STQ: Sustaining Church Leaders

My Seminary class just completed 1 Samuel, which tells the story of Saul’s reign over Israel. As you know, the people of Israel demanded a king to replace the corrupt judges. (1 Samuel 8:19-20) Samuel was inspired to choose Saul. On the day before they met for the first time, the Lord told Samuel, “To morrow about this time I will send thee a man out of the land of Benjamin, and thou shalt anoint him to be captain over my people Israel.” (1 Samuel 9:16) Samuel does, in fact, annoint Saul, and the people accept him as their king. (1 Samuel 10)

Saul’s reign is a story of steady decline, which accelerates after David slays Goliath. (1 Samuel 17) Much of the remainder of 1 Samuel is a tragic series of thrusts and parries between Saul and David. Saul, who is probably mentally ill, seeks to kill David, but David twice refuses to retaliate against Saul, stating on one of those occasions, “I will not put forth mine hand against my lord; for he is the LORD’s anointed.” (1 Samuel 24:10)

What lesson are we to draw from this story? According to the Seminary teacher’s manual it is: “We should honor those who are called to lead us, despite their human imperfections.” In addition, the teacher’s manual includes the following statement from Marion G. Romney:

Some members assume that one can be in full harmony with the spirit of the gospel, enjoy full fellowship in the Church, and at the same time be out of harmony with the leaders of the Church and the counsel and direction they give. Such a position is wholly inconsistent, because the guidance of this Church comes not alone from the written word but also from continuous revelation, and the Lord gives that revelation to the Church through his chosen prophet. It follows, therefore, that those who profess to accept the gospel and at the same time criticize and refuse to follow the counsel of the prophet are assuming an indefensible position. Such a spirit leads to apostacy.”

The teachers are warned, however, not to encourage blind obedience. The following passage is from Harold B. Lee:

It is not alone sufficient for us as Latter-day Saints to follow our leaders and to accept their counsel, but we have the greater obligation to gain for ourselves the unshakeable testimony of the divine appointment of these men and the witness that what they have told us is the will of our Heavenly Father.

The story of Saul and David does not jibe neatly with the quotations by Elder Romney and Elder Lee. Elder Romney warns us not to oppose “continuous revelation,” while Elder Lee encourages us to build an “unshakeable testimony.” The implicit message in both remarks is that Church leaders are inspired; therefore, we should bring our lives into harmony with their teaching. Saul may have been the anointed king, but I dare say that his attempts to take the life of David were not inspired.

Thus, my Seminary Thought Question: In light of the story of Saul and David, how should members deal with situations in which they feel that Church leaders are not inspired?

3 comments for “STQ: Sustaining Church Leaders

  1. Brizoni
    January 31, 2004 at 4:55 am

    I have to quibble w/ you when you say “The story of Saul and David does not jibe neatly with the quotations by… Elder Lee.” Seems to me when Elder Lee tells us “we have the greater obligation to GAIN FOR OURSELVES THE UNSHAKEABLE TESTIMONY of the divine appointment of these men” (emphasis added), he’s given us the means to unmistakably recognize whether or not Church leaders are inspired: Prayer.

    A testimony is not gained by repeating talking points to one’s self until one believes them to be true. A testimony is gained by study, meditation, and prayer. Personal misgivings about a leader aren’t worthless, but direct Divine confirmation seems a far better way to know of a leader’s inspiration, or lack of.

  2. lyle
    January 31, 2004 at 6:12 am

    Gordon: My answer is that given to me by seminary teachers; and one that seems similar to what the Savior said in the NT: “if ye seek to know the truth of my words…just do it!”

    So, for example, while I find the argument for legalizing drugs to be very strong…cuz the Brethern do not support it…I don’t advocate for it in public; and instead seek to fight this evil…and try to educate myself, and others, about the externalities that drug use imposes upon others.

  3. January 31, 2004 at 9:22 pm

    The point of the original post was not to ask, “how can we know whether our leaders are inspired?” Prayer and “just do it” are perfectly fine responses to that question, but they miss the point in exactly the same way that the Seminary teacher’s manual misses on David and Saul. David did not doubt that Saul was the “anointed” leader, but he did not accept Saul’s attacks on his life as inspired.

    The comments by Brizoni and lyle are interesting to me because both assumed that I was making a claim like, “Church leaders are not inspired.” Actually, my claim is more along these lines, “Church leaders are not always inspired.” Unless I am mistaken, this claim is fairly uncontroversial. We do not believe that Priesthood leaders are infallible.

    Thus, the question: what should members do when they believe that a Priesthood leaders is mistaken? In most circumstances, bad counsel simply drifts into the ether, ignored and forgotten. Occasionally, however, it cannot be ignored. This is especially true when the counsel is tailored to a particular person, not merely an over-the-pulpit talk. In my experience, members who express concern over specific counsel can become tagged as part of the “fringe element.” Sometimes we assume that if they were humble and would “just pray about it,” they would harmonize with their leader. And sometimes, we would be right about that. But not always.

    By the way, my concerns are not autobiographical. As I have stated before on this site, my interactions with Priesthood leaders has been overwhelmingly positive. Nevertheless, I have encountered circumstances in which members feel aggrieved by the counsel that they have received. In these circumstances, accusing the aggrieved member of a lack of faith or humility may not only be unfair, it may increase their feeling of isolation and offense.

    David fled Saul (understandably), and exiting a ward, stake, or the Church altogether is a path taken by some who feel aggrieved. David also confronted Saul on two occasions and attempted to “talk it out.” This did not produce a lasting solution, but then again, Saul seems to have been very disturbed.

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