“So powerful is the need for congruence that when people are forced to look at disconfirming evidence, they will find a way to criticize, distort, or dismiss it so that they can maintain or even strengthen their existing belief.” ~Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)
The authors also cite a study in which neuroscientists found that “reasoning areas in the brain virtually shut down” when people are presented with dissonant information, and emotion circuits of the brain light up when consonance is restored. We do not rest easy until the dissonance is resolved.
“The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray… If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God…” 
In my experience, this is a statement and a belief that causes a LOT of dissonance.
We all deal with it in different ways. Some try to distort or dismiss past teachings, or even criticize the teacher (i.e. “he wasn’t speaking as a prophet,” or “it was just his opinion.”)
Obviously there have been contradictions in teachings (feel free to list some if you like, for the sake of the debate). Here is a common one:  Brigham Young taught that Adam was God the Father. Spencer W. Kimball taught, “We denounce that theory and hope that everyone will be cautioned against this and other kinds of false doctrine.” So which of these leaders is leading us astray? If you believe that a prophet cannot teach false doctrine, one of them is definitely leading us astray.
If a doctrine (in my mind) has proven itself to be false, then I can no longer believe it. I cannot accept that “never lead us astray” means “never teach false doctrine.”
This idea is backed up by Bruce R. McConkie. When talking about the ban on blacks receiving the priesthood he said,
“We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world… We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past.”
Elder McConkie’s statement suggests that sometimes prophets have limited understanding, and even “darkness” in their views (as we ALL do). Notice McConkie did not say “sorry, but the Lord was wrong. We actually did lead you all astray.”
In sharing this with other members, a common reaction I get is “well, if you take the view that a prophet can teach something wrong, then what use is a prophet at all? How could you trust anything he said? Why would you believe any of it? Do you think a prophet is just a guy with some good ideas?”
I resolve this dissonance with the belief that God has given us prophets to guide us in our ultimate goal in life, that of progress and salvation. God will not allow a prophet to do anything that would “separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Resolving dissonance is not always bad. In fact, it often leads to pro-social action.  In the case of religious belief, it has spurred me to examine my beliefs and assumptions, discard what I deem to be error, and strengthen my commitment to what I believe is truth.
One final thought: Following a prophet requires a lot of faith, prayer, guidance of the Spirit, and (dare I say) use of one’s mind. May we all have the courage to use our intellect as well as our our feelings, for they are equally vital.
Notes: Woodruff, W. (1890). Excerpts from three addresses by President Wilford Woodruff regarding the manifesto. Sixty-first Semiannual General Conference of the Church.  Young, B. (1852). Adam, our father and our God. Journal of Discourses 1, 46-53.  Tavris, C., & Aronson, E. (2007). Mistakes were made (but not by me): Why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and hurtful acts. Orlando, FL: Harcourt. From page 18: “Fortunately, dissonance theory also shows us how a person’s generous actions can create a spiral of benevolence and compassion, a “virtuous circle.” When people do a good deed, particularly when they do it on a whim or by chance, they will come to see the beneficiary of their generosity in a warmer light. Their cognition that they went out of their way to do a favor for this person is dissonant with any negative feelings they might have had about him.”
Adam brilliant post!!
Adam here are a few others. I’m not aware though of a prophet emphasising Never Lead Us Astray since 1995
It’s an important subject and I have forwarded it on to many others but it won’t ever make it in the Manuals.
Statement by Gordon B. Hinckley:
1. President Wilford Woodruff said:
2. Elder Marion G. Romney recalled an experience he had with President Heber J. Grant:
Adam, my conclusion is much like yours – that God will never allow the prophets to teach us anything that will cause us to “go astray” from our ultimate objective – that they won’t teach anything that will alter our course and lead us away from the Celestial Kingdom (Him).
I like your excerpt from Romans 8:38-39. The full text of those verses is:
“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I find no dissonance in adding “nor prophets, nor apostles” as a subset of “nor any other creature”.
The need for congruence is applicable to more than its application to the current or past Prophet or any of the Brethren. From my experience it is applied weekly to bishops and stake presidents. I have experienced it firsthand as a bishop and seen it on a ward level more times than I can count. Your post gives insight to questions I have had over the years as I have been interested in the process of how one becomes “discomfirmed” toward leaving the Church. Something many of us have had to or currently deal with.
I resolve the dissonance in the same way Adam, prophets are human and subject to human limitations, but they will never be allowed do something that would endanger our salvation.
If prophets and apostles are no more protected by God from teaching false doctrine than normal Joe Blow folks, then why call them prophets and apostles? Shouldn’t prophets and apostles at the very least be expected to abide by a higher standard? It seems that Mormons have, in order to protect themselves from having to reject their leaders, have lowered the bar considerably for their leaders, so much so that outsiders ask: If Mormon insider can’t trust their own leaders, why should we non-Mormon outsiders?
“Shouldn’t prophets and apostles at the very least be expected to abide by a higher standard?”
That is the trouble we so often run into, assuming that leadership=superiority. That is not God’s way. But thinking that way still keeps you in rather good company. Read Exodus 3 and 4, when God called Moses. It is obvious Moses realized he was no better than other men and that a leader ought to be more. Christ himself must not have seemed drastically better than other men, or He would not have been so cavalierly crucified. Joseph, Enos, Enoch, John the Baptist, Peter . . . I don’t think there is an example in any scripture or history of the Church where a prophet was called because he was better than other men. In fact, it seems to be quite the opposite.
Adam, great post.
Notice McConkie did not say “sorry, but the Lord was wrong. We actually did lead you all astray.”
No, he also didn’t say “WE were wrong and the Lord actually wanted all humans to be treated equally.”, but that is what he should have said. His comment feels to me like Bill Clinton being deposed.
The approach of saying prophets won’t lead us away from the love of God is that sometimes false doctrines actually do that. For example, lots of very nice and good-hearted Mormons perpetuated ideas that were extremely harmful to the self-esteem and testimonies of black church members because of the false teachings of prophets and apostles. That dissonance is difficult to reconcile.
“that is what he should have said”
I’ve thought over this concept recently, and even wrote a post on it this morning.
I appreciate your intellectual honesty and your desire to discuss difficult topics, Adam; of course, I have come to expect nothing less from you. Indeed, contradictions between prophets is a difficult issue to resolve – in fact, I am not sure how it can be done in a satisfying manner. Not to make things worse, but what about all the ex-LDS who left the church due to contradictions like the ones presented? Weren’t they ‘lead astray’?
Clay – “For example, lots of very nice and good-hearted Mormons perpetuated ideas that were extremely harmful to the self-esteem and testimonies of black church members because of the false teachings of prophets and apostles. That dissonance is difficult to reconcile.” I agree that it’s difficult to reconcile, but I’m not sure which side I fall out on: 1) anyone who believed/perpetuated prejudice was someone who was already a pretty flawed terrible person and this just revealed their true character which would have come out other ways anyway OR 2) prejudice is a cultural disease that is passed on from one generation to another until the madness stops; it is very harmful, but takes generations of enlightenment to dissipate, and as such, those who suffer from this affliction (thereby afflicting others) are like sufferers of a mental disease, in part not responsible for their actions.
People ask “If prophets can be wrong, why should we trust them?”
My answer: We should never trust them without question.
We should do what we think the Lord wants us to do, through our own personal revelation and connection to Him. We can decide to follow a prophet/leader. We can decide they are wrong and not follow them. That same Brigham Young also made statements to this effect, that he did not want people to follow him without question simply because of his title and office.
Too many members can quote the BY “follow the prophet” statement. Not enough can quote the many other “don’t believe me unless you think I am right, cause I could be wrong” statements.
I am amazed that people who couldn’t treat African slaves as equals still wrote, “All men are created equal.” They must have been arrogant, power-hungry hypocrites – no better than any of the other rabble with whom they associated.
Otoh, perhaps if I consider the big picture of their vision and what they created with that vision, I can cut them some slack for their humanity and their blind spots and still grant that they were great – but deeply flawed.
Personally, I believe that prophets and leaders are very able to lead us astray, in the various ways we might understand that phrase. I think it’s obvious that on an issue to issue basis there are many examples of low quality and or wrong teachings coming from the highest levels of Church leaderships. In the end though, the responsibility will always fall back on the individual member since no matter what we believe about the prophet and other Church leaders we have a responsibility to listen to their words and to ponder, and to pray etc. So, no matter what our leaders teach or how they teach it, their words do not form some kind of absolute, their words are not alpha and omega. Their words form one aspect of a larger spiritual dialogue that the individual listener is responsible for. It’s the responsibility of the individual that we should be focused on.
Adam, can you expand on your comment about pro-social action? If you can’t do a generous deed for a deceased individual, i.e. BRM, to discharge the negative dissonance one might get from his quote, is the pro-social action then to discharge it by creating the “spiral of benevolence”? That is a lofty challenge. It demands a degree of humility that doesn’t come naturally. One has to remember that the covenant made individually to take upon the name of Christ outweighs the relationship which created the dissonance. Valoel put it well when he said, “We should do what we think the Lord wants us to do, through our own personal revelation and connection to Him.”
Obviously that prophet must first be remiss or be teaching falsehoods for the Lord to decide to removed him. ie the removal comes after the fact.
Maybe its the ‘leading astray’ comment that we need to take another look at, maybe its about a lot more than just making a mistake on doctrine or about one mistaken decision. After all its the enemies of the church who keep going back to brigham youngs adam god theory to define all of mormonism.
I have posted here before today so many of you already know I am not a LDS member; although I disagree with LDS doctrine, I admire the faith of individual LDS members and I believe all faith to be God-given.
This thread has raised an issue with me, however. In fact, all my recent experience interacting with LDS members in various environments (besides being very rewarding for me) has made me question the LDS claim of being set apart from other Churches – or it’s identity as a restored church. Here are a few examples of what I am trying to communicate.
After spending last semester attending an Institute class, I learned that the LDS church embraces many of the teachings and writings rejected by the early Catholic Church during the G.A. I believe my Institute teacher was trying to make the point that other legitimate ideas were floating around the Early Church and were subjected to suppression by the Catholic Church. Unfortunately, I think it also presents a problem – one of the supporting ideas presented by LDS leadership for the existence of the Great Apostasy is that the Catholic Church took on too many pagan ideas and doctrines, rather than remaining pure. So how can LDS leadership make this claim on one hand, and then appear to turn around and add legitimacy to pagan ideas like Origen’s doctrine of Pre-Existence, which were carefully rooted out and condemned by the Catholic Church for being too pagan?
In the same spirit, how can a LDS member claim that their church is restored, with a living prophet AND claim that he can make mistakes like any other man; especially, since the Bible states that a prophet should be considered to be false if his prophecy turns out to be wrong. Although I admire the willingness to question established doctrine and ideas, I am not sure it is possible to hold both ideas to be true. What do you all think?
Coming from a Catholic point of view, I can accept many of the criticisms that other churches have about my Church (and I think some of them are legitimate); however, I have yet to see any church be able to improve the faults that they point out so well in my church without either trading them for other problems or simply disregarding logic to make their new doctrine work (example – the new doctrine of Sola Scriptura developed by Luther to usurp the authority of the Catholic Church leads to the problem of private interpretation of the scriptures and relies on the illogical premise that scripture defines scripture).
Hopefully, I am making sense here – I guess the bottom line for me is that in order for me to reject the old and embrace the new, there needs to be a clear improvement and I fail to see a clear improvement of the Catholic Church within Protestantism or any later church movement. Finally, I apologize if I am leading this thread off topic.
inscrutable– not readily investigated, interpreted, or understood
This is a good word. Sometimes we need to use it not only in word, but in practice. Somethings just don’t have a neat, or tidy explanation, and when we encounter inscrutable issues what do we do with them? If an issue is really inscrutable then we will never have an adequate explanation or understanding-so we need to learn how to deal with it in some other way than to endless study and seek to explain it. There are many things we can not do physically, flying is an example. Not matter how long or hard you flap your arms you will never be able to soar with the eagles.
As intelligent beings we have learned to fly, but we still can’t soar in the company of eagles (F16 and eagles don’t mix).
To my point: I’ve thought a lot about Adam/God, blacks and the priesthood, prophets and infallibility. I’ve learned to live with the inscrutable nature of these topics by spending my time to learn to “fly” in areas that are doable, really count–acquiring a testimony of the Book of Mormon (in spite of some inscrutable aspects of church history), seeking diligently to acquire the companionship of the Holy Ghost (in spite of the trials and difficulties associated with this endeavor), pleading for a remission of my sins.
When one receives a testimony from the Holy Ghost regarding the Book of Mormon, has on going manifestations of the companionship of the Holy Ghost, receives a remission of sins (being born again ,the mighty change) the inscrutable things lose there appeal and instead there grows a hungry to bring others to Christ, to help the poor and needy, the sick and afflicted, and to see the face of Christ.
I suggest we don’t spend our time applying our best efforts to things that matter least, while letting those things that matter most go undone. I hope all of us will seek diligently to fulfill our baptism covenant and acquire the gift of the Holy Ghost and then seek after the gifts of the Spirit, so we won’t be deceived (D&C 46:8).
Hunkering down with the inscrutable is a sure sign of one who is being deceived by the adversary.
To make sure I’m not misunderstood, I didn’t say we should ignore the inscrutable, I believe we need to be familiar with these things, but not intimate.
Thanks everyone for the comments so far, as well as for the compliments.
#3 – Ray
My thoughts exactly, Ray. In fact, I may have subconsciously plagiarized this idea from you, lol.
#6 – Anonymous
I’m not sure, but fwiw I do believe they live by a higher standard than most of us. Well, me anyway I am sure! I also agree with SilverRain’s response to this in #7.
#8 – Clay Whipkey
This is perhaps why I like Ray’s view. Many of the ideas taught may have been harmful, but they will not be eternally so.
#10 – Ron
Good question–I somewhat expected this discussion to bring up questions like yours. I think this is answered well by Ray’s comment above (#3).
I think your #1 choice there is all too easy for us. I think Ray (yet again!) explained this well in his comment #13. We all have flaws, sometimes really fat ugly flaws, but I don’t believe that necessarily makes the whole person “terrible.” At the same time, while prejudice may be conceptualized as a “cultural disease,” I don’t think that means we are not responsible.
#14 – Annon.
I like this Annon. There is so much out there to learn and read, and any individual statement or teaching is not necessarily the end-all of doctrine.
#15 – Rigel Hawthorne
Honestly that was the first time I had heard about this idea. One thing I do know is that it is a lot easier to amicably disagree with good friends, face to face, than it is online or with a “deceased individual.” Maybe the pro-social action in BRM’s case would be to do something nice for his family, or donate something in his name. 🙂 Really though, if you did something like that, the dissonance would be too great and you would have to start to like him, despite disagreements. 😉
#17 – Ron
Thanks again Ron, I appreciate your comments and discussion. You offer a great perspective.
From what I understand, the problem is not with taking on new ideas or doctrines (that is a big part of our beliefs, i.e. continuing revelation), but via what oracle are these new doctrines coming? This must lead to your next question…
This is a good question I think, one that I have heard numerous times. I don’t believe that a prophet needs to be free from error. If they were, they would be perfect, right? That doesn’t make sense either, because there was only one perfect person, as most of us believe I think. So, applying the standard to biblical prophets, how can one claim that any prophetic writing is true in any scripture, when the prophets were not perfect, and have taught conflicting teachings? I see your point Ron (specifically with not being possible to hold both ideas to be true) but I don’t think the alternative works either, without discrediting all revelation beyond the subjective personal.
Nicely said. I think most of us do this to some extent. Also, getting into who has more faults, or whatever, does not help ecumenical discussion, I think. Frankly I am not fond of institute teachers and others who seek to build up my faith via trying to prove that others were wrong. While it may have been necessary in the early days to set the LDS movement apart, I don’t think it is as important now. I think we have plenty of other things to build our faith… —As an aside, while I don’t believe “logic” is the ultimate answer to everything (as human reason often fails us, or me at least!), it is important. Sometimes things don’t make sense to me (e.g. the issue of gay marriage and the church) but that is when I guess I put logic down and just live on the goodness and faith that I have experienced. However, I try to only do that after LONG thought and study and prayer.
#18 – Jared
Jared, I appreciate your thoughts, sincerely. I completely agree, that we should not let the things that matter most go undone. Also, I am not sure what you mean by “hunkering down” other than possibly “more thinking about something than I Jared think is right.” It’s a pretty subjective idea, imo. I agree though, if one is letting the bigger things go in life in favor of an obsession about the authenticity book of Abraham, or even an active member with a “gospel hobby” about Cain and Bigfoot, they may very well be deceived.
Ron, I think the most fundamental issue of divergence in what you seem to believe and what we believe is the idea of prophetic infallibility. You seem to imply that all prophets throughout history never spoke incorrectly, but in order to make that work for Biblical prophets requires the exact same stretch and re-interpretation that bothers you about Mormonism.
There are numerous examples of prophecies in the Bible that, when read strictly in context of the actual passages, seem to be about that time but that were not accomplished then – and still remain unfulfilled. How do Christians reconcile this issue? They simply designate those prophecies as being relative to a later date, often the Second Coming or Millennium – or chalk up the lack of fulfillment to a lack of faith among the people. You might say, “But they are prophecies of that future time” – but, again, when read and parsed solely for what they appear to say, that conclusion is not obvious. In fact, the opposite conclusion (that they were meant to apply to the time in which they were given) often is the obviously logical conclusion.
Jonah’s experience is a fascinating example of this – where prophecy “failed” specifically because the people repented, even though there was no “if you don’t repent” qualifier in the prophecy. Technically, Jonah’s prophecy was wrong, but he was chastised for getting upset about that failure.
In summary, almost everyone tends to read and interpret “revelation” and “prophecy” in whatever way strengthens his or her own perspective – and that is as true of those who cite “failed” Mormon prophecy as those who cite that same prophecy from a faithful Mormon view as either contingent on faith or still to happen in the future.
Gosh Ray, you did it again. 😉 You explain my thoughts better than I can!
I agree with the rest of your statements, as well – however, I especially liked this one 🙂
If anyone hasn’t figured it out yet, I am one of the voices in Adam’s head.
Ray, I wish. I would really be a lot smarter if that were the case more often!
I still struggle with the idea that using my intellect doesn’t oppose using faith. I agree both are needed in life, but I don’t know that both can exist or be exercised at the same time. Since we don’t all have the same intellectual capacity, I don’t see how we can be tested or judged based on that. And maybe because I lack the intellect that I often think I’d like to have, I prefer to try to live by faith, and sometimes the blinder the better…
Greg, I could be wrong, but perhaps you have made decisions in your life based on or involving too much intellect, which have turned out bad. That would create dissonance, and you would have little choice but to go on making intellectually based yet bad decisions, or turn to faith, the blinder the better, to make decisions, which may have turned out to have good results. Hence, your distrust of intellect, and trust in faith. For me, I have acted on faith before and it has turned out bad, and I have acted based on intellect and that has turned out bad as well. What I have learned from it all is decisions turn out the best for me when I base them on intellect and faith, i.e. study and prayer, etc.
I am an active and faithful member of the church, but I do not believe in this doctrine of prophetic or ecclesiastical “infallibility” (from Latin origin ‘in’, not + ‘fallere’, to deceive), even if Wilford Woodruff said it. The church can fall if it enough members will it to happen through negligence and sinfulness. Unquestioning obedience to mistaken counsel will not save anybody, nor do the scriptures ever make this claim. On the contrary, they warn against this distinct possibility:
I find it interesting that the ‘never be led astray’ comment was added as a footnote in the 1981 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. I don’t recall this new information ever being put to a vote of the membership of the church as I believe would be required.
That aside, there are plenty of examples in the scriptures of apostasy where the path was tred by the leaders or dictated by the membership or both. Think of it… Christ was personally among the Nephites, performed miracles and baptized them with fire and the Holy Ghost, yet only four generations later, they were out of the way. Are we so enamored with ourselves to think it can’t happen here?
In the end, no leader or general authority has any bearing on our conversion and sanctification. It is up to each one of us to seek and understand what is expected of us to gain entry to His kindgom (example found in 3 Nephi 27:19-21). We must each work out our salvation for ourselves. Relying on the arm of flesh, be it our own or that of a prophet, living or dead, will not move us one whit toward the kingdom of God.
From President Brigham Young (Journal of Discourses Vol. 9, p. 150):
On to my rambling,
I don’t see the leaders of our church as anything more than old men who have been tapped by God for a high leadership role. Old men are still men and mistakes are made. One of the things that defines an inspired leader is the humility required to admit when a mistake has happened and to try to correct it. The real bottom line is that we are responsible for our own salvation, not the church. It’s up to us to make sure (via the spirit) we are being correctly led and if we are not being correctly led, we should not sustain the leader. It is unreasonable to hang the validity of the restored gospel on the actions of the church or its leaders. However I do hold the church responsible for what its leaders do in its name… Is it our leaders that make the restored gospel true? It is dangerous to fuse your testimony of the restored gospel to the earthly entity that is the church. These are two vastly different concepts.
#10/#17 – Ron
Many members of the church have been taught (some since birth) that the brethren are infallible. They don’t know any other way. So when there is a discrepancy such as “the church will lose its authority if this happens…” and “this” later happens or when the president of the church pronounces fraudulent documents authentic, they can’t really handle it. Their world comes crashing down. I don’t think they’ve been “led astray” however they are treated that way which only serves to push them farther out. They are just going through a rough patch and need support. John Dehlin put together a screencast on this and it’s the best explanation I’ve ever seen or heard on the subject. If it can be dug up, it would be well worth the viewing.
Thanks for your comment – I am interested in John Dehlin – if you ever find a link let me know.
I have another thought I’ve been pondering – if God allowed His Church to fail during the Great Apostasy and then restored through Joseph Smith during the 19th century – what is going to stop Him from allowing it to happen again? And how are we going to know if the LDS Church loses its authority?
Adam, I didn’t plan this, but today’s blog post of mine deals directly with your subject. The key part for me is this:
“Wanting modern prophets and apostles or Pope with inherent authority but without any increased standard of accountability and responsibility is downright shallow. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”
The title is the post is,
“What if Thomas Monson, Pope Benedict XVI, and John Piper began teaching that the practice of homosexuality was morally praiseworthy?”
Happy New Year’s!
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Ron, I think that is a good question. I suspect this is one of the parts where our religion can look a little self-confirming (as many religious beliefs are), i.e. we have been taught that this is the last dispensation, hence there will be no more apostasy. I realize though that that is probably not a good answer for you. Obviously God could allow it to happen again, if it was his will. I don’t have a good answer for you. What do you think? What does anyone else here think?
Aaron, I do think that prophets, apostles, the Pope, the Dalai Lama, etc. etc. all have increased accountability and responsibility. Perhaps how much of an increased standard, and what that increased standard looks like is the question.
Adam, how should your leaders be held accountable to this increased responsibility and expectations? How bad can the false doctrine of an inspired leader get before he is objectively disqualified from being a true prophet or apostle? Some Mormons seem to believe there are no limits.
Ron asked: And how are we going to know if the LDS Church loses its authority?
I would think that scriptures would be the best source. In 3rd Nephi, chapter 27, the Lord outlines what criteria we should look for:
1. verse 8: ‘called in His name’ This one is pretty easy
2. verse 8-9: ‘built upon His gospel’ I would submit that we must clearly understand the gospel as the Lord defines it in the scriptures. In this chapter and also in D&C 33:11-12 and D&C 39:6 we find where the Lord defines His gospel. If the church preaches a broader or different definition of the gospel that what is found in the scriptures, I would suggest that is cause for alarm.
3. verse 10-11: ‘show forth the works of the Father’ and not ‘the works of man’ For Christ to recognize the church as his, it should demonstrate the healings and miracles as we read in 3rd Nephi 26:14-15. The condition of the church should not be meaaured by the buildings or temples erected, or the tithing paid, or the temple sessions completed. The verity of the church is not determined by the tons of food shipped to disaster areas. These are the works of man.
How do you think we measure up?
Aaron, probably the same standard that can be applied reasonably to Biblical prophets. If some of their actions still allowed them to be considered prophets (think Samson and Moses) and some of their teachings are allowed to be considered products of their less enlightened cultures (think Paul and nearly the entire OT), I’m not sure exactly where the line should be drawn.
I just know that many people now hold modern prophets to a standard that essentially would eliminate all former prophets from consideration – especially since we only have a very limited, subjective, carefully-constructed, airbrushed snapshot of those former prophets. Too often, people forget that basic fact.
Aaron #33 – Interesting. How do you think they should be held accountable?
I think a lot of it has to do with having all the church look to you as an example. That is what I think regarding higher expectations, e.g. if I saw an R-rated movie, who cares? But if my Stake President saw one, I’m sure there would be rumbling in the stake.
I especially like your second question, and it seems to hit on what Ron was saying in #30. I’m sure adultery would be a decent way low cut-off point, and I only point that out because wasn’t an apostle exed some time back for it?
However, I don’t think it is as black-and-white as it appears you do. While I do think there are “limits” I am not sure what exactly those may be, and even if teaching a false doctrine disqualifies anyone. Flip your question around and you have “How good can the true doctrine of an uninspired plebeian get before he is called as a prophet?”
My point is that the pope, Gandhi, Obama, Richard Dawkins, Moses, and prophets have flaws, they are human, just as we all are. The difference between prophets and members in the LDS faith is prophets have been given the responsibility to guide all the members, and so on down the line. Also, I personally believe that those in callings have an added “mantle” as it is said, that gives them more authority, or teaching or leading ability. I had it as a missionary. Obviously that is a subjective, personal experience for me, but I felt it. And I felt it leave after I came home.
Actually I think only the Prophet can’t lead us astray but everyone else can. Let’s face facts I’m sure there are many who you could tell “Go north two blocks and turn left and you are there.” And they are lead astray, because they don’t speak your language, they don’t know where north is and they don’t know left from right.
Well I guess if we knew everything we wouldn’t be here. You know that’s why I don’t believe in gravity. Can’t see it. Don’t know how it works. Must be a lie.
“If a doctrine (in my mind) has proven itself to be false, then I can no longer believe it. I cannot accept that “never lead us astray” means “never teach false doctrine.””
This is the only possible logical conclusion, I think.
Here is the interesting thing, the people you say are arguing with you agree with this statement. They are, thus, getting stuck on your wording or your examples, not your underlying concept.
The idea that a president of the Church could teaching something that is not true and be corrected by revelation later is hardwired into the DNA of the LDS church. I think people completely accept this if it’s worded correctly to them and if you use examples they can agree with you on. Thus your statement above, that “won’t lead astray” must not mean “infallibility” is obvious to most or all members.
Adam, if I might, I suspect I know the reason why you sometimes get a negative reaction on a point like this that I can easily make without anyone disagreeing. It’s not just wording, it’s also which points you present and how you present them. For example, it’s a mistake to claim the Brigham Young taught Adam was God when there is still substantial disagreement over exactly what he meant. Right or wrong, it can’t be established for certain that his words boiled down to “Adam of the bible creation story is God the Father.”
(Here I’ll get a lot of arguments from those that think they have this all figured out or have religious reasons for wanting to believe this – I don’t mean fundies, I mean DAMUs — but since I’m only claiming uncertainty, the burden of proof is on them, not me. But for the record, I think there is a good chance that BY did teach just that. But that isn’t the point. The point is that this is legitimately an area where people will disagree due to the difficulty in making coherent sense of all of BY’s statements together and the realistic lack of information surrounding it.)
In many ways, it’s impossible to decouple a true concept like “not leading astray doesn’t mean infallible” from a person’s willingness to not claim certainty on a subject that isn’t really certain. (Which would, I fear, be nearly everything.) In other words, we need to allow for multiple interpretations or the end result would always be pointing out the perceived logical incoherence of the other point of view. (i.e. “well then what’s the point of having a prophet.” It’s not meant so much to challenge you personally as point out a possible logical incoherence to what they perceive you as saying.)
Your McConkie example is more obvious and isn’t controversial. No one claims that McConkie didn’t teach some things that even he admitted weren’t true later on. Thus everyone can agree this is an example of “not leading astray” not meaning “won’t ever teach false doctrine.”
So what I am saying is: pick your battles wisely. 🙂
Related issue: wasn’t the very concept of “the prophet won’t lead you astray” a result of the Church’s identity crisis over discontinuing polygamy?
In other words, there was a legitimate questions of “is it possible that the LDS Church president might discontinue polygamy and thus damn us all but we don’t even know it?” (I would agree this is an impossiblity. Indeed, if it were possible, then I’d have to believe God still wouldn’t damn anyone but the president of the Church over it.)
This would seem to go along with the idea that “don’t lead astray” is limited in scope to salvation.
Perhaps for many, but I have talked with a lot (surprisingly) of members who believe not being infallible = only minor human faults, like a temper, or getting annoyed, or biting one’s nails.
The Adam-God example was just that. I welcome better examples to make the point, if anyone has them. Among the people I have talked with (all active members) there is a general consensus that Brigham Young really did believe it, and teach it that way, and that he was mistaken. Apparently, as you point out, many others in the church are not so sure about it. So yeah, if you have better examples, I am very interested.
“we need to allow for multiple interpretations”
I totally agree with this. Everyone should be allowed to make their own interpretations. The difficult part for me is when views of a prophet are dichotomous, i.e. he’s either always right, or what’s the point. Both of those views are harmful (in my view) because they either force someone to accept a lot of junk (once again, in my view), perform strenuous mental gymnastics to explain everything, or lead someone out of the church (and they hence sometimes have to nearly abandon everything that was good about it).
As for McConkie, I wish more people actually believed him when he said that, because so many people still use his pre-78 stuff in talking about the priesthood ban, or justifying it, when he basically said he was wrong… and for example, Elder Holland more recently said that the “less valiant in the pre-existence” stuff should not be taught, because it is wrong. However, this again creates too much dissonance for members, so perhaps they ignore it, or deal with it some other way.
I appreciate your input. Point is, I think prophets do teach things that are false occasionally. They do err in greater ways than just personality flaws. That view, while I think it is accurate, is also too difficult for many to take. It is not as hard for me and many people I know here and elsewhere, because it’s not an all-or-nothing idea.
If I think about it though, do I abandon my wife if she makes a mistake? Did I divorce my parents when they disciplined me unfairly in high school? Do I dropout of a graduate program when I disagree with an advisor? Do I leave the church when I find out the BY taught some racist ideas, or that Moses (arguable) killed a man? I could go on but you get the point. 🙂
“Perhaps for many, but I have talked with a lot (surprisingly) of members who believe not being infallible = only minor human faults, like a temper, or getting annoyed, or biting one’s nails.”
You are probably right about this. It’s a big church. I live in Utah in a really strong ward so I don’t see false views like this as much. Even my ward in California and Texas didn’t have views this bad that I was aware of.
But then again, my wards in Michigan.. well, it wouldn’t shock me much to hear something like this.
But let’s realize that this goes against the teachings of the church. Thus a person that believes this needs to be corrected. You are doing a good job of correcting it.
I agree with you that finding good examples is hard. The problem is that people have various ways of thinking of things so it’s hard to find an example all can agree with.
AdamF, I don’t want to start a discussion on homosexuality, but because of your stance on gay marriage, you are going to get “then what’s the point” a lot.
It’s really hard to have a sane conversation on this subject. I was looking over all the coverage we’ve done on the subject here on Mormon Matters and how utterly deficient it’s been. I feel like the only time I have had a sane conversation on it was with a long telephone call with John Dehlin, bless his heart for really trying to understand others.
I’m not suggesting you change your views here, only that this is probably a source of problems that isn’t getting specifically mentioned but is contextually relevant in some cases. (i.e. if you mentioned you were pro gay marriage in the conversation at any point, you’d get many of the results you mention regardless of other argumenst you used. Everything else would be emotionally irrelevant to the conversation.)
Sometime we should discuss off line and I’ll explain further. (Along with my current suggestions on how to improve the situation without giving up on your current views.)
“because of your stance on gay marriage, you are going to get “then what’s the point” a lot.”
Agreed. I also try not to support my stance on gay marriage with the whole “the prophet can be wrong” idea. I don’t know if he is right or wrong on that matter. It is something I cannot reconcile or justify, or accept. Perhaps it is easier to do this exercise with less charged issues. 🙂
Thanks for your advice. I’m open to offline/email discussions if they are not relevant to the post: email@example.com
“Perhaps it is easier to do this exercise with less charged issues”
I just had a related conversation with my wife this morning, actually. I was talking about the idea that revelation isn’t “completely certain” because of how difficult it is to be sure you aren’t making assumptions that aren’t true. There is always some interpretation that must go on.
I used the example of Native Americans not being solely from the Lamanites. I pointed out that many Mormons through that was a revelation, but science has basically disproven it, but that it wasn’t that big a deal to me because long before science disproved it — decades before — every Mormon scholar in the book had gone on record of not believing that and had pointed out that there is no source for that little “revelation” and it’s probably just us making assumptions.
What I didn’t tell her was that actually one can still make a logically coherent argument that the Lamanites/Nephites are the sole source for the native americans. But then I don’t believe that, so why even bring it up as a possiblity when I needed it as an example of my point? 😛
(Incidently, I don’t feel I had a moral duty to bring up a possiblity I disbelieve in, even if I don’t assign the possiblity a zero percent change. That is to say, I’m open to it, but currently disbelieve it. This is an interesting moral question in any of itself for another time: Just what are the demands of truth in such a situation? And what are the rules for the demands of truth? Do we sometimes demand more than the demands of truth as a way of making our opponent look bad in an argument? Hint: Yes)
I’ll have to think up the best examples for explaining it in a non-threating way and share. 🙂
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I disagree that a prophet could never lead the church astray on mere principle. This churches has been lost many times by that same arrogant belief.
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