Authority Problem? Why not morality?

Andrew S church, Culture, LDS, liberal, Mormon, Mormons, new order mormon, obedience, religion 20 Comments

About a week ago (if I’ve got this newfangled blog software system set up and can submit this article correctly this time, that is [what’s worse is that I use this stuff for my own blog, actually {sorry guys; I’m really breaking the blog fourth wall here}]), Hawkgrrrl wrote about The Problem with Morality. In it, she raised that oft-repeated idea that Mormons are so unquestioningly obedient to their authority leaders that “when the prophet has spoken, the thinking is done.” She raises this up in a somewhat negative light (and haven’t you seen it brought up in a negative light?) Usually…someone is criticizing the church or its members for taking such an obedient position.

Now, I’m not going to be the one to say that the church and its members members shouldn’t be criticized for obedience, because hey, I’m definitely not the little advocate that could. But, I’d like to think I can see clearly enough (even if I may be looking through a glass, darkly [every time I try to refer to that scripture I nearly write “A Scanner Darkly” — a movie (novel) I have actually never seen (read) and don’t even know what it’s about…but oh well]) to recognize that a considerable amount of people value obedience, and that it seems to work and provide benefit for many. It’s not something that can be rationalized away as merely “brainwashing” or whatever else people might use.

Hawkgrrrl had brought out big guns like the Power-Distance Index, and while that seems intriguing enough to me, one thing I had been writing about on my blog is Jonathan Haidt‘s Moral Foundations Theory.

I think this meshes quite well with the PDI that Hawkgrrrl spoke of…after all, the “cultural expectation of respect for hierarchy” matches very well with Haidt’s own idea about respect/authority being a foundation of morality. Haidt proposes (and of course, his work is still in progress) that whereas liberal thinkers might emphasis 2-foundation moralities centered on care/harm and fairness/reciprocity (see: Hawkgrrrl’s description of low-PDI individuals or nations), conservative and religious thinkers emphasize three more foundations as well: respect/authority, ingroup/loyalty, and purity/sanctity. (This isn’t to say that ‘liberal’ or ‘secular’ thinkers don’t value these things…as you can still see liberal or secular “ingroups”…or reworked senses of purity and sanctity based instead on health diet or environmentalism.)

So if this kind of theory is on the right track (and several are suggesting that it might be incomplete), then it would explain why, for example, faithful groups and secular groups, liberal and conservative, traditional and revolutionary, etc., don’t get along. Their emphasized moral foundations are at odds with each other. Even worse, why one group so often can’t possibly imagine seeing the other eye to eye. If one evaluates situations in terms of care and fairness, then some actions that emphasize loyalty to authority at the expense of these things are not going to be justifiable.

I guess I probably skimped out on the explanation and detailing of Haidt’s actual theory and what each foundation entails (but then again, I’ve broken this down twice before now and am lazy…) The bold question is…could you see this being the case? Can such a time-tested difference in personalities, nearly automatic emotional analyses, and personal moralities really be on the verge of being broken down into emphases on different values (with partial blindness to the other values?)

And if such a scenario were true, then what would that say about the church’s efforts? Should the church go full speed ahead with emphasis (whether scriptural or merely cultural exaggeration) on obedience, “fitting with” the ingroup, being pure and staying strong with traditional values (even when these things might sometimes come into conflict with other values and alienate some members and nonmembers)…after all, perhaps it could be that these parts of the church are worth keeping no matter if some people are turned off by it. Or should the church consider emphasizing different ways to believe as being more legitimate so as to draw more in? For truly, there are so-called liberal religions — they just downplay certain parts and reemphasize other parts to make the same books and doctrines that the conservatives use appeal to different crowds. And in fact, the church itself has enough scripture and doctrine in its own repertoire that, if it wanted, it could appeal to both sides.

Comments

comments

Comments 20

  1. That’s an insightful paradigm… it really makes me wonder what my own system is, and that’s not something I can answer quickly. (I feel like an orthodox Latter-day Saint in a lot of ways, except that I have a real authority problem.)

    At what level should such an emphasis in multiplicity of paradigms come? Is it something that necessarily has to come from a correlation-committee level, or can it be grassroots? I think that the latter may be more effective, at least in the short term until the former picks it up. We’d have to do more legwork in developing a theology of morality that extended beyond our current authority-respect paradigm. This might help us connect with the Church in areas outside of the USA better, as well.

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    I think if the church were to try to reach out to people of different moral paradigms and foundations, it could be grassroots, but to be truly effective, it would have to be correlation-committee level.

    For example, we already see this on a grassroots level to an extent. Certain wards can be more relaxed in terms of which moral foundations are held in the highest esteem, so some people might be comfortable at one ward, but go to another ward and find that it’s vastly different than what they expected, and that it actually turns them off.

    If the church wants this kind of uniform broad acceptability, it would have to engage in a change in church culture across the board. Grassroots stuff in the church tends to form culture (bad or good) and “false” doctrines, but for really effective stuff, there has to be a push from above.

    While I think it’d be great if the church made some changes away from authority/respect/loyalty/ingroup in particular, I guess I’m somewhat biased. I also recognize that some of these aspects may be the glue of the church, and that tampering with them could be disastrous. (For example, even though it might sound good to me [because of my moral foundations] to deemphasize the kind of “follow the leader” paradigm that is so stressed in the church, obedience *is* central to the church’s teachings. Changing this TOO much would have some serious unintended consequences that might not lead to the best results. I mean, looking at the church vs. “liberal” denominations, the church and ones that are strict like it grow precisely because of their strictness and demanding nature.)

  3. I think the liberal / conservative construction is too narrow to contain this kind of issue. There are also theological / philosophical issues involved that should be looked at. The first one that comes to mind is how we conceptualize agency. One of the things that I learned during prop 8 that I had not see before in the church is that for some following the prophet means that individuals necessarily turn over their moral authority or decision making ability (or what ever we want to call it) to the leadership of the church. There is no real sense in which doing this can be taken as an expression of moral agency, although some might try to make that case. The closest one can come to making such as argument viable may be to mirror Kierkegaard’s appeal to the madness (this is a positive term) of faith in his analysis of the Abraham story. Kierkegaard’s also advances the idea that there can be a divine suspension of the ethical. Now, a big difference is that in the Abraham story God him is acting directly upon Abraham. In our context we have human intermediates claiming to speak for God. But this raises the question of the possibility of one human, or group of humans asking other humans to suspend the ethical in the name of God. This is a step removed from Kierkegaard’s argument. Also, structurally there are other situations in which the individual is asks to suspend, or turn over his or her ethical agency to authority figures, the military being one example (although this has its complexities) suicide bombers being another. What might be some positive examples of this structure?

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    Re 3: Ah, I don’t mean to simplify this to liberal and conservative, so sorry if I appeared to do that…it just seems that there are some correlations in thought that might easily be labeled as liberal vs. conservative (even if it isn’t necessarily the closest connection.)

    But you’re right, Annon. What you describe in the prop 8 stuff is a central case of the proposed moral foundation of respect/authority. So, in this foundation, one group of humans following other humans (based on perceived authority) is the ethical…so in this view, one wouldn’t necessarily “suspend the ethical in the name of God” because the idea is that loyalty to God and his servants is what is ethical.

    Obviously, if you don’t primarily use that moral foundation, then this won’t mesh so well.

    So, I think the church itself on the whole is a (well, it depends on your framework) positive example of this structure. I mean, if you disagree with the church, then perhaps it isn’t, but then again, if you disagree with this structure in general (because you place other moral foundations higher), then it’ll be hard to find a “positive” example.

    but for example, think about the virtues that the church claims from obedience: humility, a change in character, a desire to “do good continually,” etc., These all would be positive “justifications” for loyalty/authority.

    but getting back to what I said earlier, if you have someone who disagrees with this structure in general (because it is not \one of their primary moral foundations), then to these people, this VERY idea will seem absurd and not moral. So, to reach these kinds of people, you can’t dress up loyalty/authority with “positive” examples…because these people would not agree with the idea of loyalty as a premium good in the first place. So my question is, how should the church reach these people? Should they continue to emphasize obedience regardless, or should they allow for more individual moral agency (interestingly enough, the church has scripture to back up both ways)?

  5. Andrew,

    Interesting perspective. I am trying to work with what you describe 1) that one group follow another is the ethical. and closely related 2) Loyalty to God and his servants is what is ethical.

    To stay with Kierkegaard for a moment, he describes the ethical as the universal, and there are good reasons for saying that. In comparison it looks like you are describing the ethical as the particular, or the specific. Kierkegaard celebrates the loyalty to God demonstrated by Abraham as the madness of faith in that God has suspended the ethical in asking Abraham to kill his son and yet Abraham sets out to do what God has asked anyway, based on his loyalty to God. If I recall correctly Kierkegaard does not suggest that killing his son is now ethical because God commanded it, but rather it remains unethical but Abraham will do it nonetheless out of faith / loyalty. I actually really love this idea but as I mentioned earlier I think the dynamic changes completely when its a human substitute for the divine that asks this kind of loyalty. Am I wrong in thinking that’s the case?

    If loyalty is the ultimate value, then I don’t think we can talk about virtues that follow from it because loyalty needs to remain the singular value regardless of the outcome, at least I think the example of Abraham’s willingness to kill his son suggests this is the case.

    So I may be the kind of individual that you describe to the extent that I do understand the ethical as the universal and loyalty to human leaders as an example of the particular and therefore always, already in a different category from the ethical. I can value loyalty a great deal but have a very difficult time finding in it an ethical foundation. Even if that loyalty is directly to God, there is always the possibility that God will require the unethical of us. In a sense the question: is something good because God asks it of us or does God ask something of us because it is good? is fitting. Since there are at least two answers: the Hebrew in which that which God asks defines the good; and the Greek in which God is bound by the good and cannot ask anything but the good from us. I’m guessing that you are well familiar with both. But I love to see how these different structures of thought play out in the Mormon context. It seems to me that despite there incompatibility BOTH are at work in Mormon thought as they are more broadly in Christianity.

    Emphasizing obedience as ethical in and of itself is not going to reach anyone who already understands the ethical as the universal even if they passionately value loyalty to God. But I don’t think the church is ready to talk about the fullness of individual moral agency either. As we all know the church’s model of agency is dualistic and so there is a lot that it can’t describe, but rather than trying to describe what is in excess of that dualism it appears that many in the church would rather just try to fit everything within it, even when it does not work.

  6. This model was the basis for a great article in Time that was maybe a year ago. What I liked in the link that was interesting was the connection that some of the inherent moral foundations had to people who were liberal (protecting individual rights over group rights) vs. those that were conservative (protecting group rights over individual rights). First of all, the SBC should be proud for screwing up the entire GOP platform by achieving THAT flip-flop (or blame Reagan if you will for adding the leg of social conservativism to the stool). The party further to the right (think libertarianism) should be the one that’s all about individualism. The party to the left (think socialism) should be the one that’s about preserving the protectionism provided by the group. So these guys are talking out of both sides of their mouth. That’s all I’ll say about that.

    The 5 components of morality described are not specifically religious in foundation; the theory is that they are inherent and possibly have happened through evolution and that in essence, they separate us from the animals. The difference between purity in a religious sense and purity in this moral model is that purity is violated by things that we think are unclean and animalistic like public copulation, nudity or eating raw meat (hey, that reminds me of traveling in Europe!). I guess you could make the case for WoW and kosher food being similar, but to me those are more linked to the ingroup moral foundation.

  7. One of the things that is interesting regarding indivualistic & communitarian argumentation is that in America people on both sides of the traditional liberal / conservative division will use both types of arguments. For example on the left, Abortion is often framed in terms of individual rights, but Gun control is framed in communitarian terms. The individual and the community are not really the anchors they may have been at one time but even in the Socialism of someone like Jack London there is the appeal to both the individual and the community.

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    Re 5: Sorry for taking so long to reply.

    I think you could make obedience/loyalty a universal concept as well (after all, that’s what these moral foundations are really trying to get at…)…we need not go into specific examples of when loyalty becomes an imperative or whatever, but for some people, they have a universal kind of belief that respect for authority and loyalty to that authority is something that is moral.

    I think that if Kierkegaard’s calculation is right that the sacrifice is still unethical even though God commanded it, this makes for some rather interesting concessions you have to make about God. Can God command people to do the unethical? Is that in his nature?

    I don’t know how a believer would answer that affirmatively. (but good point later on on if what God asks automatically is good or if what is good is what God asks…I like to think sometimes that a more powerful God fits the first rather than the second…after all, if God is “bound” by the good, that means there’s a standard of good theoretically higher than God. Of course, then again, the LDS God isn’t necessarily as powerful as that, so it could be that is the case.) And if Abraham does an evil act from loyalty (because he thinks and is led to believe that loyalty is a moral quality)…then are his moral faculties malfunctioning? When people doubt being loyal to certain others (even God), are they being more morally active by questioning?

    The dynamic does presumably change when it’s with a human, but then again, things are so slippery anyway. If you take for granted that people actually talk face-to-face with God or that God gives messages to people through prayer, then it seems like parties between you and God (e.g., inspired church leaders) aren’t hard to justify. However, if you think inspired church leaders aren’t so inspired, how can you be so sure with the foundation — that God communicates with people — when you won’t accept it from his servants?

    In the end, I’d say that loyalty (for people who do make it a moral foundation) is the ultimate value. So, you’re right in that we probably can’t talk about the virtues that come from it. This moral foundation does have excesses and deficiences (lemmings running off a cliff, people not whistleblowing, etc.,)

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    Re 6:

    Yeah, it certainly is interesting, actually, how individualism and group identity flipped (but still, both sides kinda use both arguments when convenient as Annon mentioned in 7)

    I think that even though the five morality foundations aren’t religious in nature, it’s interesting to see how some religions have taken to some foundations (for example, ingroup + purity = …..WOW!) etc.,

  10. I was thinking about the purity moral foundation, and I realized that it is the basis for many many episodes of Seinfeld. To wit: double dipping a chip (George), preparing food while showering (Kramer), sitting in a hot tub all day (Kramer), not wiping your sweat off gym equipment (Elaine), peeing in a communal shower (George), opening a pickle jar naked (Jerry). Essentially, these are all funny/gross because they violate our purity-meter. Those are the ones that came to mind readily. I’m sure with a lost weekend I could come up with a more comprehensive list.

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  12. I bet there are many more from Seinfeld. I suspect that’s one of his spaces as a comedian–poking fun at the purity stuff that makes us slightly uncomfortable WITH him.

  13. I guess the question that seeks an answer concerns how something becomes the universal? Is is constructed by human society, is the universal a function of God or of nature? Even if it is God or nature, these will always be filtered through and worked upon by the human, by society.

    Can God command people to do the unethical? Lets say yes, and realize that humanity has ways of addressing that. First, is the idea mentioned previously, that if God asks it, it must be good. But notice in the example of Abraham that what God asks is something specific of one man. Not all fathers have to murder their son’s, God is not establishing a new universal, its a truth or an action that is local, particular. Second, is that God can suspend the ethical if it is as a way of meeting a specific end. It’s alright to kill the guy who holds the gold plates because God wants a different people to have that record.

    you write: “, if God is “bound” by the good, that means there’s a standard of good theoretically higher than God.” Yes, exactly. And as I understand it, this is the Greek notion of the universal, something that even the Gods cannot transcend.

    You write: “And if Abraham does an evil act from loyalty (because he thinks and is led to believe that loyalty is a moral quality)…then are his moral faculties malfunctioning?

    No, because he’s not obeying God because he thinks loyalty is a moral quality. His action results from his being resigned to the will of God, and this resignation does not take ethics into account, its not that kind of decision. This is the madness of faith that Kierkegaard celebrates.

    “When people doubt being loyal to certain others (even God), are they being more morally active by questioning?” Another good question but I wonder if it can really be answered. For example if one believes that there is a “Nurenburg defense” at the judgement day. That we are allowed to say that we were just following the orders given to us by other humans and that is what we were supposed to do regardless of outcome, then we can argue that there is no place at all for questioning. Which means that turning over our moral agency to another is the proper thing to do. Isn’t this really the Church’s position, that the true act of agency lies in turning over moral responsibility to church leaders? Granted it is not articulated this way. We are told that the spirit will confirm for us that what the leaders ask of us is right. This is a pretty amazing claim, that there can only ever be one outcome to that kind of prayer, the spirit will confirm what the prophet / leaders says. When I encounter this, I encounter it as a denial of the ethical because of its monism. Structurally the ethical requires that there be at least two potentials. With only one possible outcome we are in the realm of programed certainty in which the relationship of the individual to the universal is absolutely fixed. So one could say that such a structure denies both agency and the ethical. So from that perspective, both doubt and the potential for multiplicity (and thus an actual decision) are structurally essential to the ethical.

    “If you take for granted that people actually talk face-to-face with God or that God gives messages to people through prayer, then it seems like parties between you and God (e.g., inspired church leaders) aren’t hard to justify. However, if you think inspired church leaders aren’t so inspired, how can you be so sure with the foundation — that God communicates with people — when you won’t accept it from his servants?”

    The problem is that its quite possible to understand individuals as inspired and also human. Meaning that in their leadership they have multiple potentials, that it is possible for them to speak something other than the will or words of God. That God working through humans is not immutable. That the makeup of the individual, of the society in which they are situated, of the historical context, etc etc all mold how an inspired leader functions as an agent of the divine. This puts the responsibility for the ethical in the hands of the individual follower, and suggests a very strong distinction between resignation to the will of God, and the ethical evaluation of instructions provided by inspired human leaders.

  14. The problem I have with the Greek construction of the gods is that there gods explicitly do seem flawed and somewhat humane. These guys had issues, infighting, etc., And they also didn’t count as that super-pantheon of all-knowing/all-etc.,

    I guess the LDS idea of God could also fit into somewhat of a framework depending on how you look at it, and that’s especially a point of contention between other denominations and ours — ex nihilo, anyone?’

    His action results from his being resigned to the will of God, and this resignation does not take ethics into account, its not that kind of decision. This is the madness of faith that Kierkegaard celebrates.

    Haha, this is probably why I did not like Kierkegaard so much…because in characterization like this, this madness of faith seems…well, duh, mad. This “resignation” to the will of God…Of course, then again, kierkekaard just believes that the leap to faith is a stage “past” the ethical, right? So he really isn’t concerned if the decisions people make in their faith are unethical, because that is a lower stage.

    Jumping all the way down to your comments about being inspired but human, I guess that is so. We don’t claim infallibility for anyone.

    But what happens when an individual we consider to be inspired speaks in a capacity where they believe they are giving inspiration, that you don’t trust? It goes back to the idea that of a kind of Nuremburg defense in a way.

    It seems that the (strong bias ahead) resignation to the will of God is not really justifiable as a third stage of progress, regardless of any existential crises that may make it seem so, if it “overcomes” the ethical.

  15. Andrew,

    I would think that a lot of Mormons would like Kierkegaard’s celebration of Abraham’s commitment / resignation to the will of God. True is does extend beyond the ethical (if we can talk about it in such terms) but I am note sure how different a certain Mormon conception of following the prophet is from Kierkegaard’s infinite resignation. The difference I see is that the Mormon concept asks infinite resignation in relation to another human being, rather than directly to the divine. So, in my own thinking this is where the problem comes in. Can we respond to the human call to suspend the ethical in the same way we respond to the divine call to suspend the ethical? I suspect the answer is no, for various reasons, I believe that no human call to suspend the ethical can be heeded. If for no other reason the results are always judged harshly by history.

    As for hearing but not trusting or not responding to inspiration, isn’t this the moment where agency matters? Agency only matters where there is a true decision to be made, when things are in flux, or their is spiritual uncertainty. This is where the individual needs to do the work. Indeed relying on a Nuremburg Defense will be the result for some, but others will find a variety of options that will need to be navigated on an individual basis.

    On another point I was thinking about the idea that you brought up in your original post this being “when the prophet has spoken, the thinking is done.” I wonder if this is really a call to obedience. It might be but if it is it’s a call to obedience through silence, passivity and uniformity. So its not obedience per se that is the problem it’s the form it takes in that specific formulation.

  16. I’m relatively sure that a lot of Mormons would like it too.

    But then again, I’m not “a lot of Mormons” and I’d like to think that the church isn’t a monolithic bloc of opinion.

    So, for example, what happens if one decides that no human call to suspend the ethical can be heeded, and this leads to disciplinary action? I mean, of course people have their own agency to make these kinds of decisions (and accept the consequences), but it could lead to some jarring issues (guilt problems, feelings of unworthiness, wanting to do what is right even though there is confusion between what the leaders say and what is felt is right [even when a member has *already* sustained these leaders as prophets, seers, and revelators]).

    On your idea that there could be obedience without silence, passivity, and uniformity, I have in fact read many articles on the bloggernacle that suggest that the church isn’t so much concerned about unorthodoxy as it is about orthopraxy. But then, if the motto instead becomes, “When the prophet has spoken, the doing is done,” then how much better is this? How much better is it to be obedient and vocally concerned than it is to be obedient and silent. It seems that if you disagree, but still comply, then this still shows a lapse of character (oh, I really don’t think this bank heist is a good idea guys…but I’m go with it.)

  17. I don’t think the church is a monolithic bloc of opinion either, but I think we also know which way the wind blows.

    I’m not sure what you are getting at with your other two points. I think the idea that no human call to suspend the ethical can be heeded is a way (for some) of defining the threshold of ethics. If church leaders make such a call then I don’t think the individual would experience guilt or feelings of unworthiness I think they would experience it as a moment in the institutional church when the ideological infringed upon the theological. When the prophetic voice was (momentarily) suspended or conflated with a very human & ideological voice. The disciplinary action element could very well lead to anger, or a feeling of betrayal but if one is the kind of person to believe that there a specific threshold to human leadership of the church then one probably already believes in a notion of agency that places the ultimate responsibility for the ethical on the individual. Leading to a sense of peace, or a different kind of resignation, and a stronger understanding of the potential disjunction between the divine, the human and the ethical.

    “On your idea that there could be obedience without silence, passivity, and uniformity”

    Are you implying that silence, passivity and uniformity are necessary to loyalty? Just want to make sure I am reading this correctly.

    As for orthodoxy V. orthopraxy I think it depends upon who you speak to. Granted during Prop. 8 the push for orthopraxy was obvious, but the excommunication and disfellowshipping of intellectuals in the church usually come about due to publishing works that conflict with orthodoxy don’t they? You seem to be saying that neither orthodoxy or orthopraxy are very satisfying ways of addressing the ethical, and I agree. As we keep pointing out in various ways there is always the potential for either to exceed the ethical. But what are you advocating for? Do you think there is a way (or that it is the case) that a form of silent, passive, obedience to human leadership can not lead to ethical transgressions? Or are your trying to reconcile the potential for ethical transgression with loyalty to (flawed) human leadership? Or something else all together?

    In your OP you mentioned that there is a strong enough scriptural basis to say that the Church can advocate for both a notion of obedience in which individual agency is willingly handed over to church leadership and also of other ways of relating to authority & loyalty. I agree, in all our scriptures we can see examples of these and other views of the relationship between the individual, the group, and group leaders. So really the choice is even broader than we first think, but does the church have to choose one or the other? I’m not sure. On the theological level my own answer is that it needs to choose to allow for a range of ways of believing and acting that all embrace different aspects of the gospel and lead to a faithful Mormon life and relationships. The implications of doing this or not doing this can be boiled down to the difference between dialogue as a positive value and monologue as a negative value. The more authoritarian model of loyalty summed up in the “when the prophet speaks . . .” mode favors monologue but how can a community be sustained by monologue? How does this insistence upon monologue not lead to a slothful community that needs to be instructed in all things?

  18. so then, what are the bounds by which members should determine when the prophet speaks with a “prophetic voice” and when he speaks with an “ideological and human voice”?

    As for obedience…I’m not quite sure what I’m implying, because I’m not much of a fan of loyalty as a whole. But it seems to be a strong case for me at least that if you are loyal, but speaking against who you’re loyal to (not silent), actively working against who you’re loyal to (not passive), and much different than that who you’re loyal to in a critical way (not uniform), then your loyalty is suspect.

    Now obviously, if you’re speaking praises and speaking for your leader, then that’s an example of when you could not be silent and still be “loyal,” and there are examples for the others too…but I assumed that these things were…taken for granted and didn’t need to be raised up.

    Regarding excommunication and disfellowshipping…publishing is still an action…so publishing books of false doctrine is still an example of heterodoxy (and still an example of how the church cares more about orthodoxy, IMO). Imagine if someone privately believed all kinds of weird things doctrinally that most certainly weren’t orthodox, but he never taught and preached and published these ideas (all actions). The church would have no problem with this (assuming the individual could still answer temple questions properly, etc.,)

    But I would suggest that if someone is heterodox and just keeping it down inside privately, that’s really no good. For them and (eventually) for the church.

    What am I advocating for…haha, good question. Silent, passive obedience will most certainly have the potential to lead to ethical transgressions, so I am not advocating the opposite. I guess I’m trying to reconcile the potential for ethical transgression with flawed human leadership, but with the added subversive twist of the idea that we have no reliable way to tell the difference between flawed human leadership and “divine” authority. One person may follow the Prophet no matter what (effectively thinking that he makes no flaws)…but we don’t in general believe in infallibility, so that is too extreme. But, even when we recognize that the prophet can sometimes speak as a man, we have no reliable way of recognizing when he does this and when he speaks for doctrinal principles. So it becomes a game of people trusting what feels best to them.

    I mentioned in my OP that there is strong scriptural basis for advocate of both strong obedience and strong personal motivation, because I mean, even just casually, we can think of two competing ideas, “when the prophet speaks…” AND “we can receive personal revelation…” The thing is…the church (even if it doesn’t have to) does feel somewhat obligated to pick one way or another…preferably, the church would not like its members to receive personal revelation en masse in that gay marriage is ok and should be permitted.

    If you were a leader of an organization, would you really be concerned about a slothful community that needed (and heeded) your instruction in all things? It’s easy to see from an individual perspective how this is detrimental, but from an organizational perspective, it’s not that problematic.

  19. “so then, what are the bounds by which members should determine when the prophet speaks with a “prophetic voice” and when he speaks with an “ideological and human voice”?”

    You just gave the first answer. When ideology is evident that is a clue. At a certain point ideology and theology may become a challenge to distinguish but we hear all sorts of things at church in prayers, in SM talks etc, that are obviously ideological. Nationalism, the endorsement of capitalism or militarism as well as conservative politics in general are all quite common ideological features of church discourse. If the ideological features of GA addresses or conference talks are harder to detect just go back a few years a read BRM or JFS or J. Rubin Clark, or Mark Peterson, etc on the topic of race.

    The second clue is what we have been talking about, the suggestion that the ethical should be breeched.

    Finally there is the most important tool. I don’t know that this works for everyone by why wouldn’t individual revelation / the prompting of the spirit a good tool in this case?

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