Thursday, April 17, 2008

Because the prophet said so ...

Few statements raise my hackles as much as the one in the title. In Mormondom, it is the quintessential way to end an argument when you can't come up with anything else. And we're all supposed to just nod our heads in blind obedience. How can you argue against that without being branded an apostate? It's such a cowardly argument - "I can't discuss this rationally because I'm losing the argument - so I'm going to hit my opponent below the belt" or "I've run out of things to say so I'm done talking about this"

We are taught that we need to support our church leaders - both local and church wide. We are not to engage in any evil speaking of the Lords anointed. Bishop H. Burke Peterson said that the 'anointed' applies to all who are working in the kingdom ("Ensign" June 1981). But, does that mean we can't say anything bad about anyone or anything in the church? What are we really saying when we pledge to support our church leaders?

Where is the line separating legitimate criticism and evil speaking? Can't we support our church leaders while disagreeing with them in certain areas? They are human, after all, and subject to the same shortcomings as the rest of us. Infallibility is not part of our doctrine. Yes, I know, we've been promised that the Lord will never condemn us for following the prophet, even if he is wrong. But, is the inverse true? Will the Lord condemn us for not following a prophet when they're wrong? I don't think so.

I've already made my feelings about gay marriage known - which, admittedly, is in direct conflict with counsel given by our church leaders. But, that's not the only thing that I disagree with.
  • I think the prohibition on boys wearing earrings is dumb - not that I have any desire to go get my ears pierced - but I honestly don't see anything wrong when a boy does. And, face it, some guys look pretty dang good in earrings :) And what about cosmetic surgery, teeth whitening, and all of the other things we do to satisfy our vanity? Why are they OK, but an unobtrusive stud in a boys ear signals Armageddon?
  • Whenever there is some sort of youth activity that involves putting costumes on (e.g. roadshow, etc.), it seems we are always counseled that boys are not allowed to wear girl's clothes (sometimes they might add that girls aren't allowed to wear boys clothes). What are they afraid of? If you put a dress on a boy then he will turn gay? Seriously! I'm not advocating that we should all update our wardrobes; but, in a theatrical setting, it can be appropriate for a guy to wear womens clothes, even if just for comedic purposes - and there's nothing wrong with it (and it's not going to turn him gay).
  • The "God Loveth His Children" pamphlet counsels that we shouldn't have openly gay people as friends ("It is better to choose as friends those who do not publicly display their homosexual feelings", p.9). Hogwash! If a person's abstinence from gay sexual relationships is so tenuous that merely having an openly gay person as a friend is going to push them over the edge into the 'gay livestyle' then I have news for you: It's only a matter of time before they make that jump - with or without gay friends. What they need to be teaching us is how to be "in the gay world but not of the gay world." They need to be teaching us how to apply the principals in the "For the Strength of Youth" pamphlet to our gay relationships. Can we get past the sterotypes? Just because a person is open about their orientation doesn't mean that they are constantly tempting you to go out clubbing with them or something. You just need to choose the right friends.
  • In "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" it says "Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose." I don't necessarily disagree with that statement, but I'm not sure I completely agree with it either. I'm certainly no expert, but it is my understanding that some babies are born with ambiguous genitalia, extra chromosomes or with a pattern that does not concur with external appearances, etc. In those cases the doctor's may counsel with the parents on which gender the child should be raised as (and possibly surgery to make the genitalia match that gender). How does the eternal nature of gender fit when we have humans assigning gender at birth? To be honest, I really don't know how I feel about this. But, there is something about that line in the proclamation that just makes me feel a little uneasy whenever I hear it.
  • When I was in the Salt Lake mission home (yes, I'm that old - I predate the MTC), we had gone through a session in the Salt Lake temple and were then escorted up to the solemn assembly room on the top floor where we could ask any question we wanted. Mind you, I had only been a member of the church barely 2 years; so, my question was probably one that many primary children probably could have answered. The general authority in attendance thought it was a stupid question and he told me so in a "I can't believe you would even ask that" tone of voice. I was crushed - here was one of the Lords anointed telling me that I'm stupid - in the temple - making me feel like I was not worthy to serve a mission. I don't even remember the question anymore - but I remember the incident and the feelings that I had. To this day I believe he was wrong for reacting to my question the way he did. He was being a poophead! Did I just speak evil of the Lords anointed? Do I need to start watching out for lightening bolts?
  • I love Spencer W. Kimball - he was my first prophet. I had the opportunity to meet him in person and shake his hand on a couple of occasions. I served my mission in the same area of the country as he did. I even proselyted in some of the same towns that he did. But, I've never read his book "The Miracle of Forgiveness" and have no intention of ever doing so. I've seen quotations from that book; and, frankly, I consider some of his statements regarding homosexuality to be hateful.

I feel these things are legitimate questions and criticisms. I'm not attacking anyones character, I am merely saying that I disagree with how some of the things done or the way certain things are said. And I'm OK with that. I am comfortable saying that I support my local and church leaders, even though I may not agree with them 100%.


-L- said...

I think "because the prophet said so" can be good or bad, right or wrong, irritating or faith-promoting. It's not a bad thing, in and of itself to put one's confidence in God's chosen spokesperson, since, you know, that's the whole point. It's not necessarily blind obedience to do so, nor cowardly, nor a last ditch effort to obfuscate legitimate discussion. But, as you say, it can be all those negative things too. I just hope we don't err on the other side by believing it's never a virtuous position to take.

There are some interesting stories from church history that suggest both that leaders can be very wrong and that we're blessed when we follow them anyway. I don't have that whole thing figured out, and I appreciate your post for encouraging thoughts on the topic.

draco said...

Okay- first off I LOVE the picture that you have up for this post. It says everything!

Second, I'm sure I've told you this before Abelard, but you pretty much rock.

And lastly, I want to disagree with L (which kind of feels like criticizing one of the general authorities of moholandia- maybe that's why I want to do it)-

"Because the prophet said so" is just a mormon way of saying "I'm right no matter what you say so nanny-nanny-boo-boo." I can't think of a single situation in which it isn't a lame out.

Even if the prophet is right about something being wrong, it's not wrong because the prophet says so- it was wrong before the prophet says so and it was wrong for a reason that has nothing to do with the prophet. The same can be said for God.

"Because the prophet says so" has the same argumentative value as "Because Allah says so," or
"Because Buddha says so," or
"Because Kabbalah says so" or
"Because Hillary says so" -so what makes the Mormon argument any more credible?

-L- said...

"which kind of feels like criticizing one of the general authorities of moholandia- maybe that's why I want to do it"

ha. :-)

If we could arrive at all truth rationally through a deliberative process, we wouldn't need religion. We wouldn't need prophets. It's because the real reasons for some things are undiscoverable to us, that we have to have faith, have trust, put religious devotion in a category altogether qualitatively different than in other aspects of our life where the demands for proof and logic are appropriate.

Whether it's just like saying some other authority said so, is a great secular comparison, but God has only one true prophet. I agree with Abe that accepting anything and everything without care or thought is bad, but there are genuinely admirable times that we accept such things after all the thought and care in the world has been taken and has left us with only faith to go on.

Foxx said...

We are not to engage in any evil speaking of the Lords anointed.

This statement gets my hackles raised. Whether it was intended to mean soemthing else, too often it is applied as: Don't say anything bad about church leaders, their decisions or actions, or the lightning bolts are coming for you (not to mention apostacy). It discourages thought and critical analysis. It implies that when the prophet/leader has spoken, the thinking has been done.

Until your post, I never thought there might be a difference between criticism and evil speaking, but I hope there is.

Neal said...

One time my Bishop gave me some counsel that I KNEW was wrong, and I told him to his face "that's just BUNK!" That's about the closest I've come to 'evil speaking', I guess. But he was indeed wrong. Of course, this was done in the privacy of his office.

Brighman Young once said in General Conference that every member there should take the messages they heard that day, ponder on them, and then ask the Lord to confirm their truth. To gain a testimony for themselves that the words they heard were true and the counsel correct. I've always liked that statement, and I don't think we, as members, take his advice very often.

The Lord does expect us to honor and uphold the leaders of the Church. When we sustain someone we signify that we will help them be successful in their calling, and will respect the mantle of authority given to them. But sustaining may not always mean blindly agreeing. If we feel that something is wrong and if the seriousness of the issue warrants, we can and should approach them in private to voice our concerns. I think when we make a public issue of things is when we get into the 'evil speaking' area.

And we need to be careful in rejecting counsel from our leaders. Before we take offense or disagree, we need to do what Brigham Young said and find out for ourselves if that counsel is right. Once my Stake President, through the Bishop, asked me to come out to someone who I had known for years. I immediately protested, because this person had made some homophobic comments in the past and I had NO intention of sharing that information with them. After several weeks of arguing with the Stake Pres. and my Bishop, the Bishop sat down with me and said, 'look, are you going to follow the counsel or not? Even if you think it may turn out badly, you will be blessed if you follow that counsel.' At that moment, I felt the Spirit telling me that I did indeed need to follow the counsel. I hadn't bothered to do what Brigham Young suggested, and just flew off the handle at the suggestion. Now, there in my Bishop's office, I could feel the propmtings I should have sought out weeks before.

I immediately followed the counsel of my Stake Pres. and had this brother over to my home where I came out to him. We talked for hours. I discovered that he had totally changed and was extremely remorseful for his previous homophobia. Years on the High Council had humbled him as he had seen other homosexual members struggling with related issues. I felt an outpouring of love from this man, and today he is literally my best and truest friend. My Stake President had been right, and I had been miserably wrong!

So, I think we have a right to disagree with our leaders, but I think we need to be careful when we do so or choose not to follow them. There may be times they are wrong, but we need to be CERTAIN we are RIGHT before we choose not following their counsel.



draco said...

Kabbalah, here I come! Anybody have a red ribbon I can borrow?

J G-W said...

There's never a point where making a decision about what to do or what to believe does not require some kind of a judgment call on our part.

A decision to trust a leader is almost always on a rational process that has brought us to the point of saying, "OK, I think X, but I trust that when this leader says Y maybe he knows something I don't know."

The process can be based on faith-based experiences we've had in the past that lead us to feel we can go on faith. It can be based on promptings of the Spirit. But it's still a rational process in which we ultimately take 100% responsibility for our choice. We never ever give up our responsibility, even when we hoodwink ourselves into thinking we're no longer responsible because we're "just following orders."

Awareness of situations in the past where a church leader or leaders have been 100% dead wrong, and disaster resulted from following them (I'm thinking of Mountain Meadows, for instance) may or may not be particularly relevant in a particular instance. But it should temper our thought process, give us pause, especially when something a church leader counsels us to do goes directly against our moral sense (our conscience). I don't believe God will ever alleviate us of blame for violating our conscience, no matter how authoritative the person telling us to violate it was.

Danny said...

If I received an answer in my heart that goes against the teachings of the prophets than I guess I must be following the devil? I do not believe the leaders of the LDS church are any more inspired than any other fellow human being on earth. They lead the church and keep it consistent to a point. I have no problem criticizing the leaders. Its them that should be listening to the critiques.

Cliff said...

In my experience people who seem to be insecure in their own testimony say, "because the prophet said so," while people who know fully who they are and what they believe say, "I don't know, but I know the prophet is called of God, so that is what I'm going with until I do know." Subtle difference, but a significant one.

Acknowledging the fact that you don't know everything isn't an admission of weakness, but a sign of spiritual maturity.

Also, I get uncomfortable when people loft the prophets and apostles to near perfect levels. While I don't believe them guilty of grievous sin, I think it is dangerous to include their unfailing righteousness in your belief system. What happens when they have a bad day and are jerks to the waiter at the restaurant where you are both eating?

Prophets are called of God and are human; the two aren't mutually exclusive.

santorio said...

most churches have a back bench--a place for once in a while participants who can feel comfortable during their occasional visits, dropping a ten in the collection plate and then back to the golf course the next week.

not so in mormonism--you're either in or you're out. if you are not for me you are against me.

and that's good--no it's bad

Kengo Biddles said...

I could write quite the lengthy response to everything you've said in this blog, things that I agree with, others that I don't, and my own thoughts, but I'll just say this:

President Kimball must have had an insanely huge guilt complex, and I feel genuinely sorry for him.