52 comments for “On Staying or Straying

  1. My wife is teaching this lesson in Relief Society today. She’s been nearly sick for a month trying to figure out how to deal with or work around this idea. I’ll be interested to read this discussion.

  2. At this point, an utterly fabulous notion–ranking with “Adam is the only God with whom we have to do” and those present with JS would see the Second Coming in 56 years.

  3. This is how I’ve thought about it, cut-and-pasted from here: http://bycommonconsent.com/2010/10/05/conference-quotes-fourteen-fundamentals-part-1/

    I think your driving-the-car metaphor can help us with the meaning of ‘astray’ (which, as far as I know, has never been officially or adequately defined):

    God will not let the car be driven into a ditch. He would remove the driver first.

    But that doesn’t mean that the prophet can’t drive a longer-than-necessary route, take a detour, or swerve so hard I throw up out the window, etc.

    I can rest assured that I should be in the car, but not that I will enjoy the ride. :)

  4. I think the shepherd metaphor is probably better because it is a perpetual choice, not a one time choice after which you’re at the mercy of the driver. Jesus was pretty good at picking metaphors.

  5. On my mission, I met a Catholic priest who said to me “one of the big differences between Mormons and Catholics is that Catholics claim to believe in papal infallibility but the members don’t, while Mormons claim not to, but the members actually do.”

    We should not confuse “not leading the church astray” with “mistakes.” Prophets old and modern have made lots of mistakes. The scriptures and church history are full of them. It is a testimony to me that with all the mistakes made by our prophets, the church continues. Christ’s church is bigger than them or any of us.

    I think we hold prophets to an impossible standard and then get disappointed when they don’t live up to it. Likely, some of that is due to their rhetoric but it is mostly due to a large body of church members who desperately want to believe that their prophet won’t make any mistakes and they can take every word spoken by the prophet as personally, literally, applying to them. Our past has shown that is never the case and we need to get past that.

  6. We could assume everything else in the church to be true, yet allow the prophet his agency to lead the church for good or bad, and nothing else changes. This statement, that the prophet cannot lead the church astray, rests only on itself for support, nor us it required to support any other gospel doctrine.

    On the other hand, many people seem to use this as an argument against the church. For example, BY taught Adam was God, later overturned by subsequent church leaders, therefore one or the other must have lead the church astray, therefore church-is-not-true. QED. But this argument also fails because if you don’t assume prophetic infallibity at the beginning then the argument that the prophet cannot lead the church astray has no other basis and is merely an unfounded assertion.

    In the end, the statement says nothing to me. It has no basis in canon, other than OD1. It is not part of any offical revelation. Ironically when Benson quoted it, the current prophet had serious concerns about the talk! And whether you assume it to be true or false has little to no bearing on the other church doctrines.

    And most importantly (IMO), it serves as a cop out and justification for promoting and enforcing blind obedience. Does someone see a problem in the church? No, because Prophet. Support prop 8 because Prophet. No in vitro fertilization because Prophet (I might be making that one up… Not sure.). No Birth control because Prophet. 30 years later birth control is a personal decision (because people have been using it and the prophet hasn’t said anything, so it must be okay, right?)

  7. Staying or straying – I don’t think there’s any difference between these two terms (unlike staying or leaving). There is just the path the Church is on, which is straying all the time, first this way, then that, it’s a winding road. Staying the course is an act of faith (and patience) that the church will ‘get there’ eventually, wherever ‘there’ is (Zion?), despite its mistakes and misdirections, which are par for the course. Fact: prophets are fallible, they struggle to know the right course, disagree with each other, make mistakes, including terrible ones. I think Benson is actually saying stay the course. I’ve come to admire that in the Mormon faithful because there is something refining in it over the long haul. But I don’t think it’s the only path. And the connotation in the word ‘straying’ that other paths are not also heading ‘there’ is one I reject. I don’t know why we love to forget the universalism and ecumenicism, the humility, in our prophetic tradition and focus instead on these brittle truisms designed to shore up a foolish idea of institutional infallibility.

  8. Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    Julie (#4), I agree the discussion of the phrase boils down to what “lead the Church astray” means. And it is hard to conceive of anything a current President of the Church could actually do that would lead many mainstream Mormons to say, “Wow, he is leading the Church astray!”

    Like Peter (#9), I think the way the phrase “the prophet will never lead the Church astray” is actually used boils down to this: Don’t jump ship; stick with the Church. Stay the course. That makes more sense than interpreting the phrase as a claim of prophetic infallibility, although many Mormons want to make that claim and use the phrase to support thatr claim. But that is not what the phrase is saying at all and it is wrong for the lesson to suggest that is what the phrase implies. Another Correlation fail.

  9. Many prophets and church leaders taught strong “doctrine” about blacks and the priesthood. Many members left the church when the priesthood was restored to all worthy males…so, were they led astray? My thinking is that the prophet cannot lead the church astray given the caveat that the church is centered on Christ and able to distinguish between true doctrine/revelation and the opinions/counsel of a well-intentioned, yet flawed man.

  10. It may be instructive to look at President Benson’s quote in more full context:

    His speech, given at BYU, was entitled: “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet.”

    He has four brief introductory paragraphs before strating with the fourteen “fundamentals.” On of the paragraphs states:

    “To help you pass the crucial tests which lie ahead I am going to give you today several facets of a grand key which, if you will honor them, will crown you with God’s glory and bring you out victorious in spite of Satan’s fury.”

    He then begins the fourteen points. Here is the one that we are discussing today, in full:

    “Fourth: The prophet will never lead the Church astray.

    “President Wilford Woodruff stated: “I say to Israel, The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as president of the Church to lead you astray. It is not in the program. It is not in the mind of God.” (The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, selected by G. Homer Durham [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1946], pp. 212-213.)

    “President Marion G. Romney tells of this incident which happened to him:

    “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.’ 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.’” [In Conference Report, October 1960, p. 78]

    In the case of black Africans and Priesthood, I believe that the church was led seriously astray.

    Racial prejudice (and make no mistake, this policy encouraged racial prejudice) is harmful to those who are be-littled, but also it delivers serious spiritual injury to the instigator.

    This policy, of Priesthood denial, was damaging to Blacks. It denied them a proper place in the church. It kept them out of the temple. It denied them the highest hopes for the next life. It placed them in the place of servitude even God’s kingdom. This was bad for Blacks, but also very bad for Whites.

    While it is easy to say that these opinions and teachings were merely reflections of widely-held cultural norms, the damage remains profound. We are taught that the church is not a man-made-cultural institution, and that we should hold to it, and not the to the “arm-of-flesh” when conflicts appear. We may believe that the church “wasn’t ready” for black-inclusion. But consider this: In 1845 was American society (especially the North) more likely to tolerate the inclusion of Blacks into society, or polygamous marriage? Why are we ready to accept one as “too much” for the church, while embracing the other?

    Employing the “driving the car” analogy. This seems much more than just wandering along the way. This policy was the equal of driving the wrong way, at high speeds, endangering the lives of those inside and outside of the car. There isn’t very much more far “astray” than one could go.

  11. Julie M:

    How can one tell when the car is being driven the wrong direction or at the wrong speed? Was the race ban just an unfortunate detour and we ended up in the right place after all? Polygamy? Was society at large acting as the cops in this scenario, slowing us down, because society at large acted as the agitation promoting change in these “doctrines” as President Hinckley spoke of to the Australian media in the late 90’s?

  12. Yes, I think the car can be driven in the wrong direction and the ban on black women attending the temple is a good example of this. To me, “astray” = totaled in a ditch. The prophet may well drive the wrong way on a certain issue for awhile.

  13. From Rockwell, #8: “And most importantly (IMO), it serves as a cop out and justification for promoting and enforcing blind obedience. Does someone see a problem in the church? No, because Prophet.”

    IMO also!

    Several of the comments so far perform semantic parsing or “apologetics” to get around the problem. The problem resolution is for the GAs to simply, officially, and clearly admit they all make mistakes. Their mistakes don’t (usually) mean they need to be removed from office, but those of us paying attention to history would respect them more if they made such an admission…and amended the hyperbole of “follow the prophet (he can’t lead you astray)” to “trust but verify.” In other words (depending on which era), if you sincerely believe you shouldn’t be a racist, or sexist, or homophobe, etc. It is ok.

  14. What I don’t understand is how we conveniently dismiss the priesthood/temple ban as a product of the existing culture, how God has to work with us where we are. But along comes polygamy, which was pretty radical departure from acceptable marital practices, which many leaders engaged in with little restraint. How is it that God can turn people’s lives upside down with radical marital practices, but couldn’t get across to Brigham Young and succeeding prophets that denying saving ordinances on the basis of one’s skin color was not ok?

  15. i think for most mormons, it means that the church will never be astray, because by definition whatever the prophet does, it is proper. self authenticating, basically.

    And for those who want to say this is something from the 1980s ,in the last year, elder oaks has said you know the church leaders are doing the right thing, and you know they’re doing the right thing, because they are the church leaders.

  16. There is opposition in all things (2 Nephi 2:11). The word “all” looms very large in this verse. I think we should pay more attention to this doctrine in our day.

  17. Like the Sith*, the Church has an unfortunate fondness for absolutes (though this is a common failing of religions.) It is unfortunate because absolutes tend to drive away those who have questions or doubts — after all, if the prophet can make mistakes, then church policies that one disagrees with might just be mistakes, but if the prophet supposedly cannot make mistakes, and one thinks a policy is a mistake, what does that say about the church as a whole?

    *of course, the statement that “only Sith deal in absolutes” is itself an absolute, and therefore disproves itself when spoken by a Jedi. Which is oddly relevant to this discussion.

  18. What he is saying essentially is that the prophets will never lead the church away from God’s will, not necessarily past prophetic policies and utterances. So it doesn’t quite work to say, “aha, Brigham Young’s Adam-God Theory is evidence that he led the church astray, as is past racial policies.” What’s to say that it wasn’t God’s will for BY to experiment with thinking about doctrines and turned out to be wrong or that black males really weren’t to be allowed to be ordained to the priesthood? The problem is how do we know God’s will is? According to LDS doctrine, we can know only through the prophets’ revelations or through personal revelations. So if you say that x utterance or x policy brought forth by the prophet is not God’s will, you have no way of authoritatively establishing that in accordance with Mormon doctrine except if you claim personal revelation. Of course, this has happened before (i.e., Denver Snuffer), and the consequence has typically been excommunication.

    While President Benson is not suggesting that the prophets are infallible, he is saying that their decisions have been, are currently, and will be in alignment with God’s will at least to the extent that it cannot be said that they have led the church astray. Of course, there is no way to objectively verify this.

  19. So we are left with the circular logic of…

    Rule #1 – The boss is always right.
    Rule #2 – If the boss is wrong, see rule #1.

  20. Brigham Young once said: “Live so that you will know whether I teach you truth or not.” Suppose you are careless and unconcerned, and give way to the spirit of the world, and I am led, likewise, to preach the things of this world and to accept things that are not of God, how easy it would be for me to lead you astray! But I say to you, live so that you will know for yourselves whether I tell the truth or not. That is the way we want all Saints to live. Will you do it? Yes, I hope you will, every one of you.” (Journal of Discourses 18:248)

    President John Taylor said something similar: “Do not, brethren, put your trust in a man though he be a bishop, an apostle, or a president. If you do, they will fail you at some time or place; they will do wrong or seem to, and your support be gone…” (Journal of Discourses 20:264)

    Now, these statements present a bit of a conundrum for those who passionately cling to the notion that a prophet is incapable of leading us astray—a proposition, by the way, that has no support in scripture, other than Wilford Woodruff’s circular reasoning in OD1. Brigham Young and John Taylor clearly acknowledge that they, as prophets, are capable of leading us astray. Either that is true (my choice), or else they were preaching a false doctrine that will invariably lead us astray by causing us to question the actions, decisions and leadership of someone who is, in reality, incapable of leading us astray (that rationale has a sort of “Alice-in-Wonderland” quality to it, doesn’t it?).

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I will follow to hell and back an ecclesiastical leader who openly concedes his errors, apologizes for his mistakes and vows to do better. When, however, a church leader assures me that he is incapable of leading me astray, I count my spoons.

  21. “It placed them in the place of servitude even God’s kingdom.”

    Actually, wasn’t it the opposite? Wasn’t the problem that they couldn’t be fully placed in servitude in God’s kingdom?

  22. In the biography of President Kimball and his presidency “Lengthen your stride” the authors (president Kimball’s son and grandson) describe how Brother Benson was called into President Kimball’s office after he gave the talk on “fourteen principles in following the prophet”

    President Kimball had real concerns with some of the implications of the talk, particularly on Benson’s statements that the President of the Church could and should speak on political issues.

    Anybody who quotes from the talk should at the very least put a footnote that this was President Bneson’s view and not official church doctrine

  23. Making a mistake != leading church astray. While the Pres. Benson example in the PH manual at least can be read as implying no significant mistakes, I’m not sure the doctrine itself suggests that. I can’t speak to how all wards dealt with it in discussion, but in our ward the idea of de facto infallibility was definitely shot down.

    Honestly though (and this was brought up as well) I think people are more apt to ignore the prophet than follow something bad. There’s a pretty long list of things prophets have repeated over past few decades that the Church by and large has ignored. (Tithe paying and home teaching being the ones that got mentioned in our lesson)

  24. Dave, I’d like to suggest another topic for discussion.

    Inasmuch as the church, over the past 50 years, has become considerably more “mainstream” in its views on most (though not all) religious and social issues, and given the church’s heightened sensitivity regarding its public image and the advent of the Internet, which ensures instantaneous public scrutiny of every word uttered by the church president, what is the likelihood that a modern-day prophet will issue a pronouncement that would prove divisive within the Mormon community?

  25. One of the best talks ever given by Elder Packer (in part, because it was a bit out of character) is the one he delivered to a group of Regional Representatives in 1990 called “Let Them Govern Themselves.” In it, he discussed the problems arising in the church from the proliferation of too many programs and over-regimentation by the church bureaucracy. In making these points, he drew a parallel with certain events from the Book of Mormon:

    “Both Alma and Helaman told of the Church in their day. They warned about fast growth, the desire to be accepted by the world, to be popular, and particularly they warned about prosperity. Each time those conditions existed in combination, the Church drifted off course. All of those conditions are present in the Church today.”

    Many church members have become intoxicated, often at the urging of their leaders, by the myth of latter-day exceptionalism. They have deluded themselves into thinking that they are extra special, that they are different than those who came before them, that the Lord put them on the earth at this time because they are inordinately valiant, that there is no way that they or their church could repeat the mistakes committed by the peoples of the Book of Mormon or ever be led astray. Brother Packer knew this was false and for that reason, sounded a voice of warning.

    Anyone who hasn’t read his talk, should: https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/pdf/079-28-33.pdf

  26. Polyandry, Adam-God theory, denying blacks temple ordinances, condemning working women, ecclesiastical abuse of women in the Church condoned by GA’s. Excommunicating those who reveal these issues, ie. Lavina Fielding Anderson exposing the latter and not being allowed to be baptized until she confesses that the brethren are infallible. Although I am an active, temple-recommend holding member, the disingenuous manner in which the Church is sharing its views about polygamy, its history with blacks and the priesthood, and its refusal to apologize for any of the wrongs it has committed seems disingenuous at best. Surely, a Church leaders that require members to be honest in all of their dealings should hold to that same standard in their own.

  27. Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    FarSide (#27), the Internet certainly makes more people aware of prior doctrinal and historical missteps by the Church and its leaders. That complicates the simplistic “won’t lead the Church astray” claim and the related if officially disfavored claim of prophetic infallibility. But Correlation seems firmly opposed to any more sophisticated discussion of the issue, so it’s hard to see where the system (as opposed to individual members or leaders) will get beyond the sort of statements seen in Chapter 11 of the current manual, as quoted above.

    Chris8 (#30), I think the essays are a step forward, maybe two steps. Let’s give them a year to two and see what they do with that momentum. Large institutions don’t change overnight or even over one year. As for apologies — Armand Mauss in his Mormon Stories interview a few years ago had a nice discussion of calls for an institutional apology. Institutions aren’t real people, and institutional apologies just don’t work the way personal apologies do. We don’t really need an apology; we need better history, clearer doctrine, and better church governance maybe, but not an apology.

    Let me illustrate. I’m sorry LDS leaders made mistakes in the past. As a Mormon, I apologize that sponsored histories haven’t, in the past, been terribly forthcoming with uncomfortable facts. I am sorry it has taken the Church two generations to produce a successor volume to Essentials in Church History (I’m told it’s coming in a year or two). … Okay, does that really make you feel any better?

  28. Not much better – the apologies need to come from the top. Huge bonus points to see it from the most hardline of the crew (preferably Oaks). Packer is so sick I just feel sorry for the guy…

  29. Like I said, go read Mauss, the sociologist. Pleas for apologies serve the interests of those advocating their own agenda, not the interests of the institution or its members/participants. You need a more realistic proposal.

  30. Dave, I think your assessment is both honest and accurate, though not particularly encouraging for those of us who would like to see a more open and candid discussion of this topic.

    I, too, heartily endorse the thoughts of Armand Mauss on this subject. I think there is great wisdom in his suggestion that we are less likely to be disappointed with our church leaders if we start with modest expectations. As he said in the testimony he published on his blog: “The human element in the history and the daily life of the Church seems more conspicuous to me than the divine element.”

  31. There are multiple ways to interpret problems in church history and doctrine. I consider “active” church members who interpret problems in the worst light to be doubter-mormons.

    For example, the priesthood ban. I believe the Lord allowed Brigham Young to error. The Lord could have intervened, but didn’t. President McKay sought and received guidance. He said it wasn’t the right time to extent the priesthood to blacks.

    There are multiple was to consider difficulties that exist in church history and doctrine. From what I’ve learned in the nearly 8 years I’ve read in the bloggernacle, most post and comments lean towards the doubter-mormon camp.

    Another example, read through the comments about priesthood ban in this post.

  32. I did not know you were a “doubter-mormon.” I guess it’s all relative to who is making the judgment, isn’t it? Perhaps it’s best to withhold judgment and categorization.

  33. Dave –

    I disagree entirely with Mauss. Apologies are great. You and Mauss should read me.

  34. Dave, don’t agree. The Australian Prime Minister apologised for our treatment of our aborigines. It was very healing, and changed the atmosphere in the country, from the previous one who explained why he couldn’t.

    I see the church as made up of the Gospel, programmes originally designed to help us live the Gospel, and Apostles teaching their personal/political views as if they are the Gospel.

    Most of the problems in church history come from the last category, so I believe it is our responsibility to compare teachings with the Gospel of Christ. I can see a conflict between love your fellow man, and deprive, blacks of the priesthood, or, gays of equality, which Oaks and his disciples preach almost to a majority of conference talks.

    I think this amounts to leading astray, but I remain because I can still see the Gospel being taught, usually by Uchtdorf, and sometimes by others. Uchtdorf for President (of the church)

  35. Pres. Hinkley apologized for Mountain Meadows Massacre as I recall. I think an apology over the blacks and the priesthood to the degree false things were taught would be healing. Some of the other things people want apologies for I’m not sure are warranted. (Sorry to the so-called September Six)

    In any case as others said, I don’t think most of the examples critics raise constitute leading the church astray.

  36. Whoops. Elder Eyring not Hinkley although I’m sure Hinkley was behind it. And I should say “any of the examples” rather than “most.” My tendency to qualify everything I say.

  37. I think that the phrase ‘never lead astray’ was some heavy handed wording to deal with the issue at hand. President Woodruff had to get members of the church to stop practicing polygamy, and while that was going to be easy for most, it was sure going to be very disruptive for others. So once it was time to tackle the subject he had to do it swinging. And given how many more decades the church struggled with additional plural marriages he must not have been persuasive enough.
    But now that plural marriages are for sure not being practiced in the church proper anymore, it could be good to have a President of the Church mention how he struggles with revelation for his stewardship the same way we all do with ours.
    It’s like John 4:24, where there’s a pretty clear verse about God being a Spirit (though it does have a JST), and how many Christian denominations will cling onto that phrase as being pretty much the most important scripture ever. Then we come along with examples, after counter examples, of scripture of the anthropomorphic nature of God, of the distinction between the Father and the Son, other ways that that verse can be interpreted, but still the other denominations will respond with “It says right there, end of discussion”. There’s example after example of Joseph Smith, and Brigham Young quotes about their mortality and fallibility. There are plenty of scriptural examples of the mouthpieces of the Lord struggling with their responsibility, or of their maturing into leaders. We need to take this one statement, place it into context, and balance it out with the unending evidence of the fallen state of our fellow brothers who have stewardship over us.

  38. Didn’t many of the discussions about the revelation on blacks and the priesthood get at just that struggle? Pres. Kimball recounts that he frequently went to the temple pleading for guidance.

  39. Fascinating discussion! FGH @37, lol! I disagree as well with the description of what Mauss said (I haven’t read the original source). I would find it deeply healing personally if an apostle would apologize on behalf of the Church for the priesthood and temple ban. It would demonstrate to me that the Church takes seriously its responsibility to do its best by its members, and to be accountable for deeply harmful and hurtful actions and teachings. It would be a strong signal to me that the Church is serious about trying not to perpetuate other harmful and hurtful actions and teachings in the future.

  40. Julie M. Smith’s reference to a “car metaphor” had me thinking of this story from Elder Holland:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yNQC-_srxH8 So perhaps the principle is that leaders can take us down the wrong road (just so that they/we know it was wrong) but they can’t drive us off the cliff.

    Still, as much as this teaching might give me some comfort, I’m perplexed by the conflict between even this watered-down version and other prominent church teachings. Consider the teaching that God works through prophets today in the same way he did previously, i.e. we are a restored church. That teaching cannot be accurate if our prophet as limitations that prior prophets did not. Either our prophet can lead (or watch) as the church goes into apostacy, or God is working today through some super-prophet that has more ability (or less agency) than prophets in prior times.

  41. Were there not major prophets and minor prophets. In BOM some prophets have chapters then a couple with only a verse.

    I personally think it requires some stamina, and also open minded ness, or willingness to be influenced, to be a prophet which men in their 80s and 90s no longer have.

  42. I would probably leave the comment up, Josh, but as a matter of policy we really can’t encourage forum shopping between threads. But I’ll summarize your point: You reject the idea that there is a theological context for D&C 132. As applied to this thread, I suspect you would argue that with the secret practice of polygamy in Nauvoo and the secret revelation which became known as D&C 132, Joseph was leading the Church astray. Not the first time that argument has been made.

  43. Fair enough.

    Yes, that summarizes my comment. Though I wrote it better. :-)

    Have a wonderful day.

  44. I don’t understand how one can eliminate a theological context. We might debate what constitutes the context but it seems odd to deny a context.

    It would seem that at a minimum necessary to understand D&C 132 would be the rhetorical parallels to the passages that constitute a rhetorical context. I didn’t get a chance to more than glance at the post before it was removed, but I recall a focus on the “destroy” rhetoric. But that’s a fairly common way to talk and to divorce it from that rhetorical context and consider only a “regularly day” rhetorical context is deeply misleading. (Basically the same exegetical move that “literalists” do with Genesis to get a young earth history) In addition we have to raise the question of post-life relationships as I’ve noted several times. The question of polyandry in D&C 132 also seems something some historians bring up. (It’s been discussed at Juvenile Instructor several times for instance) I also think of necessity is the context of Emma’s blocking of prior revelations. That seems to be the key issue but is more complex than either side typically wants to admit. It also makes for some interesting parallels between Emma and say Alma 36 (where the “destruction” term also appears). Finally I don’t think one can separate questions of consequences from questions of final desert – either spirit paradise & spirit prison; eternal progression; or final judgment of exaltation with all others facing limits. Also included must be sin the against the Holy Ghost and the idea of where much is given much is required. Finally to judge marital views in 1840’s independent of national normative marital views is extremely distorting.

    Look, I fully admit I have no particular inspiration or revelation on the subject, unlike a lot of other topics. At best I have a burden of proof position based upon what I feel confident about in other areas. My personal view is that Emma had become a foe to the gospel and that Joseph’s huge mistake in Nauvoo was unwise loyalty. That includes to the Laws, Bennett, his brother who was engaged in a lot of the bad behavior and a lot else. Both Emma’s and Joseph’s actions are, once one looks at the context and their view, completely understandable. But of course understandable is not the same as justifiable. I think that if it was clear Emma was unwilling to accept the revelations that Joseph should have divorced her rather than what he did. However as Truman Madsen notes, Joseph loved Emma and we should look at his actions through that lens. Vice versa is true as well.

    I think the Church would do better moving more towards earlier views of Emma rather than the current hagiography that it sometimes engages in with Emma.

    The question is though whether Joseph’s mistakes (and of course there are many) constitute leading the church astray. Those who think there was probably some real revelations behind the practices but that Joseph handled things poorly most likely think he didn’t. Those who think it was all justification for Joseph’s lusts of course think he did, since the practice persisted into Utah.

  45. Clark,

    I’m sorry, but this conversation isn’t going to work. I’d like to discuss it, but my comments are being deleted. I’m honestly not trying to be offensive. Maybe another time. Sorry.

  46. Just to add (and to keep thing on theme for this thread) I think the problem of “stay or leave” is that often the leave group adopt a very unnunanced view of things and often exclude whole issues from consideration. Don’t get me wrong, I think that’s somewhat understandable. Further I think that the real issue is what’s going on such that these issues become a problem for people. The fundamental solution is provide a testimony basis and teach people to listen and recognize the spirit.

    On my mission all my investigators got antied with most of these sorts of things. Usually in mysterious ways. For instance one investigation had an estranged family member pop up they hadn’t seen in a long time who just happened to have anti-Mormon materials to hand out. Very strange since there didn’t seem to have been a way they could have known they were investigating. Yet if we’d made it past the third discussion, had taught them to go to God directly, the anti materials not only didn’t hurt them but forced them to go to God thereby strengthening rather than weakening their resolve. Those who weren’t quite prepared for that always stopped the discussion.

    I don’t want to say that’s all that’s going on. Further there’s a spectrum of how people respond to the spirit from those who can’t seem to identify it at all to those for whom its easy and clear. But I tend to think that’s the real issue. What makes the problems into a live problem rather than simply issues we acknowledge but aren’t bothered by. There are after all a lot of people who know a lot about these issues who don’t find their testimonies shattered in the least. Critics are prone to try and brush them away through reductive means like “cognitive dissonance” but that’s simply not engaging with what they actually say.

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