I love Elder Oaks’ talks. Some find them dry and legalistic, which — of course — is why I love them. I love the fact that his conference addresses have Roman numeral subheadings. I love that they are organized like legal briefs. I love the fact that I know that he has carefully considered every word that he uses. I like prose that I can parse. Still, every so often, even Elder Oaks lets his hair down so to speak. In the most recent issue of the Ensign we got an example of this. The article was a reprint of a talk he gave to the single members of the Church. Having run the gauntlet that is LDS singlehood, I didn’t read it all that closely. (My apologies to all of you single LDS people who think that married Mormons are smugly unconcerned with your plight. Alas, you are often correct.) I was struck by this passage, however:
Now, brothers and sisters, if you are troubled about something we have just said, please listen very carefully to what I will say now. . . .
If you feel you are a special case, so that the strong counsel I have given doesnâ€™t apply to you, please donâ€™t write me a letter. Why would I make this request? I have learned that the kind of direct counsel I have given results in a large number of letters from members who feel they are an exception, and they want me to confirm that the things I have said just donâ€™t apply to them in their special circumstance.
I will explain why I canâ€™t offer much comfort in response to that kind of letter by telling you an experience I had with another person who was troubled by a general rule. I gave a talk in which I mentioned the commandment â€œThou shalt not killâ€? (Ex. 20:13). Afterward a man came up to me in tears saying that what I had said showed there was no hope for him. â€œWhat do you mean?â€? I asked him.
He explained that he had been a machine gunner during the Korean War. During a frontal assault, his machine gun mowed down scores of enemy infantry. Their bodies were piled so high in front of his gun that he and his men had to push them away in order to maintain their field of fire. He had killed a hundred, he said, and now he must be going to hell because I had spoken of the Lordâ€™s commandment â€œThou shalt not kill.â€?
The explanation I gave that man is the same explanation I give to you if you feel you are an exception to what I have said. As a General Authority, I have the responsibility to preach general principles. When I do, I donâ€™t try to define all the exceptions. There are exceptions to some rules. For example, we believe the commandment is not violated by killing pursuant to a lawful order in an armed conflict. But donâ€™t ask me to give an opinion on your exception. I only teach the general rules. Whether an exception applies to you is your responsibility. You must work that out individually between you and the Lord.
It isn’t so often that we get sermons from GA’s in which they forthrightly acknowledge that there are exceptions to the rules and principles that they announce. Those looking for wiggle room in prophetic announcements can take heart. I know that I am relieved.