Mormonism as taught through the revelations of Joseph Smith answers most of the really hard questions dubious Christians have historically had about mankind’s basic relationship to God. Joseph Smith wasn’t the first “Christian” to be skeptical about Plato’s “Perfect Being” theories. Joseph Smith “revealed” if you will, that God and his Son are two separate Deities, their third companion is a Spirit, we’re all part of the same family, spiritual and physical sons and daughters of God. The Father and Son are “Perfected” humans, and we can be “Perfected” under their mentoring as well. We’re here to learn and grow and be more like our Father in Heaven, and so forth. These lost “plain and precious” truths are the sort of thing Joseph Smith was on about when we spoke of the “fullness” of the gospel. Not even Joseph Smith however, and his direct dictation from Deity actually restored all knowledge about everything God has in store for every facet and condition of mankind.
The embarrassing fact for those Mormons harping on the notion that the LDS “Prophets” of modern times make the church inherently superior, is that even by Mormon standards, Jesus has actually not maintained an ongoing stream of “new” revelation. He ultimately hasn’t revealed a whole lot more to modern Mormon prophets than he did to his contemporary ancient apostles, no matter how much today’s Mormon leadership imagines to the contrary. And, of what He has or could reveal to modern man, even Mormon leadership accepts that rather a lot of possible oncoming “revelation,” is still not meant to be openly broadcast anyway. Joseph Smith really only spoke of restoring those few but vital, key bits of Divine knowledge that had been lost, bent, or eroded through generations of the Church trying to fill in the blanks with Platonism and human “logic.” During Smith’s era of restoration, naturally, the volume of “new” or actually “restored” information came in a flood. Then it was all written down more or less, and the flood trickled off to just an occasional drip, after Joseph Smith. Because Joseph Smith had done his job. Which was restoring the church and those missing bits of data needed to run it properly.
Daily communication with God has never been the normal state of human condition. It has not so been since man was cast out of the Garden of Eden. It is not part of the deal, even for Mormons, even for Mormon “Prophets.”
For example, Moses came out of nowhere historically speaking, became a major prophet, wrote half the Old Testament, worked plagues and miracles, talked to God regularly, wandered around for 40 years in the desert, led his people to the Promised Land, and then, as my Norse ancestors would say, at this point Moses leaves the saga. He just disappears. From that day to this, thousands upon thousands of years, there have been only a handful of “prophets” who rose to anything like the stature of Moses. Each prophet before and after Moses likewise rose to the specific Biblically recorded task God had set for him, jotted down any specific task-related instructions which got added to the canon, and when the job was done they died, sealed their testimony with blood, or otherwise were never heard of again. We do not, just to make the point clear, ever read in the Biblical records of a string of functionary, custodial “Prophet” replacements who after the big prophet was gone and the main job was over, hung around and kept busy administering the program in an organized church structure. There are no biblical records where Aaron takes over for Moses, and then writes down a completely different spin on the “golden calf” episode from his own perspective. You don’t read the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and get to sort through each writer’s opinions of what the other three had to say about this subject or that. Yes, that all came later in the greater Christian Church, but it came from Church Fathers and Apologists and Clergy, none of whom claimed to be a “living prophet.” Granted, they acted as if they were and considered themselves infallible anyway.
If we take the existing Christian canon as the Word of God in any case, we can only assume that with a few exceptions, we’re still reading what Moses or Daniel or Ezekiel or Jeremiah wrote thousands of years ago because there wasn’t much God needed to add to it till the next job came up hundreds or thousands of years later and a new prophet needed calling. And in the Biblical record, it seems clear that each succeeding “Prophet” was only concerned with what he was doing for God and His people at the time, not harmonizing a whole prophetic tradition, or bringing everyone up to current status in the dogma department.
Now, it can be argued that preparing for the arrival of Jesus Christ was the whole point of the Old Testament prophets, and He did in fact harmonize the canon to that point by showing up personally and telling us all how the story ended. You could easily assume that His arguments and commentaries that became the New Testament do indeed take Christianity up to the current status. To accept that view however, you’d have to believe that Jesus was a very poor writer and had no sense of organization at all. He never wrote anything down for one thing. All his apostles got tortured and murdered to death in less than a lifetime, and his organization has been terrorizing itself ever since.
In Mormonism’s “most correct of any book on earth,” the Book of Mormon, you have exactly the history of prophet-to-prophet hand-offs combined with prophetic condensation, abridgement, clarification and preservation you’d expect in a real God-Guided system. Those prophets got wiped out as well, but they were more devout scribblers than their Old World equivalents obviously. But the Book of Mormon, all boasts aside, frankly doesn’t add much to the Biblical canon in terms of new and revelatory doctrinal points. Most of the Book of Mormon’s value lies in it’s existence. It’s a conceptual proof that God has other sheep, that God speaks to other prophets, that a modern prophet revealed and translated it, that the canon is still open. What’s recorded in the Book of Mormon could never be more revolutionary or revelatory than that it exists at all.
The problem we have with Mormonism in the area of ongoing prophecy, is that starting with Joseph Smith, you do now in fact have a highly structured bureaucracy leading a permanently constituted organizational “Church” structure. Its president takes upon himself the title of “Prophet, Seer, and Revelator,” and then uncomfortably waits for the next church-related job God feels a need to personally take an interest in. It’s like the Book of Mormon system only it happens in real-time. You end up with caretakers making perfunctory notes for posterity just to say they did something, as did Omni and Jarom and Enos, just handing down the book generation after generation, sometimes adding a note about how nothing much was happening so they’re just passing down the records like they were told to do. This, honestly speaking, is exactly what the “Restored” Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) has become since the martyrdom of Joseph Smith. This is not necessarily a reflection upon LDS leadership. Joseph Smith was shot all to hell by Christian mobs to shut him up and kill the movement, and perhaps that was part of God’s plan, but it is mostly a good indication that God generally calls any given “major” prophet to do a specific job and then whatever happens to him afterward just happens, because the job is done. In Smith’s case the claimed job was “Restoration,” and having “Restored” the structure and key doctrines necessary, we can assume that not only was Joseph Smith done with the assignment, but God was fairly happy with the wisdom and knowledge He’d revealed in the process, and therefore Smith’s successors could expect not a whole lot of additional conversation with Deity until conditions according to God’s timetable and desires warranted it.
Then again, the whole point of being a mortal—something God has amply revealed to both ancient and modern prophets—is for us to work out our own Salvation by making our own choices. The whole point of mortality is lost if God instructs mankind point-by-point and item-by-item what to do, what to think, and how to live all day every day. Mormon canon teaches of obedience, but the principle of obedience is a choice based upon faith, not an absolutely guaranteed, Divinely decreed and spelled-out formula to follow because it’s proven to “earn” you a certain reward based upon performance.
What Joseph Smith actually restored was the “Church,” a system of mortal government, through which God allows man to regulate man’s own participation in God’s Kingdom. God doesn’t need the Church. Man needs the Church. The Church is a mortal institution run by and for mortals. The difference between Mormonism and any other “Christian” church, is authority. Mormonism, if you care to buy it, claims to have direct authority from Jesus Christ to administer to His believers in His name. That’s authority mind you. Along with authority comes power and inspiration, and there’s where it gets a bit sticky. The Mormon hierarchy holds the “keys,” which means the token authority to talk directly to God, to commune with angels, the Holy Spirit, or see visions, heal the sick, raise the dead, any of all that miraculous stuff. I fully believe that the current LDS president for example, could talk to Jesus personally. I take that on faith. But I don’t have to believe that he doesn’t do that however, because he has said he doesn’t. I therefore know he doesn’t talk to God and Angels. That is not faith based. So what I know for a fact is, that Jesus doesn’t sit in the Salt Lake Temple and directly administer HIs church. And more to the point, Jesus isn’t up in the Church Office Building passing on daily lessons to the Brethren about bigger and bigger doctrinal concepts just for entertainment purposes.
The Church is about salvation. It’s about serving Christ and feeding His sheep. You just don’t need to know that much to accomplish this mission. Jesus doesn’t need to come down and micromanage the operation. And sure, by the time you read this some LDS “Prophet” may say he’s had a face-to-face with Jesus, and I’ll gladly accept this as the truth if and when it happens. It simply hasn’t happened since Joseph Smith to date.
Mormon priesthood authority is an exercise in on-the-job self-training. The various LDS authorities over time, have always been rather diverse in the way they trained themselves, and the way they defined their system of government. Originally, whatever Joseph Smith said about anything was “doctrine.” That was pretty much the whole early LDS organizational structure. What is or isn’t “LDS “doctrine” since then has always been inherently uncertain apart from somebody openly claiming a “revelation” and then having it unanimously sustained by the three ruling Mormon priesthood bodies, the Quorum of the Seventy, the Council of Twelve, and the First Presidency. Short of the completion of this canonization process, there have always existed “gospel hobbies” that general authorities, BYU religion professors, and even the general membership have been allowed to play with. These “mysteries” are pondered through generations and infiltrate many levels of official and semi-official LDS “theology,” but have no basis in revelation or authority and thus are not “doctrine.” This remains true, even though the likes of Bruce R McConkie might have sternly and apparently “authoritatively” argued his own unique brilliance here there and everywhere for however many years.
And down a hundred rungs of the LDS doctrinal evolutionary ladder from bona-fide, half-credentialed doctrinal pretenders like Bruce R McConkie, hangs the likes of one W Cleon Skousen–by his prehensile tail probably. Skousen made his fame first by becoming a “Commie Hunter,” and gaining a hysterical popularity in the dry little Salt Lake Valley back in the McCarthy era, and this he used as a platform for promoting his bogus doctrinal babblings as well, assisted again by virtue of his lame BYU half-title and his chumminess with a couple of key church presidents. But even his most staunch and authoritative supporters in the First Presidency ultimately turned their backs on Skousen. And yet, Skousen remains protected even today from those who would sully his legacy. Even when McConkie gave his lecture on modern heresy at BYU in 1980, Skousen and I were both in attendance. I always wondered why Brother Bruce didn’t just name Cleon as a “Modern Heretic” from the lectern and be done with it. Professor Eugene England unfortunately didn’t have Skousen’s connections, so it was England who got the infamous dressing-down letter from McConkie instead.
Let’s not pretend there aren’t any “politics” in the church.
If you believe that the LDS “Prophet” talks directly to God, if you believe that’s the whole point of the church, and that the entire LDS governmental system was established by Joseph Smith merely so it could rubber-stamp its approval of anything the “Prophet” comes up with, I submit that you are a fool. And Bruce R McConkie agrees with me apparently. Actually, McConkie would call you a damned fool.
If you think any half-arsed theory belched out in a stake fireside by any given LDS “prophet,” in the last two centuries or so is living scripture, or that any jackass book written by some LDS prophet’s best buddy, or some little tome once given some offhand praise by The Brethren, singularly, or en-masse, rates as “Mormon doctrine,” you’re basically a heretic. This sort or confusion and anarchy is not the church Joseph Smith established, and definitely not the church God had in mind when He “revealed” a three-bodied regulatory structure set up as a check-and-balance system in the very image of the US Constitution–which again, Joseph Smith maintained was inspired by God to establish God’s purposes and Kingdom on Earth.
In the organization of a new stake recently, a general authority rolled into town to conduct the various meetings and sustain new stake authorities. This authority came to the business of installing the new stake president and put him before the body to be sustained. “Those who can sustain (so-and-so) in this calling, please manifest by the uplifted hand…. And then he said, “Those opposed…as if it would make any difference….” concluding with a drifting-off tone, a wink, and a responsive chuckle from the crowd.
Plainly, this general authority was under the impression that the rubber-stamping process should be enforced all the way down to you and me out there in the pews on Sunday. If I had raised my hand and objected to the sustaining of a man who’d been molesting my toddlers, would that make a difference do you suppose? What if he were looking to sustain a vote on something really really controversial, something that changed doctrine and the church itself? How about plural marriage for instance?
To Whom It May Concern:
…Inasmuch as laws have been enacted by Congress forbidding plural marriages, which laws have been pronounced constitutional by the court of last resort, I hereby declare my intention to submit to those laws, and to use my influence with the members of the Church over which I preside to have them do likewise.
There is nothing in my teachings to the Church or in those of my associates, during the time specified, which can be reasonably construed to inculcate or encourage polygamy; and when any Elder of the Church has used language which appeared to convey any such teaching, he has been promptly reproved. And I now publicly declare that my advice to the Latter-day Saints is to refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land.
President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Salt Lake City, Utah, October 6, 1890.
Now, you might expect me to use plural marriage as an example of prophetic waffling or doctrinal unclarity. Nothing could be more untrue. The above declaration simply falls back to previous, superseding doctrines about honoring, sustaining and obeying the law, long found directly from Joseph Smith and published in the Wentworth Letter, now called the Articles of Faith.
The truth is, laws were passed that were specifically designed to kill Mormonism. These authorized civil authority to confiscate the entire bank account of the LDS church and every stick of property it owned for teaching that plural marriage was a correct Biblical principle. The accusation president Woodruff was fending off was that Mormons may have stopped teaching plural marriage as a proper Biblical marital status, but everyone knew the church still believed it and so all of Mormonism was still guilty. In the end, Mormonism’s Christian persecutors made a lot of headway into making that “thought-crime” stick anyway, Constitutional or not. However, as long as plural marriage was neither taught nor authorized by the LDS church, the church was legally off the hook. So, the above “Manifesto” was published and the policy was sustained as canon doctrine and thereby Mormons were officially out of the multiple wife business. In reality, all it really does is re-assert the LDS respect and deference for the Constitution of the United States of America, which on this uniquely Mormon marital issue, had been manipulated by a lot of activist Christian judges and attorneys who’s real interest was destroying the church, not regulating marriage.
What I’m most fascinated by however, is this rather casual aside to the whole controversy:
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. (Excerpts from Three Addresses by President Wilford Woodruff Regarding the Manifesto: Sixty-first Semiannual General Conference of the Church, Monday, October 6, 1890, Salt Lake City, Utah. Reported in Deseret Evening News, October 11, 1890, p. 2.)
The emphasis is mine above. This is the most self-serving, logically circular, and mindlessly, NAZI-propaganda-like verse in all of the LDS scriptures. This is papal infallibility added to the king’s divine right to rule added to the deity of pharaoh as implemented today. In reality, it’s merely a quick aside by way of introducing the gravity of Woodruff’s announcement about abandoning plural marriage. He’s merely reassuring that he’s not a fallen prophet for retreating from the practice. This little reassurance however, is now a bigger statement of “Mormon doctrine” than the plural marriage Manifesto it prefaces. It is used by any general authority in the church, and particularly the president, to halt any debate on any subject he’s decided to booster. The literal belief of those promoting it, is that since the guy they’re backing is still moving their lips and words are coming out, it must be God’s direct will, because if it wasn’t, God would have struck them dead on the spot before He’d allow any of them to babble out anything goofy or misleading.
Anyone who’s read half of what Brigham Young babbled about knows this surely cannot be true. Ask Bruce McConkie. For some reason Bruce and I have become rather sympatico in my old age on this score. But on the other hand, Brigham Young also said this:
“The greatest fear I have is that the people of this Church will accept what we say as the will of the Lord without first praying about it and getting the witness within their own hearts that what we say is the word of the Lord.” 21
President Woodruff had no intention of making a claim of LDS infallibility where the president of the church is concerned when he assured his audience that the Lord would not let the LDS leadership lead its flock astray. That wasn’t even his point. All he was trying to do was brace them for a major reversal in what had become a major doctrine of salvation for the Saints in Utah.
But isn’t there indeed a system set up that would in fact check any church president before he went very far astray? Isn’t that called “church government?” Isn’t that called being governed “by common consent,” rather than being obligatorily extorted by the powerful to rubber-stamp their decrees? Or Is God’s whole plan to guard His people from human error, ignorance and prejudice, just to shoot a lightning bolt through the prophet if he misspeaks?
And isn’t it through church government, not a direct call from God, that the church president gets to be church president in the first place? It’s all done by seniority of call, not a voting process. Originally succession went to the oldest apostle, later changed to the senior apostle by time of service in the calling. Automatic succession by seniority eliminates a lot of politics, but has its disadvantages as well and tends to create a geriarchy led by the least current old codger who’s the least connected with what’s going on now in the world. And it leaves lingering, fluttering death-strings of those who have strong doctrinal views on one side of an argument, who die after a few years or even months of harping on it as a new president, only to be replaced by another octogenarian on his death bed who has an entirely opposite viewpoint. But you see, I’m wrong for even seeing what is patently obvious and saying a word about it to anyone according to Dallin Oaks or Bruce R McConkie. The proper duty of the rank-and-file Mormon is to quietly pray your heart out hoping God will eventually take care of it directly or the Brethren with eventually pull their heads out of their collective arses.
I could be even wronger by pointing out that Acts 1:15-26 clearly explains how the original apostles, let by Peter, selected a member of their body, and that it involved a pre-selection and the casting of lots—nothing like the procedure used in Mormonism today. And Brigham Young governed without a presidency for many years before he dared call himself “president” of the church and take Joseph Smith’s place directly—for fear of congregational dissent. So Mormon claims of having the same organization as the “primitive” Church is a little grandiose. To make the point clearer, Jesus personally appeared and called his apostles. What happens now doesn’t even involve casting lots to introduce a Divinely random input to the selection. For generations Utahns were calling Utahns from around the Valley and the system just shuffled them down the seniority line and that’s how we got who we got in there now, period. In order to sell the notion that Jesus personally called today’s “Prophet,” you have to assume Jesus “prompted” his name to stand out on a list of local candidates on some ward roster forty or fifty years ago, and through Divine Providence, rising here and there to this and that call, the fact that he ended up at the top of the hierarchy was subtly guided all that time through all those processes, and most of all you have to believe that God predestined him to be born along the Wasatch Front to just the right Mormon family. All of this bolsters the contention that the closed and ignorant society of Utah is Zion and God’s repository of all wisdom and spirituality. Why else would all the “Prophets” come from Utah? Well, because the selection process has essentially excluded anyone out of earshot of the Salt Lake temple from even getting on a list. The concept of God appearing at the deathbed of the outgoing “Prophet” and speaking the name and GPS coordinates of His Chosen successor isn’t in the system.
Which leads me to a load of constantly changing doctrines and policies, or even canon verse, like the repeated changing of temple ceremonial texts which are the highest of the LDS canon, the rules for conducting the quorums of the LDS leadership, even the questions on the temple recommend list and how they got there, that just somehow, somewhere get “decided” and continue forever until one day they change it all, and basically you’re just supposed to deem it none of your business. Annoying, yes, goes directly to the topic of Mormon doctrine, but for me and most other Mormons, not terribly troubling because these are doctrinal components not meant for public consumption anyway.
What is however openly troubling for many Latter-day Saints is the Mormon “no contention” doctrine. This very popular dogma has been magnifying itself for generations and is now cited any time you disagree with anyone of any authority in the church. The first person to stop the argument and say in the sweetest primary voice, “I feel the spirit of contention,” wins their point, and disrespects the other party into silence. This phenomenon arises out one silly verse in 3d Nephi that Mormonism has taken to the hysterically extreme:
29 For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit ofacontention is not of me, but is of the bdevil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.
Dallin Oaks is famous for his role in very publicly taking this blind obedience principle to new heights in the first major network television documentary about the modern LDS church under president Gordon B Hinckley. In this video Oaks gives a little lecture against criticizing LDS church leadership, in which he says without a trace of sarcasm or so much as a wink to the irony of it:
It’s wrong to criticise leaders of the church, even if the criticism is true.
Oak’s suggestion arises from the very real LDS expectation that as its leadership is speaking away incorrectly, or heading the church down the wrong path, God will send an angel to “reveal” their error, or that God will actually strike the offending idiot dead before any damage can be done. Therefore, no rank-and-file Mormon need ever speak out. Just patiently wait for the “Brethren” to either correct themselves or be corrected by Deity. Have faith and wait–however long it takes for them to realize what is blatantly obvious to you and the world. And again, this inane contention arises from Wilford Woodruff’s urgent appeal to his flock to not fire him or leave the church in mass exodus because he was putting the kibosh on plural marriage.
The dilemma I have here is that the claims of Mormon leadership’s infallibility, combined with the congregation’s duty to ignore their error even when they are obviously being fallible, is clearly Mormon doctrine. There are verses in canon scripture. Everyone believes it literally. These notions are standard citations by leadership to prove that leadership is never wrong. And yes, numerous other scriptures refute the notion of LDS leadership infallibility, but are not nearly as faith-instilling and spiritually sexy. To a church leader, statements from scripture that suggest infallibility are like spiritual crack. It’s a shortcut to a spiritual high, or at least obedience. Scripture that concedes LDS leadership to be mere mortals and thus fallible, are only cited on rare occasions to explain away doctrinal paradoxes and changes over the years.
Papal infallibility is a cheap and easy doctrinal win. It sticks to any argument you want to win as a massive force-multiplier, even if you only have a shred of implied authority behind you. It is obviously not likely to be abandoned by anyone in authority. The only way to combat contemporary human authority, is to fire back a contradictory verse of canon. So just like any Biblical scripture, just like any other religious denomination, Mormons a lot of the time just end up bashing even the modern canon verses back and forth, proving to themselves whatever they want to believe anyway. And in perfect circular argument, Papal infallibility allows you to dismiss any canonical argument against you by contending that the Pope is not only infallible, but the only mortal authority capable of properly defining not just doctrine, but the Divine canon itself, and by extension how canon is to be applied and interpreted.
Joseph Smith almost daily, hammered straight and true at specific questions and nailed the answers to the canon wall. What virtually every Mormon “prophet” since Smith has done instead, is occasionally extrapolate from either Smith’s revelations and statements of faith, or tangential statements by Smith other prophets. For example, President Woodruff clearly didn’t mean his little preface to become what it has now become. He had intended a simple reassurance that in the specific case of his cessation of plural marriage, that he had seen a revelation outlining its necessity. He makes this abundantly clear. He makes it abundantly clear that all he is promising is that in the matter at hand, he is not a fallen prophet. Likewise, Nephi’s warning against contention never intended to stifle earnest and enthusiastic debate.
Apparently modern Mormon leaders find attempting to nail down Mormon doctrine point-by-point in specific terms so trepedatious that they don’t actually do it unless, and until literally slapped repeatedly about the head and chest with it. When it won’t go away, when it will result in death and destruction and the end of the church, when riots might ensue at any moment, when the entire progress of the Kingdom of God on Earth is at stake, only then will they actually sit down and deal with the given issue—and then only that issue. I could suppose that this seems to be because they are skittish of late about pulling a meeting on some critical doctrinal crises because it implies, nay almost demands that somebody in charge of the meeting pony-up a revelation, or they all look impotent, ineffectual, and a bit silly arguing amongst themselves just like commoners.
In the case of plural marriage, Joseph Smith received a revelation sustaining the practice of plural marriage as observed by ancient prophets. (Section 132 D&C.) The modern Saints began to practice it. That led to serious social and political problems that would have destroyed the church. Wilford Woodruff went to the Lord, then the body of the church, laid out all the doctrinal considerations, asserted that God had told him to issue a decree that the practice should be stopped, and made a completely consistent and rational account of both himself and God’s will in the matter.
No complaints have I then, with Wilford Woodruff or the whole plural marriage issue. The system worked. That’s actually how serious LDS doctrinal points should be dealt with. But you must also see, that in the course of solving one doctrinal dilemma, Wilford Woodruff’s allusion to LDS presidential infallibility just created another huge doctrinal controversy. As a practical policy, all LDS general authorities are now treated by themselves and their membership as if they were infallible. If not infallible perhaps, then certainly unquestionable. In effect, infallible by other means.
As it happens, the local priesthood lesson this coming week is a little tome by Ezra Taft Benson, out of the June 1980 Liahona, titled, Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet. It’s a classic, self-serving primer in LDS hierarchal terrorism:
1. The prophet is the only man who speaks for the Lord in everything.
2. The living prophet is more vital to us than the standard works.
3. The living prophet is more important to us than a dead prophet.
4. The prophet will never lead the church astray.
5. The prophet is not required to have any particular earthly training or credentials to speak on any subject or act on any matter at any time.
6. The prophet does not have to say “Thus Saith the Lord,” to give us scripture.
7. The prophet tells us what we need to know, not always what we want to know.
8. The prophet is not limited by men’s reasoning.
9. The prophet can receive revelation on any matter, temporal or spiritual.
10. The prophet may advise on civic matters.
11. The two groups who have the greatest difficulty in following the prophet are the proud who are learned and the proud who are rich.
12. The prophet will not necessarily be popular with the world or the worldly.
13. The prophet and his counselors make up the First Presidency—the highest quorum in the Church.
14. The prophet and the presidency—the living prophet and the First Presidency—follow them and be blessed—reject them and suffer.
It would take gigabytes to tear into the fascinatingly backwards little sermons that Benson delivers to explain each of these points, but for present purposes I will simply remark that this lesson appeared thirty-one years ago as of this writing as a First Presidency message and it preceded Bruce McConkie’s famous rebuke of Eugene England, in which McConkie vehemently contradicts most of Benson’s points above. McConkie could not have been unaware of it and perhaps it’s a bit of a play from the top to slap down both sides of the then raging battle over just who decided what Mormon doctrine was. This war was fought on the one side by BYU religion professors and other civilian dabblers like Skousen, and on the other hand, was waged on the offensive by a somewhat two-fronted attack first from Bruce R McConkie, who used the opportunity to declare himself the prime arbiter of all things doctrinal, and finally, not entirely in lockstep with McConkie, a late-entering bombing run of official declarations from “The Brethren” trying to own the debate and keep McConkie in his place. By Benson’s criteria this list of “truths” is “modern scripture” and “more vital to us than the standard works,” and essentially superior to Mormon canon. Benson had the credentials and wrote as President of the Quorum of Twelve, on assignment of the First Presidency, delivered it in official LDS forum, and published it in official LDS magazines. Either Benson and his Quorum of Twelve and First Presidency are preaching false doctrine here, and leading the whole church astray, or Bruce R McConkie was a heretic.
Another way to phrase this convoluted argument is to say that Mormons in the little Utah Valley after many generations of isolation had finally got smart. They made a university. Then they found out that if you get smart and encourage study and analysis and free-thinking, you end up with a lot of Mormons with high degrees asking questions that “The Brethren” can’t answer or can’t answer without calling their predecessors ignorant and uninspired at least by implication. You are now stuck, because the “Glory of God is Intelligence,” but intelligent Mormons spot problems and inconsistencies and outright incorrectness. They find these things in Mormon leadership, their writings, and their theories, past and present. McConkie’s solution was to claim it’s all about the canon. The ultimate standard of correct Mormon doctrine is tested with the canon, and no matter who said it at what level of authority in the LDS church, if it disagrees with the canon, the error is with the man and the doctrine, never the canon. The Brethren responded by boasting that God has thus far only called the divinely inspired ignorant and unpopular to serve as prophets, went on to categorize the intelligent and educated as inherently rebellious and ripe for hell, and threw in the rich just to cover all bases since the rich tend to be better educated anyway. And most importantly, The Brethren also pointed out to lesser authorities like Bruce McConkie that it is the First Presidency and only the First Presidency that has anything to say about anything doctrinal.
This of course, did little to shut Bruce McConkie up, or dissuade his by then massive fan base amongst the LDS general membership, or even give them cause for tempering their absolutely desperate loyalty to his officially condemned encyclopedia of Mormon Doctrine.
Officially, Bruce McConkie’s warning to Eugene England that canon scripture, including modern canon revelations, are the foundation of Mormon “Gospel,” is false. According to Benson’s sermon delivered at England’s very place of employment, BYU, only months previous to England’s berating by McConkie, canon scripture is not in point of fact the measuring stick by which we establish the truth of Mormon doctrine. Not according to the “Prophet.” Officially, the “Prophet” says that Mormon doctrine is whatever the present “Prophet” says it is. And it doesn’t have to be a “revelation” and it doesn’t have to be informed, educated, or inspired. It could be on any subject including civic or political matters. Officially, the “Prophet’s” every random opinion is “more vital” than canon scripture. That’s not me being sarcastic. That’s exactly the way it is repeatedly spelled out in official teaching materials. That is the way it is universally understood in the church.
Officially, when a new “Prophet” assumes the title of LDS President, Mormon doctrine becomes whatever he changes it to. A living “Prophet” trumps the entire history of dead prophets and everything they passed on, including thousands of years of canon scripture.
That’s what the “Prophet” teaches.
But then, what would you expect the “Prophet’s” take on the issue to be? Would you expect him to say, don’t listen to me all that closely—I’m just wingin’ it like you with the scriptures and doin’ my best to make sense of it all…? Of course the prophet’s going to tell you to follow himself. Of course he’s going to promise you the Lord would never let him fail you.
I’d love to be able to explain this in a more credible, sensible, even logical fashion, particularly for the sake of some wavering Saint or LDS investigator who finds this irrational line of dogma intellectually retarded and spiritually troubling. This is all the better I can do.
LDS prophets and leaders are by their own definition, infallibly fallible. The effective doctrine on LDS leadership fallibility is that they are indeed fallible, but you’re not allowed to call them on it.