–for less dogmatic ideologies that don’t cause so many to feel worse about themselves.” Then I’m reminded of who this church really belongs to by literalistic, unempathetic moralizers like James Weller. James, you are more concerned with expressing your contempt for the ideas and challenges of other human beings and the superiority of your own spirituality than anything else. You’d better be concerned if that God you profess to believe in actually exists. Last I checked, his son said lots of things like “love one another” and “judge not,” and you suck at both of those.

  • There are two issues that this post that I think are worth mentioning. Perhaps the smaller issue with the position taken here is that, when you really look at what President Woodruff said, he did not state that he could not act contrary to the will of God. He simply said there would be consequences for it. “…If I were to attempt [to lead the children of God astray], the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty.” That is the whole point of agency. We make choices and we deal with the consequences.

    The other issue is that it assumes (or at least implies) that “not leading the church astray” is the same as “not making a poor decision” or “not instituting a flawed policy.” They simply are not the same. What we do know is that if we use our agency to follow the prophet’s counsel, we will not be damned for it. The prophet will not get the chance to lead us off into so great a situation that we cannot return to live with God. All men, including the prophet, will make mistakes. I believe they may even make decisions contrary to the will of God at times. This does not mean we are being “led astray.” We will be blessed for obedience and for exercising faith in the Lord’s annointed servants, regardless of how perfect their insight happens to be on a particular topic. We are commanded to follow the prophet and that is one measure by which we will be judged. The prophet can say and do whatever he pleases, but the Lord reserves the right to remove him from his post if the teachings are too blasphemous. Essentially, the Lord will not permit a prophet to lead the entire Church to utter destruction. And if one assumes that the Lord cannot impose consequences (even immediate ones, such as removing a prophet from his holy calling) without violating the law of free agency, then you have misunderstood the scriptures and all of the passages where the Lord lets you know about his own cause and effect. The gospel is full of promises, both positive and negative. If ____________then __________. That does not remove agency.

  • I don’t doubt that in the slightest, and I’m glad for you for it. I believe churches should be marked by that, rather than all of the people they are against.

  • Hmmm, I would say that not allowing blacks the “saving ordinances” of the temple for almost 150 years is a pretty huge mistake.

  • The Holy Ghost ministers to all people who will hear his voice, including Mormons. The Mormon Church does, therefore, have the inspiration of the Holy Ghost to guide them. We likewise see the “fruits of the Spirit” among all nations, kindreds, tongues and people (as well as religions) who choose to listen. God loves all of His children here on the earth; He is no respecter of persons.

  • Revealed religion is a belief in prophetic voices. What would the Bible be without prophets? Riess neglects to mention Biblical texts which describe the results of ignoring these prophets. She seems more interested in the humanness of those prophets and equating the significance of their voices with those of any others’. This is not a new phenomenon – it’s found throughout the Bible. Riess does not agree with the prophets’ and apostles’ voices about gay marriage. We all, in the end, have to decide if we do believe in revealed religion through prophets and if our church is currently led by prophets. For what it’s worth, I do.

  • Did anyone say we believe everything that comes from his mouth? It’s a matter of how he leads the Church, which isn’t everything he does. It’s a matter of when. We’re told in the scriptures of people who would never ask anything contrary to his will, so it’s possible. But we also teach we’re supposed to ask and learn for ourselves. The fact that we come to the same conclusion doesn’t mean we didn’t ask.

  • Your assertion at the end isn’t wholly supported in scripture. The children of Israel were in the wilderness for 40 years, while being led by Moses. Surely, children were born at that time while they were wandering. What did those children do to deserve a prophet that made a mistake (could be argued Moses led them astray), and parents that rejected the higher law? Then there’s the issue of cursing unto the third and fourth generations. I believe we’re in that current state within the church, as the Lord did not (imo) sanction polygamy. Did the prophets who took wives away from missionary husbands leading people astray, or can you honestly say that it was the Lord’s will?

  • But don’t you have faith that right is always right, i.e. the Lord can surely protect His church against earthly and foolish cultural traditions regardless of time period? It seems convenient that when there’s outside pressure, in the case of polygamy and ordaining blacks, the church reconsiders their position. How many blacks have enmity toward our whitewashed church currently? How many generations went without the blessings of the gospel you hold so dear? If we are all His children, as I do believe, the blessings are for everyone regardless of temporary cultural situations. Maybe these policies are more a condemnation of us members than they are of the church. Maybe we deserve being led astray. The saints in Nauvoo surely rejected the Law of Consecration.

  • According to your post, could it be possible Joseph Smith was removed because polygamy was never supposed to be practiced?

  • This whole post is based on a false premise. God will never lie, but that doesn’t mean he lacks agency, it means he has perfected himself to the point where he will not lie even though no external force stops him from doing so. Also, when it comes to mortals God does limit our agency in some ways. Moses never got to surf the Internet for example, he had no choice about it.

    When it comes to the prophet, while they are imperfect men they are not going to lead the church astray. Not because they lack agency but because they are spiritually developed to the point where they use their agency to lead the church in the direction God wants. God knows every single thing he is going to do as prophet before he was even born, and still called him to be the prophet. Even in an extreme case God has the option of releasing the prophet to prevent his church from being led astray.

    There is also a big area between the two extremes of the church being led away and infallibility. The church might not handle the PR on something as well as could be done, the church might not give attention to a certain issue as soon as may be best, but in the long run these are small items of little consequence in the long run and hardly count as leading the church astray.

    Instead of looking for ways to try and justify a lack of faith in following the prophet, look for the reasons why you should make a real effort to follow him.

  • “Present-day leaders acknowledge the lack of documented substantiation for the ban…” Actually they state: “Over time, Church leaders and members advanced MANY theories to explain the priesthood and temple restrictions. None of these explanations is accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church…

    “…that cannot and should not be interpreted to mean that Brigham and his successors necessarily acted on their own and in error”

    Sure it can; maybe not “necessarily”, but most likely.

    I believe Brigham Young to be a prophet and a great man. Pointing out he was wrong about blacks isn’t casting judgement on his character as much as it is stating he echoed prevailing, but wrong, attitudes. As Elder Bruce R. McConkie put it, new “light and knowledge” had erased previously “limited understanding.”

    Here is the problem trying to make Brigham Young and his successors infallible. It means every statement made, that has now been disavowed by the Church, had to be a direct revelation from the Lord. This would mean at one point in time, the Lord considered blacks to be inferior but now He doesn’t. That isn’t much comfort for blacks. Much more likely Brigham Young and successors acted on their own and in error.

  • A summary of the idea that the (nonexistent) lord speaks to the top men of the LDS church:

    isn’t this just the 21st century version of Joseph Smith’s con artistry?–disappearing golden plates, looking into a hat to “translate” messages, etc?

    If, in fact, “the lord” was inspiring the top leaders of the church, why would the lord limit his words to just this group? Why wouldn’t he make his wishes known to all?

    This stuff is just laughably transparent; any individual who accepts this notion of the lord inspiring the top men of the church with messages known only to them, reveals an enormous amount of info about him- or herself.

    I’m so glad Ms Riess wrote this post; it’s stimulated me to think more about the church.

  • No idea what you mean by “protect” the Church from outside cultural changes. Society has agency too, so they’re not always going to agree with everything the Church teaches.

    Now, the right answer to your questions is that the Church doesn’t make a claim as to why it had implemented and changed certain policies, just that “We’re doing what God has told us to do.”

    However for blacks, we are talking about a time period when slavery of blacks was still legal, so the policy may have served to prevent awkward situations where a black man would be a bishop over his slave owner. And despite the popular myth, the change was not related to the President supposedly subpoenaing the Church to question their tax exempt status.

    For polygamy, we also believe in obeying the laws of the land, so perhaps the Lord was being merciful by not requiring His people to openly break the law. We certainly are not and never were anything like the FLDS Church.

    For the law of consecration, the Lord recognizes that members of the Church have agency too, and gives them the opportunity to obey even if He knows they will fail.

    For homosexuality, the Church has always taught this was a sin. This is a doctrine, not a policy. It is found in the Proclamation to the World, and is signed by the entire First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. This will never change. A lot of members of the Church who have taken on society’s new position (people seem to have already forgotten that the gay marriage law changed last year, this isn’t ancient history people) believed that the Church was on a trajectory to change doctrines on homosexuality because of Church efforts to fight for legal equality for LGBTs, but were shocked to find a policy which to them was a step in the wrong direction. Any objective person can see that far from coming between children and parents, the policy is an effort to prevent awkward scenarios where a child gets baptized and is taught that homosexuality is a sin at Church, and then goes home to gay parents. It is in fact a compassionate policy, but a lot of people are too liberal biased to see that.

    Which brings me back to the fact that we have been told the prophet cannot lead us astray, and I sustain the prophet whole-heartedly.

  • Again you misunderstand. The prophet still has the choice to do whatever he wants. Its the consequences that will not change. The prophet has the choice to do God’s will and stay in his position or do differently and be removed. Just because the consequences aren’t what you want them to be doesn’t mean that it isn’t still a choice.

  • Simple answer, no the church does not teach that. It teaches that the PEOPLE rejected the prophets and apostles.

  • It would seem exceedingly unlikely. Joseph died in 1844. He was succeeded by Brigham Young and then John Taylor. The First Manifesto was issued in 1890. It seems to me the Lord would have been more efficient.

  • ‘Now, the right answer to your questions is that the Church doesn’t make a claim as to why it had implemented and changed certain policies, just that “We’re doing what God has told us to do.”‘

    Regarding the priesthood policy we do not have any record regarding its origins (see OD 2 heading), so I do not think we can for sure say “we’re doing what God has told us to do”. Moreover, slavery could not be used as a justification because there were several other countries where the church existed where slavery was not even a thing… unless you claim that the church is only governed based on conditions that prevail in the U.S…

  • Nice analysis Jana. Thank you.

    One minor counterpoint to, “Second, we deny agency to the prophet when we teach that he has no choice but to do the Lord’s will.”

    Going back to Wilford Woodruff:

    “The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty.”

    This suggests the Prophet can – by his own agency – screw up. It’s the Lord who will then take him out in time to prevent damage to the Church.

    That being said, his statement (this overall claim) strikes me as problematically circular. If the Prophet is not removed by the Lord – and by what mechanism? Lightning? – does that prove he hasn’t strayed?

  • There is never going to be some person in the lower two kingdoms who will have cause to say ‘If I had just followed the prophet a little less faithfully I could be in a higher kingdom.”

  • Uh… OKaaay… got it. As long as a prophet is alive we can be assured nothing he says is contradicting the will of God (say for instance, to pull up a random example: “We knew that the children of Ham were to be the ‘servant of servants’ and no power under heaven could hinder it…”). But when the prophet dies, all bets are off. Out of sixteen prophets this dispensation (17 counting Hyrum Smith) only one is still alive. Brings an interesting perspective to “The living prophet is more important to us than a dead prophet.”

  • No “agency” has been denied any one or anything. Agency cannot be denied and examples of that are exhibited daily. People always have the choice to follow the Prophet or not, to follow the church or not, to believe the teachings or not. Mankind will always be fallible individually and collectively but as a whole, the progress of the church will be in the direction toward God, not away. Undoubtedly prophets have been removed because of errors in their actions or directions but as a whole the progress continues. This article seems to be sour grapes because their belief is not being supported. It’s happened to me too, hence “error and repent”. This author may want to rethink their own stance, “error and repent.”

  • Are, you saying then that the leadership of the historic Christian churches have not fallen into error, and continued teaching the true Gospel of Jesus Christ (even to this day)? If so, I completely agree!

  • Here is a list of apostles that have been excommunicated or disfellowshiped since the Church was organized. Amasa Lyman started teaching that the atonement wasn’t necessary for salvation. The last 3 were related to polygamy. Obviously nothing is recent.

    John F. Boynton (1837), Luke S. Johnson (1838), Lyman E. Johnson (1838), William M’Lellin (1838), Oliver Cowdery (1838), Thomas B. Marsh (1839), Orson Hyde (1839), Orson Pratt (1842), William B. Smith (1845), John D. Page (1846), Lyman Wight (1848), Amasa M. Lyman (1867), Albert Carrington (1885), John W. Young (1891), Moses Thatcher (1896), Matthias F. Cowley (1905), John W. Taylor (1905), and Richard R. Lyman (1943).

  • In regards to the recent policy change, there are members that have professed to have received personal revelation confirming to them that the prophet has made a grave error. Obviously they ascribe to the revelatory process – that is they can pray to Heavenly Father and receive knowledge and information from God through the Holy Ghost. What is interesting to me is that they allow themselves the affirmations provided by this process, but deny the prophet the same. I highly doubt that the prophet woke up one morning, skipped breakfast, and proceeded to move on these changes to the official handbook of the church. I am sure (but have no way of knowing) that it was the result of MUCH fasting and prayer, meditation, reflection, counsel, temple worshiplease, etc., before ultimately receiving confirmation through the Holy Spirit from God Himself that this is the direction the Church needed to go in. To think that the man tasked with leading the Church of God and given the necessary keys to do so, somehow misread the promptings and intentions, even the very will of God on the matter, is incredulous to me. I have never believed that the prophet himself is or can be perfect. However, I’m sure he pleaded with God to know what to do and as God’s prophet on the earth, how could we think that he would be allowed to stumble on something so important as the timing of sacred and essential ordinances for children? For all we know this may have even been something that he did not want to do. He probably even knew that that this would shake the faith of some, and deeply hurt the feelings of others. Once the revelation is received however, he has to act on it unapologetically. Even though I may not be 100% comfortable with everything that was put forth in the changes, I know who I will stand with and continue to sustain.

  • Does William Law make this list? One could make the case that Law was righteously seeking to prevent Joseph from leading the Church astray. Perhaps similar arguments can be made for others on this list? Might there be several cans of worms to open here?

  • This felt right and possible. Thanks for the uplifting thoughts on this fine morning!

  • If the church was actually about helping people to become better, kinder human beings then yes, accepting that the leaders are flawed and deserve some slack when they f*** up would be reasonable. The problem is that the church isn’t interested in helping people become better, they only care about your tithing dollars. The “doctrines” of Mormonism are nothing more than tools to bludgeon people into guilty obedience.

    There is neither “truth” nor “living” as a member of the church. There is “obedience” and “blind faith” which is the pathway to little more than mental slavery.

    Any God, which requires humans to “love Him” and “accept him” and to be obedient to leaders in direct contradiction to personal integrity, isn’t a God worthy of worship, veneration, or even respect.

  • As long as the church is run by imperfect people there will be flaws in the church. However I think it inaccurate to dismiss Pres. Wilford’s quote as “heresy”. It is important to make the distinction between opinion, policy, and doctrine and to remember the law of common consent. The church is organized precisely to make it hard for any one person to exercise unrighteous dominion and lead the church astray. New doctrine, through the law of common consent, would first be brought up in the first presidency and quorum of the twelve and then eventually presented for vote to the rest of the church. It would be obvious to the rest of the leadership of the church and the general membership if the prophet were to suddenly go rogue or something and God wouldn’t let it happen. Also, I don’t think saying something wrong in a conference talk or putting a particular policy in the handbook would count as leading the church astray. It’s the doctrine that’s most important and what should be the focus. We should always go back to the doctrine.

    Both of the examples given in the beginning of the article are policy. I do think there is often hidden wisdom in policies that we don’t always understand (but I also don’t think we can claim they are always perfect either). One thing I think helpful to remember when talking about the recent policy change for baptisms is that it doesn’t change the underlying doctrine that every person who has ever lived will get the chance to accept the gospel and all the ordinances. If unable to in this life for any reason, they will be able to in the next life. God will not deny them blessings. Anyone who claims otherwise is speaking based on their own assumptions. Anyone who treats someone as lesser because of this policy is also not keeping in line with doctrine. Those underlying principles are very well established and this policy doesn’t change that.

  • You speak of doctrine in the Church agreed to by common consent. Where, exactly is the list of doctrines agreed to by common consent? Is the Standard Works? They are full of conflicting and many unused doctrines. You also basically say that things said in General Conference or anything found in the manuals or handbooks of instruction are not doctrine, so we don’t need to take any of that too seriously. After all, it could be wrong. This is something that drove me mad when I was a member of the Church – I had no idea what was doctrine, what was policy, what was opinion, what was culture or what was a suggestion. I also could not rely on my own impressions and feelings, because I was told if my ideas were not in harmony with the Church that my own feelings were inspired by Satan (was that Oakes speaking as a man?). But if what is coming out of the mouths of those who are sustained as prophets, seers and revelators or contained in officially Church-sanctioned materials is, as you suggest, simply wrong on occasion, where can we find the definitive, comprehensive list of the true doctrines?

  • What a crock this article is. Conspiracy theories abound. To accept what this author writes, one must accept that a conspiracy has to exist – much like Hillary’s ghostly Republican “vast, right-wing conspiracy” theories – within the hierarchy and leadership of the Mormon Church. As she sees it, such a conspiracy must exist to the degree that no one leader or group of leaders can speak up to correct or remove another in the instance that God won’t do it Himself!

    The author has convinced herself that her paranoid delusions are meritorious because they fall in line with her own fears. Her reasoning reminds me of the press-play given to the conspiracy theory back in July 1996 that the crash of TWA flight 800 was due to a U.S. Navy missile test gone awry. The credibility of the theory rested on the crazy idea that ALL members of the Navy who knew anything about it would voluntarily remain silent in order to accomplish some nefarious goal.

    It appears to me that it takes an excessively large amount of paranoia, arrogance and pride on the part of the author to maintain that some 15 (the church’s First Presidency and Quorum of the 12) of the world’s finest, humblest and most intelligent people are conspiratorial or deluded liars. Such an idea fits nicely into the secularist spirit of our age that would, if possible, admit no influence at all from religion into private and public life. The author appears to me to have no interest in fostering stronger religion, deeper faith, and greater belief. Instead she follows an unacknowledged political or personal agenda that discounts altogether the idea that God can have servants on the Earth to speak in His name, let alone that God might speak to his children individually and guide them independently of established hierarchy.

    Perhaps she does not see her own personal hubris and arrogance as I do. She claims “ownership” of the church solely for herself and her own, “higher” purposes. She uses this rhetoric and these self-serving arguments to demonstrate that her concept of the “truest” religion is that it must be a democratic – rather than theocratic – institution needing debate and democratic processes, instead of being an organization instituted by God and needing His constant input. So self-righteous are her written words, and so convinced is she of the ultimate sensibility of her logic and rightness, that she has apparently become offended and distrustful of any authority other than her own, including God himself. Thus, she must become authoritarian in her own manner in order to fight back against a scary “culture of obedience.” Rather than seeking some kind of balanced understanding or at least acknowledging some reasonableness in her “adversary,” she remains convinced that the rightness of her cause demands no compromise. This looks much similar to me to the way the extremes of the Democratic Left and the Republican Right in politics can admit no middle ground.

    What the author never seems to acknowledge in her article is the right of a private religious institution to make and abide by its own rules. Members may come and go as they please. Agency requires a pursuit of knowledge, light, and truth in order to make its best use. Agency also requires freedom in order to make its exercise moral. Her delusions of some kind of massive coercion in the Mormon Church are just that: delusions. Any judge of the Mormon Church can take steps to leave it behind if she must. “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.” (Article of Faith #11)

  • I was speaking more as a way to judge things presently and going forward. The law of common consent exists as a way to make it harder for one man to lead the church astray, and it’s a way to identify if one man is acting on his own and attempting to lead the church astray. In recent history it is clear what has been presented for a vote of common consent, but no, we can’t use that as an indicator for everything or as an indicator of ALL truth. The standard works absolutely contain some confusing and conflicting messages. We don’t know all the answers. There are gray areas. There are errors. However, the principles that are important to help mankind obtain salvation are clear, and they are repeated and clarified in the scriptures, in conference, in sunday school, etc. We can spend a lot of time worrying out in the fringes of what we don’t know for sure, but we will not be judged and doomed to eternal suffering based on things we don’t know or from mistakes other people have made.

  • So what happens to your theory when it is proven that people are born Gay? Kind of blows it all out the window. You see, according to science no one knows for sure. Though many medical professionals, journals and research experts have come to a general consensus that people are born into their sexuality. We have a problem then, don’t we? Perhaps being Gay is normal. Perhaps there will never be a place for Gay people in the LDS Church. Perhaps that is ok. But is is NOT from revelation, it is from bigotry.

  • “then that must mean that the Prophets are wrong and will eventually change course to align more with the dissenters’ beliefs.”

    Well obviously. It’s not like they’d hold those beliefs if they didn’t think they were true, so of course the prophets would eventually come around to the truth. People don’t hold opposing beliefs they actually think are false just to be difficult. That’s not the nature of belief.

  • “Otherwise how can we know what God’s will is for the church as a whole?”

    Maybe we can’t.

    “or why even have a church?”

    Maybe we shouldn’t.

  • Gregory Prince’s David O. McKay biography also speaks about Bruce R. McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine and expresses the point of view I stated. I admit that nobody really knows the full facts about how all this went down. We know very little about the inner workings of the 15 at the top of the church. I am not sure why it is all so secret? The most common explanation is that they want to show unity as a group. Daniel, your defense reflects this view–that the brethren are solidly united.

    When you say he could not have been made an apostle, do not forget that Elder McConkie’s father-in-law was Joseph Fielding Smith, who was a very influential man in the church and wrote a famous book that I believed for quite a while–“Essentials in Church History”. Now that book is even worse than Elder McConkie’s. Elder Smith (at the time), was the Church Historian. His highly fictionalized account of LDS history became the official story of the church for many years. It was one of the few books missionaries were allowed to read on their missions. I know, because I was one who was permitted to read it. Within 10 years after my mission, I realized that it gave sensationalized, one-sided accounts of much of LDS history, and omitted many, many important facts. It created or documented and gave official status to many of the stories that we still tell. And we treat them as factual since a man of Elder Joseph Fielding Smith wrote them and the church published them.

    I think the sorts of whitewashing and propaganda done by men like these has completely set the church up for the problems it is having with retention right now. The “truth isn’t always convenient” approach has gotten us into a lot of trouble. Because now, with the internet, the knowledge of truth has spread throughout the globe. And some of those truths can be discovered as not so truthful after all. This results in people doubting and questioning the hierarchical authorities of the church. I sustain them and I support them, but I do not believe everything they say is doctrinal, nor does it necessarily come from God. And it is painful for me to watch people find out facts they cannot reconcile with what they have been told, what they have invested their whole lives in and guided how they raised their families. There are many feeling betrayed. Painful as it is for the leaders to admit, they did betray their members with patronizing stories and accounts. They themselves were betrayed by these stories. And I strongly believe that the leaders are in an absolute quandary about how to cope with this. The softer tone of the most recent conference shows possibly, that they have realized that the sword and hammer weren’t necessarily working.

    The essays are great step in the direction of stopping the “spin-doctoring” and admitting some truths. But I think we are going to go a lot further down that painful path before we are through with it. Or the church will become marginalized even more.

    You see, it just doesn’t work to proclaim “the Truth”, but not be truthful about it. I am a committed member. I have faith they will find the path and lead us there.

  • I am in favor of accurate historical reporting, but the story of Mormon Doctrine as told by Gregory Prince seems to be just as sensationalized as some of the faith promoting stories in Church history you critique. Was the book imperfect and in places tone deaf? Yes. But the idea that McConkie defied the Q12 and FP in reprinting it, or the claim which gets bandied about that there were thousands of doctrinal errors is pure fiction. The articles that I link to critique Prince’s account in particular.

    There is a tendency to go to the other extreme in order to rebut the notion that the Q12 and FP are united with one voice. D. Michael Quinn is particularly guilty of finding conflicts and disagreement in every utterance. Prince is not as bad, but he is also guilty of this .

  • I appreciate that your comment is well thought out and knowledgeable. I think your sort of voice is an important one for the church.
    I confess that I have had my own struggles coping with being told things that later turned out untrue. And I see my aging parents–who are about middle-of-the-pack in age for the upper 15 of the church. They have devoted their whole lives to the church. In a way, I am really glad that they don’t know things like, the Book of Abraham was not a real textual translation, or that Brigham Young really did teach blood atonement, Adam/God, and avenging the blood of the prophets. They don’t know that polygamy didn’t end until 15-20 years after the manifesto. They don’t really understand the whole seer stone thing and just believe Joseph used a Urim and Thummim that looked like glasses while he concentrated on the plates. Or that Joseph Smith was in a bedroom with 5 brothers and in a bed with two brothers when he had the Moroni visions. They believe in the depiction widely distributed by the church showing Joseph alone in a bed, sitting up while Moroni appeared–an actual visit and not a nighttime dream/vision. And many other similar things.
    I also have struggled with the fact that on my mission, the most common questions we were asked were about polygamy. How we were taught to deal with that officially was to “guide them back to the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith”. “Of tenets, thou shalt not teach..” and “no one is ever converted by talking about polygamy”. But the in the reality of day to day missionary work, we felt like we had to say at least something about polygamy. And we were never, ever taught what to say. So what we did say were a bunch of folkloric-type stories that were untruthful. We said “polygamy stopped with the Manifesto almost 100 years ago”, and “no, no, no, Joseph Smith didn’t have any wives that he slept with–only old widows who had lost their husbands through the trials of the early saints”. “Yes, Brigham Young had lots of wives, but he did that under the command of the Lord and it was never intended to be permanent. It solved a temporary problem.” “We don’t practice polygamy and haven’t for years.” This one, I already knew wasn’t really true because my own father had been sealed to another woman who was not my mother whom he had married and who died shortly afterwards. My dad had told me he was sealed to both women. But I didn’t put 2 and 2 together and realize he was talking about polygamy in the afterlife–which he has never doubted, as far as I know. Within a few years after my mission, I was aware that all of those stories that I had told hundreds of people were simply untrue.
    As time has passed, it has been an increasing irritation to me that I gave up two years of my life to go out and share truth, and in doing so, I also spread untruths without even knowing it. And my ignorance and that of every missionary I ever worked with, was deliberate. The church, at some level, had to know we were telling stories about this, and it deliberately avoided teaching us even the most basic facts about polygamy beyond “God told Joseph to do this, and it stopped with the Manifesto”. To this day, I have never heard a GA talk openly about the subject of polygamy in any honest, truthful way.
    I am not bitter about this. But it also comes to mind every time I hear someone say the prophet will never lead us astray. I just feel deeply that I was led astray to the point that I was spreading stories that were untrue on behalf of the church. It is hard for me not to feel a little misused and exploited.
    I do not think that I am the only one who feels this way, although the stories about how they got there may vary. And many of us love the church and our wards and want to be a part of it. We have been there for so long, we wouldn’t know how to live without it. But it chafes when we hear someone get up and tell a “Hollywood-ized” account of some story as if there can be no doubt about it, and their is not a lot of openness to discuss anything outside official stories. In fact, I am pretty sure in many wards and stakes, it would be strongly frowned upon to bring up any one of the essays on LDS.org and you would be in danger of being branded as a “liberal Mormon”, or a “doubter”. And people would suspect that you are committing some sin that you are trying to hide, and that is the true reason for your lack of faith in the brethren.

  • Yes, the teachings of the modern prophets themselves are replete with their insistence that they are NOT perfect, that they are NOT infallible, that they are NOT always speaking as God’s mouthpiece. The Doctrine & Covenants assertion that scripture comes from the words of our prophets includes the important caveat: “when they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost”. Just as we should not spin a single verse from the Bible or Book of Mormon as the final word from God on any topic, we need to listen to each of the prophets in the context of all of their words, and the words of all of the prophets. The Book of Mormon reminds us that it is not perfect and complete in its teachings, and the entire point of having living prophets is to allow us to hear more of what God is willing to share with us, which we don’t already know. We follow what has been revealed because we want to show God that we are willing to receive more revelation, which we will incorporate into our understandings and our behavior.
    And just as prophets are not infallible, that goes doubly for the ordinary members who hold, temporarily, all of the other jobs in the Church. As Joseph Smith taught, the fountain of revelation only flows to us when our relations with our brothers and sisters are based on gentleness, meekness, and love unfeigned.

  • God loves all his children here on earth. Everyone on this planet has the possibility of receiving guidance and inspiration from the Holy Ghost. Mormons believe this as you do. In fact, we count on it. We have hundreds of thousands of converts each year, not because our 18- and 19-year old missionaries are impressive, but because many of those whom they teach receive a witness from the Holy Ghost of the truthfulness of their message. This is the promise given in the Book of Mormon (Moroni 10:4 “And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.”

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