D & C 1:38 is frequently proof-texted in common Mormon usage.
Let’s begin with the text, which is part of the introduction to the Doctrine and Covenants; I have bolded the part which is often removed from its context:
Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled. What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same. (D & C 1:37-38)
Here’s what these verses mean in context: what the Lord has spoken will come to pass, whether it came directly from him or whether it came through one of his servants. These verses have absolutely nothing to say about whether everything a servant of the Lord ever speaks is “the same” as what the Lord himself would speak. Frequently in the church, speakers will yank the bolded part out of context in order to suggest that anything a servant of the Lord speaks is “the same” as what the Lord would speak with his own voice. But these two verses simply do not support that reading: the topic here is not the reliability of the Lord’s servants; rather, the topic is the fulfillment of the Lord’s words and the point is that they will be fulfilled whether they come directly from him or through a servant. Again, a crucial point: these verses have nothing to say about whether everything a servant of the Lord speaks reflects what the Lord would speak. However, the rest of the passage does have something to say about that topic. Earlier, the Lord said this:
these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding. And inasmuch as they erred it might be made known; And inasmuch as they sought wisdom they might be instructed; And inasmuch as they sinned they might be chastened, that they might repent; And inasmuch as they were humble they might be made strong, and blessed from on high, and receive knowledge from time to time. (D & C 1:24-28)
Notice that we are talking about the servants of the Lord again. And what does the Lord have to say about his servants? That they are weak. That the commandments are not presented as some platonic ideal but rather “after the manner of their language.” That the servants have erred(!). That they have sinned(!). This is really important context for D & C 1:38, especially coming just a handful of verses before that passage: it suggests that the servants of the Lord are weak, limited by their language, will sin, and will err. Now, that’s no excuse for not listening to them (something the section encourages), but there is absolutely no warrant in this section for thinking that anything a servant of the Lord says is precisely the same as what the Lord would say. Rather, 1:24-28 imply precisely the opposite.
Let me also suggest that the use of the word “servants” in 1:38 should have been the first clue that using 1:38 to preach prophetic infallability was a bad idea. Verse 20 suggests that the term “servants” applies to everyone who wants to be one. Verse 14 makes clear that “servants” is not a synonym for “prophets and apostles.” Verse 18 does this as well, by mentioning “others” in addition to Joseph Smith; verse 30 repeats it again. And verse 30 also makes clear that while the Lord is well pleased with the church collectively, that does not mean that he is perfectly pleased with any individual.
The misuse of this text to imply prophetic inerrancy is not just bad because it is inaccurate; it is bad because it creates false expectations of what a prophet is and does. That false impression of prophetic perfection often leads to a crisis of faith when a person realizes that prophets have indeed made mistakes. In contrast with this misleading reading of D & C 1:38, our leaders have actually been trying to teach about prophetic errancy recently:
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf: “And, to be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine. I suppose the Church would be perfect only if it were run by perfect beings. God is perfect, and His doctrine is pure. But He works through us—His imperfect children—and imperfect people make mistakes” (citation).
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland: “So be kind regarding human frailty—your own as well as that of those who serve with you in a Church led by volunteer, mortal men and women. Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it. So should we.” (citation).
Elder M. Russell Ballard: “The Church of Jesus Christ has always been led by living prophets and apostles. Though mortal and subject to human imperfection, the Lord’s servants are inspired to help us avoid obstacles that are spiritually life threatening and to help us pass safely through mortality to our final, ultimate, heavenly destination . . . While neither perfect nor infallible, these good men and women have been perfectly dedicated to leading the work of the Lord forward as He has directed.” (citation).
So we have multiple, recent witnesses that leaders aren’t perfect and that we aren’t supposed to expect perfection from them; D & C 1:19 actually warns against those who would “trust in the arm of flesh.” It’s long past time to stop wresting a few words from D & C 1:38 to imply that prophets are infallible.
Nice work here. Thanks for getting me to look again at this language.
When I’ve pointed out that we don’t believe in Prophetic infallibility to my Elders Quorum President he just replies “But the prophet will never lead us astray.” and says it with such a “check mate” tone of voice its obvious that all you need to know about prophets is that they’ll never lead you astray.
Jader3rd, It probably won’t change his view at all, but might ask the eqp who said that, and was he practicing racism and polygamy as doctrine at the time. Would it be leading the church astray to bring back these doctrines? He’ll probably say yes if the Prophet says.
Julie agree, there are a number like this. Abraham 3:25&26 for example.Most people stop at 25 but there is not a full stop. All God is trying us is to see if we will keep our second estate. No more trials from God.
Julie, amen! I get so tired of trying to explain this every time the topic comes up in lessons.
I agree with Julie that we often misconstrue D&C 1:38. However, I try to look at this in light of Romans ch. 14.
Boom! I love the exclamation marks in parentheses.
When used for prooftexting, this verse tends to be read from the bottom up to say, in effect, “God own’s the words of his servants (meaning church leaders), so their words should be treated as his words”. That isn’t what it actually says. The verse actually reads from the top-down “WHEN God speaks, he stands by his word, whether that word comes directly from his voice or through a servant.” There are worlds of difference between those two readings.
If there have been any mistakes that have been taught then we have been led astray. I don’t say that in order to discount everything that has been taught, but rather to simply point out that the concept of not being led astray isn’t really all the useful unless you believe in complete infallibility.
The problem is that people are select quoting prophets that they agree with, then using those quotes to disprove another prophet’s utterances. Can’t have it both ways.
Carey, that only works if you make certain assumptions about what the word “astray” means–assumptions that I don’t think are reasonable.
Glenn Thigpen, that’s only a problem if you come from a fundamentalist viewpoint where either everything a leader says is correct or it is all wrong. But absent that constraint, there is no problem.
While I wholeheartedly agree, you still have D&C 21:5 (“his word you shall receive as if from mine own mouth”), D&C 84:35-38 and D&C 124:45-46 that support that view. Also, in addition to the GA quotes you mention in your piece, you have to deal with the proof texting that is everywhere on LDS.org, in lesson manuals, conference talks, etc. Do a quick search on LDS.org for the phrase “by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants” and see how many hits you get. Even as recently as Oct 2015, Bednar said: “The Savior declared, “Whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (D&C 1:38). May we hear and heed the eternal truths taught by the Lord’s authorized representatives. As we do so, I promise our faith in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ will be fortified, and we will receive spiritual guidance and protection for our specific circumstances and needs.”
Regardless, your piece is appreciated and hopefully the water can get to the end of the row.
scottsama, I think you can’t ignore the work that “patience and faith” is doing in 21:5. As for 84, the idea of “receiving servants” does not imply infallibility of their words. Neither does 124, which is similar to 1:38 in that regard.
As far as the prooftexty reading of 1:38 being used in General Conference and lessons, you are correct that it happens. Good thing a careful reading of D & C 1 prepared us for the fact that our leaders won’t always get things right. :)
I’m with you, but which part of that sentence holds more power, “as if from mine own mouth,” or “in all patience and faith?” As a non-believing Mormon with believing family members oh how I wish your views were more widespread.
Oh, and I LOVE your last sentence :)
Julie – I guess I don’t disagree with your point that there are better ways to understand the word “astray”, but I was using what I think is the most typical use of the word when its used to bolster the idea that everything a prophet has said or done must be the mind and will of the Lord, and we can just stop right there without needing to think about it with any more complexity than that. In other words *if* we use the word “astray” in that way then that means we’re supporting the idea of prophetic infallibility.
The popular misreading D&C 1:38 may not be true, but it is useful. Just do a search at LDS.org, and you’ll see what I mean. It does a lot of institutional work. Interestingly, Elder Ballard slipped this short comment into his recent “Stay in the Boat” Conference talk:
(Edits in original; he was quoting an earlier talk of his own.) This appears to pare back the doctrine rather dramatically — even an apostle’s words should not be taken as “the voice of the Lord” unless the other fourteen apostles join in a declaration.
sounds like more blog-speak to justify not listening to church leaders
HarveyP, I’d call your attention to this part of the original post: “Now, that’s no excuse for not listening to them (something the section encourages), but there is absolutely no warrant in this section for thinking that anything a servant of the Lord says is precisely the same as what the Lord would say”
Carey & Julie, no matter how you construe the word “astray,” the notion that the prophet and—as several apostles have recently said in General Conference—the leaders of the church will never lead the members astray is absurd. Since we are talking about context here, consider the context in which this dubious assurance was first given by Wilford Woodruff.
As a threshold matter, the Lord has never, ever given that assurance, in this dispensation or any other. Wiford Woodruff never claimed he had received such a promise from the Lord. Rather, all he was doing was trying to prevent a schism within the church: he was hoping to convince those who had embraced polygamy, based on the unqualified assurances of his predecessors that it would never be taken from the earth, that they should now give it up.
Brigham Young unequivocally, on numerous occasions, rejected the idea that he or any other church leader was incapable of leading the membership astray. For example, he 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 18:72.)
And George Q. Cannon expressly warned: “Do not, brethren, put your trust in man though he be a bishop, and apostle or a president, if you do so, they will fail you at some time or place….” (Millennial Star 53:674).
Those who preach their inability to lead us astray are, more often than not, looking for reflexive obedience, trying to encourage those with doubts and questions to keep them to themselves. Those who embrace it, have forfeited their agency.
FarSide — I’m not arguing that word “astray” means that. I’m in total agreement with your understanding of it actually.
I agree with the OP, but I can’t see the church ever moving away with the prooftext use of “every word the prophet speaks is from the Lord.” It’s like the new Institute NT manual – they point out that, in scriptural context, John 5:39 is Jesus ridiculing the Jews for believing scripture held eternal life (when they should have been looking toward Jesus). Yet, the manual still includes church leader statements using the verse as prooftext that Jesus said we should search the scriptures because they have eternal life. If a church leader mistakenly uses scripture out of context to support an idea, we essentially approve that interpretation as valid by virtue of their position as a church leader.
Sorry, should be moving away *from*
Too many people are listening to and following the voice of the Lord and of His servants.
My apologies, Carey. I misunderstood the point you were trying to make.
Mary Ann: You’re right—the church is unlikely to ever move away from distorting the meaning of this verse, notwithstanding insightful and compelling analyses such as the one Julie provides.
Xen- Far too many.
Great post, Julie. Thanks for laying this out so clearly.
There are many wards who interpret “servants” as the local leaders, now the aura of required unquestioning obedience is transferred to the men of the ward and stakes. More disturbingly, I keep hearing members say “follow the brethren no matter what.” On occasion, the phrase “even if they tell you to do something wrong” is added! I always say at that point, “You’ve just turned the Mormon priesthood into Sharia Law.”
Julie. Excellent post, but let’s take this one step further to an issue that’s got some riled up these days . . . denial of priesthood to blacks. Applying your analysis (as I have in my own mind), the end result for His children in God’s eyes is the same. Thanks to work for the dead, all of His children can receive the blessings. If they didn’t get them in mortality, it doesn’t appear to matter to the Judge of all does it? If that’s the case, then getting too wrapped around the axle over what Brigham or Joseph or any other prophet did or didn’t do isn’t quite the same as before we put it in this context is it?
Harvey P and Xen:
Yep, anything less than absolute assent could never pass muster.
“You’ve just turned the Mormon priesthood into Sharia Law.”
John, my preferred response is: “You voted for the wrong plan in the pre-existence.”
The nature of priesthood is literally to represent the Lord and act in his place. That concept fits very nicely with the boldened part of the verse.
It does not mean, and no one has ever suggested it means, that whatever someone holding the priesthood says is exactly what the Lord would say or whatever they do is the Lord’s will.
Terry H, I confess that I don’t quite follow your point.
MAC writes, “It does not mean, and no one has ever suggested it means, that whatever someone holding the priesthood says is exactly what the Lord would say or whatever they do is the Lord’s will.”
Actually, I’ve seen many Mormon speakers and writers suggest precisely that. I’m pleased that your experience is different; I hope I’m the outlier here.
I am not sure what the point of this article is. Either it is saying that the Apostles do not speak with the authority and in behalf of Christ — in which case it is in error, or it is saying that the Apostles are not perfect in their abilities to carry on their role, in which case it is correct.
But I am not sure if it is saying only one or both of those things.
Charles, it is saying the latter and only the latter.
Who started the prophetic infallibility meme? Doesn’t it come from the mantra, they say, that they cannot lead the people astray? Elder Ballard recently said as much in conference. Isn’t this meme designed to imply infallibility? Also, and unfortunately, one never knows when they are “speaking as men” or saying something supposedly from above. They never say “thus sayeth the Lord.” I would say by design to allow wiggle room when they have their senior racial ban moments. So, I would say fault for any confusion here lies solely with those confusing men at the top.
I prefer the simple words of Henry J. Eyring (father of Henry B) in his little book, Faith of a Scientist: “The great thing about this church is that you don’t have to believe anything that isn’t true.”
+1 for Exiled’s comment. There appears to be a doublethink in LDS discourse on the question of prophetic fallibility. It would seem that there is a trend among LDS leaders and members alike to emphasize both fallibility and infallibility depending on the context of the discussion. When talking about the topic of obedience in a chapel among believing members, members and leaders are much more likely to stress scriptures and general conference quotes that suggest the near infallibility of Joseph Smith and successive prophets (well, the line that leads to Monson, forget Warren Jeffs, James Strang, the reorganites, and other ‘apostate’ Mormon groups) especially in their words, if not their deeds as well. The default position on obedience is that members be quick to act when the prophet speaks and slow to question. If you have questions about what the prophet says, then you are to basically pray until that question is resolved (which basically means until you agree with the prophet and no longer question him, basically treat him as an infallible). LDS people tend to favor the infallibility narrative in the context of obedience, for how else is a believing member to explain why members should pay special attention to seemingly unimportant minutiae such as getting the sacrament prayer words exactly right, repeating baptisms over if a strand of hair remains barely above the water, the strong discouragement from wearing more than one pair of earrings, the constant wearing of the temple garment, and a long list of other matters. The best explanation is that the prophet speaks for god and you’re on shaky ground if you think you know better than him.
However, when addressing well-evidenced criticisms of Joseph Smith’s and other prophets’ seemingly failed prophecies, behavioral indiscretions, personality flaws, misstatements, inconsistencies in speech, claiming that the priesthood ban for blacks was doctrinal when it wasn’t, claiming that the Breathing Permit of Hor papyrus contained the words of Abraham when it didn’t, marrying girls just months away from their 15th birthday, racism, sexism, homophobia, and a range of other apparent weaknesses and indiscretions, the response is that it is overreaction to take any issue with this (well at least to the point of limiting your activity in the LDS church, and especially your tithing payments) and that the person who does is expecting perfection from human prophets when they have no reason to. “Give Joseph Smith a break” is the response. This attitude, of course, runs counter to how LDS members are encouraged to view and treat Joseph Smith (not to mention other prophets) in other contexts (See D&C 135:3, “has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it,” conveying the idea that Joseph Smith is a near god-like figure).
The LDS standard works are also laden with inconsistency on the topic of fallibility/infallibility. There are plenty of scriptures to choose from to make a seemingly convincing argument for either case. If we are to accept that the scriptures are the most authoritative source of god’s words, could it be that the LDS god is a doublethinker? If that possibility cannot be entertained, then how should we go about determining which scriptures, not to mention the words of the LDS leaders, are valid sources of god’s words and thoughts and which aren’t? Reasoning? Personal preference? If so, then what is the purpose of the prophets and the LDS scriptures any more than inspirational speakers as featured on TED talks and proverbs and words of wisdom as found in quote books?
The key is that obedience does not hang on infallibility. Making that assumption is why so many can’t understand the doctrine of prophetic authority, obedience, and personal revelation. That there is a tension between them is by design.
The scriptures tell me to “receive” the Lord’s servants — and they tell me that I must receive the Lord’s servants as a necessary step to receiving Him. Prayerful contemplation of this principle might be helpful to some. But really, the Lord’s servants don’t go around asking for our obedience to them — they ask for our obedience to the Lord’s commabdnents, which they teach as best they can — and yes, they ask us to sustain them — there is an important gospel principle in receiving and sustaining the Lord’s servants, and they have a duty to teach that principle as best they can.
It may be that some sincere members understand “receive” as “obey” — if they do, I look on that in a Romans ch. 14 way, which I recommend to others. Far more regrettable is the mocking of those sincere members (sometimes disguised as teaching correct principles) that occurs among our cognoscenti. I try to look on that in a Romans ch. 14 way, but that is harder to do.
Brad L, it sounds like you are asking, “What use is a prophet if he isn’t 100% perfect?” And my response is: “What is 100% perfect?” I find, for example, the scientific method, my husband, my own mind, etc., to be very useful even if not 100% perfect. I do regret the sentiment which exists in popular Mormonism that pushes infallibility and therefore makes the collision with infallibility so jarring. SilverRain is right about the problems that stem from linking obedience to infallibility.
To what degree can the brethren be challenged? Case in point, full membership for blacks. Some challenged and were disciplined for disobedience. The fall back seems to me that authority trumps all else. This prevents admission of mistake and self correction…..Erm..proper repentance.
We know Jesus’ response to those who felt justified by their authority (father Abraham).
“To what degree can the brethren be challenged?”
This is the wrong question. If you’re asking that, you’re already off track. By asking that question, the answer is of course “to any degree you think best.” It makes little difference what you do if your mind is in that frame, because you’ve already decided your understanding is best.
A better question is, “when and how does God want me to challenge the Brethren?” It matters much less if the Brethren are right than it does whether or not you are trying to align your will with God’s. In order to understand God’s doctrine, you have to first learn humility and submission to God’s will and agency. Otherwise, you’re dooming yourself to foolish-looking condescension, or perpetual frustration and fear.
I have had times when God has had me challenge priesthood authority. It looks very different than one might expect.
I guess the point I was trying to make in the above (29) in my attempt not to hijack the thread, I wasn’t as clear as I meant to be. For the issue of the blacks and the priesthood, the leaders (primarily through Brigham Young) taught that blacks could not hold the priesthood. We have yet to find any doctrinal basis or specific revelation to that effect. The recent essay on lds.org leaves it open (to be charitable). As I read what you’re saying about D&C 1:38, the result “is the same”. Because of the work for the dead, and the perfect judgment of God, ALL of His children will receive the blessings. Sure, some of them not in this life, and were certainly denied all the blessings while in mortality; but God is eternal and views things through that perspective. In other words, one could look at the priesthood denial as not such a big deal in God’s eyes, since all of the damage can be rectified through the healing power of the atonement (which heals the wounds from those actions) and then through the granting of the ordinances through the vicarious work in the temples. Once the atonement heals all of us from the wounds that life (and the actions of others, both intentional and unintentional); we are free to be judged on our own merits. Once again, God’s perspective is on a much bigger scale. I think that’s what Elder McConkie was referring to in his letter to Eugene England when he said that Brigham was wrong in teaching the Adam-God theory, but that he (Brigham) would be held accountable for what he taught that was wrong (as would he (Elder McConkie). If that is the case, then we’re judging the leaders, aren’t we? Obviously, some have chose to leave the Church over this issue (and others like it). There is a tension as SilverRain so effectively points out; but the tension is in our willingness to follow those called by the Lord. When I read the “Good Ship Zion” talk given by Brigham Young and referred to by Elder Ballard a year or so ago, that talk looked far more nuanced than what was given in Conference. Brigham himself seemed to be saying that the leaders could lead us astray. If that is the case, it places a much stronger burden on individuals following the spirit. It is also far riskier if we don’t properly follow the spirit. I think that’s one reason the FP and 12 are so insistent on unanimity.
Sorry if this still isn’t as clear. For me, this is a very sophisticated issue that I feel more easily than I can speak (and that doesn’t happen often).
I don’t think it is such a sophisticated issue with all due respect. These guys are ordinary men period. There is nothing special about them. If they give some good advice, then I will listen. If an atheist gives good advice, then I will listen. I think the trick is to always question and always use the brain God gave you and not trust these guys without verification.
Terry said “We have yet to find any doctrinal basis ” for priesthood restriction. Is there a doctrinal basis for restricting the priesthood from non-Levites in the OT days? Is there a doctrinal basis for Jesus at first telling his apostles to only go to the house of Israel, and then later changing it?
I’m not saying these are the same things. But asking for a doctrinal basis for withholding something and later granting it, or even never granting it, sounds like insisting the Lord’s church run according your your will and not his.
You have to admit that the priesthood ban appears questionable. Even the church disavowed the prior justifications for the ban in their essay and chapter headings to the relevant scriptures. So, I don’t think it’s a case of our will above the Lord’s. It’s simply a case of a mistake, plain and simple.
This is why one must always question what is delivered from the pulpit. One never knows when the next mistake will happen.
Exiled, with all due respect, that’s the point, but I think it takes more than the “brain God gave [me]”. My mortal abilities to comprehend God’s plan are limited. Some of us, of course, have more ability than others.
MAC. The priesthood restrictions in the Old Testament were obviously used as what I would call “doctrinal precedent”, which is not the same thing. As for your comment, “This is why one must always question what is delivered from the pulpit. One never knows when the next mistake will happen.” Also, “It’s simply a case of mistake, plain and simple.” That is going too far. We just don’t know what Brigham’s rationale was. It could have been a “mistake”. It could also have been something inspired for the time due to the antebellum attitudes about blacks and the pending U.S. takeover of the Utah Territory. That’s the point, we just don’t know. If Elder McConkie is correct, its possible it was a mistake. He admitted himself (post 1978 revelation) that what he had previously written was wrong. President Uchtdorf as quoted in the OP says so as well. I think the principle is that we seek confirmation, but not necessarily correction.
That’s the “tension” I think SilverRain and Julie were after.
Aren’t you presuming a lot when you say that your mortal abilities are limited? Says who? How do you know that you are limited? Did this come from fallible human “prophets?” How do you know that they weren’t making a mistake, like the priesthood ban, when they said/say you are limited?
As for the tension SilverRain and Julie were after, isn’t a safe response to simply not trust any of the “leaders” when they claim this or that? We recently saw the secret changes in the handbook regarding LGTBQ individuals and the subsequent walk-back. Then came the claim it was from God by Nelson. Was it really revelation to secretly come out with the changes to the handbook then change it when there was a media storm? Is there tension there? Or is it questionable like the priesthood ban?
Why don’t they clear up the “tension” by saying “thus sayeth the Lord” before the pronouncements they intend to be seen as from above? Would that expose them too much?
Cognitive dissonance? The act of holding two opposing views? They can lead us astray if they are not infallible, but they won’t and cannot lead us astray, but they are not infallible so they can lead us astray, but they cannot? …….
I think the answer is to not trust them or anyone but to analyze everything they say as you would with anyone.
Julie, you completely misinterpreted/misrepresented what I wrote. Note that I said, “what is the purpose of the prophets and the LDS scriptures any more than inspirational speakers as featured on TED talks and proverbs and words of wisdom as found in quote books.” I didn’t that they couldn’t be deemed as useful unless they were regarded as infallible. The problem is that the LDS scriptures and the LDS leaders lead the members to think that the leaders are not just your average inspirational speakers that you find at business conventions and universities, but people whose words must be mostly agreed with lest you risk god’s eternal punishment. The LDS leaders urge members to essentially treat the prophets as if they are infallible.
SilverRain (43), by your logic, people such as Denver Snuffer and Christopher Nemelka are perfectly within reason to be challenging the LDS leaders the way that they are because according to Snuffer, he has seen Jesus and is criticizing the LDS leaders according to what he believes Jesus told him. Nemelka believes that god told him that he was the reincarnation of Hyrum Smith and gave him the power to translate the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon (with portions translated into Latvian, Spanish, and German) and the authority to correct LDS leaders whom he believes have gone astray.
Terry H, how about we take this other way. Do you claim to know that the ban on blacks holding the priesthood has actually been lifted? What makes you so sure, to the point of asserting knowledge, that President Spencer W. Kimball actually received a revelation from god in 1978 announcing that all worthy males could hold the priesthood?
This issue touches on part of the problem in popular LDS discourse, which is the classic know/don’t know doublethink. Believing LDS people regularly make assertions of certitude and knowledge. I frequently hear believers claim to know that the leaders are called of god, that the Book of Mormon is the word of god, and that the LDS church is god’s one true church. All of these assertions of knowledge are not, of course, based on any evidence that would be recognized as valid according to modern secular scholarship. Instead believers cite a “spiritual feeling” or some sort of strong sense of euphoria as evidence. However, when confronted with an inconvenient historical or doctrinal matter, I frequently hear believers say that they don’t know. Why can’t you try to know the answer? Why surrender to not knowing? Why not apply the method that you applied to come to a knowledge of other LDS church truth claims in order come to certain answer on these seemingly difficult questions?
Mckonkie never said it was a mistake, no Apostle ever said it was a mistake that I’ve seen.
The only people who call it a mistake are interestingly enough those who are using the mistake theory to support further undermining of prophetic counsel.
Almost always this mistake theory is used as a kind of liberal trump card in exactly the same manner (but to a different conclusion) that selfsame liberals accuse the traditionalists of circumventing agency through prophetic quotes.
Brad L. Yes, they are perfectly within reason. What they are not, according to what I have received from God, is in alignment with Him. What they are certainly not is in alignment with the Church, which means it is also perfectly reasonable for them to be excommunicated.
They will have to answer to Him for their actions, as I will answer for mine, and the leaders of the Church for theirs. It’s all really very simple.
Ah, yes, the whole “if they are infallible, then nothing ever changes.” And “never led astray” means “infallible.”
What it actually means is the Atonement. “Astray” in the sense of permanently away from God. You really should go back and try to understand that quote in context. It helps understanding significantly, after some pondering.
If, that is, you truly want to understand how God works through imperfect people, rather than simply having an agenda to try to convince people the church is wrong.
If the latter, yawn. You’re at the end of a long line. You’ll never have much luck convincing people who have actually experienced God’s power that it isn’t actually God’s power. Especially if you haven’t tried to see things from their perspective.
Once you have seen God’s power manifested through imperfection, especially once you have been blessed to have the Spirit work through you to help someone else, no amount of talk from someone who doesn’t understand that is going to convince you that God’s power can only be manifested through infallibility. You know how it works because you have been part of it, and humbled by the experience.
The only people I see stuck on that thought are the ones who haven’t truly tried to understand.
I think you are changing the definition of astray to fit your views. “Astray” means to go down the wrong path or moral error. It has nothing to do with the atonement. Certainly the racial ban was the wrong path and moral error. One can blame Brigham Young for this but he was the “prophet” at the time and certainly led the people down the wrong path on that one.
I know it’s tough to admit it, but even the very elect can fall into error and so the imperfect leaders can in fact lead people astray.
Exiled, I just wrote a long response to explain better what I meant, but it was lost in “invalid security token” limbo. So you only get a sum-up. It has everything to do with the Atonement.
You are the one saying that “never led astray” must mean “never makes a mistake.” But the absolute reality of the Atonement means that mistakes and mortal ignorance don’t have to mean being barred from God’s presence. God choses imperfect people to help Him in His great work for a reason.
It is why all those who have worked to allow God’s power to manifest through them are humbled by it. They know how beautiful and unexplainable it is to be an imperfect vessel for His power.
He has the power to bring us all back to Him, to guide the Church to Him despite the imperfections of those He has chosen. If you truly believe in Christ’s atonement, and that He leads this Church, it is the easiest and most natural thing to understand. If you don’t…you never will.
Silver Rain, you say “Certainly”. There is no “certainly” about it. There is “possibly”. There is opinion. But there is no certainty on this except in the opinion of some.
Excuse me, My apologies. New here. I meant Exiled, not Silver Rain.
Julie said: “Charles, it is saying the latter and only the latter.”
OK, I can see that. I think that along the way in the article there should have been a further admonition. An admonition that came from the Lord to His Apostles, both in times past and today:
“If they receive you, they receive Me. If they reject you, they reject Me. ”
Which was a statement given to His Apostles even before they really knew who He was — and one of them would later go on to betray Him while another would deny Him.
Yet, they had that authority.
Brad L says: “Nemelka believes that god told him that he was the reincarnation of Hyrum Smith and gave him the power to translate the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon ”
I doubt Nemelka really believes this.
I guess it’s possible that barring people from the priesthood for racial reasons wasn’t error. There is always a chance however remote. However, I prefer to believe otherwise. I’m pretty sure the church thinks it was error too if you take their essay on the priesthood ban at face value.
“I guess it’s possible that barring people from the priesthood for racial reasons wasn’t error. ”
Of course it is “possible”. It is testified to in the scriptures as a fact. So not very remote.
I do not see where taking the Church essay at face value suggests error. (Although there is, in my opinion, an error in the essay). What are you thinking about?
The book of abraham and the book of mormon speak of the priesthood ban and the lamanite “curse” in racial terms. In the 18th paragraph of the Race and the Priesthood essay, those theories are denied even though past presidents like president joseph fielding smith spoke of the racial ban in terms of race and president kimball used to point to native american children’s skin tone lightening as a fulfillment of prophecy somehow. Further, as you probably know, past leaders said many things that seemed racist when speaking of the ban. So, I take the distancing today’s church from those comments and theories by past leaders as an admission of past error. It seems obvious that’s what is going on
Exiled: “The book of abraham and the book of mormon speak of the priesthood ban ”
The Book of Mormon does not speak of the priesthood ban. And that is the topic.
Exiled: “in racial terms”
Not really. Although that is how we like to think of it. The Book of Abraham talks about it in Tribalist or family groups.
Exiled: ” In the 18th paragraph of the Race and the Priesthood essay, those theories are denied”
This is simply false. The Race and Priesthood essay does not deny the Book of Abraham nor the history therein.
I am ignoring the rest of your comment until you clean up the errors above.
Come on, you know I meant that the 18th paragraph of the Race and the Priesthood essay denies the theories that were espoused in the past for reasons for the racial ban. It states:
“Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.”
I guess you can choose to see whatever you wish. Are you going to argue sentence structure next?
It seems clear that the above quoted paragraph is the church’s effort to distance itself from what its leaders claimed in the past regarding race and the priesthood and why the ban existed. That seems to be an admission that the past leaders were mistaken. Hence, the past leaders by espousing faulty theories and disseminating those faulty theories to the membership at large, clearly led the membership astray. They might have been well-meaning but mistaken nonetheless. Thus, members today would be wise to not blindly believe that the leadership cannot lead the people astray.
Exiled: “Come on, you know I meant that the 18th paragraph of the Race and the Priesthood essay denies the theories that were espoused in the past for reasons for the racial ban.”
Of course that is what you meant. It is also irrelevant to the topic under discussion.
Did you want to change the topic from “Was the Priesthood Ban a mistake or inspired?” to “Was the Priesthood Ban sometimes justified with racist explanations?”
If you change topics, you should inform the other party.
He convinced Ida Smith, a great-great-granddaughter of Hyrum Smith, to grant Nemelka part of her portion of a burial plot in the Smith family cemetery in Salt Lake City. You can watch a video of Nemelka’s lawyer dedicating Nemelka’s headstone in the Smith family cemetery here. Nemelka also undertook the laborious task of writing down the 655-page The Sealed Portion: The Final Testament of Jesus Christ. This should be evidence that he really believed what he was claiming. This doesn’t mean that you have to accept his claims as true, of course.
Maybe that doesn’t convince you. But I don’t understand why you should doubt that Nemelka believed himself to hear god telling him that he was the reincarnation of Hyrum Smith and that god gave him the power to translate the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon any more than anyone should doubt that Joseph Smith really believed that he saw god and translated ancient records?
SilverRain, why should I trust your claim to have received messages from god telling you that Denver Snuffer and Christopher Nemelka are not in alignment with god any more than Snuffer’s and Nemelka’s claims to have heard god instructing them to do what they have done?
Also, according to Dallin H. Oaks’ October 2010 talk, “Two Lines of Communication” the devil can give revelation and inspiration. How do you know that your alleged inspiration or revelation from god (that Nemelka and Snuffer are out of line with god) is not actually from the devil?
Exile, the Book of Mormon doesn’t have a priesthood ban nor a racial one. (Samuel the Lamanite the great prophet is the obvious example — which is interesting since Christ’s having to force the Nephites to write about Samuel demonstrates a narrative racism at odds with the text’s explicit theology)
The Book of Abraham is a bit trickier but It think the way the text presents it (as opposed to how it was used apologetically) is as a kind of patriarchal priesthood more akin to the Aaronic priesthood in terms of explicit lineage. So again not relevant to a broader Melchizedek Priesthood.
Now if you talk about how these texts were used by Mormons I’d probably agree with you. To me this is opposed to what I see as more natural readings when looked at carefully. That is I think Mormons just misread these texts in order to justify practice. (I’d argue that even contemporarily there are no shortage of texts applied in a prooftext manner that is undermined by more contextual readings)
Brad L, of course you shouldn’t. The only thing that counts is either your own personal revelation (which hopefully you apply a skeptical eye towards to ensure you’re not deceived) combined with perhaps trust you have in other figures like Oaks.
Charles, 2 Nephi 5:21 clearly states that god cursed the Lamanites with a skin of blackness because they were wicked. Abraham 1:24, 26-27 states that the race that was cursed (the blacks) “sprang from Ham” and that Pharaoh, the grandson of Ham, could not have the priesthood because he was of the cursed lineage. So you were right in comment 64 that it is testified in the scriptures that barring people from the priesthood for racial reasons wasn’t error. The problem is that the Race and Priesthood Essay clearly conveys the idea that the priesthood ban was done in error and that it was a bad interpretation of the scriptures. What is said in the LDS scriptures is in harmony with your opinion (that the priesthood ban for racial reasons wasn’t done in error), but it is not in harmony with what is said in the Race and Priesthood Essay. The current LDS church leaders are said to condemn the racism in the scriptures and the racism of past LDS leaders.
Brad L: “I don’t understand why you should doubt that Nemelka believed himself to hear god telling him that he was the reincarnation of Hyrum Smith and that god gave him the power to translate the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon any more than anyone should doubt that Joseph Smith really believed that he saw god and translated ancient records?”
I doubt him because I believe he has changed his story on this several times and people who have been close to him indicated that he knew it was not so.
Brad L :”Charles, 2 Nephi 5:21 clearly states that god cursed the Lamanites with a skin of blackness because they were wicked.”
This is irrelevant to the discussion on Priesthood.
Brad L: “Abraham 1:24, 26-27 states that the race that was cursed (the blacks) “sprang from Ham” ”
This is not what Abraham 1:24 says.
Brad L: “you were right in comment 64 that it is testified in the scriptures that barring people from the priesthood for racial reasons wasn’t error. ”
To be precise what I really said was that “The Book of Abraham talks about it in Tribalist or family groups.” Which may be considered racist by some, but I don’t think it is exactly the same thing. I then demonstrated that the modern practice cannot be discounted as mere error when there is certain scriptural precedent. This is not the same thing as saying the modern practice was not in error. I happen to think it was not, but it would not bother me if it was. I don’t think that people who declare it to be in error are standing on very firm footing.
Brad L: “The problem is that the Race and Priesthood Essay clearly conveys the idea that the priesthood ban was done in error”
I do not agree. I do not think you can quote anything that suggests this. However, I think that there are other things wrong with that essay. Problems of support for “facts” presented.
Brad L: “that it was a bad interpretation of the scriptures.”
No, it condemns the explanation of the practice for bad interpretation of scriptures. This is a different matter.
Brad L: “What is said in the LDS scriptures is in harmony with your opinion (that the priesthood ban for racial reasons wasn’t done in error), but it is not in harmony with what is said in the Race and Priesthood Essay. ”
There is one paragraph in the Essay that is badly supported, which I think is contradictory to the Scriptures. (And in discussions with the Church PR Department, I have learned that paragraph was not meant to convey the impression it permits). Other than that, what you are saying is not true.
Back to Julie’s original point and the point I was trying to make, we cannot expect infallibility and that is pretty clear from history. So, why should we believe that fallible humans cannot make mistakes and therefore lead us astray?
Charles, here is a letter from Joseph Smith to Oliver Cowdery sometime in April 1836:
Joseph Smith clearly considered the blacks to the “sons of Ham.” Not only Joseph Smith, but Jews, Muslims, and Christians throughout history have attributed black skin to the “curse of Ham.” So it should be no mystery what the mention of Ham in Abraham 1:24 was supposed to mean.
Charles, you’re either not thinking coherently or you haven’t read the essay very thoroughly. From the essay:
10th paragraph: “The curse of Cain was often put forward as justification for the priesthood and temple restrictions. Around the turn of the century, another explanation gained currency: blacks were said to have been less than fully valiant in the premortal battle against Lucifer and, as a consequence, were restricted from priesthood and temple blessings.”
Brigham Young repeatedly justified not giving the blacks the priesthood because they bore the “curse of Cain” and he is the one under whom the ban was implemented in full swing. Need I provide quotes? Are you in denial that Brigham Young justified restricting the blacks from the priesthood because of his belief in the “curse of Cain?” Now, back to the essay:
18th paragraph: “Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.”
When you disavow something, you are by implication, declaring it to be in error. The essay very clearly proclaims its past leaders and some of the words of the standard works (upon which the priesthood ban was based) to be in error.
Clark, the point is if you can easily be deceived by personal revelation and not know that you are, then what is the point in seeking it? Why not just rely on your own powers of reasoning and consult the ideas and opinions of experts in different subjects (through a critical eye, of course) to figure out what is true/untrue and moral/immoral?
Brad L. You are either not thinking coherently or you haven’t read my responses very thoroughly. From my responses:
“To be precise what I really said was that “The Book of Abraham talks about it in Tribalist or family groups.” Which may be considered racist by some, but I don’t think it is exactly the same thing. I then demonstrated that the modern practice cannot be discounted as mere error when there is certain scriptural precedent. This is not the same thing as saying the modern practice was not in error. I happen to think it was not, but it would not bother me if it was. I don’t think that people who declare it to be in error are standing on very firm footing.”
“No, it condemns the explanation of the practice for bad interpretation of scriptures. This is a different matter.”
“There is one paragraph in the Essay that is badly supported, which I think is contradictory to the Scriptures. (And in discussions with the Church PR Department, I have learned that paragraph was not meant to convey the impression it permits). Other than that, what you are saying is not true.”
Exiled :”why should we believe that fallible humans cannot make mistakes and therefore lead us astray?”
This is actually two questions.
There is no reason to believe fallible humans cannot make mistakes. If you have seen me claim otherwise, I would like to see where you saw me do so.
But as for leading us astray, when they speak as prophets they are in authority and they have revelation. Having authority is when “Whether by mine own voice or the voice of my servants it is the same” and it is when “If they reject you, they reject me”. This is true even if they are fallible and subject to error. However, the revelation part helps prevent that and if they persist the Lord will remove them.
Hence the trust and faith is not in the men but in the Lord. The Lord will see to it that we are not led astray and has, in times past, taken care of cases where errors were leading us off.
Brad L: “Charles, here is a letter from Joseph Smith to Oliver Cowdery sometime in April 1836:”
This is pretty much irrelevant to the conversation here. I am not going to address the rest of your comment for that reason.
Charles of course the question is what lead astray means. Some take it as a kind of near infallibility whereas others take it as screwing up enough that there’s no full apostasy and threat to salvation.
“Clark, the point is if you can easily be deceived by personal revelation and not know that you are, then what is the point in seeking it? ”
That seems a very odd argument. First, how easily you are deceived seems to depend upon the type of answer you receive, just as it does for any act of coming to knowledge. When as a student writing exams some answers I was confident in and others I was not. Some subjects I had more skill in than others. The places I was more skillful I had, because of that reliability, more trust in my answers when I felt them correct.
Now some people trust in answers they get when they haven’t really developed the skills they need. This is a fairly common topic in church. The old analogy was a radio with faulty tubes, but since almost no one knows that technology anymore you don’t hear it as much.
I rather suspect some people are much better at receiving and recognizing revelation than I am. Some are worse. The trick is in trying to follow the spirit and learning to discern. It’s both a practical skill but also tied to your spirituality/righteousness and the importance of what you’re praying for. Even at times when I was most spiritual some things (often warnings) were very clear whereas other things weren’t. And if I was angry or had done something wrong, then obviously my ability to discern or even get answers was significantly reduced.
Charles, I’m sorry but your answers are incomprehensible. I suspect that you might be living in a fantasy world in which there are somehow no contradictions in the LDS standard works and the words of the LDS church leaders over time. It should be as clear as day to any lucid mind and a desire for objectivity that the LDS church leaders find past positions on blacks and the priesthood that were declared as doctrine to be in error. Your attempts to deny this ignore important facts and statements.
The “follow the prophet” or “not led astray” or “voice of my servants” meme appears most strongly at times of controversy. The beginning and end of polygamy. Matters of race. Issues of marriage. I find it interesting that more often than not these are times of change, so that the underlying message is “listen to the prophet *now* even though different than the prophet *then*.” That’s a complicated message that will forever be itself controversial.
Charles said, “But as for leading us astray, when they speak as prophets they are in authority and they have revelation. Having authority is when ‘Whether by mine own voice or the voice of my servants it is the same’ and it is when ‘If they reject you, they reject me’. This is true even if they are fallible and subject to error. However, the revelation part helps prevent that and if they persist the Lord will remove them.”
Charles, how is this argument any different than the claimed authority of the Catholic Church or the Jewish leaders fighting against Jesus? It is the “we have authority so we speak for God” argument. Just because someone sits in a chair doesn’t mean they are a servant or have authority from God. They may have authority within a church, but not necessarily from God himself.
You seem to make a claim that can be illustrated thus:
Ecclesiastical position -> makes one a servant -> thus authority from God
I think, judging from the examples in the scriptures, it would look exactly the opposite:
Authority directly from God -> makes one a servant -> possibly a specific position (plenty of servants had no ecclesiastical position)
Orangganjil “how is this argument any different than the claimed authority of the Catholic Church or the Jewish leaders fighting against Jesus?”
In terms of *claims* it is no different that what the Catholic Church claims. We have long ago admitted that both the LDS Church and the Catholic Church claim the same authority. The difference occurs when you go past the claims. In the case of the Catholic Church, they erred in thinking that they inherited the authority from an already dead Church. In the case of the LDS Church we have the authority from Jesus and His Apostles as restored.
As for the Jewish leaders, they never claimed any such authority and so it is far different.
Orangganjil “Just because someone sits in a chair doesn’t mean they are a servant or have authority from God. ”
This is true — again, as the LDS Church has taught since its inception. One must be called of God as was Aaron, to have that authority.
Are you unaware of this?
Orangganjil: “Ecclesiastical position -> makes one a servant -> thus authority from God”
I am sorry if it seems that way. I did not mean to make such a suggestion. What I was declaring was this:
Restoration through a Prophet (Joseph Smith) —> Priesthood Authority Passed on —> Authority from God.
Orangganjil: “Authority directly from God -> makes one a servant ->”
There is no strong isomorphism here from the scriptures.
1. One may have authority from God and yet fail as a servant.
2. One may be a servant and have no authority to guide and direct the Church or others.
Brad L: “I’m sorry but your answers are incomprehensible.”
I am sorry that you are not able to comprehend the answers, but I assure you they are comprehensible. The fault is not in the answers.
Brad L: ” I suspect that you might be living in a fantasy world in which there are somehow no contradictions in the LDS standard works and the words of the LDS church leaders over time. ”
You may suspect as you wish. You, of course, have no evidence for this supposition. It is formed entirely out of your own prejudices and imaginations and as such says much more about you than about me.
Brad L: ” It should be as clear as day to any lucid mind and a desire for objectivity that the LDS church leaders find past positions on blacks and the priesthood that were declared as doctrine to be in error. ”
Where have you seen me say otherwise? Can you quote me? On the contrary, I can quote me saying exactly that.
My apologies for not monitoring this thread better over the last few days. I should have been moderating Brad L’s comments since a discussion of Mormon epistemology is not relevant to this thread.