Monday, March 1, 2010

Elder Oaks

My wife also suggested I add something about Elder Oaks' talk at Harvard, since some readers may not have access to the information:
When discussing our beliefs he explained that personal revelation is fundamental to Mormon beliefs.  "some wonder how members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints accept a modern prophet's teachings to guide their personal lives, something that is unusual in most religious traditions.  Our answer to the charge that Latter-day Saints follow their leaders out of 'blind obedience' is this same personal revelation.  We respect our leaders and presume inspiration in their leadership of the church and in their teachings.  but we are all privileged and encouraged to confirm their teachings by prayerfully seeking and receiving revelatory conformation directly from God."
When asked by a Divinity School student why Joseph Smith was any more reliable than Mary Baker Eddy, he responded: "If you want to know go to the ultimate source.  The answer to that question can only come from God himself.  That's what I encourage anyone who asks me about it.  I can't promise when it will happen with anyone, but I can promise it will happen."


  1. While it is true that we all are entitled to personal revelation as to whether or not a leader's inspiration is from God or man; if my personal revelation conflicts with a leader's "revelation" then the common response from leaders is: "You am the one who is getting the wrong answer. You are the one who has been deceived."

    In other words, in practical application, the leader is always right and the member is always wrong. The leader's revelation always trumps the member's revelation. The leader can say whatever he wants and claim it is "revelation" and that immediately overrides any inspiration the member may have spent many days fasting and praying about. Where is the accountablity in that? There is something deeply disturbing about this.

  2. I agree with Allen. More times than I care to remember have I been told by my priesthood leaders, including my husband, that I have been deceived. I have been in almost every calling in the church that a woman can have. Am I not given personal revelation in my stewardships? I truly believe in personal revelation, even the scriputures testiyfy to it,and I am a devout believer in angels, which also the scriptures testify of, however, as in Allen's case, the same is for me. I am in the wrong. Please, Denver, if you are so inspired to comment, it is greatly appreciated.

  3. I'll add another witness to what Allen stated. A few months back we had a lesson on obedience. The jist of the lesson was obedience, while a direct quote had it at obedience "to the apostles and president of the church."

    As the discussion went forward, a couple of people came forth with the idea that we must live by personal revelation, that we must be prophets in our own right (Num 11:29, Rev. 19:10) and be led by that voice. A number of my fellow quorum members stated, somewhat surprisingly, that the personal revelation we receive as individuals is questionable and cannot be relied upon because we tend to insert our own personal feelings, desires and wants in place of that revelation. And, while we ("average" members) have this propensity to conflate personal revelation with our own desires and wants, the leadership of the church does not have that problem.

    As I walked out of class, I overheard one member state that personal revelation is "scary" and "cannot be trusted."

    So, although I agree with what Dallin Oaks stated in theory on this subject, I nevertheless note that the everyday practice of church members is at a different and inferior level.

    The only thing I would suggest is to, as Denver noted in a recent post, "At some point ... you will find that individual service and obedience to God's will for you will create disharmony between you and others." That disharmony is to be expected, especially given the individuality inherent in following Christ and the Gospel.

  4. From the comments it appears that both of you believe you received actual inspiration/revelation and that the critical priesthood leader was wrong in the assertion that you hadn't been inspired. I will accept your premise for this response, because I have no basis to do otherwise.

    A priesthood leader who pits himself against another person's inspiration always runs the risk of losing the respect generally afforded him. Therefore, any leader would be well advised to condemn another person's inspiration only when it is absolutely necessary and when he is absolutely certain he is right. Sadly, that kind of self-control is not often used.

    The RULE is that most of those who have had or will have a "presiding" office in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will not perform their office responsibilities well. Joseph wrote from Liberty Jail, "We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion." (D&C 121: 39.) He also wrote: "Behold, there are many called but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen? Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men..." (Id. v. 34-35.) The EXCEPTION is when someone actually does perform their office with meekness, pure knowledge and love unfeigned.

    We should not be surprised at failings, lapses and abuses. That is the norm. We should be appreciative when we encounter the opposite. That is the occasional and delightful exception.

    Just muse over this question: How many Latter-day Saint wives if they were free to choose over (and be promised the return of their children they had in their current marriage) would go back and marry the same man? If a man cannot live so as to make the woman to whom he is married love and admire him as the husband and father in her home, how can such a man hope to hold authority over others outside his family? (That is an important question which WILL be asked in the Day of Judgment.)

    I expect very little from church leaders. I do not look to them as the example of truth and light. I look to Christ. I find His example extraordinary. He was meek; in the way I explain meekness in the book Beloved Enos. That alone is the test of how to hold priesthood authority. I'm thankful when I have, as I do now, a Stake President whom I admire and have no reservations about his character, nature or behavior toward others.

    Notice that in Joseph's statement he refers to "a little authority as they suppose." Implicit in that statement is that they have actually lost authority because they have abused it. When they do, "the heavens withdraw themselves, .... and amen to the priesthood or authority of that man." (121: 37.)

    It's all in the scriptures. We have far too high of expectations of our fellow man. And we have far too many excuses for our own lack of charity toward them. Support men who preside over you. As Paul put it: "Be subject to the powers that be." Good advice. I don't envy those who try to preside in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Most are trying hard to do what they believe to be right. So I support them, pray for them, and do what they ask. But they do not define for me the standard to follow. Christ alone is that standard. In comparison to Him we all look inadequate.

  5. My wife told me that the statement was made in sunday school, that if you don't have a testimony of Joseph Smith you don't have a testimony of the church. I was not there but my reply would have been, yes but neither of those will save you. I have heard whole testimonies that didn't mention Christ at all except to close in His name. It worries me sometimes.

  6. Denver's comment: "Therefore, any leader would be well advised to condemn another person's inspiration only when it is absolutely necessary and when he is absolutely certain he is right. Sadly, that kind of self-control is not often used."

    Denver uses the qualifying phrases "absolutely neccessary" and "when he is absolutely certain he is right" as reason's for a leader's inspiration to override a member's inpiration.

    When a leader has a disagreement with a member over some issue and the argument escalates into whose opinion has more value, then the LDS system of authority always defaults to the leader no matter who is right or wrong. This opens the door for misuse of authority by the leader. The system is flawed because there is no accountability when a leader uses his leadership position to force his will upon the members whom he has authority over.

    Each of these above phrases have been used by leader's (in their own minds) as excuses to justify forcing their will upon the member.

    The member can be just as sure he is right as the leader is. However, the LDS system will always favor the leader's opinion.

    There is no solution to this conundrum without completely dismantling the LDS system of authoritarianism.

  7. There is never any risk or obligation of having to follow any leader (except maybe the Prophet) who we feel is not leading righteously, correctly or fairly.
    Our personal inspiration always trumps a leaders, all leaders should know this, but we must be sure that our revelation is right & concurs with the scriptures & the Prophets. Revelation from the wrong source can feel very right. But no one ever has to follow counsel or requests from leaders that they do not feel is right & the Church teaches that they should not, lest they be held accountable for doing what they knew was wrong & thus, have to suffer the consequences for not following the Spirit above all.

  8. Presupposing this discussion is about a calling being extended to me or advice to do something good, what harm is there in conforming?
    Having been on both sides of that fence, I have been surprised on occasion by counsel/callings given to me and responses to counsel/callings I have extended to others. It is quite humbling in either case.
    If WE are humble in either case, it should never get to a point of contention, questioning or power struggle. In my opinion the important revelation isn’t from the leader, but rather revelation we receive as we accept the counsel/calling and as we try to magnify that calling/counsel.
    Can we ever be wrong in doing right? Is not sustaining our leaders doing what is asked despite their shortcomings? Even when we believe there is a better way? Who will be accountable if our actions are in support of the leader’s counsel/calling? Of course this debate is nullified if we are asked to break commandments or general guidelines of the Church.

  9. Allen says "The system is flawed because there is no accountability when a leader uses his leadership position to force his will upon the members whom he has authority over."

    I understand this view, but I believe it is mistaken (when taking an eternal perspective).

    Ultimately, of course, there WILL BE accountability for the leader who exercised unrighteous dominion over any member.

    In the mean time JS-H 1:25-26 seems like a reasonable approach to take when faced with such a conflict of competing revelation where position trumps personal revelation you know to be true: You know it; you know that God knows it; and since you cannot deny it (verse 25) you should continue as you are/were until further directed by the Lord (verse 26).


What Say You?