Who’s Going to Hell for That One?

There’s a folk doctrine I’ve heard expressed by members of the church, and it goes something like this: “As long as you are obedient to your priesthood leaders, any sins you commit are on their heads.” The idea is that if your priesthood leaders counsel you poorly and you obey that counsel, you aren’t morally responsible for the outcome of those actions; you fulfilled your duty as a saint. You get to go to heaven, and they get to go…well, wherever it is that people who give bad counsel go.

Where do we get this from? St. Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits, allegedly taught, “That we may be altogether of the same mind and in conformity with the Church herself, if she shall have defined anything to be black which appears to our eyes to be white, we ought in like manner to pronounce it to be black.”

I believe this sort of doctrine has no place in the restored gospel. I contrast St. Ignatius’ injunction with the counsel given by Joseph:

“What must a man do to commit the unpardonable sin? He must receive the Holy Ghost, have the heavens opened unto him, and know God, and then sin against Him… He has got to say that the sun does not shine while he sees it…”

Where St. Ignatius encourages us to deny the validity of our own perception in order to stay in line with church authorities, Joseph tells us that denying one’s own perception is the only path to eternal damnation.

I’m occasionally accused of subtly encouraging people to question authority. So I want to make it clear — those accusations are entirely accurate. I believe that unquestionable authority is a destructive influence on people in any organization. My favorite passage from the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible is this:

Therefore, let every man stand or fall, by himself, and not for another; or not trusting another (Mark 9:44).

When we seek to justify ourselves by passing responsibility for our choices onto our priesthood leaders, it amounts to moral cowardice. Each of us is responsible for the choices we make.

(Closing disclaimer: I’m not saying that we should immediately oppose any perspectives we disagree with (thus replicating the current US political environment). When we receive any counsel, guidance, direction, or commandment that goes contrary to our understanding of things, we do well to consider and study it out, to ask questions and come to a greater understanding. A knee-jerk reaction in opposition is just as bad as a knee-jerk reaction in compliance. What I am saying, though, is that whatever conclusion we come to is our own responsibility, and we cannot hold others responsible for the decisions that we are capable of making.)

49 comments for “Who’s Going to Hell for That One?

  1. Al
    June 29, 2011 at 9:31 am

    There is much wisdom in your post. There are some situations in the church where we must distinguish between right and wrong and our way or the leader’s way. I could list a ton of things that I think are wrong directions and I have over the years been proven right as, in time, the direction was changed back whereto I thought it should have gone in the first place. But I spoke my piece and then got out of the way. In the long run this is probably a better strategy for the church. In any event I rarely see members get wholeheartedly behind a bad policy. Bad ideas die because they are not sustained. It seems passive aggressive and maybe it is but perhaps this is a better mode than active aggressive.

  2. June 29, 2011 at 9:43 am

    I appreciate your point of view. It does seem to stand counter to the concept of “when the prophet speaks the thinking is done”, though your final parenthetical paragraph allows for testing that water, as well.

    I appreciate the distinction between disagreements vs bad counsel. I may, for instance, differ in my opinion of how an assignment should be executed compared with the person who gave the assignment. We may agree about the desired outcome, and even the correctness of the assignment to get it done, but differ in the particulars. In those instances, there may be something for me to learn by following the counsel even if I disagree (since I have been known on occassion to be wrong).

    So my question to your OP is whether there is a threshold of disagreement or importance or significance that determines when opposing bad counsel is better than submitting.

  3. Dane Laverty
    June 29, 2011 at 9:56 am

    Paul, you’re right that sometimes it’s better to oppose and sometimes it’s better to submit. This post doesn’t offer any insights as to which is better when, just that whichever choice you make is a choice that you are responsible for. You own that decision.

  4. June 29, 2011 at 10:18 am

    How, then, should members interpret/apply Wilford Woodruff’s comment following OD1: “The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty.”

    I agree that we need to think for ourselves, and that’s why God provided us with a mind and moral agency. But once one knows that the Prophet is truly led by God, is there any question on whose side you should fall in the face of supposed controversial statements or stances provided by the Prophet (or the majority of the 12)?

    As Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball did in the face of plural marriage, I feel we should seek answers as to ‘why’ the Lord’s anointed would ask such a thing, and not necessarily question its origination.

    (This question may not apply to your posted thoughts, which may have been directed solely to local leaders)

  5. June 29, 2011 at 10:28 am

    I feel that what I’m saying here is right in line with the OD1 passage your quote. This post isn’t about church leaders being right or wrong; it’s about whether we, as church members, are willing to accept responsibility for our decisions to follow (or disregard) direction from church leaders. In other words, you are welcome to accept the OD1 statement, but in doing so you are still accountable for the choices you make in light of that statement.

  6. Last Lemming
    June 29, 2011 at 10:52 am

    I think it’s a perversion of some military values that actually have merit. The underlying message is meant to be “Follow orders, whether or not you agree with them.” What is overlooked is that even in the military, there are times when you should not follow orders. Consider the following three scenarios:

    1. A soldier is ordered to undertake a suicide mission against enemy combatants that he believes is likely to be successful.

    2. A soldier is ordered to undertake a suicide mission that he believes is NOT likely to be successful.

    3. A soldier is ordered to slaughter innocent civilians.

    Except to a committed pacifist, the first situation is not really controversial. The second is more controversial and is the scenario that I believe the “folk doctrine” is intended to address–that is, to leave judgements about likely success to the leaders. The third scenario is one in which a soldier’s duty is to disobey the order. I would submit that church members should hold themselves to a similar standard. The trick is to distinguish between moral wrongness and disagreements about tactics.

  7. June 29, 2011 at 10:54 am

    Dane, I appreciate the message of comments 3 and 5. You clearly state it in the OP, as well, but your comments make it clearer to me, and I agree with you.

  8. Scott Armstrong
    June 29, 2011 at 11:21 am

    I think this has long been a struggle within the church, especially when divisive things like Prop 8 come around. Wilford Woodruff’s statement is strong, and I regard it highly, but I don’t think it establishes a Mormon version of papal infallibility.

    I also get a kick out of the old “stick with the majority of the 12” counsel. It sort of construes the apostleship as a spiritual supreme court.

  9. Jax
    June 29, 2011 at 11:45 am

    I think Dane is accurate about our owning the responsibility for our choices. I don’t see a problem where this leads to divergence from the prophet because I don’t know when we have been asked to follow without seeking light and knowledge for ourselves – to know the truthfulness of doctrines and such for ourselves. I’m sure there ARE individual exceptions where Dane’s argument doesn’t work, but I agree with Dane here as the rule.

  10. Dan
    June 29, 2011 at 11:54 am

    how about the assertion that all a woman has to do to be saved is to tie herself down to a worthy priesthood holder. As long as he makes it in, she does to.

  11. June 29, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    It’s a dangerous doctrine to believe that anyone besides yourself is responsible for either your salvation or damnation. Individual choices and resulting accountability are at the core of the purposes of mortality.

    We are often encouraged to obtain our own independent witnesses of doctrines and commandments. To question authority simply to question it – and perhaps make sure you’re not being blindly obedient – seems like a slippery slope that could lead to consequences damaging to faith. On the other hand, to accept counsel and seek an independent witness so as to be one with the saints and with God is a wonderful formula for making personal progress while maintaining unity. In the end, the intent behind our questioning may prove as important as some of the questions themselves.

  12. Mark Brown
    June 29, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    Right on Dane.

    We should notice that the post mentions only priesthood leaders, even though many of us made the jump directly from there to the president of the church or the apostles. We need to remember, and never forget, that the worst tragedy in our history occured when the good people in Cedar City in 1857 allowed themselves to be buffaloed by their stake president who claimed to be acting on the authority of the church president. Everybody passed the buck, and we can see the tragic results.

  13. clark
    June 29, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    It’s interesting comparing and contrasting this post with this one at Segullah.

    I think the folk doctrine works, but works more for “minor” issues. The danger in raises the obvious problem of following some leader to hell is the idea that we reject leaders for relatively minor issues – even though they might seem major to us. And one needn’t look far in church history to see examples.

    Put an other way I think one of the great challenges in life is figuring out when and how to allow people, especially leaders, to be wrong. And when you feel you can’t support someone in a decision how do you resolve it?

    My dad told me an interesting story that I think is relevant. We were at that time still in a district rather than a full Stake. That meant that the Mission President had considerably more power than normal. The mission president decided to come up with a somewhat deceptive form of getting contacts. It was sending people around with a survey, tracking the answers with houses and then sending missionaries to people who gave favorable answers. The people in the District (who were being asked to do this) felt it was deceptive and wrong. However some people in their resentment really fought the Mission President. My dad told the Mission President that it was wrong, that it would cause harm in the future and that the Mission President would be responsible for judgment on the issue. But he did it. Those who fought against the Mission President ended up leaving the Church including those with very strong testimonies. Those who argued against the policy but supported the Mission President (despite their feelings about the MP) remained faithful.

  14. Bob
    June 29, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    @ Last Lemming:
    To be a modern soldier, I think you would have to answer yes to all three orders.
    It seems in general, so far(?), all comments come back to__ follow the leaders is the right thing to do.

  15. Al
    June 29, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    11. Kurt. I do believe that a doctrine that says we and we alone are responsible for our salvation is a bit of a denial of the atonement. I think that within limits we are justified by obedience to righteous leadership. I couldn’t even begin to suggest what those limits are. I do know that my great great grandfather refused to go with John D Lee out to Mountain Meadow. That was clearly a correct choice for him to make.

  16. chris
    June 29, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    14 – Bob,
    Really? Now I understand how someone could accuse the soldiers actions of having the same result, but clearly the soldiers are not just ordered to drive around and shoot up towns of people without regard to innocents, and clearly soldiers go through training that encourages them to disobey such orders, and clearly the US armed forces at least, have specific channels and procedures in place to facilitate reporting on authorities who would make such a terrible call and not only that but they have an increasing amount of oversight to fact-check their stories right down to keeping track of how many grenades a person threw…

    So if you clearly don’t see these things, then the answer is not that you are right, but that you’re not seeing clearly. Hopefully you’ll trust my vision is good enough in spite of this pesky mote that’s giving me a twitch to allow me to turn around and extract that beam out of your eye.

  17. chris
    June 29, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    I think this understanding comes from this quote of a conversation Heber Grant had with Marion Romney and no doubt Pres. Grant shared similar thoughts with others,

    “‘My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church, and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it.’ Then with a twinkle in his eye, he said, ‘But you don’t need to worry. The Lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray.”

    If you take the statement at face value, it would only apply to the President of the Church. I would think it’s a mistake of the highest order to assume this statement can be filtered down “through the ranks” to apply to Bishops, SPs, etc.

    However, I will apply a bit of nuance that the so-called liberals often insist on from the so called conservatives, but never seem to apply to the conservatives words themselves… In the daily minutia I think you could filter this statement down in practice to Bishops, Relief Society Presidents, etc. in as much as you keep the magnitude of the “wrong” advice in mind.

    It may be “wrong” to assign two sisters to go and visit a certain person for whatever reason, and after raising your concern if the RS Pres still asks you to go and visit them even if you think its wrong and it turns out wrong, you’ll still be blessed for it. It may be “wrong” to spend a Tuesday night playing basketball because that’s what the YM President wants to do, instead of out serving someone, but after raising your concern and objection basketball is still played you’ll be blessed for participating and not being sour grapes and refusing to go.

    I say this as a sour grape who feels “wrong” for skipping the basketball nights wherever possible as a young man.

    But preaching this statement’s application down the ranks is problematic as it avoids the weightier matters raised by the OP.

  18. Last Lemming
    June 29, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    To be a modern soldier, I think you would have to answer yes to all three orders.

    Not so. See this link:

    The key quote:

    An order which is unlawful not only does not need to be obeyed, but obeying such an order can result in criminal prosecution of the one who obeys it. Military courts have long held that military members are accountable for their actions even while following orders — if the order was illegal.

  19. June 29, 2011 at 4:28 pm

    15. Al-
    The substance of your response was in my mind as I wrote my original comment and I agree with you wholeheartedly. The (flawed) wording I used attempted to emphasize that the responsibility to choose is ours, something slightly akin to the “I am the master of my fate” ideology of Henley.

    My thought process is that it is dangerous to set aside personal responsibility and rely on someone else to either guarantee your salvation or damnation. Naturally, the atonement of Jesus Christ plays an integral and synergistic role in our salvation, and regardless of our personal efforts, we cannot be saved without Him.
    I don’t mean to say that we alone bring about our salvation, but that we are the ones responsible for choosing whether or not to accept the Savior, the tenets of His gospel, and His authorized representatives – or not.

    I feel sympathy and admiration for your great great grandfather. As I read Massacre At Mountain Meadows, I repeatedly tried to put myself into the circumstances of the characters and ask myself what I would have done. The further along the process went, the murkier the waters became and the less sure I was of how I would have responded. Turley said that they tried to write the book in the form of a Greek tragedy to elicit exactly that kind of response. For your grandfather to have made the decision(s) that he did is a remarkable testament to his character.

    And that, I think, comes back to a point I tried to make in commenting on Dave’s article. Our motives in seeking knowledge play a key role, I believe, in who we become. If we question merely to question, it can be dangerous – just as it can be perilous to rely wholly upon a leader to take responsibility for our own choices. However, as we are faced with decisions which at first may seem counterintuitive to what we already know and believe, questioning becomes not an act of prideful rebellion, but humble discipleship.

    Today, we aren’t faced with the particulars of Mountain Meadows, polgyamy, or the Kirtland Safety Society – but we have modern equivalents. Sometimes they apply to Church members in general, and sometimes they impact us individually within the confines of our own wards or branches. As I see people question their leaders to prove a point, I often sense pride and contention. Yet when I see people question their leaders with a sincere desire to understand and be united with the will of the Lord, I sense a sincere faith that is enviable.

    To me, the “sincere intent” Moroni refers to when inviting us to ask questions of God is a key component of the recipe for obtaining an independent witness of whatever it is we are seeking.

  20. Raymond Takashi Swenson
    June 29, 2011 at 4:52 pm

    To Bob: I speak as a 20 year Air Force veteran and JAG. Military members take an oath to uphold the Constitution and to obey the LAWFUL orders of their superiors. An order to kill innocent civilians (such as at My Lai, Vietnam, or any number of Indian massacres by the US Army, or at Mountain Meadows) is illegal and without authority, and there is no duty to obey it. Rather, the duty to obey the Uniform Code of Military Justice is supreme over all individual orders, and it prohibits murder, including the killing of a captured and unarmed prisoner of war. Officers who give illegal orders have no authority, period–“Amen to the priesthood of that man”. Alexander Doniphan was a colonel in the Missouri Militia, but he disobeyed a direct order to hang Joseph Smith in the Town Square of Far West, calling it murder, and promising he would see his commander prosecuted if he tried to do it himself.

    D&C 121 is explicit that priesthood authority automatically expires if we abuse it for selfish reasons, and instructs us that when we see such abuse, we should “betimes”–immediately or in a timely way–rebuke it, even while affirming our love for our brother in the priesthood. Yes, I know that when the rebuking is discussed we usually picture it as something a superior does to an inferior–say a bishop to an elder–but the context is clearly about abuse of authority, and the loss of the Spirit and priesthood authority, and that especially applies to people who HAVE authority, including someone in a position of leadership OVER us.

    Now there is a difference betwen a simple policy disagreement and an abuse of authority. In the vast majority of cases, a disagreement with your quorum president or bishop is in the first category, and the simple principle of letting a leader take responsibility for his decisions, so he can learn from his mistakes, and indeed learn responsbility, needs to be followed. When you are called to be bishop, you can do things your way.

    But in the rare case where a leader gives direction that is contrary to established doctrine or policies set by the First Presidency, e.g. allowing an elder to go home teaching by himself to a single woman’s home, or discriminating on the basis of race, then the clear import of D&C 121 is that we should rebuke such a person, and correct him lovingly, and thus SAVE him from going to hell!

    The phrase that was quoted by Paul, “when the prophet speaks, the thinking is done”, is FALSE doctrine, which President Heber J. Grant denounced as false (creating one of those logical paradoxes) when it was published in a ward teacher message. A detailed review of the incident appeared here on T&S a while back.

    Following the prophet is different from following the prophet without thought, and without prayer. The examples are legion in which Brigham Young denounced the Saints unwillingness to seek out the witness of the Holy Ghost about any direction by the prophet that troubled them. He told them they needed to get their own understanding from God about what he wants us to do.

    The men and women called to lead us in the Church are often experienced and wise in their own right, even without inspiration. Purely for organizational effectiveness considerations, we should carry out direction from those in positions of leadership so that our joint strength can be employed. Following direction from “the head” is just as important in the “body of Christ” as the hand recognizing the need for the foot, etc. And when the direction is challenging, and we question its validity, we are entitled to ask for intelligence from the Holy Ghost. But in the meantime, if there is urgency, we should also be willing to trust our leaders and sustain them in the ordinary course of their callings, when it does no clear, immediate harm.

    Frankly, anyone who has been in a leadership position in the Church knows that we hardly have any problem with too MUCH obedience. More often, there is not enough.

  21. June 29, 2011 at 5:11 pm

    Frankly, anyone who has been in a leadership position in the Church knows that we hardly have any problem with too MUCH obedience. More often, there is not enough.

    I’ve seen this sentiment expressed before. I think it oversimplifies the situation. I had a dance teacher say once, “When I tell the class to plié more deeply, it’s the students who are already pliéing deeply enough who listen and try to go even deeper, while the ones who need plié more deeply are the ones who don’t.” Saying that many members of the church aren’t obedient enough (or at all) doesn’t mean that there aren’t also many other members of the church who are blindly obedient — it can simultaneously be an issue at both ends.

  22. June 29, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    #17 Chris — the quotation you use is interesting: it speaks of blessings for obedience, not punishment (for anyone) for wrong direction. And I think there probably is a blessing associated with obedience even if it’s to poor counsel.

    But that blessing for obedience comes, as the OP and follow-on comments from Dane suggest, because the obedience is a free choice by the person obeying. It’s still the person who chooses whether to obey or not.

  23. Sonny
    June 29, 2011 at 6:16 pm


    “The mission president decided to come up with a somewhat deceptive form of getting contacts. It was sending people around with a survey, tracking the answers with houses and then sending missionaries to people who gave favorable answers. The people in the District (who were being asked to do this) felt it was deceptive and wrong…..Those who fought against the Mission President ended up leaving the Church including those with very strong testimonies.”

    Off topic here, but I wonder if the mission president felt it was worth it, particularly if it was just stubborn insistence that caused him to go against so many that raised objections, and from people that are actually from the area and know the people.

  24. Bob
    June 29, 2011 at 6:57 pm

    #16: Chris: You said clearly six times. What makes you so clear on these things? I was in the Marines during Vietnam _(but not in Vietnam). I was fully trained to go into a full ‘Fire Zone’ in a town if we came under fire. This means firing at full power in every direction. The ‘Fire Zone’ was used very often in Iraq, killing many innocents.
    @ Last Lemming: I never said anything about an “Unlawful Order”. It is lawful to give an order that kills innocents.
    @ Raymond: You know fully well that in WWII, night ‘Carpet bombing’ of cities in Germany killed hundreds of thouands of innocents, but was seen as ‘legal’. It was even worse in the “fire bombing” of cities in Japan.

  25. Mark Brown
    June 29, 2011 at 7:55 pm

    I’ve been thinking about this some more. I honestly wonder how Thomas S. Monson would respond if somebody asked a direct question like this:

    “Do you want or expect the church members to follow your direction promptly on any and every issue you address, and obey every word of command with exactness?”

    My guess is that he would equivocate in his answer, much like we are doing on this thread.

  26. clark
    June 29, 2011 at 9:08 pm

    Sonny (23), I don’t know. It took place during that infamous period of LDS history in the late 60’s and early 70’s in New England. As a kid it seemed pretty clear cut. As an adult though I found it much more complex. Honestly, what’s deceptive about doing a survey for market research? This is done by business all the time and guess what, a lot of that demographic information ends up in some database mined for cold calls. Is this any different and is that really dishonest? It’s not something I’d ever do because I think we need in religion to be extremely far away from any question. But I can see someone under a lot of pressure for numbers who came from a business background thinking it was fine. And probably the opposition from locals not as experienced in the LDS faith and far from Utah just made him think it was a question on his authority and was a sign of deeper problems. So even if he might have backed off the opposition probably guaranteed he wouldn’t.

    I think after my own stint on a mission that I’ve become much, much more sympathetic to the problems of leadership. Not that I agree with bad decisions. It’s just that I’m very sympathetic to people having to make decisions, have their decisions second guessed, and do it all when you don’t necessarily know what you are doing. I constantly pray I never end up in a significant leadership position again.

  27. June 29, 2011 at 9:21 pm

    IMHO I don’t think the question really is whether we obey or disobey it is HOW we obey or disobey. It is about the intent of our hearts, how we address our disagreements, how we act. Kinda like what Raymond #20 is saying, Section 121 goes both ways.

  28. Reeder
    June 29, 2011 at 10:02 pm

    This passage, I think, could have some relevant bearing on the discussion:

    58 Now, as touching the law of the priesthood, there are many things pertaining thereunto.
    59 Verily, if a man be called of my Father, as was Aaron, by mine own voice, and by the voice of him that sent me, and I have endowed him with the keys of the power of this priesthood, if he do anything in my name, and according to my law and by my word, he will not commit sin, and I will justify him.

    (Doctrine and Covenants 132:58-59)

  29. clark
    June 29, 2011 at 10:11 pm

    Just to clarify 26 – I think leaders need to be given the space and opportunity to be wrong. I’m not say they need to be allowed to commit major sins or create problems for the Church. But we do need to let leaders try and make mistakes. Risk is an essential aspect of progression and I think we sometimes in how we judge things are risk averse to a silly extent.

  30. Sonny
    June 29, 2011 at 10:14 pm


    “I’m very sympathetic to people having to make decisions, have their decisions second guessed, and do it all when you don’t necessarily know what you are doing.”

    Well said, and I completely agree. I think the vast majority of the time local leaders are doing their level best under sometimes brutally difficult situations.

  31. Scott Armstrong
    June 30, 2011 at 8:22 am

    Lots of good comments here, but I notice we’ve mostly approached the issue as individuals under leadership, not leaders. And since we have a lay clergy we’ve all been or will be leaders of some kind at some point. And when I think about the issue from the leader’s perspective, I come to the conclusion that the “folk doctrine” is at least somewhat true.

    I don’t know how the judgment will work, but if I, as a leader, direct someone to do something wrong and they do it out of fear, or gullibility, or misplaced faithfulness, or laziness, or whatever, I have to imagine–if there’s blame to be placed–some, if not most, will fall to me. Anytime there’s a power imbalance, the person with the most power ought to be held more responsible.

    So I guess my conclusion is that when I’m following leaders I’ll act as if I alone am responsible for my actions, but when I’m a leader I’ll act as if I will largely be held responsible for the actions of those who listen to me.

  32. Bob
    June 30, 2011 at 9:11 am

    As long as ‘obedience’ = ‘free will’ by faithful Mormons, the loop will continue. As long as ” I was only following my leaders” = no sin by me, the loop will continue.
    IMO, ” Always follow the rules/leaders” was not the message of Eve, Jesus, or Joseph.

  33. Dane Laverty
    June 30, 2011 at 9:49 am

    clark and Sonny, I think the ability to question a directive goes hand in hand with “allowing leaders to be wrong” (which is a great phrase, I must say). When there’s no room for dialogue with leaders, there’s no way to “allow” them to be wrong in a constructive way. You can either just obey or disobey. I think that allowing someone to be wrong means being able to discuss their decisions with them in a way that is neither harshly critical nor merely obsequious.

    Scott, I think that’s a good way to look at it. You’re right, people with power have responsibility for how they use that power.

  34. Raymond Takashi Swenson
    June 30, 2011 at 12:33 pm

    Bob: I am well aware of the record of aerial bombing during World War II. My mother was in Nagoya when it was fire bombed by hundreds of B-29s.

    One can see an escalation that took place over the course of World War II, starting with the British night bombing over Germany (in an effort to avoid defensive fighters) which was correspondingly inaccurate in hitting military targets, which provoked Hitler into aerial raids on London (and delayed an invasion), and later attacks with inaccurate V-1 and V-2 rockets. The B-29 raids on the home islands of Japan came late in the war, after the U.S. had captured Tinian, Saipan, and Iwo Jima (as an emergency airfield for returning planes), and concern about civilian casualties was put aside. And frankly the leaders of the military government in Japan were not too upset about civilian casualties, either. Some of them were ready to sacrifice every man, woman and child in defensive warfare, to wear down the U.S. into accepting a compromise cease fire. They had already enlisted civilians into war production. My grandfather, who had served as a soldier during World War I when Japan was allied with the U.S. and Britain in support of the White Russian (anti-communist) army in Siberia, was drafted into working in a poison gas factory. My mother and her high school friends were put to work making Zero fighter planes in the Mitsubishi factory which was in the middle of downtown.

    The decision made by Truman to allow use of atomic bombs was driven by a complex of factors, but because the incendiary raids were so devastating, the effects on the ground in terms of civilian deaths were just a step up. And despite the terrible losses Japanese forces had suffered by August 1945, there is good evidence that an invasion would have been highly costly to both sides, inevitably killing many civilians as well. None of the military options was free of terrible suffering. And the decisions were deliberate ones. The sole justification for inflicting this suffering was to make the sum of suffering end. And I seriously doubt whether, aside from crazy people like Yukio Mishima, anyone in Japan is unhappy that the military dictatorship was defeated and they were freed to live in a peaceful democracy.

    In a situation in which a military force is not under active attack, an order from a military officer or noncom to a soldier to kill a noncombatant civilian or an unarmed, captured prisoner is, by definition under the UCMJ and military regulations, an unlawful order. Just giving such an order is enough to have the superior court-martialed. And it is lawful to refuse to obey such an unlawful order.

  35. Bob
    June 30, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    @ Raymond: So who was court-martialed for Kent State?
    Were we ‘under attack’ when we bombed Bagdad at the start of this Iraq ‘War’?
    The first bombing of nonconbatants in Japan was done early in the war by Doolittle in 1942.
    ” None of the military options was free of terrible suffering.” Not to invade was an option. We waited two years to invade Europe.

  36. June 30, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    Shouldn’t this be titled: “Who’s Going to Heck for That One?”

  37. June 30, 2011 at 6:28 pm

    36. Alison –

  38. Sonny
    July 1, 2011 at 12:50 am


    What the heck is your point?

  39. Bob
    July 1, 2011 at 8:08 am

    @ Sonny
    Read the post and you will find it.

  40. Sonny
    July 1, 2011 at 11:17 am


    Unless I am just as blind as you insinuate I am, I see no mention in the post of military, war, foreign policy, World War II, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc, etc.

    Give Raymond credit for knowing what he is talking about. How many years have you served in the military justice system? I would guess not very many, so I think you have a major credibility hurdle to jump over by implying he does not know what he is talking about because you come up with some macro, high level (presidential) war-time decisions as evidence that military justice concerning illegal orders don’t exist or are never enforced.

    And that is not the topic of the OP.

  41. Bob
    July 1, 2011 at 11:55 am

    @ Sonny:
    I did not enter this thread until after #6. I entered only to say sometimes lawful orders are given to kill nonconbatants and they are legally carried out. But that doesn’t make them right.
    The OP is about the rightness of carrying all orders.
    Most of what Raymond said in his last comment was about history__not law.

  42. Al
    July 1, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    19 Kurt. My great grandfather’s refusal wasn’t overt and courageous in its substance. He knew it was wrong but the climate was so poisoned that he hid to avoid being forced to go. Passive-aggressive? Yes. Would it have been better to make the courageous stand? Hard to say. I may not have been here to say anything about it.

  43. Raymond Takashi Swenson
    July 1, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    My understanding is that members of the National Guard who fired their rifles at students at Kent State were indicted in Federal court and tried, but the charges were dismissed by the judge before the defense had to put on its case, the judge stating that the U.S. Attorney had not provided sufficient evidence to prove his case. A civil trial eneded in a small settlement. Unless a National Guard member is kept on active duty, he cannot generally be court-martialed for offenses committed during active service. I understand no State prosecution was mounted.

  44. Cameron N
    July 1, 2011 at 3:56 pm

    Brigham Young covered this when he told people to not blindly accept inspired counsel from leaders but to find out for themselves by praying about it. I think this extends even to small assignments within a ward, some other church body, or our families.

    That’s the ultimate answer, and if you feel differently than the counsel, you say ‘I prayed about it and think I should share this point about your counsel.’

    If you watch that brief biography on President Monson, when he was a young dad in his first ward leadership meeting, he had strong opinions about the shortcomings of how the youth leaders were running things. He shared those opinions and was assigned to implement his ideas. I think the reason we are afraid to share our ideas for improving things is that the Lord expects us to do the work since we are the ones who have, or are given by him, the insight.

  45. Bob
    July 1, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    @ Raymond: Ok, let’s end our debate. You feel justice was done concerning the Kent State shooting, I do not.

  46. Jan
    July 1, 2011 at 7:04 pm

    What about the married women who were ordered by Joseph Smith to marry him and have sex with him, including Orson Hyde’s wife? This seems fundamentally wrong on every level.

  47. It's Not Me
    July 1, 2011 at 10:07 pm

    #45 – You’re reading too much into what Raymond wrote.

    #46 – Married women were “ordered” to have sex with Joseph Smith?

  48. Geoff-A
    July 2, 2011 at 1:27 am

    How would it be if when we disagree with a leader we withdraw. Say a new Bishop is called who we don’t like many just stop coming. You might think this inapropriate or unworthy.

    When I was on my mission in Ireland, we had a mission President who had no idea of local culture. If he called a Protestant mormon (one who lived in a protestant area)Branch president, the catholic mormons would not come because if your neighbours saw you associating with the other lot you could be fire bombed out of your house.

    Should the members have obeyed the mission pres or realised he didn’t understand their situation and make their own decision?

    The Mission president never did understand and divide the branches along religious lines.

    Because of experiences like this I believe we are each responsible for our own choices, and will be judged not on how obedient we were but how wise.

    Back to my first paragraph, I’ve been in wards where the Bishop had no idea and the numbers attending drop off. Those who are noble and remain assume they are stronger members. Perhaps they are not perhaps those who stop attending are using the only power they have to convey their message to the Stake President? Perhaps if we all did changes could be effected more quickly and good leadership called.

  49. psychochemiker
    July 4, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    Geoff A.
    Do you have some sort of a public soource where this.
    a) happened.
    b) was recorded to be threatened

    or is this another smoke-screen of a crazy liberal claiming to know the future and what “would have happened.”

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