Thursday, October 23, 2008

K, Time for some Joseph Smith

So, yeah. We're on the question of unquestioned obedience. And also the fallibility of ecclesiastical leaders. So I offer up some more quotes, which, together with the one in the post below, should hopefully generate some interesting discussion.

First, Joseph Smith on blind obedience.

“We have heard men who hold the priesthood remark that they would do anything they were told to do by those who preside over them [even] if they knew it was wrong; but such obedience as this is worse than folly to us; it is slavery in the extreme; and the man who would thus willingly degrade himself, should not claim a rank among intelligent beings, until he turns from his folly. A man of God would despise the idea. Others, in the extreme exercise of their almighty authority have taught that such obedience was necessary, and that no matter what the saints were told do by their presidents they should do it without any questions. When Elders of Israel will so far indulge in these extreme notions of obedience as to teach them to the people, it is generally because they have it in their hearts to do wrong themselves.” (Joseph Smith, Millennial Star, Vol 14, Number 38, pages 593-595).

Note that he doesn't say that it's wrong for leaders to tell us what we should do. It's just wrong for them to tell us not to question them. Questioning is fine, then, and necessary if we are to decide for ourselves whether a commandment is "wrong."

Next, everybody else on the abililty of the prophet to lead us astray.

Always keep your eye on the President of the church, and if he ever tells you to do anything, even if it is wrong, and you do it, the lord will bless you for it but you don't need to worry. The lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray.
[LDS President Marion G. Romney (of the first presidency), quoting LDS President (and prophet) Heber J. Grant "Conference Report" Oct. 1960 p. 78 ]

"The Lord Almighty leads this Church, and he will never suffer you to be led astray if you are found doing your duty. You may go home and sleep as sweetly as a babe in its mother's arms, as to any danger of your leaders leading you astray, for if they should try to do so the Lord would quickly sweep them from the earth."
[Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 9, p. 289, 1862.]

"The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray."
President Wilford Woodruff (considered scripture as it is canonized at the end of the D&C)

First of all, I believe the things said by our latter-day prophets. Not because I'm told to, but again, because I pray about these things. More on that in a minute.

Now, I know these latter quotes may seem to conflict with the first one. But I choose to view them as a double assurance. I sure do love the idea that anything the prophet tells me to do, I'll be safe in doing. I also love the idea that with each individual principle, I should still be thinking for myself.

Maybe it makes more sense to me than I can convey to others, but I really believe in questioning AND obeying. Joseph Smith condemns those who obey without question. But we're also in trouble if we don't obey at all. How do we reconcile those thoughts?

My personal solution is to pray for the ability to obey, to align my will with the Lord's and the prophet's when new commandment comes down. My approach to the church's counsel on Proposition 8 is exemplary of my general attitude toward new commandments. I don't go in with the question of whether to believe. I go in knowing I need to (I won't be led astray, right?) asking for the ability to do so. I still need to know for myself. I believe religious crazies come about in two ways. One is they listen to someone else and don't think for themselves. The other is they listen to some inner voice and ignore reason. We are taught in 2 Corinthians that "In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established." Two witnesses include a) the prophet and b) the Holy Ghost. If we listen to just one of these sources, we're in danger of becoming a religious extremist. I know this doesn't help those who feel they have earnestly sought the will of the Lord and felt inspired in ways contrary to the teachings of the prophets, but I have never had a problem, when earnestly trying, to reconcile my feelings with the direction from the prophets. It sometimes takes some mighty prayer, but it has always worked for me.

The nice thing about these two quotes is that Joseph Smith specifically mentioned that it's wrong to obey a leader (he doesn't specify what kind of leader, other than to say "president," which is a whole 'nother discussion) when one KNOWS that it is wrong. We are also told that we will never be wrong to obey the prophet or the twelve apostles acting as a whole. For that reason, I will always obey, even if I don't understand. I say "understand," and not "agree," for a reason. I will be sure that I feel something is right before I obey it. I need to know it comes from God. But I don't need to know WHY. I'm fine with that coming later.

I also think it's important to note that I read a lot of arguments against the church's recent stance that include the doctrine that the church is perfect, but its members are not. That, to mean, means that we might some time catch our prophet in a sin, and our testimonies should not be shaken if we do. It does NOT mean that the prophet will issue a commandment or direction that is not aligned with God's will.

Anyway, I hope these posts help people to understand my perspective, and maybe figure out where to look for some of their own answers. I find myself talking about prophets and gays and politics in about 90% of my discussions these days. I'm not trying to be super persuasive here, but rather to explicate my thought processes. I firmly believe that I can be a faithful Latter Day Saint, obey the prophet, and think for myself. I hope that in the very least, people will recognize that my own obedience to dictates from the "brethren" does not come with no price or cost.

Love you all.

--Robbie.

4 comments:

Audrey said...

Thanks for all of your recent posts on Prop 8. It's nice to find someone who believes and obeys for the same reasons I do, but who can articulate his thoughts much more clearly than I can mine!

Original Mohomie said...

I understand what you're saying and think more people understand than it may seem. I've proclaimed the same thoughts in years past, and as well worded, if I do say so myself. ;-)

Something else happens, though, when you finally run into something that you CAN'T reconcile and aren't convinced is more right than the alternative. It's no longer a matter of "they will never ask us to do something that's not right". Now, perhaps an almighty God needs an army which responds immediately to each command in order to carry out his work, and this is one way of proving us (I fail). But it all seems so much simpler until you run into a case where you truly can't convince yourself that obedience is the right course. Suddenly, obeying counsel with a shrug simply to earn your spiritual insurance policy (sleeping soundly and getting blessings for obeying) seems insufficient and disingenuous, and comfort is then found in the dearth of statements saying that to DISobey a "wrong" command carries no condemnation or withholding of blessings (though the blessings may come differently or for different reasons).

But then, I'm no spiritual authority, so I'm probably just out of touch with inspiration and hitting a brick wall because of my own distance from the Spirit. That's the convenient explanation, anyway.

But an important reminder, on a personal level, is to work it out for ourselves and work to lift each other where we can and forgive one person for voting "no" on prop 8, forgive another for obeying blindly without thought or conviction, forgive another for unfairly slapping their child, forgive another for disobeying the Lord's counsel given through many prophets to avoid R-rated movies or have more than one piercing in an ear, forgive yet another for having a homo-romantic relationship against the apostles' counsel, forgive others for thinking themselves more righteous than others because they don't drink caffeinated beverages...

That's not to say we shouldn't really work through our questions raised by situations like this, but maybe sometimes, while we're upset and in turmoil over our spiritual angst and cognitive dissonance, it is helpful to step back and let ourselves refill with love, patience, forebearance, charity, kindness...

Mustard said...

It all comes down to faith. I have struggled with this issue myself, but your posts and my recent scripture study has confirmed in my soul that I don't know everything, and somethings I have to take on faith. 1 Nephi 8:31-34
"And he also saw other multitudes feeling their way towards that great and spacious building. And it came to pass that many were drowned in the depths of the fountain; and many were lost from his view, wandering in strange roads. And great was the multitude that did enter into that strange building. And after they did enter into that building they did point the finger of scorn at me and those that were partaking of the fruit also, but we heeded them not. These are the words of my father; For as many as heeded them, had fallen away."

Robert Anthony Pierce II said...

That's a zinger, mom! My scripture study seems to reaffirm my faith in these concepts every night lately. Here's last night's soundbite:

Alma 13:2 (and really all he surrounding verses were great)

"And those priests were ordained after the order of his Son, in a manner that thereby the people might know in what manner to look forward to the Son for redemption."

I love that it so clearly ties our obedience to the words of our leaders to the role of the atonement in our lives, which is the most important aspect of the gospel to me.