When to Disobey

2014-11-24 rebel-animals-5

I’ve been having some interesting conversations about the high cost of membership in the Church. We believe, in general, that the cost of being a Mormon is high and that this is a good thing. Sacrifice leads to faith. We pour a lot of time and a lot of energy into the Church, and this helps us value our membership more than if the Church asked less of us.

But it can be taken to extremes.

There are reasons to say “no” to something our leaders ask of us, and foremost among those is the sake of our families. The Church exists to serve the family. Families do not exist for the purpose of serving or repopulating the Church. My bishop—a man I admire greatly—made this point explicitly at the start of priesthood opening exercises last week. He enumerated the very large number of activities planned for the ward between now and the end of the year, and then he reminded everyone that family comes first. It’s OK not to go to an activity if that is the best thing for your family.

Of course, not everyone is lucky to have a bishop who is willing to state that. So the tricky question is: how do you react to requests from Church leaders that seem excessive?

The default position seems to be that you obey, obey, obey, and then obey some more. In practice: this makes sense. The emphasis should be on obedience first. We should sacrifice. We should stretch. We should accommodate. We should try to do more than we think we can do. But not without limit. Not faster than we have strength, for example. (Mosiah 4:27, D&C 10:4) And not mindlessly, either.

We don’t believe in prophetic infallibility. It follows that we don’t think bishops are infallible either. It follows that bishops are sometimes wrong about callings or counsel. So, should we ever disobey or demur?

Yes, we should. In fact, it’s vitally important that we keep that option open. To follow leaders without question is to defeat the purpose of our mortal probation. It is to foist off on others the responsibility to decide for ourselves. It is to try and hard pass on the existential questions posed by life.

Well, when should we elect not to follow the counsel of our leaders? It should not be merely whenever we think our leaders are wrong. If our standard for following our leaders is our own opinion, then leaders are pointless. If we’re not willing to obey leaders when they ask us to do things we disagree with then they are not leaders. They are just unpaid and easily ignored consultants.

So, even though our leaders are going to tell us to do the wrong thing from time to time, we should default to doing it anyway. This is what it means to sustain our leaders. It is their fallibility and weakness that makes them need sustaining in the first place.

You’ll notice, after all, that we don’t sustain God the Father or Jesus Christ. They are perfect. They don’t need to be sustained. That shows how fundamentally different our relationship with our mortal leaders is from our relationship with God.

But in rare and exceptional cases where we believe that obeying a leader would cause serious harm to ourselves, or our families, or otherwise require that we do something gravely immoral then we should say no. If this sounds extreme or liberal, then consider the alternatives. We have basically three:

  1. 1. Obey everything every leader ever says.
  2. Treat all counsel from leaders as though it were simply a proposition to be decided on the merits making no distinction between what a leader tells you to do and what anyone else might tell you to do.
  3. Some ambiguous middle ground between 1 and 2.

The first is monstrous. The second renders leadership pointless. We are stuck, by process of elimination, in the ambiguous middle ground.

You’ll notice that I haven’t provided an exhaustive criteria for you to apply in your own life. That’s the point. It’s up to us. We can’t divest our obligation to live our own lives to anyone. And yes, that’s scary. But I have faith in a God who values the process much more than the outcome, and who will judge us based on our sincere efforts to do the right thing more than on whether or not we got the right answer. Especially since, in life, there may not always be just one right thing to do.

The Anti-Nephi-Lehis covenanted never to fight. Pacifism is acceptable. Their children went out and fought. Defensive warfare is acceptable. Nine of the Nephite apostles wanted to live out their lives and return to God. Three wanted to stay and continue to minister. Both were acceptable.

We need to abandon the idea that we can trade our free-will for blind obedience. We need to abandon the idea that there is one right answer. We need to abandon the idea that there is a formula or a recipe or an algorithm that—if every box is checked—will shield us from the wrenching uncertainties and ambiguities of moral life. We need to abandon what Jim Faulconer called “a kind of idolatry of our leaders.”

But in the end this turns out not to be an argument about the quantity of our obedience, but about the quality of our obedience. In a world where home and visiting teaching rates are substantially less than 100%, it’s a little silly to talk about a problem of over-obedience in aggregate. For every example of a person who I really wish would ask to be released from a calling that is wreaking havoc on their family, there are dozens of people who should keep doing what they’re doing or maybe even work a little harder. I, myself, am almost always in that last category. There have been many times I wish I had acted more independently, showed more initiative, and been more willing to go off-script, but very few that I felt called for outright disobedience.

The point is therefore not to obey less. It is to obey differently. Leaving open the door to say no—even if it ends up being a relatively rare occurrence—is part of the difference between mindless, automatic obedience and mindful, deliberate obedience. The Lord wants the latter. He is interested in growth and in relationships. And so we must be open to disobeying not only for the sake of our families or to obey some truly unrighteous request, but also because that willingness to disobey changes the quality of our obedience. It helps ensure obedience as a conscious act of will and never a blind reflex. Which, rather than mere brute compliance, is what any good parent desires from their children.

110 comments for “When to Disobey

  1. robherr
    November 24, 2014 at 9:28 am

    When I first joined the church, I followed the premise that we pray about everything before we commit to doing it. Somewhere along the way it probably became easier to just go with the flow knowing or believing that the church was good and right therefore it’s easy to surmise that whatever is asked from the top leadership all of the way down to local leadership must be right as well. I’ve had great advice, inspired advice, and not so great advice. I’ve seen deplorable examples of Christian followers, and I’ve seen Heavenly Saints. I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum I’m sure. I’ve adopted the motto that we are imperfect people dealing with imperfect people and we’re doing it imperfectly. Still Heavenly Father knows the outcomes and can still use all of our imperfection and bless us and others. I’m glad I still rely on Him who is so much smarter than I or anyone else is.

  2. Anon for this
    November 24, 2014 at 10:40 am

    I’ve been blessed with parents who exemplified righteous disobedience in my youth.

    As an example, my father was ostracized by local leadership when assisted in the defense of a part member family in the ward against some spiritual abuse. The bishop released the member mother from her calling in youth Sunday School because he didn’t like her teaching style and refused to give her another calling. My father was on the ward council at the time, and their home teacher, so he was a first hand witness to this abuse. This family was on the border of the stake, and so after some months of futility decided to start attending the ward on the other side of the border, but the bishop and stake president refused to release the records. They appealed up the chain and it got to the Office of the Presiding Bishopric. The Presiding Bishopric decided in favor of the family and allowed them to move their records to the other stake. One of the key pieces to their decision was a letter my father included in the appeal attesting the bishop’s behavior.

    Despite this repudiation of their behavior, the stake president and bishop decided to take out their frustration on my father, releasing him from his previous calling and giving him a succession of callings designed to frustrate him and I think possibly even drive him into inactivity. He was also told he was banned from the church building except during the three hour block, which was painful for him because he enjoyed working with the youth and would often volunteer to help with youth activities while my sisters and I were that age.

    His response? Magnifying the callings he was given and refusing to let them determine his level of engagement with the Church. In a year or two that bishop moved out of the ward, and the stake president called someone who was relatively new to the ward as bishop, and my father was called as priest’s quorum adviser, which was a calling he loved.

    Disobedience to local leaders oftentimes has an unfair price, and can be worse than even that which my father experienced. However, sometimes it’s still the right thing to do, and I believe that God does and will acknowledge that sacrifice.

  3. fbisti
    November 24, 2014 at 11:46 am

    Yesterday one of our high-councilmen spoke in sacrament meeting. The topic of his talk was cautioning (demanding) that teachers use only the prescribed manual and scriptures when they teach. He stated repeatedly, in several different ways, that their only purpose was to strengthen testimonies, not “speculation” or “interpretation” or “intellectual,stimulation.” He even decried “intellectualism.”

    This guy is only about 40 years old, but was clearly channeling Elder Packer and others from about 20 years ago during the church’s own McCarthy/Strengthen the Church Committee phase. I had/have a very negative reaction to this mindset

    With that experience still fresh, I read this post. I rarely agree with the entirety of a post. With this one, I do. Excellent points and exposition of them. If I am ever again asked to speak in sacrament meeting (not likely due to my well-known, non-standard beliefs), I will want to read your essay, verbatim. If and when that occurs I’ll contact you to ask permission.

  4. November 24, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    I love this post – I hope everyone is navigating their own way between option (1 obey everything they say) and option (2 who cares what they say). I think there are several guidelines I use in deciding which counsel to obey. First I think whether it will strenghten my family. My family dynamics are different and we just weren’t able to read the BOM in 3 months as challenged by our bishop. The 9yo benefits from slow and steady. I have a friend who is a former bishop who refused to participate in the Prop8 bc his FIL is gay and often suffers from depression and suicidal thoughts. He could not in good conscience participate. Or I have another friend who felt called and prompted to continue working as a cancer nurse even after she had kids, she has been able to spread the Gospel and be an instrument in his hands. Even my discussion of things I hope to change in the church is seen as many people as not sustaining our leaders – but I’m committed to making the church more Zionlike and better with a heart full of love. I can disagree and hope for change and even be prompted by the Spirit to do so.

    In a culture of black and white absolutes, an exercise in navigating the gray would do us all good.

  5. Dave K
    November 24, 2014 at 12:39 pm

    Once again, I generally agree with you Nathaniel, though I have a small quibble with one point. Christ was accepting of the decision of both the 9 and the 3 Nephite apostles, but he was more accepting of the 3.

    FWIW, here are two general practices I employ in deciding the obedience question:

    1) Whatever principle initially led you to place faith/trust in a person/institution, it is both valid and reasonable to rely on that same principle in removing the faith/trust. As an example, if your testimony of the church comes through a spiritual witness, it is valid to disobey church leaders when you have received a spiritual witness to do so.

    2) In balancing family/church dynamics, it is imperative that we remember who possess authority for what. To set the balance correctly, parents may need to make the following statement from time to time: “[church leader], I fully sustain and support you within the limited role for which you possess keys; however, with regards to my family and children, my wife and I possess the keys, not you; we are happy to work with you to best balance the needs and desires of the church (for whom you have ultimate authority and responsibility) and our family (for whom we have ultimate authority and responsibility); but just as we sustain you as much as possible in your role, we ask that you sustain us as the persons who have the ultimate right to revelation for the guidance of our family.”

    I find that practice #2 is particularly helpful when it comes to balancing callings and assignments. Our church leaders have the ultimate right to revelation regarding who would best serve. But members have the ultimate right to revelation regarding whether the calling should be accepted. Only when there is harmony between both groups of key-holders will there be real success. Too often members yield to church leaders their authority and responsibility to guide their own family.

  6. annon
    November 24, 2014 at 12:51 pm

    I’m not so sure we can draw such an absolute line in the ‘do not run faster than you are able’ ground. I for one am grateful for my ancestors who gave their lives either in the cause of freedom (revolutionary war, WWI, WWII) or in the early years of the church. If the litmus test is not causing harm to ourselves our our families, then all our pioneer ancestors and veteran ancestors got it all wrong. I suppose I’m a little uncomfortable with the relativity suggested here, especially since it is self-serving and self-focused. If this rule were ubiquitously applied, we’d never have self-sacrificing heroes. I find it interesting that the focus today is on what is best for one’s self, not for the future, for countrymen, for fellow saints, or for others.

    Our comfort levels are pretty high and a product of our environment and time. Should we slip so comfortably into our comfortable lifestyles? What is the value/harm of stretching ourselves beyond our own comfort levels?

    I suppose part of this argument has to be relevance and value. Surely the value of building Zion, preparing for the Second Coming, preserving freedom, protecting families, etc. is great and worthy of great sacrifice.

    However, burning out, missing important time with family, being spiritually abused or put in an unhealthy relationship with others in order to support Relief Society crafts or to participate in nauseating and often pointless and endless meetings, might really not be worth it. Perhaps the reason that we are even asking the “how much ‘ question is that the stakes aren’t high enough for us to put anything of value on the line yet.

  7. Jared vdH
    November 24, 2014 at 12:56 pm

    annon,

    I think your last paragraph there hits it on the head. I am not averse to sacrifice. I do however think that local leaders can sometimes ask for unnecessary sacrifices that they have no right to ask for.

  8. ji
    November 24, 2014 at 1:15 pm

    The default position seems to be that you obey, obey, obey, and then obey some more.

    I’m not sure that I agree with this characterization. I have been a member since 1980, when I was a teenage convert, and I’m not sure that I have ever experienced compulsion as has been described here. My experience in eleven stakes during that time has shown priesthood leaders trying to follow the counsel in D&C 121 — I have never felt compelled or commanded — I have not come across a bishop or stake president who demanded my obedience. I have accepted some invitations, and declined others, but everything has been an invitation. In the pastoral church, in our wards and branches and stake and missions, whatever leadership is done is done by persuasion, and long-suffering, and so forth. Somehow, and with no empirical data, I tend to suppose my experience is mmore common that the reverse. I have heard anecdotally of some erring church leaders, but I haven’t met them yet. I hope their fellow Saints will forgive them when they do err.

    Yes, the Lord wants deliberate obedience, willing obedience. The church doesn’t ask for more. When a church member does ask for too much, a fellow member need only say “no.”

  9. November 24, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    “But in rare and exceptional cases where we believe that obeying a leader would cause serious harm to ourselves, or our families, or otherwise require that we do something gravely immoral then we should say no.”

    The cases of Abraham and Job would be strong counter examples to this. For reasons such as these, I think the post is a good start, but very incomplete.

    The biggest mistake is in assuming that the primary or only thing that can constrain obedience is what we think or reason. This is false: human reason (our own or somebody else’s) is never supposed to constrain our obedience. The idea that reason and obedience are the only things at play is exactly what makes people mistakenly think that any unreasoned obedience is “blind” obedience and therefore bad. This too is false.

    The only thing that constrains or qualifies our obedience to authority is an appeal – and hence obedience – to a higher authority. This might involve going up the chain of priesthood command or – even better – going directly to the Highest Priesthood Authority in personal prayer. Thus, our unthinking or unreasoned obedience is by no means blind at all.

    Now we can say a bit more than the generic “we all have to find a kind of compromise” talk. We can say that, yes, sometimes we will righteously have to disobey particular priesthood authorities, but we will never be able to righteously disobey priesthood authority as such. The only way to righteously distance oneself from the authority of a priesthood leader is by embracing a different, higher priesthood authority.

  10. November 24, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    Jeff G –

    The cases of Abraham and Job would be strong counter examples to this. For reasons such as these, I think the post is a good start, but very incomplete.

    I don’t by any means suggest that my post is the last word on anything, but it’s certainly important to draw a distinction between obedience to our human leaders and commands from God. That’s a distinction I made explicit in the post, and so it’s worth pointing out that your examples don’t actually counter anything I wrote in the post.

  11. November 24, 2014 at 2:27 pm

    Yeah, I didn’t think I was correcting anything that you actually believed (I’ve read far too many of your posts to think that). Instead, I was pushing back against the all-too popular mentality that that quote (taken in isolation) expresses. I definitely could have made that a bit clearer.

  12. November 24, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    anon (post #6)-

    I’m not so sure we can draw such an absolute line in the ‘do not run faster than you are able’ ground.

    I don’t think that there is anything absolute about that line for the simple reason that no one really knows precisely where there limits lie. As I said elsewhere, nothing in my post constitutes a simple or easy checklist of when to obey or disobey, including those verses. Clearly the commands express a principle that we ought not dash ourselves upon the rocks of unrealistic expectations, but there’s immense leeway and subjectivity involved in making that judgment, especially when we are a people who believe in supernatural miracles.

    I’m also strongly opposed to the interpretation of these scriptures as condoning selfishness. We ought not to be careless with our tools and allow them to be broken before we get enough use out of them. We ought similarly not to be careless with ourselves, for how can we continue to serve our families, neighbors, and wards if we ourselves are broken?

    You say as much in your final paragraph, and I said the same thing in my post as well: We should sacrifice. We should stretch. We should accommodate. We should try to do more than we think we can do. I simply said there is a limit–which is what the scriptures tell us–not where that limit lies or that that limit is an excuse for selfishness.

    I think maybe we agree more than you think we do. :-)

  13. November 24, 2014 at 2:31 pm

    Jeff G-

    I definitely could have made that a bit clearer.

    No worries! That’s what comments are for, and I think your post was a good contribution. I particularly liked this distinction which you drew:

    sometimes we will righteously have to disobey particular priesthood authorities, but we will never be able to righteously disobey priesthood authority as such. The only way to righteously distance oneself from the authority of a priesthood leader is by embracing a different, higher priesthood authority.

    I agree with that very much, especially the idea of only rejecting one thing in order to grasp something higher. I love that kind of optimism, and I try to live it out in my life.

    Sorry if my initial reply was a bit testy!

  14. November 24, 2014 at 2:36 pm

    Dave K-

    Once again, I generally agree with you Nathaniel, though I have a small quibble with one point. Christ was accepting of the decision of both the 9 and the 3 Nephite apostles, but he was more accepting of the 3.

    That’s actually a fact that used to traumatize me as a kid. It terrified me that even apostles could ask for the “wrong” thing. What if I asked for my eternal reward, and it turned out to be an inferior request? Something that always puzzled me, as well, was why the other 9 didn’t change their request. If a genie asks you for a wish, and you ask for something, but then the guy after asks for something way better than what you thought of, don’t you think you would be like, “Hey, can I get a do-over?”

    I’ve come to somewhat just accept that them’s the breaks. We make staggeringly important decisions in this life, and we never have the information to do a good job. What to study, who to marry, where to move: in none of these situations do we really have a clue what we’re doing. But we do them anyway. I try to just count the blessings and avoid the temptation to try and optimize and live with it. In a way, there’s a beauty to the spontaneity and messiness of it.

    I also think that the snapshot view we have in the BoM might not tell the whole story. Do you think there are times when the 3 who stayed really, really regret their decision? Do you think that the 9 who left might eventually reach a point where they have the kind of character that would have asked to stay, given the chance, and doesn’t that mean they get to the same reward, but just slower?

    There’s so much left to the story that I don’t think it’s a good idea to try and draw too much from it. For my purposes, the point was just that both were “acceptable.” There may have been an ultimately superior answer (I’m not sure that’s so clear in the long run), but at the very least, there were multiple answers that pleased God.

  15. November 24, 2014 at 3:27 pm

    I don’t think there is a “superior” answer. That is the mistake we make when we come to understand the parable of talents. The one who had five was given the extra talent at the end, but that doesn’t mean he was “superior” because he doubled five talents instead of two. In fact, I believe that is WHY there are three servants in the parable, and not just two. The servants were given stewardships according to their abilities. Both faithful servants were given the same reward. The Lord was loving and knowledgeable enough to know his servants’ capabilities, and charge them similarly.

    The point wasn’t the size of their stewardship, but what they did with it.

    The same thing is true with the Nephites. Three were, for whatever reason, possessed of a burning desire to stay and continue the work on earth. The nine wanted to rest. Having been filled with both desires in my life, I utterly reject the idea that they were better than the nine. “More blessed” is not a value judgment on their decision, any more than giving the extra talent to the one with ten was a value judgment on his abilities.

    Ranking people is a habit of men, not of God. God is the one who promises “all He has,” who gives us all that Christ Jesus earned, even though our talents and abilities are not equal to His. That is the “good news” of the Gospel: that we are heirs to everything, valued in our weakness as much as God values His Only Begotten in His strength.

  16. Raymond Takashi Swenson
    November 24, 2014 at 3:44 pm

    Even in the context of the military services, when there is time, there is the option of engaging the person who gave an order and asking the person to clarify or reconsider the order in the light of additional information. After all, the decisions a commander makes are no better than the information the commander has when making the decision. If you can give the commander additional information that is relevant to the decision, a rational commander can make adjustments.

    In light of the way the Lord wants leadership authority to be exercised in the Church–with love, and unselfishly–the same option should always be open to anyone who has questions about direction from a leader. Especially when it involves issues like callings, which are long-term matters.

  17. November 24, 2014 at 4:17 pm

    Nathaniel – My heart embraces you and your families “gospel” and this post is no different. My counter point comes when exactly the opposite is taught from the pulpit. We are taught to obey, follow, say yes. One specific example is from F.Burton Howard – General Conference April 1996 –

    “As I travel the Church I often ask stake presidents what their concerns are and what they perceive to be their greatest need. Frequently the reply is, “We have wonderful people. Some of them just need to be more committed and more dedicated. They need to be more anxiously engaged in the work.”

    The Church does have many needs, and one of them is for more people who will just do what they have agreed to do, people who will show up for work and stay all day, who will quietly, patiently, and consistently do what they have agreed to do—for as long as it takes, and who will not stop until they have finished.”

    We on this site, and many on the ‘nacle have a broader view, but most of our local and not so local leaders do not. I look forward, with much hope, to the day that the Given’s family take will be more widely taught than the present mantra and expectation.

  18. November 24, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    Nathaniel – I also wanted to add, I know your position here is not just a Givens family opinion. Claudia Bushman shared the same recently as well as Chieko Okazaki – so you aren’t alone. We just need to get the word out.

  19. November 24, 2014 at 4:39 pm

    Nathaniel,

    My comments in 9 and 11 were specifically aimed at ensuring that there wasn’t any significant difference between what you argue in the OP and what the church teaches. Carrie, on the other hand, does see a significant difference. My #9 was phrased the way it was because I anticipated others reading the post in the same way as Carrie.

    Would you be so kind as to clarify a bit for me? What tensions, if any, do you see between the OP and the church teachings?

  20. Steve Smith
    November 24, 2014 at 4:44 pm

    Great post. I agree that those wishing to be members in good standing should act in compliance with some if not most of the wishes of local ecclesiastical authorities, provided they are acting in concert with higher church authorities and are reasonable in the counsel and assignments that they give. However, there are times when it just doesn’t work to hold a particular calling or participate in a certain activity, and it is OK to say ‘no.’

    Some of the equations of church to the military or the government in the comments section need correction. The church is a voluntary organization that can’t exact any serious punishment on you, other than excommunicate you at worst, for deciding to leave it or defy the counsel of its leaders. We’re all citizens (well maybe subjects in some cases) of one country or another whether we like it or not. Citizenship in most cases entitles us to a number of privileges, but it also obligates to certain acts (military services, taxes, obeying the laws of the land, etc.). If a judge or law orders me to do something, I risk imprisonment and/or fines for not doing it. In some countries with a conscription system, some of the citizens (mostly males) are obligated to perform military service. In the US, military service is voluntary, but those who do enlist are required to obey commands from seniors (and yes, there often is some latitude, but the principle is generally, ‘yes, sir.’) In the LDS church, you can opt out if you so desire. Even if you are called to appear before a disciplinary council, there is not much other than excommunication that council members can do if you don’t appear.

    I also think it is important to consider the circumstances in which the word ‘obey’ is used. In most conference talks I can find (searching the database at http://www.lds-general-conference.org/) and most scriptural references, obedience in a term used in relation to God, Jesus Christ, God’s commandments, the gospel, and divine principles, but not human leaders. It may be implied that member ‘obey’ what they say, but it isn’t explicitly stated. We hear ‘follow,’ ‘listen to,’ ‘hearken,’ and ‘sustain’ as action words in relation to leaders’ counsel, but seldom ‘obey.’

  21. November 24, 2014 at 5:20 pm

    Carrie-

    I do think that there is a culture of mindless obedience and list-checking in the Church, but I really don’t believe that it can be attributed to the leaders. I think it is a natural human tendency to want to create heroes–or even idols–to worship. Doing this alleviates a lot of ambiguity that we face in our lives and also frees us from a lot of otherwise painful and exhausting deliberation. It’s easier. And people always gravitate towards what’s easiest.

    So that’s where I think most of the over-obedience comes from.

    The leaders are also in a Catch-22 when it comes to teaching people to cut it out. First, because I do think that most of the time obedience is going to be the best short-term policy. The leaders are often warning us of spiritual dangers or trying to get us to eat our spiritual veggies. Second, because it’s paradoxical for a leader to tell you to obey them by being less slavishly obedient. It doesn’t really work.

    In both cases the only real solution is for members on their own to begin to establish some spiritual independent. This isn’t a new theory or theological breakthrough. It’s straight out of the Parable of the 10 Virgins: we each need to tend our own lamps. Self-sufficiency is just one of those things that someone else can’t give you.

    By the way, that’s how I’d read your quote from F. Burton Howard. Most of what he was saying seemed to be about reliability and consistency (“people who will just do what they have agreed to do”) rather than about thoughtless obedience.

    But, like I said in the original post, it’s not really about the quantity of our obedience. I think we usually always need more of that. If we ever get obedient enough on one thing, the prophets and leaders will start bugging us about something else. That’s what they do. It’s more about the quality of our obedience. The willingness to say no–and the awareness of that willingness–make the obedience we do offer o fa higher caliber.

  22. November 24, 2014 at 5:58 pm

    But I have faith in a God who values the process much more than the outcome, and who will judge us based on our sincere efforts to do the right thing more than on whether or not we got the right answer.

    This is my favorite line. Well done, Nathaniel.

    As an early college kid I decided to go with #2. As a later college kid I decided to go with #1. I’m pretty sure the first choice was wrong. In spite of this post, I think the second choice was right for me at the time. Maybe it was extreme. I still haven’t seen an R-rated movie since 1983, not even really good ones. I took out all my beloved piercings except the one “modest” pair, and I changed my entire life plan to stay home with my kids. At the time I think I sincerely needed to completely submit my will to the Lord and so I tried my best to do so.

    Now, I’m not really conflating following church leaders precisely with following God precisely, but it was the best barometer I had at the time and one I trusted more than my own fragile sense of what was acceptable. So I used it.

    As time has gone on I’ve tried to move past the authoritative calls to strict obedience (and, yes, they are plentiful) to that nebulous space, being wise without letting it become selfish. It’s a tough transition.

  23. November 24, 2014 at 6:42 pm

    “Leaving open the door to say no—even if it ends up being a relatively rare occurrence—is part of the difference between mindless, automatic obedience and mindful, deliberate obedience. The Lord wants the latter.”

    I may agree with this, but I need to be clear on something. We talk about obeying leaders, but I don’t think we are ever truly called to obey a Priesthood leader. Instead we are called to sustain them. We obey Christ, and we follow Him and only Him. There is never a time when saying no to the Lord is a good thing. There may be times that saying no to a Priesthood leader is a good thing. The problem is that we use the same words (follow, obey) for two different types of relationships.

    In practice, that may lead to much the same result. I attempt to follow the Savior. He has chosen His Prophet and organized His Church. Through revelation, or through decisions made by people chosen by revelation, the various positions of the Church (with their accompanying stewardships) are filled. Thus i can easily trace back a line between the Lord (who I have promised to follow wholly and completely — though, of course, I almost always fail in those attempts) and those who serve in each and every calling in the Church.

    To me, then, it becomes a simple understanding of hierarchy. If someone who has stewardship tells me to do something (or not do something), then I treat it as if it came from the Lord — unless someone higher up the “food chain” tells me something different. Revelation from the Lord, of course, is the highest point up the food chain we can get to in mortality. If my Quorum President asks me to teach a lesson, I teach the lesson. If I don’t want to teach the lesson or don’t feel I have time to teach the lesson, I teach the lesson. If my Bishop tells me to do something else at that time or i pray and feel the Spirit tell me not to teach the lesson, i don’t teach the lesson. As Moses has said, it would be good for us all to be prophets. But, in the meantime, and absent revelation to the contrary, we follow our Moses or spiritual leprosy may set in.

    The focus is always on following Christ. There is no disobeying a Priesthood leader — there is only obeying Christ and following Him based upon the best information that we have. Revelation is always the best information, but in the absence of that revelation we follow Priesthood leaders because of their place as representatives of Christ. We don’t follow them — we follow Him. We don’t place our mortal judgment or reason into the matter — we cannot know all that the Lord knows. Mortal judgment and reason do, however, come into play as we consider things and study them out in our minds before taking the matter to the Lord. If I believe that the Bishop is 100% wrong, but I have received no spiritual confirmation of that, I follow him as i have covenanted to follow Him.

    Many of these other concerns you mention would be appropriate to raise (I forget who said that inspiration is dependent upon information) in the decision-making process (or even at the time a calling or assignment is made), but when a decision has been made you sustain it unless the Lord or a higher leader contradicts it.

    That is my understanding of the matter, in any event.

  24. Geoff - Aus
    November 24, 2014 at 7:02 pm

    I believe we will be judged on what we become not what we do, and that if we keep this in mind when we are choosing whether to do something (obey) or not, it will be helpful. Keep the end in mind.

  25. November 24, 2014 at 7:16 pm

    “We talk about obeying leaders, but I don’t think we are ever truly called to obey a Priesthood leader.”

    I must object to all such sentiments (which I most definitely share) that suggest that “obedience” is a bad word. I think that the temple makes it perfectly clear what the law of obedience entails.

    1 – We are all supposed to hearken to (obey) our priesthood leaders inasmuch as they hearken unto the Lord. (I refuse to believe that men get to simply follow their own conscience while only women must listen to mortals.)
    2 – Nowhere does it say “inasmuch as the leader is conveying the word of the Lord.” Instead, the righteousness of the leader is the precondition. This sentiment is echoes in D&C 121.

    With these two points in mind, I think it’s pretty clear that inasmuch as a priesthood leader is not overstepping their bounds (as set by those above him) and inasmuch as they are a righteous person, our default position is supposed to be obedience. Of course, we can always appeal to a higher authority if we have our doubts.

    I too feel the natural resistance to that word, but I don’t think that resistance comes from the gospel. Instead, I think it comes largely from the post-WW2 perspective shared by Stanley Milgram, etc. That’s why we are sure to say that our obedience shouldn’t be “blind” or “unthinking” or some other euphemism for human reasoning filtering or constraining our obedience…. but we don’t find these terms in the scriptures. In fact, we often find the exact opposite being taught: “I know not, save the Lord hath commanded, etc.” I mentioned Abraham above, but I think a more relevant example would be that of Isaac who obeyed his father’s directions in willing to be sacrificed.

  26. November 24, 2014 at 8:07 pm

    Jeff G.

    I don’t see that you and I disagree, unless I am missing something. My point is that we obey the Lord, and that often includes hearkening to those He has placed in stewardship over us (we obey Him, not them, but functionally we obey Him by following them). I have no concern with the word obey — it is a comforting word. But I am bought with a price — I serve one Master.

    The distinction I am trying to draw (and I likely failed by your response) is that we are not obeying a Priesthood leader, we are obeying the Lord. I need never obey anyone other than Christ. But if Christ has placed a Priesthood leader in a position of stewardship over me, my obligation to follow Christ includes the obligation to accept the words of my Priesthood leader as His words unless He (or another leader in a superior position) contradicts. If a Priesthood leader gives us direction, that is the word of the Lord to us unless countered by a higher authority (revelation, someone further up the hierarchy). When I show up to set up chairs when my Elder’s Quorum President assigns me to do so, I am not obeying my Elder’s Quorum President — I am obeying the Lord who placed that president in his position of stewardship.

  27. November 24, 2014 at 8:21 pm

    I think we do agree with each other for the most part (although my thoughts concerning modern discomfort with “obedience” wasn’t really aimed at you, per se). I simply think that some of your statements, when taken in isolation, lend support to a position that I rejection.

    In particular, I think you overstate thing when you say:

    “The distinction I am trying to draw (and I likely failed by your response) is that we are not obeying a Priesthood leader, we are obeying the Lord. I need never obey anyone other than Christ.”

    To me, this statement smacks of word-play, likely motivated by a fear of obedience/authority (which, again, I can relate to).

    To be sure, we obey our leaders because they represent the Lord, but it would be a mistake to think this point dissolves all obedience to our leaders or that our (apparent) obedience to the latter can be reduced without remainder to the former. This would be like saying that soldiers in boot camp don’t really obey their drill sargeants… since they are only authorized by the people (I suppose). Yes, it is the Lord that both authorizes as well as places boundaries on what a priesthood leader can command (or whatever other word you want to call it), but this does not entail that whenever we obey what has been commanded of us by a leader, we are automatically obeying the Lord and nobody else.

  28. November 24, 2014 at 8:27 pm

    Yes, I agree with your attempt to say, in effect, “inasmuch as you obey one of these, you obey the Lord.” That is completely right, as far as it goes.

    Unfortunately, I think that ambiguous ways of phrasing the sentiment can be misconstrued as pretexts for disobedience. We have to remind people that the law of obedience is NOT “inasmuch as the directions come from the Lord Himself.” Rather, it says that inasmuch as the leader is righteous in obeying the Lord, we ought to obey him as well.

  29. November 24, 2014 at 8:44 pm

    “This would be like saying that soldiers in boot camp don’t really obey their drill sargeants… since they are only authorized by the people (I suppose). Yes, it is the Lord that both authorizes as well as places boundaries on what a priesthood leader can command (or whatever other word you want to call it), but this does not entail that whenever we obey what has been commanded of us by a leader, we are automatically obeying the Lord and nobody else.”

    Jeff, thank you for this example — it perfectly illustrates the distinction that I was trying to draw. I believe that the hierarchy of the Church is distinct from the hierarchy of the military in just that way. I have an obligation to follow both my sergeant and a general in the military, while in the Church I only have the obligation to follow the Lord, including following the Lord’s representatives on His behalf. We are to be disciples of Christ. We are taught “Come Follow Me.” We are not to be disciples of Paul or Bishop or anyone else.

    I understand what you are saying about fearing obedience, but that isn’t what I think is driving this. Nor am I trying to discourage obedience or limit a leader’s influence or anything of the sort. In fact, it is the exact opposite. We might be reluctant to obey John Q. Priesthood leader because we see him kick his dog or pick his nose. But we do not follow the imperfect man or woman, we follow the perfect Christ. Christ picked His leaders (who picked leaders who picked leaders who ultimately picked the leader that picks his nose), and thus the leadership web represents Him. We don’t have to fret about following imperfect leaders because we aren’t. We follow the office and the stewardship which means we follow Christ.

    I would think that, understanding this, a person would be more likely rather than less likely to functionally follow the counsel of their Priesthood leaders because they would understand that when you are fulfilling the assignment of your Elder’s Quorum President, you are only fulfilling the assignment of your God (absent other guidance to the contrary).

    The LAST thing that I want to do is to provide a pretext for disobedience — barring revelation or contradiction from a higher Priesthood authority, we should obey that counsel as if from the Lord. The phrase “as if” is key — by definition it means that it might not be from the Lord. But if the counsel is wrong, yet we follow it in our desire to serve the Lord, one of two things will happen — either the Lord will consecrate our actions and accept them or He will intervene through inspiration or another Priesthood leader.

  30. ji
    November 24, 2014 at 9:01 pm

    We should be obedient to God and principles, not other men. A church leader who needs help in something calls others by persuasion, meekness, love unfeigned, and so forth — he doesn’t simply command and demand obedience from underlings. I sustain my leaders, I listen to them, I let them teach me, I help them in the work — to me, this is not obedience; rather, it is sustaining — there is a difference.

    Want to bring missionary work to a halt? Teach prospective converts that they start out as privates in the church’s army, under covenant to obey everyone senior to them — maybe one day they can become sergeants and give orders to others. No, no, this is all wrong.

  31. November 24, 2014 at 11:16 pm

    “No, no, this is all wrong.”

    Yes, you are right — what you are describing is all wrong. it is also a caricature of what I am actually saying.

  32. orangganjil
    November 24, 2014 at 11:22 pm

    I have to ask: Aren’t our church leaders encouraging the “obedience to leaders” idea? Talks by Elder Nelson, Elder Ballard, and Sister McConkie in General Conference certainly seemed to have that tone. The “we can’t lead you astray” idea encourages it, and leaders seem to be emphasing this lately. The recent emphasis on, and inclusion within next year’s manual, of the 14 Fundamentals talk by Elder Benson, as well as the following quotes certainly seem to indicate an obey-by-default mindset and, if you get inspiration at odds with the counsel of our leaders, something must be wrong with you.

    “Our sustaining is an oath-like indication that we recognize their calling as a prophet to be legitimate and binding upon us.”
    Elder Nelson, October 2014 General Conference

    “Our sustaining of prophets is a personal commitment that we will do our utmost to uphold their prophetic priorities.”
    Elder Nelson, October 2014 General Conference

    “When we sustain our leaders, we commit to follow their counsel and magnify our own callings.”
    Teachings of George Albert Smith manual

    “When we sustain the President of the Church by our uplifted hand, it not only signifies that we acknowledge before God that he is the rightful possessor of all the priesthood keys; it means that we covenant with God that we will abide by the direction and the counsel that comes through His prophet. It is a solemn covenant.”
    Elder David Haight, October 1994 General Conference

  33. Eliza
    November 25, 2014 at 8:07 am

    I think I must have a very different understanding of obedience than many here (and in the church as a whole, I guess). Obedience requires a directive; in the Church we obey commandments. Requests from leadership, such as “will you accept a calling” are just requests. Saying no isn’t disobedience, it’s exercising agency and I have absolutely no problem saying no if I need to. When I say no to my leaders, such as for a calling, I am not rejecting their authority to make the request. I can recognize that my Bishop is the divinely appointed leader of my ward while simultaneously acknowledging that there is no way for him to know my precise needs/wants/spiritual confirmations (or lack thereof). Because he doesn’t know those things and I do, it becomes my responsibility to excercise my agency and wisely respond to demands on my time and talents.It has never even occurred to me that doing so might be seen as “disobedience”.Requests, even when we believe the Bishop is inspired to ask, are distint from directives or “counsel” and perhaps our angst over when to say no would be alleviated if we recognized the difference and acted accordingly.

  34. stephenchardy
    November 25, 2014 at 11:23 am

    For me, disobedience suggests some degree or rebellion, and so I agree that turning down a church calling is not generally an act of disobedience or rebellion. Recently, at our Stake Conference, we had one of our leaders say something like this: ( I didn’t record it.) “Everything good that I have accomplished during my life was done on the edge of exhaustion.” Growth comes from stretching, and church assignments make us stretch. This is especially true when the calling doesn’t seem to make sense. That is, when it doesn’t match up with our perceived needs or talents. There is a tension between living our lives in a meaningful way and taking care of ourselves along the way, versus “losing our lives” in the service of God and/or others. Almost every one feels angst about that balance.

  35. November 25, 2014 at 11:23 am

    You can never understand how not to obey until you understand how to obey.

    And you can never understand divine leadership until you understand divine submission.

  36. DQ
    November 25, 2014 at 11:28 am

    Eliza,
    Making a call, ideally consists of something like this: A bishop and his counselors counsel over a need, counsel over possible individuals, pray over a calling, are inspired with your name, and then receive revelation that God desires you to fulfill that calling.

    Do you agree with that “ideal”? Agency is always a part of it. It was a command not to eat the fruit, and Eve exercised her agency, and we even see the good that came of it. So even in a “command” situation, you are certainly not striped of your agency, and there can be good (and great depths of sorrow) that come from some kinds of disobedience.

    But I’ve never heard anyone in the church reduce a calling to “just” a request. I suppose that reclassification enables you to refuse callings with a clear conscience, but you’ll never hear any leader in the church say it like that.

  37. Steve Smith
    November 25, 2014 at 11:52 am

    Jeff G (25), “I think that the temple makes it perfectly clear what the law of obedience entails.”

    According to the law of obedience, wives are to hearken to the counsel of husbands inasmuch as they obey the law of God and keep God’s commandments. That’s it. It does not stipulate obedience (using the terms obey or obedience) to priesthood leaders in the LDS institution.

    Jonathan Cavender is right. There is no instance in the scriptures, the temple covenant, or the words of the First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve (at least in conference, I can’t account for things they’ve said in private talks) where we are counseled to obey (using the term ‘obey’) priesthood leaders.

    If priesthood leaders are not infallible, which I think everything can agree with, then they are liable to err in action and in word. That means that not all of their words are perfect or represent what God would say in exactness. We have a responsibility to evaluate how consistent leaders’ words and counsels are with the scriptures and other leaders’ words and counsels. We have a responsibility to pray to determine based on the spirit if those words and counsels are consistent with what God wants. We may hearken to and follow their words and counsels in good faith, but we are not to obey, in the sense of carry out without question or doubt. According to LDS church doctrine, we obey God’s commandments, the gospel, and principles and ordinances.

  38. Steve Smith
    November 25, 2014 at 12:27 pm

    On the question of whether it is disobedience to God to disregard the counsel or callings of local leaders. Looking at it doctrinally and logically, it is disobedience only if they heard God distinctly telling them to tell you to do so or if they are repeating a command of God (that is evident as a command of God in some text) that was made for specifically you, a specific group of people, or all humankind that is applicable in either a set time period or for all of time. If not, then it is not disobedience. So if the Elder’s Quorum President asks you to take down/set up chairs and he received a command from God to ask you to do so, then you are disobeying God. If not, then it is not disobedience.

  39. November 25, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    “So if the Elder’s Quorum President asks you to take down/set up chairs and he received a command from God to ask you to do so, then you are disobeying God. If not, then it is not disobedience.”

    I disagree. We don’t need to consider if each and every assignment from our leaders are directly inspired — we need only consider whether the Lord placed us within their stewardship. If the Lord calls an Elder’s Quorum President and tells him to not be slothful or commanded in all things, and that President asks me to set up chairs (even if he should have asked Bob instead, in a perfect world), where is my justification for not setting up chairs? That my President wasn’t inspired in what he assigned? How would I know that save I receive revelation for him in his calling (something that will never happen). I cannot know that what he is doing is wrong through logic and reason. The Lord will not tell me what he is doing is wrong, because the Lord’s house is a house of order. The only thing that could intervene would be the Lord telling me that the counsel doesn’t apply to me (through personal revelation) or another Priesthood leader telling me something different.

    So Steve and others, how do you think that you can judge whether the Elder’s Quorum President received his instruction from God to assign you to your task, when you cannot receive inspiration for him in his stewardship? You might think he is wrong, you might reason he is wrong, but you cannot know that he is wrong. At best, you might receive revelation that his counsel does not apply to you. Save that, you have no capacity — however intelligent or well-versed in the Gospel — to second guess him in his stewardship.

  40. Jared vdH
    November 25, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    “A bishop and his counselors counsel over a need, counsel over possible individuals, pray over a calling, are inspired with your name, and then receive revelation that God desires you to fulfill that calling.”

    My only quibble with your definition here is that I believe that it is not “receive revelation that God desires you to fulfill that calling” but instead “receive revelation that God desires the priesthood leader to extend that calling to you”. I would also add on to the end of the sequence, “and you receive revelation about how you should respond”.

  41. November 25, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    Just to clarify, the “law of obedience” as stated above has changed just in my lifetime (in the temple ceremony). Perhaps it will change more to bring further equity.

    I think there is a bit of semantic gaming in trying to distinguish between “sustaining” and “obeying” as they are generally used. The George Albert Smith manual has a chapter titled, “Sustaining Those Whom the Lord Sustains.”

    The title’s equivocation may be part of the problem. Obviously there is no suggestion that God obeys anyone on earth. But there is every implication (and direct expression) in the lesson that “sustaining” a leader includes obedience to his counsel.

    “When we sustain our leaders, we commit to follow their counsel and magnify our own callings.”

    “The obligation that we make when we raise our hands under such circumstances, is a most sacred one. It does not mean that we will go quietly on our way and be willing that the prophet of the Lord shall direct this work, but it means,—if I understand the obligation I assumed when I raised my hand—that we will stand behind him; we will pray for him; we will defend his good name, and we will strive to carry out his instructions as the Lord shall direct him to offer them to us while he remains in that position.”

    “Our leaders are chosen by the Lord, and He expects us to sustain them in word and action.”

    “There is no other organization like this in the world. There are no other people [who are] led as this people are led.”

    “He will not permit the men who preside over his Church to lead the people into error, but he will sustain them with his almighty power.”

    “Those who oppose and find fault will not find joy in their opposition.”

    “Those who criticize and seek to destroy the influence of the leaders of the Church will suffer the result of their wrong-doing.”

    “If you will follow the leadership of the Lord, and those whom the Lord sustains, you will not fall away into darkness, lose the light, transgress the laws of God, and forfeit your privileges that he is so anxious that all of us should enjoy.”

    “There is only one pathway of safety for me in this day and that is to follow those whom the Lord has appointed to lead. I may have my own ideas and opinions, I may set up my own judgment with reference to things, but I know that when my judgment conflicts with the teachings of those that the Lord has given to us to point the way, I should change my course. If I desire salvation I will follow the leaders that our Heavenly Father has given to us, as long as he sustains them.”

    “[They] have prayed for and sustained their leaders … , and during my experience in the Church I have yet to know of one person who has been observing the commandments of the Lord who has raised his or her voice against those who were called to preside over this Church.”

    “When we criticize our leaders or disregard their counsel, we allow the adversary to lead us astray.”

    Jonathan Cavender:

    So Steve and others, how do you think that you can judge whether the Elder’s Quorum President received his instruction from God to assign you to your task, when you cannot receive inspiration for him in his stewardship? You might think he is wrong, you might reason he is wrong, but you cannot know that he is wrong. At best, you might receive revelation that his counsel does not apply to you. Save that, you have no capacity — however intelligent or well-versed in the Gospel — to second guess him in his stewardship.

    And there’s the rub.

    Church leaders have long conflated obedience to God with obedience to leaders, even local leaders. I can’t think of a time when that obedience was referencing a woman in leadership, but often to bishops and stake presidents and on up the “food chain.”

    Marion G. Romney:

    Always keep your eye on the President of the church, and if he ever tells you to do anything, even if it is wrong, and you do it, the lord will bless you for it but you don’t need to worry. The lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray.

    Improvement Era, 1945:

    When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. When they propose a plan–it is God’s Plan. When they point the way, there is no other which is safe. When they give directions, it should mark the end of controversy, God works in no other way. To think otherwise, without immediate repentance, may cost one his faith, may destroy his testimony, and leave him a stranger to the kingdom of God.

    Elder Robert C. Oaks:

    Unquestioning obedience to the Lord indicates that a person has developed faith and trust in Him to the point where he or she considers all inspired instruction — whether it be recorded scripture or the words of modern prophets, or direct inspiration through the Holy Ghost — to be worthy of obedience.

    Reasoning doesn’t matter. God wants you to do as your are told. Right or wrong, obedience is the ultimate criterion.

    When the Relief Society has become the defacto Ward Activities Committee — and is dumped with the ward Christmas dinner for the umpteenth year in a row (because, of course, who else could possibly plan/prepare a meal) — it is inspired of God. Complaining about it or suggesting an alternative is seen as “evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed.” Do not ask me how I know this.

  42. November 25, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    Allison – Well done.

    In short we can choose not to attend the various ward activities as this point presents, but beyond that – the thinking has been done every where else. It really does make agency look beautiful.

    And I hear you on the purpose of Relief Society – and not just at Christmas.

  43. ji
    November 25, 2014 at 3:20 pm

    Using the already-proferred example of elders quorum president and chairs–

    An elders quorum president simply cannot command a quorum member to take down chairs. The president may ask and request and persuade, using D&C 121 as his guide. The member, wanting to sustain the president, will likely freely accept the invitation — but the member could also decline, because for some reason of importance to him, and still sustain the president as such. The words “obey” and “obedience” should never enter the discussion.

    Honorable reasons for saying no? He will miss his bus home if he stays to put away the chairs — his family is waiting in the car to go see old Aunt Trudy — his back is hurting — he has an appointment — his kid has a dance recital — he is tired, having been asked every time before because he always says yes — and many more. But wherever possible, the member will say yes, not from obedience of an underling to a superior but because of an honest desire to sustain a fellow Saint in his calling.

    Anytime we speak of someone under duty to “obey, obey, obey” there is a necessary corollary of someone else with a privilege to command — but we’re told there can be no compulsion in church matters. Church leaders lead with persuasion, and weakness, and love unfeigned, and so forth. Members sustain each other and help each other as best they can.

    A Latter-day Saint errs who thinks he or she must see every request from a church leader as a command, and errs further in thinking he or she must obey every such command. A church leader errs if he or she perpetuates these notions. At least, that’s how I see it.

    If I ever decline an invitation to put away chairs, I hope the person who asked me won’t think of him- or herself as in a position to command me, and that my no answer won’t be judged as disobedience. That’s not building a Zion community. But I’ll probably help, if I am able to, because I want to sustain. In think that’s how it works with many church members.

  44. ji
    November 25, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    Oops! “Meekness”, not “weakness”. Even so, weakness still fits…

  45. Steve Smith
    November 25, 2014 at 3:27 pm

    Jonathan, I don’t think that your ideas about stewardship square with LDS doctrine. According to Spencer W. Kimball, a stewardship is a trust that carries with it certain responsibilities for which we are held accountable (it has a very broad meaning, it is not just a specific calling in the LDS church, President Kimball said, “We are stewards over our bodies, minds, families, and properties”), but according to my reading of D&C and all of the conference talks since the 1960s where the terms steward and stewardship are mentioned, I cannot see that having a stewardship permits anyone to bind anyone else to his or her words and counsels as if these were God’s.

    The term stewardship is also not synonymous with calling or hierarchical rank (and whether or not there actually exists hierarchy in the church (see for instance D&C 28:13 “For all things must be done in order, and by common consent in the church”) is debatable but is beyond the scope of my comment).

    Furthermore D&C 121:37 (“when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.”) seems to establish quite clearly that authority is stripped in cases of unrighteous dominion and compulsion. So even if stewardship meant that someone was granted authority to give counsel as if they were God (which it doesn’t), each individual would be required to evaluate whether or not that person in a position of authority were gratifying his pride, vain ambition, or exercising unrighteous control or dominion or compulsion. For if such were the case, then their authority would be rendered null and void. Also, riddle me this. Is anyone in the LDS church within someone else’s stewardship? If you choose to answer, please back up your answer with LDS canon and the public statements of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve.

  46. ji
    November 25, 2014 at 3:30 pm

    Oh, and the Relief Society President can honorably decline to accept responsibility for the ward Christmas party — no joke; I’m being serious. Not because the Relief Society did it last year, perhaps (that does seem like a pretty reason), but if the president’s plate is otherwise full and she simply cannot do it, that’s okay. This would not be a matter of disobedience. Refusing to do it because they did it last year and trying to teach the bishop a lesson also would not be disobedience, in my mind, because the bishop cannot command and there is no room for words like obedience in the discussion, but it might be petulance.

  47. ji
    November 25, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    “Petty”, not “pretty” — I really dislike autocorrect…

    This is a good discussion — if it is causing some of us to re-think long-held assumptions, that’s good — but reasonable people can have differing opinions…

  48. Steve Smith
    November 25, 2014 at 4:01 pm

    Alison, obedience to leaders is never stated outright. Show me one instance from the standard works or the words the FP/Q12 where it states that we are to obey the leaders. Who cares about the words of the 1945 Improvement Era (George Albert Smith, while serving as president of the LDS church, refuted that statement in a letter to another religious leader: http://www.fairmormon.org/perspectives/publications/when-the-prophet-speaks-is-the-thinking-done). There are some words of general authorities that tell us to obey human leaders, but they are rare occurrences, and besides they’re GAs, not FP/Q12. So they just don’t carry too much weight. Now Marion G. Romney’s statement is inconsistent with general understandings about doctrine. D&C 121:37 makes it clear that unrighteous dominion nullifies whatever priesthood authority. And I find it reasonable to think that that scriptural passage would carry more weight that some extraordinary (and unique) pronouncements of one apostle over the pulpit. So, his injunction that we follow the prophet even if he’s wrong (requiring people to follow you if you are wrong seems to me to be exercising unrighteous dominion) doesn’t square with that passage at all. Also, he doesn’t use the word obey. You may think that I’m splitting hairs, but it is important to distinguish between ‘sustain,’ ‘obey,’ ‘follow,’ ‘hearken,’ etc. In the vast majority of the mentions of the word ‘obey’ in LDS canon and general conference talks by the FP/Q12, and even the GAs, it is reserved for God, God’s commandments, divine principles, the gospel, and Jesus Christ. To me that says that obeying is in a separate realm from following, hearkening, etc.

    As for the George Albert Smith’s thoughts about sustaining, there is nary a mention of the words ‘obey,’ and ‘obedience.’ Also, 17 or the 21 quotes used to compile that chapter come from when George Albert Smith was an apostle. The four that come from when he was president of the LDS church (May 21, 1945-April 4, 1951) do not define sustain as committing to follow counsel. Hence those injunctions carry about the same weight as Marion G. Romney’s statement. These were just extraordinary circumstances that aren’t really consistent with the general tone of when sustain is used. My sense is that most of the time in authoritative words in the LDS church that sustain isn’t used to mean obey. Instead it is the LDS members who misunderstand the doctrine and wrongly conflate sustaining with obeying.

  49. Steve Smith
    November 25, 2014 at 4:04 pm

    Also, I just thought of this. George Albert Smith’s letter to the other religious leader refuting the idea that when the prophet speaks the thinking is done comes letter in his life and is an indication that his thinking about obeying leaders may have evolved over time.

  50. Eliza
    November 25, 2014 at 4:25 pm

    ji-
    My thoughts exactly, stated much more eloquently than I ever could. :) This, especially, resonated with me:

    “A Latter-day Saint errs who thinks he or she must see every request from a church leader as a command, and errs further in thinking he or she must obey every such command. A church leader errs if he or she perpetuates these notions. At least, that’s how I see it.

    If I ever decline an invitation to put away chairs, I hope the person who asked me won’t think of him- or herself as in a position to command me, and that my no answer won’t be judged as disobedience. That’s not building a Zion community. But I’ll probably help, if I am able to, because I want to sustain. In think that’s how it works with many church members.”

    DQ-
    For me, yes, an inspired request is still “just” a request. Inspiration does not somehow turn a question into a commandment. In the context of this discussion, it seems the assumption is that extending a calling is equivalent to God Himself saying “Thou Shalt Lead the Music” and to say no is tantamount to rebelliously defying the express will of God. I think we all know that just does not reflect reality. As long as fallible humans are extending callings, making requests of my time/talents, providing counsel I will continue to filter those requests etc… through my own personal revelation.

    And, I think you and I disagree about whether Eve was disobedient. :) It seems to me that she, through personal revelation, was choosing obedience to a higher law (don’t eat the fruit vs. be fruitful and multiply). We are often put into situations where we have to choose which law/commandment to follow. Sometimes this is dramatic (kill or be killed, for example) but often it’s “the little things” that really force us to consider what God would have us do. For example, we are commanded to honor our parents. That’s a Big 10 commandment;clearly important. Yet, we also are counseled to marry in the temple. What happens when those 2 commandments conflict (as they often do)? We have to rely on personal revelation.. Perhaps you receive confirmation that marrying in the temple is the right decision, though it will cause great pain for your family and maybe even an irreparable rift with your parents. I may ask the same question and get a different answer. Either way, neither of us has been disobedient, even though we’ve both disobeyed counsel/commandments because we have followed the will of the Lord for our lives. The fundamental question must be “What is the Lord’s will for me?” NOT “What is the Bishop’s (Prophet’s, RS president etc…) will for me?”.

  51. November 25, 2014 at 4:26 pm

    Steve,

    Comparing a private letter to an official church publication is a little tough. The teaching of Pres. Benson (that the church is using for a manual next year) has more than enough Iron-Roddery for us to set aside that letter.

  52. Steve Smith
    November 25, 2014 at 5:56 pm

    Jeff G, you’re right that that’s a bad comparison when trying to establish what the trend in understanding doctrine is. But I wasn’t trying to make the case that the private letter is what church leaders at that time generally wanted the membership to believe. Clearly conference talks and official church publications are a much better indicator of what the LDS church leadership feels its membership should believe as central doctrine. I was pointing to the letter as an indication that the First Presidency didn’t take the (in)famous 1945 Improvement Era article too seriously and didn’t want the leader of the other church to regard the author’s words as consistent with the general understanding of doctrine. I was also noting how the private letter may be an indication that George Albert Smith’s had evolved from what they were in past conference talks. I can’t confirm that for sure, but it may be an indication.

    I have also been recently studying the words of Ezra Taft Benson while he was president, and I still don’t think that they confirm your or Jonathan Cavender’s beliefs about obedience as a good representation of LDS doctrine (your arguments seem to rely on implication but don’t actually reference the scriptures or words of the FP/Q12 too much). I would be interested to hear the case that they do, but I doubt it. Even in Pres. Benson’s “14 Fundamentals” talk, he doesn’t mention the word obey except in quoting D&C 108:1, in which it is reported that the Lord informs Joseph Smith that Lyman’s sins were forgiven because he obey’s the Lord’s voice.

  53. November 25, 2014 at 6:04 pm

    Alison:
    “Church leaders have long conflated obedience to God with obedience to leaders, even local leaders. I can’t think of a time when that obedience was referencing a woman in leadership, but often to bishops and stake presidents and on up the “food chain.””

    I would say that the principle applies equally to my Primary President if I am called into Primary, for example. And what other authority can my Primary President have if not Priesthood authority. Nothing in my comments have been gender-specific.

    ji:
    “Honorable reasons for saying no? He will miss his bus home if he stays to put away the chairs — his family is waiting in the car to go see old Aunt Trudy — his back is hurting — he has an appointment — his kid has a dance recital — he is tired, having been asked every time before because he always says yes — and many more.”

    These matters should be brought up to the Elder’s Quorum President. In most cases, most reasonable Elder’s Quorum Presidents will withdraw the assignment (inspiration requires information). If not — if after sharing these concerns the President tells me that the assignment still stands — then if I have not received actual inspiration to leave the job, it is my duty to complete the assignment.

    “Anytime we speak of someone under duty to “obey, obey, obey” there is a necessary corollary of someone else with a privilege to command — but we’re told there can be no compulsion in church matters.”

    Priesthood leaders are not to compel, but we are each and every one of us called upon to surrender our agency to the Lord. “Come follow me” is no abrogation of agency, but is an essential requirement for partaking of Grace.

    “If I ever decline an invitation to put away chairs, I hope the person who asked me won’t think of him- or herself as in a position to command me, and that my no answer won’t be judged as disobedience.”

    If you say no, my assumption from the outside looking in should be that you have received inspiration directing you otherwise. Beyond that, it is simply not my place to judge — you are not my servant but His, even if I have stewardship.

    Steve:
    “According to Spencer W. Kimball, a stewardship is a trust that carries with it certain responsibilities for which we are held accountable.”

    This is exactly the meaning that I am applying it from, only from the perspective of being the one being shepherded rather than the one shepherding.

    “So even if stewardship meant that someone was granted authority to give counsel as if they were God (which it doesn’t), each individual would be required to evaluate whether or not that person in a position of authority were gratifying his pride, vain ambition, or exercising unrighteous control or dominion or compulsion. For if such were the case, then their authority would be rendered null and void.”

    Again, how would you propose to do this? You seem to indicate that you may place reason above Priesthood leaders to judge whether their instructions are divinely inspired, and now to place yourself in a position to judge the leader himself. Both of your positions are fundamentally incompatible with what we are permitted to do. I cannot receive inspiration for my Priesthood leader, nor can I judge him as proud, ambitious, or anything else. To think otherwise is for foolishness to masquerade as wisdom.

    “Is anyone in the LDS church within someone else’s stewardship?”

    A quick google search, and the first of dozens of answers. Elder M. Russell Ballard, “Your Christlike desires and your actions motivated by your love of God will set a tone and establish a climate for your mission and your missionaries that will result in unparalleled growth for all those under your stewardship.” By definition, if someone under your stewardship is experiencing growth, then someone is under your stewardship.

    ji:
    “Refusing to do it because they did it last year and trying to teach the bishop a lesson also would not be disobedience, in my mind, because the bishop cannot command and there is no room for words like obedience in the discussion, but it might be petulance.”

    So the ecclesiastical leader, called by God, granted authority by the laying on of hands, with keys restored to the Earth derived from Christ Himself does something the Relief Society President doesn’t like, and she is thus empowered to educate him through refusing his counsel, absent divine confirmation of her course of action?

    Steve:
    “So, his injunction that we follow the prophet even if he’s wrong (requiring people to follow you if you are wrong seems to me to be exercising unrighteous dominion) doesn’t square with that passage at all.”

    What about Brother Brigham, standing up after being accused (falsely) by Joseph Smith, and making the only response, “Brother Joseph, what would you have me do?”

    Eliza:
    “In the context of this discussion, it seems the assumption is that extending a calling is equivalent to God Himself saying “Thou Shalt Lead the Music” and to say no is tantamount to rebelliously defying the express will of God.”

    When the Bishop asks you to lead the music, this represents the best evidence we have of God’s will — and thus, to disregard that is tantamount to rebelliously defying God’s will. But there is a caveat to that — we may always go to the Lord, express our feelings and concerns, and seek His will. If He tells us not to accept the calling, we can in a clear conscience turn it down. If He is silent, or reaffirms the call, we are called to obey.

    I think most of us agree that if a call is extended, and we receive an answer that it is the will of the Lord, we should obey. I think most of us agree that if a call is extended, and we receive an answer that it is the will of the Lord that we don’t fulfill it, we should not fulfill it. The only difference I see is two-fold. First, of the obligation to take the matter to the Lord rather than attempting to apply our own human reason to the issue. Second, what we do if the Lord is silent on the issue. It is obvious where I stand on both.

    “The fundamental question must be “What is the Lord’s will for me?” NOT “What is the Bishop’s (Prophet’s, RS president etc…) will for me?”.”

    With this statement, I agree wholeheartedly.

  54. ji
    November 25, 2014 at 6:31 pm

    Jonathan,

    If I am understanding you correctly, the elders quorum president decides whether a quorum member puts away chairs or takes his family to see old Aunt Trudy? The member can honorably take his family to see old Aunt Trudy only if the elders quorum president releases him from the chairs assignment?

    I disagree.

  55. November 25, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    ji:
    “The member can honorably take his family to see old Aunt Trudy only if the elders quorum president releases him from the chairs assignment?”

    The Elder’s Quorum President or the Lord may release him from the assignment. Or are we to only follow assignments that are convenient for us?

  56. Old Man
    November 25, 2014 at 7:50 pm

    Jonathon,

    Your doctrine does not taste good to me. It opens up the path to some serious abuse. Church leaders of any stripe are not God. And in sustaining them I am happy to remind them of that fact.

  57. Karl
    November 25, 2014 at 8:14 pm

    Some 30 years a loving bishop asked me to shave my mustache. I graciously declined. At that time I was sure he was wrong and had no right to ask that of me.

    Today, I wonder what blessings, if any, I missed out on by not doing what my bishop asked. I don’t know the answer to that question, I have come to believe that the Lord blesses us when we take assignments/callings that come more from desperation than inspiration.

    Saying no is challenging personal choice.

  58. DQ
    November 25, 2014 at 9:40 pm

    I’m amused at how the commentary by and large has at this point returned to the same old bogus arguments against so called blond obedience. I’ve net met a person in my life I. The church who obeyed too much, or was blind in doing so. I suppose this hypothetical person exists but in living on multiple continents and a couple dozen wards I’ve never seen it. I have seen plenty of hand ringing, justifying, and accusations against odedience though.

  59. DQ
    November 25, 2014 at 9:41 pm

    Ridiculous ipad keyboard….

  60. November 25, 2014 at 10:18 pm

    DQ:

    It is discussions like this one (and observations like yours) that makes me wish that everyone in the Church had read Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I think you would appreciate picking up and reading “The Cost of Discipleship” — Bonhoeffer is one of the great gifts of God (as a Lutheran theologian) to us in the 20th Century. He is on par with C. S. Lewis, except that almost no one reads him.

  61. Sue
    November 26, 2014 at 1:11 am

    Wow!!! There seems to bee proof to justify both theories of think for yourself and don’t think for yourself but obey. I grew up in the camp of “obey” because they “have lunch with Jesus” (as I have heard people explain it). I think a good dose of “no” is just what every priesthood leader needs. (sarcasm intended).

    I just am having a hard time in my faith crisis. My therapist thinks as I face my trauma, it will lead me to testimony and faith but I see my faith changing in a way away from organized religion. I currently feel like I having panic attacks when I go to church. My bishop said over the pulpit on Sunday, “If someone came to me with 100% irrefutable evidence that the church was not true, I would not deny my testimony.” I call this blind faith. My ward split and my stake president spoke about leadership in ways that I am no longer comfortable with. I had to leave after sacrament meeting and go home. To hard for me right now. I am taking a break from church for a while. Not sure the end, but ok with the journey.

  62. November 26, 2014 at 3:21 am

    Nathaniel, thanks for this. I can relate to Alison’s comment about feeling right about learning to obey with exactness for many years. I acted in faith, a deep faith in what prophets teach, and a deep desire to do what is right.

    And yet with that, for me, was also a lot of fear — fear of doing it wrong, of not doing enough. That fear reached a point where it crippled me and I had to sort of rebuild my understanding of agency and the Atonement. Being real about that deep fear has been so important to my spiritual growth. Learning to choose to obey God (not just His prophets or leaders, but to seek and follow His voice), not out of fear, but with true exercise of agency and leaning on the Atonement really does feel different to me than what I did for decades when I was in the mode of trying to be perfectly obedient on my own. Good intentions notwithstanding, to DQ’s comment, I do think I may have qualified as an over-obeyer in some ways (both because of fear and because of pride, too, which I think people in the ‘nacle could attest has existed in me).

    I personally think the story of the Bible is a story about all of us — we need years in the wilderness where we learn to trust God through the schoolmaster of law. And then we also are invited to accept the invitation to lean more on Christ, the Lawgiver, and dance in the tensions that are part of mortality. I think the story of Adam and Eve is such a witness that God placed us in a state to act and not be acted upon. Nephi’s story with Laban to me is also another example. Learning to obey God — which does include trusting and sustaining and following His prophets — and trust the Atonement — which covers our inability to always do everything that every leader at every level in our life may ask us to do, is, imo, why we are here. We need both law and God’s love, as it were — justice and mercy, grace and works, times to say yes and times to say no…opportunities to learn by experience what is right and true and good and not, even if that is only for a moment. I think tension is where truth is often found.

  63. November 26, 2014 at 3:27 am

    I also really love this from Elder Holland. I think it’s relevant. From the 2008 WW leadership broadcast. The law and order of commandments and doctrine provide the pattern, ideal, standard that are for the world. We should sustain that role our leaders have with all our hearts. And we also must get revelation for how to apply what they teach in our specific circumstances…and we also accept the accountability to God for those choices, which is, I think, the thing that can protect against the slow potential spiritual death that could come from a law-unto-ourselves way of living.

    “We who are General Authorities and general officers are called to teach His general rules. You and we then lead specific lives and must seek the Lord’s guidance regarding specific circumstances. But there would be mass confusion and loss of gospel promises if no general ideal and no doctrinal standard were established and, in our case today, repeated. We take great strength in knowing the Lord has spoken on these matters, and we accept His counsel even when it might not be popular.”

  64. Tim
    November 26, 2014 at 8:03 am

    When I was an EQP, I would’ve much rather had people say no to callings like hometeaching than accept them and then not fulfill them.

    Unfortunately, the first option there will get you seriously stigmatized in a lot of wards. The second option is just business as usual.

  65. Steve Smith
    November 26, 2014 at 10:56 am

    Jonathan, OK I acknowledge some oversight on my part on the issue of stewardship. There are a couple of instances in which church leaders talk of being under another’s stewardship. Nonetheless, of all of the uses of the term stewardship, the idea of being under or within someone’s stewardship is still infrequent. I must reiterate that the term stewardship is often used very broadly in the discourse of church leaders (note Quentin Cook’s recent talk). It is not synonymous with the term ‘calling’ nor does it suggest that there is a strict hierarchy or chain of command existing in the LDS church. Also, nowhere in the scriptures or conference talks does the usage of the term stewardship convey the idea that people in positions of authority are to be obeyed as if they were God himself (unless of course they receive personal revelation). You come off as saying this, and it is simply not consistent with church doctrine.

    “Again, how would you propose to do this? You seem to indicate that you may place reason above Priesthood leaders to judge whether their instructions are divinely inspired, and now to place yourself in a position to judge the leader himself. Both of your positions are fundamentally incompatible with what we are permitted to do.”

    The reality is that there is no escape from reason. In fact, reason is very much a part of LDS doctrine (D&C 50:10 – And now come, saith the Lord, by the Spirit, unto the elders of his church, and let us reason together, that ye may understand). There is no escape from judgment either. Judge ye righteous judgment was Jesus’ injunction. Suppose your wife declared that she was an atheist, you expressed your concern to your bishop about not being able to have an eternal family, and he counseled you to divorce her (cases like these have actually happened), but you didn’t want to because you still loved her. Suppose you went to your stake president and he supported the bishop, then you went to your area authority and received no response. Would you be disobeying God to not divorce her? Might you want to reevaluate your bishop’s counsel? What I find ironic, Jonathan, is that you seem to be against reason if it leads you to a conclusion that would put you at odds with the counsel of a priesthood leader. Yet how are you crafting your arguments about how we’re supposed to have order in the LDS church if not through reason? I find your views austere, unsympathetic to most LDS people and their different situations, and ultimately inconsistent with LDS doctrine. What concerns me is the spread of your worldview within the LDS church. It is almost as if you are on a campaign to purge the church of fence sitters and middle pathers. Such a worldview doesn’t seem conducive to any sort of effective reactivation efforts.

  66. Steve Smith
    November 26, 2014 at 11:01 am

    DQ, I’ve seen a lot of Pharisee-like behavior in the LDS church and people who shame others for not being obedient with exactness to human beings (an idea that is actually not doctrinal, since obedience is to God and God alone). It is this sort of culture that pushes people away from the LDS church and interferes with missionary work and reactivation. In every missionary effort I ever participated in and witnessed, the idea is to entice people to come participate in church (while maintaining doctrinal standards of course), not drive them away through militant insistence on exact obedience to every last word of the leaders.

  67. robert
    November 26, 2014 at 11:07 am

    Disobey when the command makes no sense. You are ultimately in control of yourself and should view all commands from the church with scepticism. The leadership still believe in polygamy in the afterlife and brought you the racial ban for all those years. So, anything and everythimg they say should be scruitinized vigorously.

  68. November 26, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    Steve:
    “Also, nowhere in the scriptures or conference talks does the usage of the term stewardship convey the idea that people in positions of authority are to be obeyed as if they were God himself (unless of course they receive personal revelation).”

    Doctrine and Covenants 124:45-46
    “And if my people will hearken unto my voice, and unto the voice of my servants whom I have appointed to lead my people, behold, verily I say unto you, they shall not be moved out of their place.

    But if they will not hearken to my voice, nor unto the voice of these men whom I have appointed, they shall not be blest, because they pollute mine holy grounds, and mine holy ordinances, and charters, and my holy words which I give unto them.”

    The parallel drawn here between His voice and the voice of His servants who He appointed is clear.

    From Elder Dallin H. Oaks:
    “Some members or former members of our church fail to recognize the importance of the priesthood line. They underestimate the importance of the Church and its leaders and its programs. Relying entirely on the personal line, they go their own way, purporting to define doctrine and to direct competing organizations contrary to the teachings of prophet-leaders. In this they mirror the modern hostility to what is disparagingly called “organized religion.” Those who reject the need for organized religion reject the work of the Master, who established His Church and its officers in the meridian of time and who reestablished them in modern times.”

    Again from Elder Oaks:
    “We should all remember the Lord’s declaration in modern revelation that the voice of the Lord’s servants is the voice of the Lord.”

    Once more from Elder Oaks:
    “Similarly, we cannot communicate reliably through the direct, personal line if we are disobedient to or out of harmony with the priesthood line. The Lord has declared that “the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness” (D&C 121:36). Unfortunately, it is common for persons who are violating God’s commandments or disobedient to the counsel of their priesthood leaders to declare that God has revealed to them that they are excused from obeying some commandment or from following some counsel. Such persons may be receiving revelation or inspiration, but it is not from the source they suppose. The devil is the father of lies, and he is ever anxious to frustrate the work of God by his clever imitations.”

    And Elder Oaks’s conclusion:
    ” If personal religious practice relies too much on the personal line, individualism erases the importance of divine authority. If personal religious practice relies too much on the priesthood line, individual growth suffers. The children of God need both lines to achieve their eternal destiny.”

    I fear, Steve, that you have swung the pendulum too far towards the personal line (especially a personal line divorced from inspiration as its source and dedicated instead to reason and logic). Inspiration and Priesthood leadership are our two avenues to know the will of God to follow — and these two must be kept in balance. Reason has the nasty habit of displacing inspiration on the personal line and excusing the ignoring or minimizing of the priesthood line.

    Again, from you:
    “Suppose your wife declared that she was an atheist, you expressed your concern to your bishop about not being able to have an eternal family, and he counseled you to divorce her (cases like these have actually happened), but you didn’t want to because you still loved her. Suppose you went to your stake president and he supported the bishop, then you went to your area authority and received no response. Would you be disobeying God to not divorce her? Might you want to reevaluate your bishop’s counsel?”

    In that particular situation, I would go to the highest available source (the CHI — which states that Bishops and Stake Presidents are not to counsel to divorce). I would then recognize that the CHI controls in this situation. But let’s say your hypothetical was accurate, and the CHI was silent on the issue. My next step would be to take the matter to the Lord. If the Lord told me to stay married, I would stay married. If the Lord was silent or confirmed the counsel of the Bishop, I would follow that and divorce. Christ Himself advised those who sought to be His disciples to leave father and mother, husband and wife.

    I have too many experiences of watching the chaos that flows from people who chose not to follow the counsel of Priesthood leaders because they disagreed with it or they thought it was none of the Bishop’s business or similar thoughts. I have never, never seen it end well — I have seen nothing but disasters. On the other side, I have seen far too many miracles in the lives of people who followed counsel that they disagreed with solely to be obedient. Whether that counsel was right, or whether the Lord magnified it for their gain because of their obedience, the obedience that they showed for Him in how they followed His chosen leaders informs my decisions going forward.

    “What I find ironic, Jonathan, is that you seem to be against reason if it leads you to a conclusion that would put you at odds with the counsel of a priesthood leader. Yet how are you crafting your arguments about how we’re supposed to have order in the LDS church if not through reason?”

    There is nothing ironic about it. Logic and reason are valuable and help us come closer to God. To be learned is good if we hearken to the counsel of the Lord — it is only when we become wise in our own sight that logic and reason draw us away from God.

    “I find your views austere, unsympathetic to most LDS people and their different situations, and ultimately inconsistent with LDS doctrine.”

    Noted.

    “What concerns me is the spread of your worldview within the LDS church. It is almost as if you are on a campaign to purge the church of fence sitters and middle pathers. Such a worldview doesn’t seem conducive to any sort of effective reactivation efforts.”

    I have no desire to purge anyone from the Church (nor, frankly, would I have the capacity if I did have that goal). Come to Church wherever you are, and partake of the blessings of the Gospel. In time, the gentle pull of the Lord and His invitation to follow Him will lead us to greater and greater obedience to Him and a greater desire to follow His chosen leaders. We leave the 99 to seek out the 1 not to build a new fold around them where they are, but to invite and carry them back to the fold of the Shepherd. Ultimately each and every one of us will need to reach a point of perfect obedience — none of us are there, but it does no good to mislead about the standard we all must aspire to. Far better to be open and honest about what we need to reach for all while welcoming those who don’t yet meet that standard (which means everyone — as President Uchtdorf said each of us are hypocrites).

  69. November 26, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    One last point — note Elder Oaks made the statement “”disobedient to the counsel of their priesthood leaders.” This language spoke of obedience (specifically disobedience) in the context of priesthood counsel — I have seen the argument that obedience is inappropriately used in this context. It is clear that Elder Oaks would disagree.

  70. jcobabe
    November 26, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    My own experience seems so different from what is characterized here. At some point in time during my own evolution toward discipleship, I came to feel that obedience and my testimony are informed by the same source. From that day, I have found peace and confidence by obedience. I get the impression that other people continually agonize over every minute detail, and see nothing but conflict and indecision at every encounter with the Gospel. Their testimony seems to suggest that they wrestle mightily every minute of the day, and continually teeter at the abyss of apostasy.

    My personal resolve, as I prepared for baptism, was that the Spirit has confirmed that I am on the path of righteousness. From that time forward, I have not felt obligated to confirm or reanswer every question I encounter along the way. I don’t need to renew multiple times my committment to obey the Word of Wisdom or the Law of Chastity, or to know that the Book of Mormon is revealed truth. I have the courage of my convictions, not finding any need to revisit foundational principles.

    I don’t commonly get in fights over ideological roots with Church members or leaders. Local leaders are my friends. They generally show love and hope that their service will further the purposes of God.

    When we have differences, we settle them with the assumption that we are seeking common good, not posturing or antagonistic. My bishop and stake president are not perfect, and are generally quite anxious for everyone to understand that they fully recognize this, and that we are working together to arrive at the same destination.

  71. Steve Smith
    November 26, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    Jonathan, not one of those examples mentions the word stewardship. Obedience to leaders (yes, Oaks’ talk does strongly suggest obedience to LDS leaders’ counsel, yet another extraordinary usage of the term ‘disobedience’), stewardship as hierarchy, etc., these are all ideas that are mostly implied. Look, if the LDS leaders can’t give me a solid definition of ‘obey’ and ‘stewardship,’ then I’m forced to come up with my own based on how they use the terms and the context (and there is often a lot of confusion because there are a lot of instances and contexts). Obedience to leaders may be implied, but there are not too many circumstances when it is directly stated. If strict obedience to leaders’ words is so desired by the church, then why not just come out and say it as “obey the leaders’ words” (might it sound cultish, I don’t know)? Why say ‘obey God’ and then have it implied that this means obey everything the leaders say without question? Why bother saying that leaders are fallible when it seems to be implied, according to your argumentation, that we should treat them as infallible? There is a similar sort of ambiguity with the term stewardship. It may imply a hierarchical structure in the church, but it still isn’t entirely clear.

    “I have never, never seen it end well — I have seen nothing but disasters”

    I don’t know about you, but I personally know many people who are plenty happy (if not happier in the case of my gay friend who married his gay partner) outside the LDS church and do not live their lives in compliance with what LDS church leaders want. But I have also seen many active LDS people who won’t leave them alone and almost deliberately try to make their lives miserable (especially in cases where a child or spouse leaves the church). We cannot draw any correlation between happiness and observance of LDS church standards. The LDS church lifestyle may be a noble and satisfying way of living for many, but it is not the only way to achieve happiness and satisfaction in life.

    “especially a personal line divorced from inspiration as its source and dedicated instead to reason and logic”

    Are inspiration and reason/logic mutually exclusive? Why not interpret a reasoned thought as inspiration, or even personal revelation for that matter? And this leads to another important issue. What in the world is revelation? How do I know what is a personal revelation and what isn’t? If personal revelation trumps a counsel from a priesthood leader (as you maintain), why not just claim all instances of seeming non-compliance with leaders’ counsels as personal revelation? Elder Oaks talks of being deceived by Satan. OK, how do I know if my personal revelation was a deception of Satan or not? Pray for more personal revelation? Seems like circular reasoning.

    On the note of circular reasoning, there was one other thing that I was going to point out, but forgot, in an earlier comments of yours that I could not understand: “By definition, if someone under your stewardship is experiencing growth, then someone is under your stewardship.” So we know if someone under our stewardship is indeed under our stewardship if someone under our stewardship is experiencing growth? I’m really scratching my head hear.

  72. Steve Smith
    November 26, 2014 at 1:21 pm

    Scratching my head here.

  73. November 26, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    Steve, now you are just being a bit silly.

    “So we know if someone under our stewardship is indeed under our stewardship if someone under our stewardship is experiencing growth? I’m really scratching my head hear.”

    The point is that if there is someone under your stewardship experiencing growth (the quote) then there must be a circumstance where someone is under someone else’s stewardship (the point you initially denied). I used that quote to clearly show that there were people under the stewardship of others, and showed how taking the quote at face value showed the principle to be so self-evident as to approach a tautology.

    “We cannot draw any correlation between happiness and observance of LDS church standards. The LDS church lifestyle may be a noble and satisfying way of living for many, but it is not the only way to achieve happiness and satisfaction in life.”

    What is the Gospel, if not living after the manner of happiness? Choosing the right always leads to happiness…eventually. Wickedness never was happiness. If we attempt to follow a path where we seek happiness in our wickedness, we eventually run across a point where we are no longer able to do so. We may find enjoyment in sin for a time, but not forever. Following the Savior, wholly and completely, is the only way to ultimately achieve happiness and satisfaction.

    “How do I know what is a personal revelation and what isn’t?”

    It seems that this quote (indeed, your whole paragraph) reveal a great deal more than you intend. This is the crux of the problem. If you cannot know what is personal revelation or not, then really there is no point in continuing the discussion any longer. My comments are intended for someone who has received by revelation confirmation of the truth of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and the restoration of the Priesthood of God on Earth. By receiving that witness, we come to recognize what the Spirit is like and how it communicates with us (we taste spiritual salt, to copy the phrase). Although we all struggle at times with discerning what is inspiration and what isn’t, it isn’t a matter of ‘claiming’ something is inspiration. Based upon your comment here, you really give the game away.

    If your position is that disobedience to revealed counsel from the Lord through the Prophet can lead us to greater happiness and their is no way to truly know when we have received revelation from God, then there is no common ground for a discussion on the merits of obedience to Priesthood leaders. Both the personal line and the priesthood line of communication Elder Oaks spoke of are broken in your model.

  74. Steve Smith
    November 26, 2014 at 5:01 pm

    “It seems that this quote (indeed, your whole paragraph) reveal a great deal more than you intend”

    No, it is a valid question. If we take everything that the LDS church leaders have ever claimed or hinted at to be revelation and doctrine, we end up with a number of contradictions (i.e. God’s conditional/unconditional love, interracial marriages against God’s will or not, can we have personal relationship with Jesus or not, etc.). I think the leaders’ words are best viewed as approximations towards truth, which aren’t always clear or consistent. We have no choice but to pick and choose what we like and want to follow and what we don’t like. There is no way to engage the leaders’ words than through reason. But sometimes, people’s reasoning is flawed, based on bad or insufficient evidence and lots of assumptions.

    One point that I would really like you to respond to is why inspiration/revelation have to be seen as different from or contrary to reason and logic.

  75. November 26, 2014 at 6:12 pm

    “One point that I would really like you to respond to is why inspiration/revelation have to be seen as different from or contrary to reason and logic.”

    Steve, to answer your question let me quote a prophet.

    “Call it blind faith if you like, but it is faith. It is not the product of reason. The gospel will be found to be reasonable, but we do not take it because of reason. Logic is the father of hundreds of sects; it is the mother of the great apostasy. Revelation is the rock and the Lord has given us the key above.”
    –Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, pg. 56.

    It is pretty clear the distinction between revelation (the rock) and reason/logic (the mother of the great apostasy).

    I mentioned earlier Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I quote from “The Cost of Discipleship:”

    “[Speaking of the rich young ruler] He is challenged to drop the academic question, and recalled to a simple obedience to the will of God as it has been revealed…He neglects the unmistakable command of God for the very interesting, but purely human concern of his own moral difficulties…[Satan teaches] Man must decide for himself what is good by using his conscience and knowledge of good and evil. The commandments may be variously interpreted, and it is God’s will that it should be interpreted and explained: for God has given man a free will to decide what he will do. But this means disobedience from the start. Doubt and reflection take the place of spontaneous obedience…The only answer to his difficulties is the very commandment of God, which challenges him to have done with academic discussion and to get on with the task of obedience. Only the devil has an answer for our moral difficulties, and he says: ‘Keep on posing problems, and you will escape the necessity of obedience.'”

    “We have no choice but to pick and choose what we like and want to follow and what we don’t like.”

    I can think of a much better choice — instead of picking and choosing, we follow according to principles, and receive revelation on how to apply them into our lives. Picking and choosing what to follow from the leaders, again, demonstrates that both the personal and the priesthood line of communication with the Lord is broken in your model. You are advocating a philosophy that would leave you and all who follow it completely adrift and reliant only upon the arm of flesh (your intellect) and the management of the creature to bring about salvation. How could you possibly know whether you are picking or choosing correctly? Do you guess? Do you put your wisdom and knowledge above the potential inspiration of the Lord’s chosen leaders? If the leaders have received inspiration, and yet you pick or choose not to follow them (because you cannot receive inspiration for them in their callings, and the wisdom of God often appears as foolishness unto man) where does that leave you?

    “There is no way to engage the leaders’ words than through reason.”

    Nonsense. “Brother Joseph, what would you have me do?” I have just demonstrated where someone engaged a leader’s words through faith and obedience rather than logic and reason. Logic and reason said that Joseph was wrong in his criticism of Brigham. Faith told Brigham that Joseph was the Lord’s Prophet. He obeyed and was blessed for it.

  76. Geoff - Aus
    November 26, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    There is no gospel principle of obedience. There is a principle of agency. When I say there is no principle of obedience I mean that being obedient by it’s self is not Gospel.

    The Saviour said if ye love me keep my commandments. Being obedient is not one of his commandments.

    Living the Gospel requires living Gods laws. Many of the church laws are (like the priesthood ban) the culture of our leaders. There is no scripture or revelation, against gay marriage. The few scriptures quoted can be interpreted differently. The opposition is the conservative culture of Utah.

    All the scriptures that talk about modesty 1Timothy 2;9 & Jacob 2;13 for example define modesty as nit wearing costly apparel and being proud. The definition the church uses is not the gospel but the conservative culture of US again.

    WE ARE TO KEEP GODS COMMANDMENTS. OBEDIENCE IS NOT ONE OF HIS COMMANDMENTS!

  77. Josh Smith
    November 26, 2014 at 7:35 pm

    Johnathan Cavendar,

    Reason and logic as the “mother of the great apostasy”? Seriously?

    Honestly, I don’t know how someone makes it to adulthood with your views. It’s my experience that anyone who genuinely engages the world, reads books, exposes oneself to different cultures, and has any exposure to history is eager to approach life with a wee bit more nuance, a wee bit more humility.

  78. November 26, 2014 at 7:45 pm

    Geoff:
    “There is no scripture or revelation, against gay marriage.”

    How do you know this to be true. Do you claim that you received revelation for the Prophet and the Church? Or are you putting your intelligence and reason above the leadership of the Church? Or are you picking and choosing what you believe to be revelation?

    Or, and can you be open sufficiently to admit this to be possible, the leaders of the Church might actually be right in what they are doing and might have received revelation on the subject? If so, where does that leave you if you kick against the pricks?

    “WE ARE TO KEEP GODS COMMANDMENTS. OBEDIENCE IS NOT ONE OF HIS COMMANDMENTS!”

    Paul would disagree. Frequently. Romans 5:19, Hebrews 5:8 (unless you somehow argue obedience is good for Christ but not us), 2 Corinthians 10:5, Romans 6:16, and on and on.

  79. November 26, 2014 at 7:47 pm

    Josh:

    “Honestly, I don’t know how someone makes it to adulthood with your views. It’s my experience that anyone who genuinely engages the world, reads books, exposes oneself to different cultures, and has any exposure to history is eager to approach life with a wee bit more nuance, a wee bit more humility.”

    It was not my words but a direct quote from President Spencer W. Kimball. Perhaps you feel he has not genuinely engaged the world, read books, or exposed himself to different cultures, exposed himself to history, or was insufficiently humble. I feel differently about the man.

  80. Josh Smith
    November 26, 2014 at 7:57 pm

    Jonathan Cavendar,

    I was wrong to phrase it as I did. I’m sorry.

    According to your worldview, can an individual who has nothing to do with a Mormon prophet live a moral life? That is, can a non-Mormon live a moral life even though he disobeys and disregards a Mormon prophet?

  81. November 26, 2014 at 8:02 pm

    Josh:

    “It’s my experience that anyone who genuinely engages the world, reads books, exposes oneself to different cultures, and has any exposure to history is eager to approach life with a wee bit more nuance, a wee bit more humility.”

    One last point — there is a particular conceit among the ‘nuance’ crowd that those who espouse obedience are naive, sheltered, or haven’t had challenges. This comment demonstrates that conceit quite well — I can only hold my position because I haven’t been exposed to other positions. You will also see the similar conceit that ‘its easy for you to say that, you haven’t face XYZ challenge.’

    The reality is some of the greatest thinkers of all time came to the same position that I have (not that I place myself on their level). C. S. Lewis reached the point where he held largely the same position — he was no dullard. Aquinas, ultimately, reached a similar conclusion both on obedience and the weakness of logic and reason (claiming that all he ever wrote was as straw). I’ve mentioned Kimball. The more I read, including reading those who thought deeply and well on what it means to walk the path of discipleship of Christ, the more I come back to the answer that it really isn’t that complicated.

  82. November 26, 2014 at 8:03 pm

    Josh:
    “According to your worldview, can an individual who has nothing to do with a Mormon prophet live a moral life? That is, can a non-Mormon live a moral life even though he disobeys and disregards a Mormon prophet?”

    Yes he can. Countless good and decent people have. Better men and women than myself have been born, lived, and died outside the Gospel, and I know the Lord will judge them fairly.

  83. Sue
    November 26, 2014 at 8:05 pm

    Jonathon, be open to what Steve is saying. I understand your reasoning and your faith. It is simple and beautiful. It was my faith for 38 years until my world came crashing down. I dipped 7 times in Jordan to be healed as I desperately felt that I did not know how to live or how to die. The way to healing was not by what I was taught by bishops, stake presidents, general conference, in prayer, scripture study or church meetings.
    I did not have a Satan sitting on my shoulder telling me all the shaming “not good enough” thoughts that we love to put upon each other at church. It is philosophies of men mingled with scripture.
    There is a more peaceful and a greater path to happiness. Study mythology by Joseph Campbell (lectures free on spotify) to see why we have lived and been taught as we do. It helps understand why we become so close minded and intolerant of others with our “one truth” narrative. We are like a childish church and many are seeking greater depth and some are just content being told what to do (that is ok as well) but be mindful that those who have trials like Naaman who seek inspiration to find healing and surprised at what they find are just as valid. (yes, I don’t see that story as a “follow the prophet” story but a path to healing and revelation from God story – never the path I would have taken if I did not need healing desperately from a crippling condition made worse by the church’s narrative).

    In therapy the first thing I learned was “that is black/white thinking or all/nothing thinking”. Cognitive distortions that prevent adult behavior. It is not so simple to just obey, follow the prophet, or only use revelation. I believe if we pray, we can receive any answer we want to get and feel good about it but to actually travel into the wilderness of doubt and suffering to find healing, the answers are not so simple. I will use a strong word and say I hate commandments. They are for children under 8. They are for the Israelite’s who didn’t want to grow up after being told what to do their whole life. That is not what God wants, but we do get that in our “modern day” revelation. Growing up is about inner dept and inner transformation and not outward doing and observances. The path to heaven is not a to-do list of ordinances and covenants to check off. They are only symbols that we have lost as the only way to salvation.
    I also know Jonathon how it is to believe as you do. That was me. I understand but don’t argue with Steve over something you know nothing about. He (I don’t even know who he is) understands depth that your brain can’t process as mine couldn’t without someone helping me see what I didn’t have “eyes to see or ears to hear”. Please be open and also we all must meet others where they are – and so I accept your simple path as well. I have found I am not able to talk to most of my friends at church anymore about my beliefs because they just think I am__________(fill in the blank) apostate, gone astray, faithless, etc…if they only knew the path. I still would not trade my grown-up faith for their simple faith. It is much more beautiful to see the oneness we all share without any rules but only love.

  84. Josh Smith
    November 26, 2014 at 8:10 pm

    Johnathan,

    By what principles would you judge the non-Mormomon to determine whether he lived well, though he disobeyed a prophet?

    (I’m going to dinner, but I’ll check back in later this evening.)

  85. November 26, 2014 at 8:15 pm

    Sue:
    I won’t respond point by point because I believe that would be counterproductive. But I will mention that this is a prime example of what I just mentioned — ‘its easy for you to say that, you haven’t face XYZ challenge.’

    You treat me exactly the way that you believe that I treat you. You inform me that I cannot understand you because I lack the depth that would come from walking your path — not knowing my history. I will only respond my saying two things — I have walked much of the road you are on now (more than you might think), and I have found my way back to the simple faith and that stronger and brighter than before.

  86. November 26, 2014 at 8:28 pm

    Josh:
    I haven’t got a clue, honestly — that is why judging is left up to Him. Ultimately the question is whether when the Savior calls, do we leave our nets and follow Him. Those of us who have been granted the blessing of spiritual confirmation of Priesthood authority being returned to the Earth would be morally obligated to follow them. Those who have not, would not. But again, that is strictly me thinking aloud.

    But note what that means — it means that the arguments that those (such as myself) advocating obedience are judging others really means no such thing. After all, let’s assume that Steve (and I am only using him as an example because I have engaged him in this thread — I don’t me to cast aspersions) has received a testimony of the Book of Mormon, but not of Priesthood authority. Let’s assume that Steve has not been slothful in any way in his approach to this important issue, but the Lord’s timetable has Steve’s answer to arrive at some future point. In fact, let us assume that the Spirit has taken no steps to confirm Priesthood authority to Steve in any way to this point. Is Steve morally condemned for not following that authority? My guess is that he is not. So I am in no position to judge him.

    But that also doesn’t change my responses to him. The principle of obedience to Priesthood leaders is true whether we believe in them or not. The same counsel to one who has received a testimony of Priesthood authority (obey the authority you know to be true) is the same counsel for one who has not, but is received differently (obey and the Spirit will confirm it to be true). In no case does that put me or anyone else in a position to judge. Rather, it is just an attempt to mimic the call of the Savior to come follow Him.

  87. Josh Smith
    November 26, 2014 at 10:01 pm

    Johnathan,

    Let me try and ask the question another way …

    Assume I’m black. Assume it’s 1977. Assume I want to marry a woman who is white.

    Prophet: black men should not marry white women.

    If I’m not Mormon, am I morally justified in marrying a white woman?

    If I’m Mormon, am I morally justified in marrying a white woman?

  88. Sue
    November 26, 2014 at 10:13 pm

    Jonathan, I don’t dismiss your path. I accept your XYZ challenges and your way back to simple faith. That road is not easy either. I commend you for making priesthood, prophets, authority, obedience etc work for you. That is not easy either. I guess I just am grateful to not feel alone in my path (probably considered an apostate in ward council right now). Your testimony is yours and you must defend it. I guess i just don’t have a testimony of anything right now except that I have a testimony of a “Kingdom of God within” and I create with my beliefs (i.e faith). God and Faith…simple after all.

  89. Sue
    November 26, 2014 at 10:24 pm

    Josh, I was sick last week and read most of my (and my husbands) pioneer ancestors journals. I read hundreds of pages of old journals. My great great great grandfather (not sure exactly the number of greats) but he was asked my an apostle to take an Indian (lamanite) woman as a second wife so her skin would become whiter through posterity. He told the apostle that he always felt he should follow good examples and that when he took an Indian woman as a wife, he would take one. He didn’t take one to wife. That was all he mentioned of the subject. He later did have a total of 7 wives but when he made that comment he only had one. This does not make any spiritual or logical sense to me. This seems to be the history of the church from my standpoint (and it seems you see the craziness of the history as well.)

  90. November 26, 2014 at 10:34 pm

    Josh:
    “If I’m not Mormon, am I morally justified in marrying a white woman?
    If I’m Mormon, am I morally justified in marrying a white woman?”

    First of all, I don’t believe your statement attributable to the Prophet is accurate. Interracial marriages were not recommended “generally” which is a far cry from the statement that “black men should not marry white women.” But, for the sake of argument, I will accept your premise as to your description of what the position of the Priesthood leadership of the Church was in 1977.

    I’m a Mormon, and I pray about the subject. If the Lord confirms that I should marry her, then yes I (in fact should) marry her and be morally justified. If I pray and I receive no answer or the Lord tells me no, then under your hypothetical presuming the hypothetical counsel you attribute to the Prophet, I am not morally justified to marry her.

    If I’m not a Mormon, then the counsel of the Priesthood leaders on the subject (presuming that I have no testimony of their calling, nor could I have) would not be applicable to me. My more pressing matter is to come to a knowledge of the restored Gospel.

  91. November 26, 2014 at 10:36 pm

    Sue:
    I genuinely wish you the best. God loves you and you are his precious daughter.

  92. Josh Smith
    November 26, 2014 at 11:15 pm

    Johnathan:

    We’re getting somewhere.

    “When to disobey?” (#91) When God prompts you in prayer to disobey.

    Yeah. I think you’re right on that one.

    “When to disobey?” (91) When you’re not Mormon.

    I’m going to push back a bit here. In the example I gave, where I’m black and want to marry a white woman, couldn’t we make a decent argument that the moral choice is to disobey?

    Responsibility–I’m willing to bear the consequences of my decision.
    Courage–it takes courage to do what you feel in your heart to be right, even if others disapprove.
    Racial equality–same skin color is an arbitrary and capricious marriage requirement.
    Freedom–it is generally good for people to be able to make their own decisions, particularly on matters of the heart.
    Community–marriage gives one obligations that tend to provide stability for a community.

    We could go on. Can we agree that a non-Mormon may be right to disobey?

    (If I’m getting annoying, please feel free to ignore me.)

  93. November 26, 2014 at 11:40 pm

    Josh:

    You are not getting annoying, I assure you. However, I believe you have jumped the gun a bit.

    When God prompts in prayer, that is not an excuse to disobey. It is, rather, obedience to a higher authority.

    When someone is not Mormon, it may be that the given law does not apply to them or it may be that they do not have moral consequences for disobedience because they do not have the law. But even in that case disobedience is still not a moral virtue. Although there are small (yet significant) differences, an analogy to baptism may be appropriate. If I am a non-Mormon, yet a good and honorable person who would have followed with all my heart, then I suffer no moral condemnation for not receiving baptism. But that does not mean that I am justified in disobeying the commandment to be baptized.

    Like I said, that analogy can be inappropriately stretched (most notably because baptism is a saving ordinance, with a cascade of consequences as a result), but it is a useful analogy so far as it applies.

  94. Josh Smith
    November 27, 2014 at 11:55 am

    Johnathan,

    I’m interested in the idea of “obedience to a higher authority.” (94) If you have a moment, I’d be interested in your thoughts on that.

    I’m also still worried about how a non-Mormon lives a good life without obeying the prophet. Here’s the situation: there are 7 billion people on earth, and 6,985,000,000 of those people live life without a Mormon prophet. Many of them live better lives than you or me. (83) What attributes make up a “good” life without a prophet?

  95. November 27, 2014 at 1:55 pm

    Josh:

    The Lord is a higher authority than the Prophet, therefore inspiration (or direct communication from the Lord) trumps the Prophet in the same sense that the Prophet trumps the Bishop.

    As for what makes a good life, it is living according to the truth we have. Ultimately this life is a test — it is only a test — to see if we will put God first in all things. We do that according to our ability and understanding. If I am putting God first in the best way that I know how, then I am living a good life. Again, we cannot make judgments (we simply are not qualified) but I would be willing to bet that an active Pentecostal has a good chance of being more justified than an apostate anti-Mormon that once received a testimony through the Spirit of the Book of Mormon. A devout, orthodox Jew is likely better off than a lackadaisical Mormon.

    Do we put the Lord first in all that we do? There is no good but God, and to the extent we strive to follow Him completely we walk the path of discipleship regardless of our faith or Church membership. Now that doesn’t change the fact that we have the Priesthood authority in this Church and no other, but we do not have a monopoly on either truth or righteous living.

  96. November 29, 2014 at 7:40 am

    Some years ago, I was asked to be RS President. I had rec’d a clear impression from the Spirit before I was asked that I was to be a RS counsellor. I told the Bishop and his counselor that, but they dismissed my revelation. Six months later I was released, and I spent the next two years recuperating from a physical breakdown and a depressive break.

    A few years ago, I was the target of emotional abuse by a Bishop and one of his counselors. The Bishop had been previously counseled by the Stake President to handle a situation concerning me in a more positive way. Not even a month later, without warning, I was in the Bishop’s office where I was accused of many things and advised not to talk or e-mail anyone in the ward. I asked for specifics; I wasn’t given any. I left the office broken, didn’t return for 8 months. The gospel has seen me through many a rough patch, but this experience taught me to rely solely on Heavenly Father and not on the arm of flesh. Although I believe the Brethren are pretty close to perfect, I view the local leadership with a healthy skepticism. I support them in having the office of Bishop or whatever; however, I do not support them in all of the decisions they make…

  97. Steve Smith
    November 29, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    I will speak in defense of Jonathan Cavender, even though I disagree with him. His position is quite simple. The church is a house of order, and in order to maintain order we should obey God, and we best obey God by obeying LDS leaders, whose authority to speak for God we accept on faith. We are excused from obeying a leaders’ counsel when it contradicts the counsel of a higher leader, when a higher leader says differently, and when receive personal revelation from God. This is quite a common position among LDS believers, although most cannot clearly articulate this position and defend it the way Jonathan does.

    Jonathan’s arguments have the same problems that the church leaders’ arguments have. Neither he nor they can define what a revelation is or tell us how we distinguish between what is and what isn’t a revelation. They also have this notion that personal revelation and reason do not mesh. If what constitutes a personal revelation cannot be nailed down and defined, why not simply interpret a position that you arrive at through reason and logic to be personal revelation? Some say that an intense spiritual feeling must be felt for you to know if it is personal revelation. OK, I have felt very intense feelings after arriving at an idea through reason. Why not say that these feelings are spiritual and revelatory?

    Jonathan (75), you took my words out of context. On a case by case basis, you can follow the leaders’ words on faith, as did Brigham Young, but on the whole you cannot. For there are so many logical inconsistencies in their words across space and time, and so much vagueness and variance in how they use words (such as obey, stewardship, etc.) that we have no choice but to engage them through reason.

  98. ji
    November 29, 2014 at 5:54 pm

    D&C 1 says every man may speak in the name of God.

    D&C 121 says that a priesthood holder has to do everything by persuasion and love infringed and so forth, and not by command or compulsion. Rather than a command-and-obey model such as espoused by Jonathan, I prefer to think of an invitation-and-offering model as the approach expected by the Lord and also by the leaders of the Church. But I think we’re talking right past each other.

    For the life of me, I cannot think of a matter in which a priesthood holder would command me, and require my obedience. This model simply has not been part of the reality of my church experience.

  99. November 30, 2014 at 5:26 pm

    Jude49:
    It is hard to respond to someone’s history, because almost certainly if I respond I will misrepresent what actually happened to you — which is both unfair and unproductive. Instead, I want to use what you wrote as a hypothetical. And based upon that, and nothing else, it would appear that things worked the way they were supposed to.

    Your Bishop, presumably, handled matters in the wrong way. Your Stake President, as i am understanding you, directed your Bishop to take a different approach which your Bishop rejected. In the event that the Bishop confronted you, you are always able to take the matter up the chain — in this case, contacting the Stake President and explaining your issue. This may have resolved the matter short of damage to you. Again, treating this only as a hypothetical (despite using “you”) because there are likely a thousand different things about the situation that I just don’t know.

    I can take a personal example. I was dealing with my Bishop and I disagreed with him. The disagreement with his counsel was serious, and the consequences of a wrong decision were significant. Frustrated with the process, I was fortunate enough to speak with a member of the temple presidency who advised me that in my situation I needed to “run, not walk” to see my Stake President and explain things.

    I did so, and my Stake President was invaluable to the process. Here’s the kicker, though — after about two or three months, I realized that my Bishop was right and I had been wrong the whole time. If I had simply gone with my intellectual response and said my Bishop was wrong, I would have been doing the wrong thing and would be stuck doing the wrong thing.

    Steve:
    Thank you for your kind words, and I do apologize for taking your words out of context. To respond more particularly:

    “Neither he nor they can define what a revelation is or tell us how we distinguish between what is and what isn’t a revelation.”

    Revelation is communication Spirit to spirit, whereby the Lord communicates with that part of us that is eternal and existed with Him before coming to mortality (just an attempt off the top of my head — it may have flaws, but it captures the gist of things). Distinguish what is and what isn’t revelation is a lifetime process — it is a matter of hearing the Lord’s voice amidst the cacophony and developing that relationship with the Lord such that we hear the voice of our Shepherd. The fact that it is difficult does not negate the fact that it is necessary.

    “They also have this notion that personal revelation and reason do not mesh.”

    Reason is great — I don’t think I waste my time reading Augustine, Lewis, Aquinas, Bonhoeffer, Nibley, and so forth. Reason just isn’t a replacement for revelation. To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, a man with a capable intellect without a relationship with God just becomes a more powerful devil, he doesn’t become an angel. Reason is great as far as it goes, but the problem comes when we attempt to take it too far.

    “If what constitutes a personal revelation cannot be nailed down and defined, why not simply interpret a position that you arrive at through reason and logic to be personal revelation?”

    To quote Abraham Lincoln, “How many legs would a sheep have if we called a tail a leg? Four — it doesn’t matter what we call a thing, it matters what it is.” You may interpret a position that you arrive at through reason and logic to be personal revelation, but that isn’t what it is. Personal revelation is the arm of the Lord, reason and logic is the arm of flesh.

    “Some say that an intense spiritual feeling must be felt for you to know if it is personal revelation. OK, I have felt very intense feelings after arriving at an idea through reason. Why not say that these feelings are spiritual and revelatory?”

    Now I can’t presume to know whether what you are describe here is a spiritual experience or not, but it doesn’t argue against my point. If you come to ideas through reason, and the Spirit confirms some of those ideas, then your reason becomes a mechanism for spiritual manifestations in the same way Joseph pondering the scriptures brought us Doctrine and Covenants 76. But notice that there must be both (or, rather, the reason and logic only serve the purpose of bringing us to the spiritual experience). If I think something, but the Spirit doesn’t testify to it, then it is only my reasoning and not something spiritual — nor can it eclipse Priesthood authority. If I reason to something, and upon reaching that conclusion the Spirit testifies that this conclusion (reached through reason) is true, then I am justified not because of the reason that led me to the conclusion but by the Spirit which testified of the conclusion.

    “Jonathan (75), you took my words out of context. On a case by case basis, you can follow the leaders’ words on faith, as did Brigham Young, but on the whole you cannot. For there are so many logical inconsistencies in their words across space and time, and so much vagueness and variance in how they use words (such as obey, stewardship, etc.) that we have no choice but to engage them through reason.”

    On this, we will have to disagree. I am well-acquainted with just about every proposed inconsistency but they don’t trouble me nor do I have any problem engaging them without attempting to reason through them. I accept a couple of key principles — that we believe in living prophets and apostles, that we believe them to be fallible, that we are most often taught what to do through revelation and the why is often our best understandings at the time, that the saying of the prophet today is instruction to us and the saying of the prophet back then was instruction to the people back then, and so forth.

    ji:
    “D&C 121 says that a priesthood holder has to do everything by persuasion and love infringed and so forth, and not by command or compulsion.”

    I don’t disagree at all.

    “For the life of me, I cannot think of a matter in which a priesthood holder would command me, and require my obedience.”

    I think you are right that this is a matter of us talking past one another. Way back at the beginning of these comments I posted that we are to obey God and Him only. Priesthood leaders, acting within their stewardships, can issue the call “Come follow Him.” It can be general, as in a talk in Sacrament Meeting, or it may be specific, as in an assignment to accept a calling. We have models of the Savior doing both of these things — the Sermon on the Mount and issuing the call to the rich young ruler to sell all that he had and give to the poor and come follow Christ. A leader has no virtue to command anyone in and of themselves, but their calling and role as a representative of the Savior may invite (assign) us to come follow Him in many ways.

  100. Josh Smith
    December 1, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    Johnathan, Just a quick note to let you know that I read your comment, #96. Thank you for the discussion on this post, and thank you for your thoughtful posts.

    My own position on “obedience” and “sustaining” is anything but principled. My position is muddled. It’s not a position that I would advocate emulating, but … it’s mine, at least right now it’s mine.

    The lion’s share of decisions in my life don’t matter. If a priesthood leader is asking me to obey a dictate over a subject area that I don’t think really matters, then I ignore the priesthood leader. Here’s the test to determine whether a decision matters: “Is this decision something I would expect a mature adult to figure out on his or her own?” If it’s something a mature adult can decide without guidance from another, I’m going to ignore the priesthood leader. My guiding principle is this, “Life is complicated enough.” (Note that I’m not trying to persuade you or anyone else on this matter.)

    Another bundle of decisions seem to matter, or at least the decisions feel like they matter. When I was single, these decisions were left to me. Now that I’m married, my wife and I together make these choices. We try and talk openly about our joint decisions that seem to matter. The older I get, the less I try and seek the guidance of others in making these decisions. I find that I’m increasingly willing to accept the consequences of my choices, good and bad. I’m less interested in following someone else’s guidance and more interested in sharing whatever may be with my wife. And finding humor when things turn out differently than hoped. I guess in summary, I’m more interested in working out an open solution with my wife and living with the consequences than I am in obeying or disobeying a church leader. Hopefully that makes sense.

    Another bundle of decisions have to do with how I’ll respond to church programs and processes. Those decisions aren’t too tough. Here’s my principled approach to meetings, callings, programs, meetings, processes, plans, and meetings: “I’m going to die someday, probably sooner rather than latter. Do I want to spend my time in this program/meeting?”

    Let me see if I can summarize my current approach …

    “When to disobey?” When the consequences don’t matter, when the consequences matter and I’m willing to accept the consequences together with my wife, and when someone needs to be told ‘no’.”

    (This approach is subject to change.)

  101. Steve Smith
    December 1, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    Jonathan, thanks for the stimulating and spirited discussion. As I noted before, I think that a sizable number of members and leaders in the LDS church are oriented more towards your thinking, but a fair number (probably in the minority among actives) lean towards mine. So it is beneficial to have these sorts of discussions, especially because these aren’t the types of discussions had at length in the chapel and because many find it hard to maintain an even keel when talking about such sensitive topics.
    A couple of responses: “Distinguish what is and what isn’t revelation is a lifetime process — it is a matter of hearing the Lord’s voice amidst the cacophony and developing that relationship with the Lord such that we hear the voice of our Shepherd. The fact that it is difficult does not negate the fact that it is necessary.”

    If revelation does actually exist as the LDS church explains it, and it is a lifetime process to discern what it is, by what process should we distinguish what is and what isn’t revelation if not through reason? At any rate, here you suggest that revelation isn’t immediately clear. And, assuming that revelation does exist and it is distinct from reason/logic, if personal revelation isn’t immediately apparent to you, why should we assume that what LDS church leaders claim to be revelation is more apparent to them? Is something a revelation simply because someone strongly insists and says in a solemn and commanding voice that they certain speech constitutes a revelation? Lots and lots of people claim to have received revelation. If we take all the words that people have claimed as God’s revelations and juxtaposed them, we couldn’t make any sense out of them. According to LDS tradition, it is revelation that Jesus is the Son of God, but according to the Qur’an, which Muhammad claimed to be the words of God, it is blasphemy to believe that Jesus is God’s son.

    “If I think something, but the Spirit doesn’t testify to it, then it is only my reasoning and not something spiritual — nor can it eclipse Priesthood authority”

    This leads to the question of what it means for the Spirit to testify to something and how we know that for sure. And the salt analogy that you alluded to earlier in our discussion may not necessarily work. I can tell you the properties of salt, where we find it, and provide some for you to taste.

    Now trying to tie this back to the OP, if we aren’t sure when the LDS leaders are speaking for God, but we want to accept that they do receive some revelation, then why not just see them as people making good faith approximations as to God’s words and then try to help orient them in a moral direction based on our experiences with reason/logic and revelation?

  102. December 1, 2014 at 9:09 pm

    You make a great point about how we sustain our leaders, not in spite of the fact that they aren’t perfect, but precisely because they aren’t perfect.

    As for obedience, I think it’s very important to pray about matters of obedience, and not just to decide if we should obey or ignore something a leader says.

    I still can/should pray about obedience to, say, the law of chastity – not because I’d expect God to tell me it’s okay not to obey it, but because prayer can help me gain a testimony of that commandment and better understand why God requires it of me. I think this kind of obedience is always preferable to God over “I’ll do it because my leader told me to” obedience.

  103. December 1, 2014 at 9:20 pm

    Another thought: counsel is different than a commandment. Commandments are, except in a very few extreme cases (like Nephi being told to kill Laban), one size fits all. Generally speaking, commandments are right for all people, all the time. I’d have a hard time believing anyone who claimed a revelation that they were exempt from the law of chastity, for example.

    But counsel is not always commandment, even when it comes from a leader. General counsel describes the ideal pattern that will be right for MOST people MOST of the time. That means that for certain people at certain times, another path will be right. For example, we’re counseled that mothers should stay home full-time to raise children – I think that’s a good ideal pattern that will be best for most people most of the time.

    However, I know several families who’ve prayerfully decided that mom should work while dad stays home, or any number of alternate arrangements. And I have no problem believing them when they say God told them that the ideal “mom staying home” situation wasn’t right for their specific family at that specific time. That’s the difference between counsel and commandment.

    Either way, you can’t go wrong praying about it. (see my comment #102)

  104. Pierce
    December 3, 2014 at 4:29 pm

    I appreciate both sides of this. John and Jeff have represented the obedience side well. Steve, JI, and Josh have also presented solid points.

    Steve, we have disagreed in the past, but I feel that your position (which is also mine) covers a lot more circumstances and situations, while Jonathan’s takes a bit of stretching to make it work. For example, the premise is that priesthood leaders are to be obeyed, and they stand in place of the Lord in their callings and stewardship. Obeying them is like obeying the Lord. However, when presented with real life situations where it doesn’t make sense to obey the leader, you then have to fall back on personal revelation. But to me, that ultimately means that it is not accurate to say that obeying them is like obeying the Lord, since we don’t question the Lord and/or hard revelation like we do the council of a leader. So the fact that “disobedience” to a leader can be acceptable in any instance seems to negate the premise, even if it is under the guise of appealing to a higher authority.

  105. Pierce
    December 3, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    I also feel that there is another avenue to this that hasn’t been explored very much, and that is WHAT a priesthood leader really has stewardship over–not just WHO. Jesus taught the gospel, provided ordinances, and served the people. He gave that authority and responsibility to his apostles, and did so again in the restoration. To me, the role of prophet/apostle/bishop is to emulate what the Savior did. We don’t really hear of any controversies over leaders executing those types of responsibilities. It’s when they start to expand and by controlling belief or action outside of what has been revealed that things get really questionable.

    And this is not to say that putting up chairs or planing a party is something that can just be ignored because it didn’t come by revelation by any parties. By not doing it for capricious reasons, you’re simply shirking your own responsibility as a member of the church. I’m talking more about weightier matters, like the example of interracial marriage mentioned. It is not a bishop, SP, Q12, or President’s calling to try to prevent interracial marriages, since the Lord does not have a doctrine on that. Their job is to provide the ordinances to all worthy people, and encourage gospel living in the relationship and the home.
    We could look at a lot more examples. I feel that a leader acting outside of their stewardship (not who, but also what) can lead to an unrighteous dominion, even if they have the best and most charitable of intentions.

    I also realize that there probably isn’t really a definition of how far stewardship stretches–something that Steve brought up. This fact supports and hurts both sides. But I personally feel that lines exist.

    Parting thought: How much someone is obedient to a man is not something that I read as a Christ-like quality mentioned in the Sermon on the Mount, or Alma 5, or descriptions of Zion, nor do I see it in descriptions of judgment day. Those have to do with character and choices and charity. A lot of the controversies surrounding obedience have little to do with the real end game, IMO. I guess that’s where I start to look when I hear or read questionable things–which isn’t even very often.

  106. Joel
    December 4, 2014 at 4:19 pm

    Steve and Jonathan,

    (1) You seem to be arguing past each other due to differing epistemological assumptions. Jonathan takes the realist approach, conceptualizing the distinction between reason and revelation as being absolute and (importantly) reliably discernible. On the other hand, Steve assumes idealism—that, due to mortal limitations, for all intents and purposes, perception is reality. No wonder this is frustrating. Do I misunderstand?

    (2) Don’t the recognized forms of revelation include logical reasoning where it’s followed by peace of mind about the conclusion? (See D&C 45:10, 50:10-11, 66:7; D&C 6:23.)

  107. Fred
    December 8, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    >Treat all counsel from leaders as though it were simply a proposition to be decided on the merits making no distinction between what a leader tells you to do and what anyone else might tell you to do.

    Honestly, I think number 2 is the best approach. Obedience doesn’t help us become moral agents – considering the information and advice at our disposal and coming to our own conclusions does. Unfortunately I think the obedience culture in the LDS church hampers our ability to make confident decisions and become strong moral agents.

  108. Fred
    December 8, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    Jude49:

    “Although I believe the Brethren are pretty close to perfect, I view the local leadership with a healthy skepticism.”

    I think it’s dangerous to think any human being is close to perfect. The same types of fallible humans are called as bishops as those called as apostles.

    The type of revelation is the same, it’s just the level of responsibility that is different.

    I’ve read abusive advice given in conference talks as well. All of us are equally apt to err, regardless of what our calling is in the church

  109. Josh Smith
    December 8, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    Fred (108):

    Obedience does help us become moral agents, sometimes, no? I’m thinking about parenting. When I don’t want my child to learn through trial-and-error, when the consequences are swift and difficult to bear, I ask the child to trust and obey.

    But an adult who accepts the consequences of his or her decisions? I think you have it spot on. The goal is a strong moral agent who’s willing to make a choice, even in disobedience, and move forward with confidence.

  110. Fred
    December 8, 2014 at 6:23 pm

    Josh:

    It’s true that sometimes such blind obedience is necessary to avoid disastrous consequences, I don’t think that that kind of blind obedience helps them become moral agents – it rather helps them to survive long enough so that they’ll someday be able to learn moral agency. Parents do have to favor safety over moral agency during a child’s early years.

    Anyway, I think we’re on the same page. Thanks for your comments

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