Follow the [blank]: A Poll

HawkgrrrlMormon 18 Comments

In the church, we learn how to be good followers.  There are many things we are told to follow:  the prophet, good examples, our parents’ instructions, the gospel, the brethren, the Spirit, and the dictates of our own conscience.  We are told, on the one hand, NOT to follow the world or the crowd.  But we are told to surround ourselves with good people and follow their good examples.  So, what do you follow when you sense a conflict between two of these?

Let’s first tackle the implications of the different things we might follow:

  • The Prophet. Even toddlers are taught the song “Follow the Prophet,” not a personal favorite either musically (it’s the “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” of the Primary songbook) or lyrically (the line “if you don’t believe me / go and watch the news” sounds like something Archie Bunker or Sean Hannity should be saying acerbically, not tiny tots singing sweetly).  Frankly, listening to an angelic chorus of youngsters sing this song makes Mormons sound creepy and cult-like.  I’d totally sign a petition to kill this song.  However, there’s no doubt that Mormons are taught to follow the Prophet, the living head of the church who is responsible to define the gospel for Mormons globally during his tenure (which only ends when God “releases” him / he dies).
  • The Brethren.  This is similar to the Prophet, but generally includes all modern-day apostles, both living & dead, but all white (with an emphasis on the living ones).  Some would expand that beyond the apostles to include other high level leaders such as the 70, and possibly even the unseen correlation committee.
  • Christ. Obviously, the purpose of the church is to come unto Christ.  Of course, this implies that WWJD covers all the scenarios you encounter, and that you feel confident in your interpretation of WWJD.  Of course many who wear a WWJD tee shirt are doing all kinds of things I don’t personally think J would D.  So, there is some interpretation here.  Are you really following Christ, your interpretation of him, your best version of yourself, or what others have told you?
  • The Gospel.  Because there are many ways to interpret some aspects of the gospel for specific situations, this would usually mean the gospel “as you understand / interpret it.”  You might base your interpretation on some favorite scriptures, teachings of leaders, personal experiences, etc.  But your basis and understanding may differ from others’ in some particulars.  For cafeteria Mormons (and there really are no other kinds), it’s whatever is on your tray.
  • The Spirit.  In Mormonism, this can mean different things to different people, but it generally means that when you need to know what to do, you seek personal spiritual guidance through whatever means have worked for you in the past:  prayer, thinking about it, dreams, reading scriptures or other inspirational materials, etc.  The more superstitious folks might use means like “Bible dips” (opening the scriptures to a passage and then using that to determine their course of action).
  • The dictates of your own conscience.  This can mean using your own personal life experiences, wisdom, opinions, and preferences to determine your course of action.

What would republican Jesus do?

A few times in leadership trainings, I have done what is called a Rokeach Value Survey.  In this exercise, you are presented with various values or life goals, most of which are probably desirable to you, and you have to rank order them.  This is done by comparing two of them and asking “If I could have A but not B, would I prefer that or to have B but not A.”  Basically, through this “false dichotomy” exercise, you determine which is your most dearly held value.  (Values considered are things like:  freedom, human love, a comfortable life, health, etc.)  Consider these types of dichotomies for yourself personally as you answer the poll.

  • What if something a current Prophet says differs from something the Brethren have said?  Do you assume the prophet has more authority and is more timely than the other statement?  Does how you feel about what is being said (the dictates of your own conscience) change your feeling?
  • What if a spiritual prompting differs from the dictates of your own conscience?  Would you take a leap and follow the spiritual prompting or would you assume it was indigestion?
  • What if something the Brethren say differs from your interpretation of the Gospel?  Do you (generally) assume they know better and get on board?  Or do you assume they are mistaken and that your view is correct?

I’d like each of you to consider the following possibilities using this same methodology to choose the most important one to you personally.


Were you surprised by your results?  Do you object to false dichotomies on principle?  If so, get over it!  Discuss.

Comments 18

  1. According to BY, brother Joseph came to him in a dream and told him, that the most important message is, that the brethren should follow the Spirit.

    For me, that’s actually pretty much the same as the dictates of my own conscience, so I might as well have done that.

    Mind you, in my 30 years as an adult convert, I have never had to forgo following the prophets even if they’re not the first priority…

  2. One more thing. Pres. Benson had some political opinions (as we have been lately reminded again by certain politicians), that I didn’t necessarily share. But I never thought that following the Prophet means parroting his politics. No. For me, conferences, the Ensign and other such stuff meant that. Met him personally in 1980, and he was personally very affable, and had a good sense of humor.

  3. I selected conscience. My reason being that I believe the revelatory process is a negotiation between God (the Spirit) and our conscience. Assuming I felt no dialogue I would follow my conscience. However, that I even take seriously what all the other categories say is a sign that I follow them. I do not read what the Archbishop or the Pope say and tehrfore do not follow or consider what they say. My respect or sustaining is in the act of listening and taking seriously what they say.

  4. My conscience.

    I would listen to all of the above, but at the end of the day, follow what I felt was “right”, however a nebulous concept that might be. Ideally, all of these would be on the same page, but we know they’re not. Even among the Brethren, for example, they may have diametrically opposed opinions as to what different principles of the gospel or Christ’s teachings mean. When all is said and done, we have to live with ourselves and we will be judged on what we ourselves felt and did and said. The other options are all just aids to help us get back to God.

  5. I picked Spirit, but usually with important decisions I’d check on my conscience also. If the two conflict then I probably need to do some more studying/praying/etc.

  6. The way the church is established, the law of common consent puts all general authorities in harmony. You can always rest assure that whatever the first presidency puts out as official church policy or doctrine supersedes all other quorums or authorities of the church. The other quorums of the church, through common consent, will fall into line with the first presidency. The general membership, who sustain the first presidency, are obligated to fall in line as well; therefore, it is no question of what is right or what is wrong. This is how the Lord set up His church. It is a foundation built on revelation.

    Each member of the church has an opportunity to go to the Lord and find out what is right and what is wrong by thinking it out in their minds and then by going before the Lord and trusting in the answer received. The obligation we take upon ourselves when we sustain our leaders is to do what it takes to stay in harmony with them. This may take fasting and prayer and plenty of meditation. It may take a serious study of the scriptures. We are obligated to take those steps by the simple fact that we threw up our right arm and said to the Lord that we sustain His pick for this leader we look to for direction. If we then feel that the direction is wrong, through the spirit, we can then go talk to our local leadership about the steps we took to come to our conclusion. We can then reason it out between them and the Lord to find our way back in harmony and understanding. Sometimes the spirit will touch us in a way that we will want to ask around and get our misconceptions / doubts cleared up. Then we will feel peace.

  7. I think it’s important that we understand the nature of conscience. LDS tend to conflate “conscience” with the “light of Christ,” which their scriptures declare as given to “every man [and woman?].” In fact, numerous LDS actually define the “light of Christ” as one’s “conscience.” This suggests that “conscience” is an external and unmistakeable force, independent of human experience, which will provide the same direction to every person who takes note of it.

    I believe the truth of the matter is that our “conscience” is the sum of our own socialization and life experience. It consists of the ideas of “right and wrong” which we’ve internalized and made a part of our core identity. It changes throughout our lives, as we learn and grow. If we’ve never been taught that an action is wrong, we don’t experience any impulse of “conscience” against it. On the other hand, even if we’ve been wrongly taught that something is wrong, we will have an impulse of “conscience” against it. It’s an internal force, not an external or objective one. Comment #7 gives a great example of this:

    If we then feel that the direction is wrong, through the spirit, we can then go talk to our local leadership about the steps we took to come to our conclusion. We can then reason it out between them and the Lord to find our way back in harmony and understanding. Sometimes the spirit will touch us in a way that we will want to ask around and get our misconceptions / doubts cleared up. Then we will feel peace.

    Ultimately, this is a person following her own conscience. Where LDS leaders say something which seems to violate her conscience, she is faced with a contradiction, because “follow the prophet” is also part of her “conscience.” Therefore, she faces a situation of cognitive dissonance, and like anyone else, she takes actions to resolve that conflict, satisfying both impulses of her “conscience” in order to “feel peace.” It’s much like the situation of Brigham Young, who’s “conscience” was shocked when he learned the doctrine of plural marriage. Brigham was confronted with two impulses of “conscience.” First, he had always been taught monogamy, to the point that it was an internalized value—part of his “conscience.” Second, he had internalized the value of following his prophet, making that also a part of his “conscience.” He had to resolve the contradiction, and he did so by internalizing a new value (plural marriage) in place of the one he had previously held (monogamy).

  8. Nick,

    Ultimately, the “Light of Christ” is the law by which all things are governed. If you look at John 1: 7-9 it states that all men [women] receive this light. It is true that the entire law is not given to a man or woman at birth. It is line upon line and precept upon precept, but if a person seeks they are promised to find. If they are taught and receive truth/light/law then it will stay within them so long as they abide the principles that this law is predicated on or receive the Holy Ghost, live the commandments and allow the Holy Ghost to imprint the truth upon their hearts (or soul). They receive the light or the laws of God as they are prepared to receive them. LDS members are taught that the line upon line principle occurs until the perfect day. This process also converts members and testimonies are obtained. It is a process. What you suggest in your post is correct so far as conscience is concerned and LDS theology calls the manifestation of truth the “Light of Christ.” This process, in theory, should start from birth to prepare a child to one day receive the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost, as a gift, will accelerate this process and imprint this light or law in the soul of the person in a way that the user cannot deny it.

  9. Post

    I like how Rico put it: “sustaining is in the act of listening and taking seriously what they say.” I also agree with Nick that one’s conscience is a product of the socialization that takes place over the course of one’s life – the conclusions that we have internalized.

  10. I like how Nick put it. If I can be permitted to run to the Catholics again (no, I’m not contemplating crossing the Tiber myself anytime soon), their teaching is that a person is obliged, above all, to follow his conscience, even if it conflicts with the teaching of the Church. But — and this is a big “but” — it must be a diligently-informed conscience.

    In other words, “following your conscience” may include following the conclusion you draw from the sum total of all the spiritual inputs bearing on a question — the counsel of the Brethren, your reading of the Scriptures, your innate moral sense, and your best judgment.

    #10: agreed re: “sustaining = listening and taking seriously.” I’ve framed this in a similar way: We sustain somebody by supporting him in the exercise of his responsibilities. The Prophet’s responsibilities include (1) governing the exercise of the Priesthood keys to saving ordinances and (2) giving counsel. With regard to (2) — recognizing that the Prophet is not an infallible Pope — our obligation to sustain him is satisfied by hearkening to his counsel. Giving it a conscientious hearing, and addressing it with honest inquiry before the Lord and in light of our properly-informed conscience.

  11. Celestial, minor threadjack but I don’t think John 1:7-9 refers to the “light of Christ”. I’ve not heard it refered to as conscience but mainly just what everyone else gets since they can’t have the influence of the Holy Ghost, not being LDS. There are no bible references to the light of Christ (from the bible dictionary) and the mention in LDS scriptures is tenuous at best. Personally I think the Holy Ghost is enough and for everyone. Sorry, Hawkgrrrl, for the digression. It won’t happen again.

  12. I just finished writing a post about how I follow the dictates of my own conscience. I wish I had seen this to give additional enlightenment to my ideas. Though many people might see the Holy Ghost or their own conscience as the same thing, I would argue that doing what you “feel” is right whether or not it is based in religion is the same thing.

    In other words, I follow what I think is right without fear of fire and brimstone while others might use God as the justification to do what they feel is right. I’m glad to see that within this community it is more popular to follow your own feelings rather than the words of someone telling you what to say, do and feel.

  13. “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all/Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’ –Keats

    Jesus is beautiful and true. Anyone else no matter their title only approximate at times truth and beauty—sometimes not true or beautiful. The spirit or rather our ability to decode and connect the “spirit” to the intended message is also suspect at times. So we follow truth and beauty as best as we can discern…

  14. Post

    PinkPatent – look no further; I’m sure Glenn Beck is Republican Jesus’ chosen mouthpiece!

    BYU Agnostic – glad to have you at the site!

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