Dear Reader,


A Latter-day Saint who believes that the Church and its leaders are authorized of God doesn’t necessarily accept whatever the Church puts forth as “gospel.” On the contrary, anyone who wants a better Church tomorrow really ought to speak up today. We aren’t potted plants. Let's face it: Theological malarkey gets a long lease on life when members merely say “amen” to it all.

That is the main reason this site exists.

It also reminds Latter-day Saints who are struggling with their faith that, despite flaws, the restored church is the Lord’s church.

Each article is listed below with a title, short synopsis and a link. They were written by Steve Warren (bio below). Articles by others may be added.

Keep the faith.

Steve Warren
West Valley City, Utah

“God is actually trying to create a much more profound relationship with us. We can only do that if we are actually wrestling with issues at hand.”
--Fiona Givens

Christ moves closer to us as we move from dogma toward truth.

Steve Warren was raised in Heppner, Oregon, and has lived in Utah for 43 years. He attended Ricks College for two years, served a mission to Colombia-Venezuela, and graduated from BYU in 1973 with a degree in communications. He and his wife, JaNiece, have two sons and a daughter. He wrote and published Drat! Mythed Again, Second Thoughts on Utah in 1986 and was a copy editor at the Deseret News from 1988-2008. He wrote and printed 100 copies of a novel, Beyond the Finish Line, but has yet to find a real publisher. (February 2017)
Knowing, believing, seeing Insights into our borderline dysfunctional LDS relationship with the word “know.”

Pathway to heaven The Scriptures show one sure way to return to God’s presence: possess a heart that pleases him.

Obedience gone awry Strictly following the prophet is an excellent idea—at least as long as he’s right.

Falling short, staying put Living prophets constantly err, but that’s not a good reason to leave the Lord’s church.

What in the world? Certain strange features of the Book of Mormon add to its credibility.

Some kind of miracle Fiction. An invitation to speak in sacrament meeting begins a Utah couple’s wild ride.

The cross = victory The cross is a worthy, positive symbol because it reminds us that it is the dying Christ who saves us.

Pilate tried Jewish leaders sought to kill Jesus; Pontius Pilate sought to set him free, so let’s give the man a break.

Father, Father, Father Why do we repeat the name of Deity so often in prayers these days?

Witnesses Multiple witnesses provide a compelling reason for anyone to ponder the claims of Mormonism.

Who is God? The Book of Mormon emphatically teaches that Jesus is our God and that he acts and speaks as both the Father and the Son.

Creation stories Teachings about the Creation tend to bog down when they go beyond “God created the earth.”

Short takes Brief quotes, comments and reflections on a variety of gospel topics.
A few heresies... that would make for a more interesting sacrament meeting.
Oopsy-daisy 40 foul-ups.







Thursday, October 22, 2015

Obedience gone awry


A fundamental belief of those of us who assert that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is indeed the Lord’s church is that a prophet leads the Church and that he is authorized of God.

Therefore, we sustain and pray for him and give close heed to his counsel.  To faithful members, his words generally carry greater weight than those of any other mortal.

But the Church expects members to go even further in their commitment to the prophet.

We are taught to believe in, trust in, have faith in and to always follow the president of the Church.  The Church has declared that the prophet will never teach false doctrine. [References at end.]  Furthermore, we learn from an early age that because he is the Lord’s prophet, we will be blessed for following him even when he is wrong. “Follow the prophet” is one of the most commonly used expressions in the Church and is the title of an LDS song.  Often it is cited along with two other popular teachings; namely, that obedience is the first law of heaven and that the prophet will never lead the Church astray.

What could possibly be wrong with believing in, trusting in, having faith in and always following another mortal? 

First, it elevates a mortal to a stature that belongs to the Lord alone.

In the Church of Christ, we are disciples of Jesus Christ.  We believe in and follow him.  Following him is always right because he is never wrong.  “Come, follow me” refers to but one person—the Lord.

When the Lord instructed Abraham through an angel to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, he was saying, in effect, “Disregard what the prophets have said about killing. Instead, obey only me.”  The same  applies to Nephi slaying Laban.  And when the mortal Jesus found that teachings and practices of the authorized Jewish religious leaders ran contrary to the Spirit, he followed the Spirit.  Some in the Church erroneously offer the Abraham story and the example of the mortal Christ's obedience to his Father as evidence that we should always follow our mortal leaders when, in fact, the true message is to always follow God and “obey the voice of the Spirit.” (1 Nephi 4:18)    

Yes, prophets deserve our support.  Certainly we should usually follow their counsel. But with “follow the prophet,” a caveat is needed.  For example, we could properly encourage each other to follow the prophet’s “inspired” counsel, thereby acknowledging that his words, unlike Christ’s, sometimes are uninspired.  Better yet, we could change our approach.  Why not say “follow” only when referring to Deity? When speaking of mortal prophets, we could use words such as support, sustain, pray for and give heed to.

If we concede in one breath that prophets make mistakes but in the next breath insist that following them is always right, we are telling members, in effect, that they are too stupid to exercise agency.  This diminishes the place of agency in the Plan of Salvation.

The Topical Guide contains many entries under “Trust in God” and “Trust Not in the Arm of Flesh.”  They are very specific that disciples of Christ are expected to trust in him.  Without exception, the offspring of two mortal parents is “Flesh.” 

Another problem with the Church’s emphasis on always following the prophet and on obedience is that it makes faithful members reluctant to speak up when they believe the prophet and other prophets, seers and revelators have erred.  When few speak up, false teachings are the beneficiary—they get a long-term lease on life and tend to proliferate. 

To illustrate, in the early 1850s some disagreed with Brigham Young’s Adam-God theory, but the unwillingness of large numbers of obedient members to promptly, respectfully and firmly reject this teaching surely contributed to the fact that he continued to teach it as doctrine for more than two decades.  Elder James A. Little’s commitment to obedience was apparently widely shared at the time:  “I believe in the principle of obedience; and if I am told that Adam is our Father and our God, I just believe it.”  We shouldn’t be surprised, therefore, that it was during Brigham Young’s presidency that a member of the Twelve, Elder Joseph F. Smith, came up with “obedience is the first law of heaven.”

Similarly, the willingness of “faithful” Latter-day Saints to always follow the prophet rather than sometimes disagreeing surely contributed to the 126-year lifespan of excluding blacks from priesthood and temple blessings, a policy that was wrong from Day One.  As a missionary in Colombia and Venezuela from 1969-71, I sometimes found myself using, with encouragement from leaders, a few rather weasel-like tactics in trying to determine if investigators had black African ancestry, even a trace of which would automatically disqualify them from receiving the priesthood.  In hindsight, I recognize that I should have been less of a potted plant and more willing to question authority because complacency about the rights of others is not exactly a celestial virtue.

Joseph Smith urged his associates to “speak their minds” and wasn’t  fond of yes men who refused to disagree with him. He referred to them as “dough heads.”  He observed that “Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their church. I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammeled . . .    In contrast, today’s members who disagree with the prophet generally are viewed as disobedient. At Church headquarters, their “alternate” views are unwelcome; i.e., keep your damned opinions to yourself.  Over the long term, when alternate views sometimes become prevailing views, Church publications may present the change as evidence of inspiration to authorized living leaders.

Just as obeying the prophet can be viewed as an excuse not to resist dubious doctrines that the Church advocates, it also promotes a lazy approach to gospel scholarship. A Latter-day Saint committed to automatically obey prophets may feel little need to earnestly search, ponder and pray.  All he has to do is obey.  The following experience illustrates that point.

In my West Valley stake in midsummer 2005, two members chose to respond differently to President Gordon B. Hinckley’s request to read the Book of Mormon by yearend.

One sister, perhaps recalling that the Book of Mormon had been the course of study in 2004, was not enthusiastic about rereading it so soon, especially with only five months left in the year.  Nevertheless, she believed in always following the prophet.  She resolved, therefore, to proceed.

In late December, with half of the book still unread, she could have chosen to give up but instead set aside late-evening hours for a few nights and completed the assignment just before midnight on Dec. 31.  Some speed-reading was required.

Another member simply decided not to follow President Hinckley’s counsel.  He felt well-versed in the Book of Mormon and had read it in both English and Spanish and, like the sister above, had participated in the 2004 course of study.  Besides, his gospel learning was focused elsewhere.

Nevertheless, he felt that he had a duty to at least heed (pay close attention to) the prophet’s words, so he located President Hinckley’s challenge in the August 2005 Ensign.  As he carefully considered the promises of “an added measure of the Spirit of the Lord” and “a stronger testimony of the living reality of the Son of God,” he had a change of heart.  He was moved by the Spirit.

Not only did he begin reading immediately, he soon found himself eager to read 10 to 15 pages daily, writing many pages of notes in the process.  He finished in just seven weeks and, as President Hinckley promised, found himself closer to the Lord.

What do we learn from these experiences?

The first member did the right thing but was motivated primarily by a sense of duty to follow the prophet.  She accomplished the minimum required, checked it off and might have received a gold star if she had been a child.  She had little curiosity about the details of what President Hinckley had said; she merely recognized that she must obey.        

In the second case, however, the initially disobedient member also did the right thing by searching out and sincerely pondering President Hinckley’s challenge.  He was curious enough to read the prophet’s actual words.  After doing so, he was moved by the Spirit—in other words, he found himself following Christ.

These experiences teach us that the correct path for disciples of Christ is to pay close heed to the prophet with the understanding that such heeding usually leads us to follow both him and Christ.  In doing so, we take ownership of our decisions and follow the Lord in a more profound way.

The preceding story also underscores the need to understand the difference between heeding the prophet and obeying him.  In the Church, heed often is used as a synonym for obey.  But the Topical Guide offers 19 entries for heed, and in every case “pay close attention to” is a better fit than obey.

In the 132 appearances of heed throughout the Scriptures, “obey” is never the best meaning.  The closest heed comes to meaning obey may be in Doctrine and Covenants 101:87-89, but even there a better definition is support, uphold or agree with.

Among LDS speakers, the scriptural passage in which heed may most often be conflated with obeying the prophet is D&C 21:4,5: “Wherefore, meaning the church, thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.” Even in this passage it appears that “give heed” does not mean obey but instead more closely resembles “pay close attention to.”  And receiving the prophet’s words in “patience and faith” is not the same as automatically obeying them.

In 2015, Sunday classes used the Presidents of the Church/Ezra Taft Benson manual, which cited a popular story about following the prophet even when he is wrong.   It was originally told by Elder Marion G. Romney.

“I remember years ago when I was a bishop I had President Heber J. Grant talk to our ward. After the meeting I drove him home. . . . 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.’ ”

Apparently President Grant disagreed with—or had never read—a statement decades earlier attributed to Elder Samuel W. Richards of the Twelve:

“We have heard men who hold the priesthood remark, that they would do anything that they were told to do by those who preside over them, if they knew it was wrong: but such obedience is worse than folly to us; it is slavery in the extreme; and the man who would thus willingly degrade himself, should not claim rank among intelligent beings, until he turns from his folly. A man of God . . . would despise the idea.”

Those who follow a mortal even when he is wrong have relinquished agency and have drifted into cult territory.  The perpetrators of the Mountain Meadows Massacre felt they had a duty to obey a stake president who in turn thought his directions were in harmony with the First Presidency.  For them, following the Lord had become a secondary consideration.

The admonition to always follow the prophet goes hand in hand with Elder Joseph F. Smith’s “obedience is the first law of heaven.”  While this concept remains popular today, the Scriptures (as well as any dictionary) show that obedience is not a law—it is behavior.  This is illustrated by two frequently referenced scriptures:  “And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.” (D&C 130:21)  “We believe in . . . obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” (12th Article of Faith)

Even if obedience were a law, it could not have been the first, because before obedience can exist, at least one law must exist. Otherwise, there would be nothing to obey.

If there were a first law of heaven, my hunch is that it would be something like “Love the Lord thy God,” “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” “Love one another,” the Golden Rule or “Don’t Be a Jerk.”

“Obedience is the first law of heaven” is an unscriptural notion that harmonizes well with many of the Church’s current but incorrect teachings that overemphasize obedience to mortals.  We’d do well to replace it with something like: Obedience to God is a fundamental attribute of discipleship.

“Always follow the prophet” also breeds among the faithful a sort of star status for the 15 who are sustained as prophet, seers and revelators, all of whom are in line to become “the prophet” if they become the senior apostle. For example, the expected presence of an apostle at a local meeting is automatically a huge drawing card.  When an apostle enters a chapel or auditorium, members arise and a hush falls over the room.  Maybe we need to heed First Presidency counselor Hugh B. Brown’s counsel about arising for apostles.  In the mid-1960s, I was present when he entered a packed auditorium at Ricks College, and students arose. At the beginning of his address, President Brown asked that they not arise for him in the future, saying that it would be best to arise only for the president of the Church.

We recognize that young children who lack knowledge, experience and judgment are best advised to obey parents and other adults who love them.  But for adults, the wise exercise of agency is a higher attribute than obedience.  That concept was established once and for all when God forced Adam to give up his plan to obey all the commandments.  The Lord required him to choose which of two conflicting commandments to obey.  It was wise exercise of agency, not strict obedience, that put Adam and Eve—and the rest of us—on the path to exaltation.

Finally, excessive emphasis on following the prophet puts Church authorities and personnel in a circle-the-wagons frame of mind that causes some to become fast and loose with the facts relating to presidents of the Church and to such things as their physical and mental health.  Even in this more open era, the Church still struggles with how to present facts that make a prophet look very mortal.  One example is the “Race and the Priesthood” essay.

The essay concedes that the ban on blacks holding the priesthood was wrong.  But it describes the ban only as a “policy.”  It fails to acknowledge that presidents of the Church called it a doctrine and a commandment from God.  This is a key omission because the ban’s doctrinal status helps explain why nearly all active members accepted itwe weren’t racists; we just wanted to obey our leaders.

Also, the essay contains references to Brigham Young making “promises” that the ban would “one day” be lifted. Readers are left with the impression that this prophet was prophetic in making such statements.  In fact, what President Young said is that blacks would never receive the priesthood in mortality and that it would be available to them only after the redemption of the earth.  In a similar vein, he said death (referring to spiritual death) would “always” come to whites who intermarried with blacks.  Transforming his false statements into a prophecy that blacks would one day receive all priesthood blessings is merely feel-good bunk.

In August 2015, I wrote Church historian Elder Steven E. Snow about whether rewording was needed in the essay’s use of “policy” and about the misleading representation of Brigham Young’s teachings on blacks.  His Aug. 21 response was:  “The essay ‘Race and the Priesthood’ has been thoroughly researched, edited and approved by the First Presidency.”  I don’t question the thoroughness of the research and editing.  I question its accuracy.

When we overemphasize obedience by teaching “following the prophet is always right,” it’s never easy to acknowledge when a prophet is incapacitated.  The Teachings of the Presidents of the Church, Ezra Taft Benson manual, the 2015 course of instruction, illustrates this point.  I refer in particular to the following statement in “The Life and Ministry of Ezra Taft Benson” section:

“President Hinckley and President Thomas S. Monson guided the Church with the authority President Benson delegated to them, but the Church never went forward with new initiatives without President Benson’s knowledge and approval.”

This statement leaves the impression that President Benson was capable of approving or disapproving initiatives toward the end of his life when in reality he was not.  “The authority President Benson delegated to them” was a full transfer of legal authority from prophet to counselors that occurred in 1989, five years before President Benson’s death.  In actual practice, the Church tried, with some success, to minimize the public perception of his incapacity during his presidency. 

[The Church deserves credit for recent efforts to correct and clarify various aspects of its history and teachings.  Members can handle the truth.  It doesn’t bother me a bit, for example, to know that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon with his head in a hat and without even looking at the plates—although it would have been nice to know sooner.]

Sometimes, following the Spirit might require that we be disrespectful to a church leader.  President Thomas S. Monson told the story of when he was in a priesthood leadership meeting as a 23-year-old bishop, and his stake  president was speaking. The young bishop felt a distinct prompting to leave in order to visit an ailing ward member at the hospital.  Instead, to show respect to the stake president, he waited until after the talk had ended before leaving.  Alas, he arrived at the hospital a few minutes after the member had died. A nurse told him that the man had called Bishop Monson's name just before he died. President Monson said he regretted for the rest of his life his decision not to follow the Spirit promptly.  Even if the speaker had been the prophet rather than a stake president, our duty is to obey the Spirit first and foremost.

If we recognize that prophets err even on key doctrinal issues, we might be inclined to pray for them more often and more earnestly, with the possible result that they would receive greater inspiration and make fewer mistakes.

We are well advised, in the words of Helaman, to “remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation.” (Hel. 5:12)  Teaching Latter-day Saints to strictly follow the prophet, similar to Lucifer’s pre-earth call for us to strictly obey him, promotes fealty to someone who is not Christ.
 
Let us be content to sustain, support, pray for and give heed to the prophet.  Otherwise, there’ll be hell to pay.


References for Page 1

“ . . . believe in and follow the living prophet.” Gospel Principles, 2009, Page 42.

“We can always trust the living prophets. . . . Our greatest safety lies in strictly following the word of the Lord given through His prophets.” (italics added), lds.org/topics/prophets

“We are to have faith in God’s chosen prophet.” Preach My Gospel, lesson 4

“Following the prophet is always right,” October 2014 General Conference, Sister Carol F. McConkie 

The Lord will never allow the president of the Church to teach us false doctrine.Gospel Principles, 1979, p. 46.  (The Church made this statement only a year after a revelation that, in effect, asserted that many presidents of the Church had taught false doctrine related to blacks and the priesthood.)

“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.” Attributed to President Heber J. Grant by Elder Marion G. Romney and quoted in 2015 Benson lesson manual.

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