What Happened Last Thursday at Institute: l’Affair Botte Goes Local

(I’m jumping because of the Bott stuff, but will still put up my 2 posts on Genesis 2-4 and Creation/temples post.)
Instead of beginning on the Flood on Thursday as planned, I decided to take 5 minutes to talk about the mark of Cain in Genesis 4, and the curse on Canaan in Genesis 9. We never got to the flood, but ended up having a wonderful (I think) 2.5+ hour conversation about the priesthood ban, the eisegesis and various theories it engendered, the role and fuzzy definitions of tradition, policy, and doctrine in the Church. We also covered related issues like the context for Wilford Woodruff’s statement about “leading the Church astray”,  the tension inherent in living in a dynamic Church based on revelation that sometimes goes through upheavals (see polygamy, priesthood ban, etc.), and that we need to be careful not to get caught on either extreme.

We talked about the nature of the writing of Church manuals and history, Institute and potentially RelEd at BYU as the two places where one can find depth and nuance in semi-official venues, obviously dependent upon the teaching philosophy and knowledge of the instructor and the degree of freedom they’re given.

At 10:30 PM, there were still seven students, and three missed calls from my wife. It was a good conversation, fairly spontaneous.

Here are the books/articles mentioned (a lot of things came up along the way, and no coherent narrative thread tying them all together will be reconstructed for the blog. Deal with it.)

Eugene England, Why the Church is as True as the Gospel (essay)

Mauss, All Abraham’s Children: Changing Mormon Conceptions of Race and Lineage

Mauss, FAIR/Sunstone piece on misplaced apologetics and the priesthood ban, looking at the rationales given.

On the background of the Bott affair, see this chronology, and particularly this article by President Kimball’s son in BYU studies.

We talked about Wilford Woodruff’s statement on the President of the Church leading the Church astray, context, other similar statements, and balancing that with disavowals of infallibility.  Essentially, the statements collectively and “going astray” aren’t about prophetic infallibility, but about God not allowing another period of complete apostasy and distinctions between the LDS and RLDS church.

(All of the quotes below on infallibility were collected by Ted Jones, on the internal FAIR list several years ago. All italics are mine.)

“I never was afraid of Joseph, although many would falter and feared Joseph would go astray. I did not serve Joseph, but I patterned after the doctrine the Lord has revealed through him. There was no possibility of Joseph leading the people astray. If I thought that God would suffer a man to lead a righteous people astray I would not serve him, I would leave him and seek another; I serve the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers; he has called Joseph and will never let him lead this people astray, but when he has done his work he will take him to himself. I never was afraid of my friends and you need not be; the Lord Almighty will never suffer his people to go astray, unless they as a people want to follow iniquity; never, no never, no never.” Brigham Young 7 April 1850 Salt Lake City General Conference Mill Star 12:273-276; Elden J. Watson, Brigham Young Addresses, 2. 12

“The Lord will not permit me or any other man to lead this people astray. If the leaders do wrong, the Lord will take them away. If an Apostle does not magnify his calling, the Lord will remove him and not permit him to lead away the people.” Brigham Young, 21 July 1861 WW p 418; Wilford Woodruff Journal, date; Elden Watson, Brigham Young Addresses 4.122

Wilford Woodruff: “I say to all Israel at this day, I say to the whole world, that the God of Israel, who organized this Church and kingdom, never ordained any President or Presidency to lead it astray. Hear it, ye Israel, no man who has ever breathed the breath of life can hold these keys of the kingdom of God and lead the people astray”, June 2, 1889, YMMIA Conference; Collected Discourses 1.293

“I will give you a key that will never rust. If you will stay with the majority of the Twelve Apostles, and the records of the Church, you will never be led astray.” (from recollection of William G. Nelson, in Young Women’s Journal 17 (December 1906): 543.

Ezra T. Clark recalled: “I heard the Prophet Joseph say he would give the Saints a key whereby they would never be led away or deceived, and that was: the Lord would never suffer the majority of this people to be led away or deceived by imposters, nor would he allow the records of this Church to fall into the hands of the enemy.” (Improvement Era 5 (January 1902): 202.

Edward Stevenson remembered the statement as “a key by which you may never be deceived” and that it was that “a majority of the saints and the records and history of the Church also” would remain with the Church. (Andrew Jenson, and Edward Stevenson, Infancy of the Church (SLC 1889): 5.

(Note: The above three quotations are from Madsen, Joseph Smith the Prophet (Bookcraft 1989): 39, and note 22, page 147.)

Mark E. Peterson, of the Quorum of Twelve, General Conference April 6, 1949: refers to  “these brethren from men and women who think that these men would lead you astray–letters from men and women who do have selfish motives–letters from people who would trip up the prophets of God if they only could.”

Spencer W. Kimball, of the Quorum of Twelve, General Conference April 8, 1951: “This Church will never go astray; the Quorum of the Twelve will never lead you into bypaths; it never has and never will. There could be individuals who would falter; there will never be a majority of the Council of the Twelve on the wrong side at any time.” (Note: this was 4 days after President George Albert Smith had passed away. David O. McKay would be chosen President at this Conference, on April 9, 1951)


One of the best ways to understand this concept of “not leading the Church astray” was given by J. Stapley here, with an excellent restate by Julie.

We additionally talked about tradition and policy in connection with women praying (or not) in sacrament meeting, on which see these two links:



David O. McKay vs. Hugh B. Brown on policy vs. doctrine in the priesthood ban (PDF).

george 2 cites from George Q. Cannon, on receiving doctrine, and apostasy.

Deseret News editorial, George Q. Cannon, editor, impression of Nov. 3rd, 1869
“A friend . . . wished to know whether we had said that we considered an honest difference of opinion between a member of the church and the authorities of the church was apostasy, as he said, we had been credited with having made a statement to this effect. We replied that we had not stated that an honest difference of opinion between a member of the church and the authorities constituted apostasy; for we could conceive of a man honestly differing in opinion from the authorities of the church and yet not be an apostate; but we could not conceive of a man publishing those differences of opinion, and seeking by arguments, sophistry and special pleading to enforce them upon the people to produce division and strife, and to place the acts and counsels of the authorities of the church, if possible, in a wrong light, and not be an apostate; for such conduct was apostasy as we understood the term. We further said that while a man might honestly differ in opinion from the authorities through a want of understanding, he had to be exceedingly careful how he acted in relation to such differences, or the adversary would take advantage of him and he would soon become imbued with the spirit of apostasy, and be found fighting against God and the authority which He had placed here to govern his church.”  (Found in various places, such as the D&C Institute manual)

If we hear any principle taught from the stand that we do not understand, let us seek to comprehend it by the Spirit of God. If it be not of God, we have the privilege of knowing it. We are not required to receive for doctrine everything that we hear. We may say, “I do not know whether this is true or not; I will not fight it, neither will I endorse it, but I will seek knowledge from God, for that is my privilege, and I will never rest satisfied until I have obtained the light I require.”
If you hear a doctrine that does not agree with your feelings or that you do not believe, take this course; do not reject nor endorse hastily without knowing or understanding. By taking this course you will develop the principle that God designs we should possess, and we will thus become a wise and understanding people, for we will be based on the rock of revelation. (Apr. 21, 1867, Journal of Discourses 12:46)
-George Q. Cannon, Gospel Truth, 270

George Cannon’s quote was given in connection with the Godbe-ites (an offshoot LDS group named for William Godbe), on which see this book and this old post.

Thomas Alexander, Mormonism in Transition:A History of the Church from 1890-1930, which is really the period in which the Church becomes the Church as we know it today.

In connection with that, we mentioned the Mormon Reformation  (see Encyclopedia of Mormonism) and regulating the priesthood assignments and ages. For more on this see Hartley, “From Men to Boys: LDS Aaronic Priesthood Offices, 1829-1996 ” (pdf)

As an example of the tension between scripture, tradition, policy and doctrine, here’s Joseph Fielding Smith on laying on of hands being a tradition and not a necessity, based on his reading of 3 Nephi 9:20.

“the Lord gave the commandment to Joseph Smith that those who are baptized for the remission of sins shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, and this is the practice in the Church. This does not prove, however, that the gift of the Holy Ghost may not be received without the laying on of the hands, although we assume that this was the general custom of the Church in ancient days….We discover in the reading of the scriptures that the Lord conferred authority on some of his chosen servants and gave them exceptional powers without the laying on of hands, but merely by his spoken edict. In this manner Elijah obtained the keys of power in the priesthood to raise the dead, heal the sick, close the heavens that it did not rain only by his word, and for more than three years there was no rain, and moreover he had the power to call down fire from heaven to destroy the enemies of the Church….We may correctly believe that the Lord may bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost by other means than by the laying on of hands if occasion requires it. While it is the practice to lay on hands, there are many incidents recorded in the scriptures where divine authority has been bestowed by the divine edict to the prophets.” – Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, vol. 4, p. 93 (italics mine)

On teaching at BYU and Institute, this is recent, these two are older (one, two).

I mentioned my Standard Packet post, particularly the article by Carlfred Broderick.

My handout about trunk vs branches, which deals with some of the tension in continuing revelation.

Whew.  Tomorrow, we do the flood. Still coming are 3 posts about Genesis 2-4 and temples.

7 comments for “What Happened Last Thursday at Institute: l’Affair Botte Goes Local

  1. Julie M. Smith
    March 14, 2012 at 8:56 pm

    Awesome. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  2. March 14, 2012 at 9:06 pm

    This is really fantastic Ben. Thank you.

  3. March 14, 2012 at 9:07 pm

    I’m in the middle of Mauss’ All Abraham’s Children right now. It’s a fantastic reference I’m very happy to have in my library, and recommend it wholeheartedly to pretty much anyone.

  4. D
    March 15, 2012 at 8:41 am

    Great post. thanks so much.

  5. Ben S.
    March 15, 2012 at 5:04 pm

    Thanks for the comments!

  6. Ben S.
    March 17, 2012 at 11:35 am
  7. Art
    March 22, 2012 at 12:59 am

    Thank you as always, appreciate all effor and hard work… Thankx

Comments are closed.