Is delusional too strong a word?–Part II

Part II: Previous Remarks from Church Leaders

If Kelly wishes to stick to her guns and declare that anything Church Public Affairs says bears absolutely no relation to the Church’s official position on these matters, we could sigh heavily and pull out some recent—and not-to-recent—remarks from the leaders she claims to want to hear from.

Elder Neil L. Anderson

Elder Anderson directly addressed the question that Kelly and OW say they want an answer to:

Some may sincerely ask the question, “If the power and blessings of the priesthood are available to all, why are the ordinances of the priesthood administered by men?”

When an angel asked Nephi, “Knowest thou the condescension of God?” Nephi answered honestly, “I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.”

When we speak of the priesthood, there are many things we do know.

We know that God loves all His children and is no respecter of persons. “He denieth none that come unto him, … male [or] female; … and all are alike unto God.”

As surely as we know that God’s love is “alike” for His sons and His daughters, we also know that He did not create men and women exactly the same. We know that gender is an essential characteristic of both our mortal and eternal identity and purpose. Sacred responsibilities are given to each gender….

While there are many things we do know about the priesthood, seeing through the lens of mortality does not always give a complete understanding of the workings of God.  But His gentle reminder, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” reassures us that with time and eternal perspective we will see things “as they really are” and more completely understand His perfect love.

We all willingly serve. Sometimes we feel underwhelmed with our calling and wish we were asked to do more. Other times we are grateful when it is time for our release. We do not determine the callings we receive.[1]

Elder Dallin H. Oaks

Elder Oaks’ remarks in April 2014 conference got a great deal of attention (if you haven’t read them, you should read them all). Kelly and many others, however, seem unaware that this is not a “new” take on things, or something novel. Elder Oaks taught virtually the same thing (though in less detail) more than twenty years ago:

President Joseph Fielding Smith taught that the Prophet’s action opened to women the possibility of exercising “some measure of divine authority, particularly in the direction of government and instruction in behalf of the women of the Church.” (Relief Society Magazine, Jan. 1965, p. 5.) President Smith explained: “While the sisters have not been given the Priesthood, … that does not mean that the Lord has not given unto them authority. Authority and Priesthood are two different things. A person may have authority given to him, or a sister to her, to do certain things in the Church that are binding and absolutely necessary for our salvation, such as the work that our sisters do in the House of the Lord.” (Relief Society Magazine, Jan. 1959, p. 4.)….

Under the priesthood authority of the bishop, the president of a ward Relief Society presides over and directs the activities of the Relief Society in the ward. A stake Relief Society president presides and exercises authority over the function to which she has been called. The same is true for the other auxiliaries. Similarly, women called as missionaries are set apart to go forth with authority to teach the everlasting gospel, and women called to work in a temple are given authority for the sacred functions to which they have been called. All function under the direction of the priesthood leader who has been given the priesthood keys to direct those who labor in his area of responsibility.[2]

The answer that Kelly claims to want has been available the whole time.

Elder M. Russell Ballard

Elder Ballard likewise cautioned us against Kelly’s specific tactics more than twenty years ago:

In these latter days, we see people, increasing in number, who urge others to feel and voice dissent when frustration and hardship enter their lives. They would have us believe that the Church or its leaders are unfair to women, or that women are denied opportunities to realize their full potential within the gospel framework. Sisters, we know that the Church is made up of mortals, that priesthood leaders are fallible, and some may not always handle their stewardships with suitable sensitivity. However, I want you to understand this plain truth: the gospel of Jesus Christ provides the only way for women or men to achieve their full potential as children of God. Only the gospel can free us from the terrible effects of sin. Only by following God’s plan for us, with faith and determination to live ultimately in eternal families, can we qualify for eternal life in His presence. Ideally, the Church and the family do not inhibit our progress. They expedite it by putting our feet firmly on the gospel path that leads us back to God. We each have the privilege to carefully and prayerfully seek the Lord’s will for us regarding our individual challenges and dilemmas. Personal revelation is personal, indeed. It is not based on gender or position but on worthiness. It comes in response to sincere inquiry. However, revelation for the Church comes only through the Lord’s prophets, seers, and revelators.

In these confusing times, keeping our feet on the gospel path can be difficult. We hear many persuasive voices urging us to turn our backs on revealed truth and embrace the philosophies of the world.[3]

He also pointed out:

Let me also observe that none of the Twelve are shrinking violets. We each have strong personalities. So when we are unified in a decision, you can rest assured that we have counseled together and come to that decision after much prayer and thoughtful discussion. [4]

And, the leaders do not (contrary to Kelly’s caricature) need a massive sidewalk protest to help them realize that this is an issue:

I have heard that some people think the Church leaders live in a “bubble.” What they forget is that we are men and women of experience, and we have lived our lives in so many places and worked with many people from different backgrounds. Our current assignments literally take us around the globe, where we meet the political, religious, business, and humanitarian leaders of the world. Although we have visited the White House in Washington, D.C., and leaders of nations throughout the world, we have also visited the most humble homes on earth, where we have met and ministered to the poor.

When you thoughtfully consider our lives and ministry, you will most likely agree that we see and experience the world in ways few others do. You will realize that we live less in a “bubble” than most people.[5]

President James E. Faust

President Faust could have saved Kelly some tactics that could not work, had she listened. He spoke more than a decade ago:

Continuous revelation will not and cannot be forced by outside pressure from people and events. It is not the so-called “revelation of social progress.” It does not originate with the prophets; it comes from God. The Church is governed by the prophet under the inspiration, guidance, and direction of the Lord.[6]

Even if Kelly doesn’t believe this, she should at least be savvy enough to realize that those in charge do believe it, and so aren’t likely to respond well to her approach—as she was told over and over again.

Sister leaders too!

And, if Kelly even were to insist that she’ll only listen to women—no XY chromosomes allowed—even that message is available, were she willing to hear it. Said Sister Elaine S. Dalton, the general Young Women’s president:

Young women, you will be the ones who will provide the example of virtuous womanhood and motherhood. You will continue to be virtuous, lovely, praiseworthy, and of good report. You will also be the ones who will provide the example of family life in a time when families are under attack, being redefined, and disintegrating. You will understand your roles and your responsibilities and thus will see no need to lobby for rights.[7]

One really has to ask–what’s wrong with all of the above that makes Kelly think she hasn’t gotten an answer until now?



[1] Neil L. Anderson, “Power in the Priesthood,” Ensign (November 2013).

[2] Dallin H. Oaks, “The Relief Society and the Church,” Ensign (May 1992).

[3] M. Russell Ballard, “Equality Through Diversity,” Ensign (November 1993).

[4]M. Russell Ballard, “Be Still, and Know That I Am God,” CES Devotional for Young Adults, San Diego, California (4 May 2014).

[5]M. Russell Ballard, “Be Still, and Know That I Am God,” CES Devotional for Young Adults, San Diego, California (4 May 2014).

[6]James E. Faust, “Come Out of the Darkness into the Light,” CES Fireside for Young Adults (8 September 2002).

[7]Elaine S. Dalton (YW Gen Pres), “Prophetic Priorities and Dedicated Disciples,” BYU Devotional, 15 January 2013.

Timely quotes on the passing scene–Part 8

Joseph F. Smith:

Those who defend us, do so not infrequently with an apologetic air. The Saints are never safe in following the protests and counsels of those who would have us ever and always in harmony with the world. We have our particular mission to perform; and that we may perform it in consonance with divine purposes, we are running counter to the ways of man. We are made unpopular. The contempt of the world is on us, and we are the unloved child among the peoples of the earth.

– Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, edited by John A. Widtsoe (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1919), 118.

Harold B. Lee:

Mark well those who speak evil of the Lord’s anointed, for they speak from impure hearts. Only the “pure in heart” see the “God” or the divine in man and accept our leaders and accept them as prophets of the Living God. …

Conference Report (October 1947): 67.

Boyd K. Packer:

It seems that there comes, each generation or so, a time when the faithful of the Church are under great criticism, even under attack. That has always been true of those who are under covenant to the Lord. As part of our way of life, we must expect, on occasion, to stand condemned by those outside the Church who oppose the standards the Lord has directed us to keep.

Occasionally one inside the Church joins the ranks of the critics. Beware of covenant breakers. It is one thing for nonmembers to criticize and attack the Church and its leaders. It is quite another when someone within the Church does so, after he has entered into solemn and sacred covenants to do otherwise. It makes a very big difference indeed….

Beware of covenant breakers, inside the Church and out. Beware of those who mock the prophets.

– Boyd K. Packer, “Ordinances,” The Things of the Soul (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997), 193-194 [Address given to 14-stake Brigham Young University fireside, 3 February 1980.]

Timely quotes on the passing scene–Part 5

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. . . . Those who profess to accept the gospel and who at the same time criticize and refuse to follow the counsel of the prophets are assuming an indefensible position. Such a spirit leads to apostasy.

– Marion G. Romney, Conference Report (April 1983): 21.


Dallin H. Oaks:

We have the concept of apostasy. It is grounds for Church discipline. It is far less frequently grounds for Church discipline than immoral behavior. I think if you had 100 Church excommunications, 98 of them would be for immoral behavior. Two of them, perhaps, or one of a hundred, would be for apostasy.

Apostasy, being rare, has to be carefully defined. We have three definitions of apostasy: one is open, public and repeated opposition to the Church or its leaders. Open, public, repeated opposition to the Church or its leaders — I’ll come back to that in a moment. A second one is to teach as doctrine something that is not Church doctrine after one has been advised by appropriate authority that that’s false doctrine. In other words, just teaching false doctrine is not apostasy, but [it is] teaching persistently after you’ve been warned….

So, we go back to the first cause of apostasy — open, public and repeated opposition to the Church and its leaders. That does not include searching for a middle ground. It doesn’t include worrying over a doctrine. It doesn’t include not believing a particular doctrine. None of those are apostasy. None of those are the basis of Church discipline. But when a person comes out publicly and opposes the Church, such as by saying, “I do not think anyone should follow the leaders of the Church in their missionary program, calling these young people to go out and preach the gospel,” or whatever the particular issue of the day. And when you go out and begin to “thump the tub” and try to gather opposition and organize opposition and pronounce and preach against the Church — that can be a basis for Church discipline.

– Dallin H. Oaks, Interview with Helen Whitney, 20 July 2007, italics in original.


Joseph F. Smith:

Of course, if a member or members of the minority regard the action of the majority as a violation of some fundamental principle, or subversive of the inherent rights of men, against which they conceive it to be a matter of conscience to enter protest or absolute repudiation, I understand it is their right to so proceed; but this, let it be understood, would be revolutionary, it would be rebellion, and if persisted in, could only end in such persons voluntarily withdrawing, or being severed from the organization. They cannot hope to be retained in a fellowship and enjoy the rights and privileges of the Church, and at the same time be making war upon its decisions or its rules and policy. But no power on earth, certainly no power in the Church, can prevent men dissatisfied with the Church, from absolutely withdrawing from it; and such is the disfavor with which the Church is regarded by the world that such withdrawals would in most cases be rewarded by the applause of the world. Or, if the dissatisfaction of the member be only with the quorum or council of the priesthood with which he is connected, he would be at liberty to withdraw from that quorum or council, and still retain his membership in the Church. On the other hand, the harmony which I spoke of as being essential to the Church certainly demands that’ the Church shall not tolerate, and indeed, if the life of the organization persists, it cannot tolerate such internal conflicts as those just alluded to, as they would lead to confusion, anarchy, disruption, and final abolishment of the organization.

– Joseph F. Smith, “Editor’s Table: Harmony,” Improvement Era (1905); also in Gospel Doctrine, edited by John A. Widtsoe (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1919), 130.


Timely quotes on the passing scene–Part 4

Neal A. Maxwell (with a quote from Joseph Smith, Jr. that those who mis-cite him should consider):

The Lord will tend and tutor His anointed. He has His special ways, and we can trust Him to manage His leaders. Meanwhile those same leaders, whether Moses or Brigham Young, humbly and genuinely wish that every man were a prophet and each individual could have his own strong witness that this work is true (see Numbers 11:29; D&C 1:20).

Some have difficulty, however, about reposing confidence in the Lord’s anointed. Over the decades, “we have learned by sad experience” that it is better for developing dissidents to be lovingly counseled, and, if necessary, lovingly disciplined “early on.” Often, waiting means that any meekness they have vanishes. It is sad that, as their faith shrinks, their circle of influence may temporarily enlarge. From Liberty Jail, the Prophet Joseph, who had known so much betrayal and learned from so much “sad experience,” declared his determination thus: “Your humble servant or servants, intend from henceforth to disapprobate everything that is not in accordance with the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, … They will not hold their peace—as in times past when they see iniquity beginning to rear its head—for fear of traitors, or the consequences that shall follow by reproving those who creep in unawares, that they may get something with which to destroy the flock.”

A few in the Church simply don’t like to have anybody preside over them. They are like the critics of Nephi, who complained that “Nephi thinks to rule over us,” saying that power, instead, “belongs unto us” (2 Nephi 5:3). It was the same in Moses’ time. Dissidents “rose up” against Moses, complaining, “thou … make thyself … a prince over us. … Ye take too much upon you.” (Numbers 16:2, 3, 13.) Some complained then—and a few do now—”Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us?” (Numbers 12:2.)

— Neal A. Maxwell, Lord, Increase Our Faith (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1994), 92-93.

President J. Reuben Clark:

I wish to make here one observation about the First Vision.

No man or woman is a true member of the Church who does not fully accept the First Vision, just as no man is a Christian who does not accept, first, the Fall of Adam, and second, the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Any titular Church member who does not accept the First Vision but who continues to pose as a Church member, lacks not only moral courage but intellectual integrity and honor if he does not avow himself an apostate and discontinue going about the Church, and among the youth particularly, as a Churchman, teaching not only lack-faith but faith-destroying doctrines. He is a true wolf in sheep’s clothing.

— J. Reuben Clark, “When Are the Writings or Sermons of Church Leaders Entitled to the Claim of Scripture,” address given to seminary and institute teachers, at BYU, 7 July 1954, published in Church News (31 July 1954): 9–10; reprinted in Dialogue 12 (Summer 1979): 68–80.

Joseph F. Smith

Some of our good Latter-day Saints have become so exceedingly good…that they cannot tell the difference between a Saint of God, an honest man, and a son of Beelzebub, who has yielded himself absolutely to sin and wickedness. And they call that liberality, broadness of mind, exceeding love. I do not want to become so blinded with love for my enemies that I cannot discern between light and darkness, between truth and error, between good and evil, but I hope to live so that I shall have sufficient light in me to discern between error and truth, and to cast my lot on the side of truth and not on the side of error and darkness. The Lord bless the Latter-day Saints. If I am too narrow with reference to these matters, I hope that the wisdom of my brethren and the Spirit of Light from the Lord may broaden my soul.

Conference Report (October 1907): 6; address of 4 October 1907.

Neal A. Maxwell:

Sadly, there are those in the Church who try to camouflage their behavioral problems by covering up with intellectual reservations or reasons. They fool only themselves.

— Neal A. Maxwell, dictated December 1996, cited in A Neal A. Maxwell Quote Book (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, Co., 1997), 27.

Timely quotes on the passing scene – Part 1

A tempest in the bloggernacle teapot is eating up a lot of Facebook shares these days, with people opining and wringing their hands about things they have no control over.

Who am I not to join in?

Short and pithy first:

Of course, there are those few who claim that the Holy Ghost leads them yet they do not follow the Brethren, an inconsistency which will grow among us.

[Neal A. Maxwell, That Ye May Believe (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Co., 1992), 53.]

Slightly longer:

A member, at any given time, may not understand one point of doctrine or another, may have a misconception, or even believe something is true that in fact is false.

There is not much danger in that. That is an inevitable part of learning the gospel. No member of the Church should be embarrassed at the need to repent of a false notion he might have believed. Such ideas are corrected as one grows in light and knowledge.

It is not the belief in a false notion that is the problem, it is the teaching of it to others. In the Church we have the agency to believe whatever we want to believe about whatever we want to believe. But we are not authorized to teach it to others as truth.

[Boyd K. Packer, “From Such Turn Away,” Ensign (May 1985): 33.]

And, a blast from the past:

[He] who ignores and repudiates the doctrine of the atonement, . . . Is not worthy of membership in the Church…He may be considered harmless and of no great danger to others, particularly, as long as he keeps his mouth shut and does not advocate his pernicious doctrines, and be permitted to remain a member of the Church; but the moment you find him trying to poison the minds of somebody else—the innocent, the unsuspecting, the unwary—trying to sow the seeds of death and apostasy and unbelief and infidelity in the minds of innocent people, that moment it becomes the duty of the bishop of the ward where the man resides to take him up and try him.

[Joseph F. Smith, in Messages of the First Presidency 5:83, and Improvement Era (November 1917): 7, 11.]

Straightforward ideas, but surprisingly opaque in some quarters.


Prophets and fallibility

In the recent general conference, President Dieter F. Uchdorf said something that has gotten a lot of press:

And, to be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine.

I suppose the Church would be perfect only if it were run by perfect beings. God is perfect, and His doctrine is pure. But He works through us—His imperfect children—and imperfect people make mistakes.

In the title page of the Book of Mormon we read, “And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ.”

This is the way it has always been and will be until the perfect day when Christ Himself reigns personally upon the earth.

It is unfortunate that some have stumbled because of mistakes made by men.[1]

Now, I think that a perfectly true and important statement.

What I’ve found strange, though, is the amount of attention it has garnered. The media (and some of their sources) have acted as if this is something novel, revolutionary, or a sign of things “softening” in the Church.

For example, the Washington Times titles their article, “KELLNER: Mormon leaders open up about church’s shortcomings.”[2]

So close. President Uchdorf was talking about leaders having shortcomings, not particularly the “church,” but let’s let that slide.

More to the point, how can you “open up” about something that’s been wide open for nearly two centuries?

It made the news overseas in England,[3] with the author deciding exactly what mistakes he intuits Pres. Uchdorf as referring to. (For the record, I think he’s wrong.) Terryl and Fiona Givens (both of whom I admire a great deal) were quoted in the New York Times as saying:

“In a single blow, it shattered the cultural mythology that has been at the root of the doubt and disaffection that affects our members,” said Terryl Givens, a professor of literature and religion at the University of Richmond and the author of books on Mormonism.

Mrs. Givens said, “I’m looking at his talk as the balm of Gilead for many people who are struggling with questions to which they cannot find answers.” [4]

While I’m glad that some have found comfort in the statement—though I’m not always certain that the comfort they’ve found is the right type (as I’ll explain later)—I confess to being a bit surprised that they needed this statement in order to be comforted.

I will take the Givens’ word for the fact that there is this cultural issue that needed to be shattered (though I’m surprised, having been in the Church for over forty years, that I have not encountered it). There are, I suppose, different subcultures within the Church, and perhaps this message had not penetrated one or more of them. (The Givenses are academics, however, so you would think that the people they encounter would be of the more informed, more literate type.)

You see, the message given by President Uchdorf is not a new one—it has been given, and repeated, and repeated throughout Church history. Joseph Smith started it out by saying, “a prophet is only a prophet when he is acting as such.”[5] He would elsewhere say:

Altho’ I do wrong, I do not the wrongs that I am charg’d with doing—the wrong that I do is thro’ the frailty of human nature like other men. No man lives without fault. Do you think that even Jesus, if he were here would be without fault in your eyes? They said all manner of evil against him—they all watch’d for iniquity….

When I do the best I can—when I am accomplishing the greatest good, then the most evils are got up against me. – 31 August 1842[6]

And, a month before his death, he told his listeners:

I never told you I was perfect—but there is no error in the revelations which I have taught—must I then be thrown away as a thing of nought? – 12 May 1844[7]

So, out of curiosity, I went through my files, and took a selection of quotations that I have tagged as “prophets: fallible.” I include them below, with dates to show when they were given. I’m sure there are more if I did a concerted search; these are just the ones “lying around” in my files that were easiest to find.

There are a lot of them; feel free to skip to the end if you want to know how this all turns out. (But, you really ought to read them!)

The quotations


…it is not the place for any person to correct any person who is superior to them, but ask the Father in the name of Jesus to bind him up from speaking false principles. I have known many times I have preached wrong.[8]


We must all learn to depend upon God and upon Him alone. Why, the very man upon whom we think we can rely with unbounded confidence, and trust with all we possess, may disappoint us sometimes, but trust in God and He never fails.[9]

The men who hold the Priesthood are but mortal men; they are fallible men. …… No human being that ever trod this earth was free from sin, excepting the Son of God. …[10]


Why do you not open the windows of heaven and get revelation for yourself? and not go whining around and saying, “do you not think that you may be mistaken? Can a Prophet or an Apostle be mistaken?” Do not ask me any such question, for I will acknowledge that all the time, but I do not acknowledge that I designedly lead this people astray one hair’s breadth from the truth, and I do not knowingly do a wrong, though I may commit many wrongs, and so may you. But I overlook your weaknesses, and I know by experience that the Saints lift their hearts to God that I may be led right. If I am thus borne off by your prayers and faith, with my own, and suffered to lead you wrong, it proves that your faith is vain. Do not worry.[11]


I hope what I have said may be blessed to your profit. If I have said any unwise thing, forget it. If I have said any improper thing, I hope it will pass from your minds, and that which is good, cling to you.[12]

And then, we have bishops among us. We will treat them courteously. Have they weaknesses? Yes, they are men just like we are. “What,” say you, “have you weaknesses?” Yes, lots of them. I wish I had not sometimes, and then again I don’t wish so.[13]


Now, was not Joseph Smith a mortal man? Yes. A fallible man? Yes. Had he not weaknesses? Yes, he acknowledged them himself, and did not fail to put the revelations on record in this book [the Book of Doctrine and Covenants] wherein God reproved him. His weaknesses were not concealed from the people. He was willing that people should know that he was mortal, and had failings. And so with Brigham Young. Was not he a mortal man, a man who had weaknesses? He was not a God. He was not an immortal being. He was not infallible. No, he was fallible. And yet when he spoke by the power of God, it was the word of God to this people.[14]

The First Presidency cannot claim, individually or collectively, infallibility. The infallibility is not given to men. They are fallible.[15]


Do not, brethren, put your trust in man though he be a bishop; an apostle, or a president; if you do, they will fail you at some time or place, they will do wrong or seem to, and your support be gone; but if we lean on God, He never will fail us. When men and women depend on God alone, and trust in Him alone, their faith will not be shaken if the highest in the Church should step aside. They could still see that He is just and true, that truth is lovely in His sight, and the pure in heart are dear to Him. Perhaps it is His own design that faults and weaknesses should appear in high places in order that His Saints may learn to trust in Him and not in any man or men. Therefore, my brethren and sisters, seek after the Holy Spirit and His unfailing testimony of God and His work upon the earth. Rest not until you know for yourselves that God has set His hand to redeem Israel, and prepare a people for His coming.[16]


I saw Joseph Smith the Prophet do things which I did not approve of; and yet…I thanked God that He would put upon a man who had these imperfections the power and authority which He placed upon him…for I knew I myself had weaknesses and I thought there was a chance for me. These same weaknesses…I knew were in Heber C. Kimball, but my knowing this did not impair them in my estimation. I thanked God I saw these imperfection.[17]


We can and do know the truth with reference to the matters that concern our salvation . . . But with reference to matters involving merely questions of administration and policy in the Church; matters that do not involve the great and central truths of the gospel—these afford a margin wherein all the human imperfections and limitations of man, even of prophets and apostles, may be displayed….

when you take into account human weaknesses, imperfection, prejudice, passion, bias, it is too much to hope for human nature that man will constantly thus walk linked with God. And so we make this distinction between a man speaking sometimes under the influence of prejudice and pre–conceived notions, and the utterances of a man who, in behalf of the Church of God, and having the requisite authority, and holding the requisite position, may, upon occasion, lay aside all prejudice, all pre–conception, and stand ready and anxious to receive the divine impression of God’s Spirit.[18]


Is anyone so simple as to believe he is serving the Lord when he opposes the President? Of course, the President is not infallible. He makes no claims to infallibility. But when in his official capacity he teaches and advises the members of the Church relative to their duties, let no man who wants to please the Lord say aught against the counsels of the President.[19]


There have been rare occasions when even the President of the Church in his preaching and teaching has not been “moved upon by the Holy Ghost.” You will recall the Prophet Joseph declared that a prophet is not always a prophet….This has happened about matters of doctrine (usually of a highly speculative character) where a subsequent President of the Church and the people themselves have felt that in declaring the doctrine, the announcer was not “moved upon by the Holy Ghost.

How shall the Church know when these adventurous expeditions of the brethren into these highly speculative principles and doctrines meet the requirements of the statutes that the announcers thereof have been “moved upon by the Holy Ghost”? The Church will know by the testimony of the Holy Ghost in the body of the members, whether the brethren in voicing their views are “moved upon by the Holy Ghost”; and in due time that knowledge will be made manifest.[20]

We are not infallible in our judgment, and we err, but our constant prayer is that the Lord will guide us in our decisions, and we are trying so to live that our minds will be open to His inspiration.[21]

Hugh B. Brown:

The only way I know of by which the teachings of any person or group may become binding upon the church is if the teachings have been reviewed by all the brethren, submitted ot the highest councils of the church, and then approved by the whole body of the church…I do not doubt that the brethren have often spoken under inspiration and given new emphasis—perhaps even a new explanation or interpretation—of church doctrine, but that does not become binding upon the church unless and until it is submitted to the scrutiny of the rest of the brethren and later to the vote of the people. Again, we are only bound by the four standard works and are not required to defend what any man or woman says outside of them.[22]


If I should say something which is contrary to that which is written and approved by the Church generally, no one is under obligation to accept it. Everything that I say and everything that any other person says must square itself with that which the Lord has revealed, or it should be rejected.[23]


Joseph Smith, as prophets were and as prophets are, was subject to disappointment, even to despair; to illness, to fatigue, to frustration, and even to failure. He was just a man, after all, and he had no special immunity from any of the realities of life that prevail for all the other beings who have ever been born.[24]


It is not to be thought that every word spoken by the General Authorities is inspired, or that they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost in everything they speak and write. Now you keep that in mind. I don’t care what his position is, if he writes something or speaks something that goes beyond anything that you can find in the standard works, unless that one be the prophet, seer, and revelator––please note that one exception––you may immediately say, “Well, that is his own idea!” And if he says something that contradicts what is found in the standard works (I think that is why we call them “standard”––it is the standard measure of all that men teach), you may know by that same token that it is false; regardless of the position of the man who says it.[25]


There have been times when even the President of the Church has not been moved upon by the Holy Ghost. There is, I suppose you’d say, a classic story of Brigham Young in the time when Johnston’s army was on the move. The Saints were all inflamed, and President Young had his feelings whetted to fighting pitch. He stood up in the morning session of general conference and preached a sermon vibrant with defiance at the approaching army, declaring an intention to oppose them and drive them back. In the afternoon he rose and said that Brigham Young had been talking in the morning but the Lord was going to talk now. He then delivered an address the tempo of which was the exact opposite of the morning sermon.[26]


With all their inspiration and greatness, prophets are yet mortal men with imperfections common to mankind in general. They have their opinions and prejudices and are left to work out their own problems without inspiration in many instances. Joseph Smith recorded that he “visited with a brother and sister from Michigan, who thought that ‘a prophet is always a prophet’; but I told them that a prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such.” (Teachings, p. 278.) Thus the opinions and views even of prophets may contain error unless those opinions and views are inspired by the Spirit. Inspired statements are scripture and should be accepted as such. (D. & C. 68:4.)

Since “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (1 Cor. 14:32), whatever is announced by the presiding brethren as counsel for the Church will be the voice of inspiration. But the truth or error of any uninspired utterance of an individual will have to be judged by the standard works and the spirit of discernment and inspiration that is in those who actually enjoy the gift of the Holy Ghost.[27]

Whether that happened or not, it illustrates a principle: that the Lord can move upon His people but they may speak on occasions their own opinions.[28]


The prophets, as they walk and live among men, are common, ordinary men. Men called to apostolic positions are given a people to redeem. Theirs is the responsibility to lead those people in such a way that they win the battles of life and conquer the ordinary temptations and passions and challenges. And then, speaking figuratively, it is as though these prophets are tapped on the shoulder and reminded: “While you carry such responsibility to help others with their battles, you are not excused from your own challenges of life. You too will be subject to passions, temptations, challenges. Win those battles as best you can.”

Some people are somehow dissatisfied to find in the leading servants of the Lord such ordinary mortals. They are disappointed that there is not some obvious mystery about those men; it is almost as if they are looking for the strange and the occult. To me, however, it is a great testimony that the prophets anciently and the prophets today are called out from the ranks of the ordinary men. It should not lessen our faith, for example, to learn that Elijah was discouraged at times, even despondent. (See 1Kgs.19:4.)

This calling forth of ordinary men for extraordinary purposes is as evident during the Savior’s earthly mission as in former and later eras.[29]


Now my divine commission and your divine commission is number one, to teach the principles of the gospel; number two, to teach them out of the standard works; number three, to teach them by the power of the Holy Ghost; number four, to apply them to the situation at hand; and number five, to bear a personal witness, a witness born of the Spirit that the doctrine that is taught is true. That is the teacher’s divine commission.

I do not always measure up to that by any means. I guess the brethren of whom I am one do as much preaching and speaking in Church congregations as anyone, unless it is the seminary and institute teachers. There are times when I struggle and strive to get a message over and just do not seem to myself to be getting in tune with the Spirit. The fact is, it is a lot harder for me to choose what ought to be said, what subject ought to be considered, than it is for me to get up and preach it. I am always struggling and trying to get the inspiration to know what ought to be said at general conference, or in a stake conference, or whatever. If we labor at it and if we struggle, the Spirit will be given by the prayer of faith. If we do our part we will improve and grow in the things of the Spirit until we get to a position where we can, being in tune, say what the Lord wants said. That is what is expected of us.[30]


To keep ourselves unspotted from the world….includes being aware that God’s work on earth is done by human beings, all of whom have some weaknesses. It encompasses the ability to look for the good accomplished rather than being disillusioned when human failings surface. It includes resisting the urge to proclaim such weaknesses so adamantly that the basic good is overshadowed and testimonies waver.[31]


We make no claim of infallibility or perfection in the prophets, seers, and revelators.[32]

We who have been called to lead the Church are ordinary men and women with ordinary capacities struggling to administer a church which grows at such a pace as to astound even those who watch it closely. Some are disposed to find fault with us; surely that is easy for them to do. But they do not examine us more searchingly than we examine ourselves. A call to lead is not an exemption from the challenges of life. We seek for inspiration in the same way that you do, and we must obey the same laws which apply to every member of the Church.

We are sorry for our inadequacies, sorry we are not better than we are. We can feel, as you can see, the effect of the aging process as it imposes limitations upon His leaders before your very eyes.[33]


Every student of church history knows that there have been differences of opinion among church leaders since the Church was organized.[34]

…even with the best of intentions, it [the governance of the Church by mortal priesthood holders] does not always work the way it should. Human nature may express itself on occasion, but not to the permanent injury of the work.[35]


The members’ faith in the Brethren as living Apostles and prophets not only provides the needed direction but also clearly sustains those leaders in their arduous chores. There is more to it than this, however. Sustaining them also means that we realize those select men are conscious of their own imperfections; each is even grateful that the other Brethren have strengths and talents he may not have. The gratitude of the Brethren for being so sustained thus includes appreciation for members’ willingness to overlook the imperfections of the overseers. The faithful realize the Apostles are working out their salvation, too, including the further development of the Christlike virtues. Serious discipleship requires us all to be “on the way to perfection” rather than thinking we are already in the arrival lounge.[36]


I’ve known a few prophets. You’ll hear them criticized and attacked, and people will sometimes talk about their failures or their weaknesses, because they’re not perfect.[37]

Clearly, my problem and your problem is to hear the word of God from and through imperfect teachers and leaders. [38]


Good but imperfect prophets are especially likely to be slandered. Nor are they immune from trials. In fact, of the responsibilities of priesthood leaders, the Prophet Joseph Smith said, “The higher the authority, the greater the difficulty of the station.” President John Taylor further said, “God tries people according to the position they occupy.”

Near the end, the Prophet noted, “I never told you I was perfect; but there is no error in the revelations which I have taught.” The Prophet Joseph, then and since, has been subjected to intense mortal scrutiny. Yet, as prophesied, many in the world ever continue to “inquire after [his] name” (D&C 122:1).[39]


A few question their faith when they find a statement made by a Church leader decades ago that seems incongruent with our doctrine. There is an important principle that governs the doctrine of the Church. The doctrine is taught by all 15 members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. It is not hidden in an obscure paragraph of one talk. True principles are taught frequently and by many. Our doctrine is not difficult to find.

The leaders of the Church are honest but imperfect men. Remember the words of Moroni: “Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father … ; but rather give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been” (Ether 12:6).[40]

At the same time it should be remembered that not every statement made by a Church leader past or present necessarily constitutes doctrine. It is commonly understood in the church that a statement made by one leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well considered, opinion not meant to be official or binding for the whole Church. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that a prophet is a prophet only when he is acting as such.[41]


We should be careful not to claim for Joseph Smith perfections he did not claim for himself. He need not have been superhuman to be the instrument in God’s hands that we know him to be. In May 1844 Joseph declared, “I never told you I was perfect, but there is no error in the revelations which I have taught.” And he had commented earlier, “Although I do wrong, I do not the wrongs I’m charged with doing. The wrong that I do is through the frailty of human nature like other men. No man lives without fault. Do you think that even Jesus, if he were here, would be without fault in your eyes? His enemies said all manner of evil against him, and they all watched for iniquity in him.” Joseph was a mortal man striving to fulfill an overwhelming divinely appointed mission against all odds. The wonder is not that he ever displayed human failings, but that he succeeded in his mission. His fruits are both undeniable and incomparable.[42]


I don’t expect people to have access to all of these. But, it’s hard to believe they’d never encounter any  of them.

So, if some were genuinely troubled by this issue, I’m sincerely glad that their minds have been put at ease. I can’t help but wonder, though—how hard did they look for an answer to resolve their worry? It’s been taught so often, by so many, for so long, that you either have to willfully ignore all the examples, or almost not make any effort at all toward gospel study.

It just seems kind of odd.

The statements come from everyone: from Joseph Smith and Brigham Young  all the way to the two youngest apostles in conference six months ago. It is from both doctrinal conservatives and others that are more liberal.

And, that the media thinks this is “news” demonstrates how little they know LDS doctrine, and how poorly their sources (often those with a grudge to nurse) inform them.

Postscript and teaser: (What some who are rejoicing are concluding from this statement, however, strikes me as much less benign. I’ll discuss that next time. And, that may help us see why some—and their sympathizers in the media—are excited. I think, however, they’re in for disappointment. And so, I rather dread the inevitable backlash.)

So here’s a poll. Was this new information to you, gentle readers, or no? I realize the answers may not capture every reaction, but hopefully you can find one that approximates what you thought. (Plus, I just wanted to play with the blog’s poll feature.)

[1] Dieter F. Uchdorf, “Come Join With Us,” general conference, October 2013.

[2] Mark A. Kellner, “KELLNER: Mormon leaders open up about church’s shortcomings,” Washington Times (10 October 2013).

[3] David Usborne, “Mormon leader Dieter Uchtdorf says church has ‘made mistakes’,” The Independent (6 October 2013).

[5] History of the Church 5:265.

[6] Words of Joseph Smith, 130, citing Nauvoo Relief Society Minutes.

[7] Words of Joseph Smith, 369, citing Thomas Bullock Report.

[8] Brigham Young, in Thomas Bullock minutes, 8 May 1854, Church Historical Department.

[9] George Q. Cannon, Journal of Discourses (21 April 1867) 12:46.

[10] George Q. Cannon, Gospel Truth, 215.

[11] A Series of Instructions and Remarks by President Brigham Young at a Special Council, Tabernacle, March 22, 1858 (Salt Lake City, 1858), pamphlet in Frederick Kesler Collection, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah.

[12] George Q. Cannon, April 6, 1879. Journal of Discourses 20:205.

[13] John Taylor, Journal of Discourses 20: 357 (30 November 1879).

[14] George Q. Cannon, August 12, 1883. Journal of Discourses 24:274.

[15] George Q. Cannon, Gospel Truth, 1:206.

[16] George Q. Cannon, “Need For Personal Testimonies,” (15 February 1891), Collected Discourses 2:178. See Millennial Star 53:658–659, 673–675.

[17] Lorenzo Snow, cited by George Q. Cannon, in George Q. Cannon Diary, 7 January 1898.

[18] Brigham H. Roberts, Defense of Faith and the Saints, 2 vols (Provo: Utah, 2002 edition), 346, 554–555.

[19] Joseph F. Merrill, Conference Report (1941): 51.

[20] J. Reuben Clark, “When Are the Writings or Sermons of Church Leaders Entitled to the Claim of Scripture,” Address given to seminary and institute teachers, at BYU, on July 7, 1954, published in Church News (July 31, 1954): 9–10; reprinted in Dialogue 12 (Summer 1979), 68–80.

[21] J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Church News [31 July 1954]: 8.

[22] Hugh B. Brown cited in Edwin B. Firmage (ed.), An Abundant Life: The Memoirs of Hugh B. Brown (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1988), 124; cited in Dennis B. Horne (ed.), Determining Doctrine: A Reference Guide for Evaluation Doctrinal Truth (Roy, Utah: Eborn Books, 2005), 272–73.

[23] Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 1:322.

[24] Boyd K. Packer, The Things of the Soul (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997), 36 [Address given as Joseph Smith Memorial Sermon at Logan Institute 6 December 1959.]

[25] Harold B. Lee, “The Place of the Living Prophet, Seer, and Revelator,” Address to Seminary and Institute of Religion Faculty, BYU, 8 July 1964; see Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 541.

[26] Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 542.

[27] Bruce R. McConkie, “Prophets,” in Mormon Doctrine, 2nd edition, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, Inc., 1966), 608.

[28] Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 542.

[29] Boyd K. Packer, The Holy Temple (Deseret Book Co., 1980), 102.

[30] Bruce R. McConkie, “The Foolishness of Teaching,” evening with a General Authority, September 1981.

[31] Marvin J. Ashton, Be of Good Cheer (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1987), 12.

[32] James E. Faust, “Continuous Revelation,” Ensign (November 1989): 11.

[33] Boyd K. Packer, “Revelation in a Changing World,” Ensign (November 1989): 16.

[34] Dallin H. Oaks, The Lord’s Way (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1991), 200.

[35] Boyd K. Packer, “”I Say unto You, Be One,'” in BYU Devotional and Fireside Speeches, 1990–1991 (Provo, Utah: University Publications, 1991), 84.

[36] Neal A. Maxwell, Lord, Increase Our Faith (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1994), 105.

[37] Henry B. Eyring, To Draw Closer to God: A Collection of Discourses (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1995), 108–109.

[38] Henry B. Eyring, To Draw Closer to God: A Collection of Discourses (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1995), 13.

[39] Neal A. Maxwell, Promise of Discipleship (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 2001), chapter 10.

[40] Elder Neil L. Anderson, “Trial of Your Faith,” Ensign (November 2012).

[41] Elder D. Todd Christofferson, “The Doctrine of Christ,” April 2012 General Conference, Sunday Morning Session (1 April 2012).

[42] G. Todd Christopherson, “The Prophet Joseph Smith,” devotional, BYU Idaho, 24 September 2013, 14:15-15:30

Lying and the unforgiveable sin

Joseph F. Smith said in General Conference in the wake of difficulties and stresses of the US government’s opposition to LDS plural marriage:

I stand before you today, my brethren and sisters and friends, on the ground that I have tried to be true to God, to the utmost of my knowledge and ability; that I have tried to be true to my people, to the utmost of my knowledge and ability; and I have been true to the world in every pledge and promise that I have made to the world, notwithstanding there have been men who have shown a disposition to make it appear that I was a hypocrite, that I was two-faced; that I was one thing to the world and another thing in secret. I want it distinctly understood that those who have conveyed such an idea as this to mankind have been wilfully injuring me, wronging me, and falsifying me and my character before the people, and I want it distinctly understood those things must stop. They must stop at least among men who profess to be members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I can endure to be maligned and persecuted by my enemies, who are also enemies of the Kingdom of God, but I do not want to be maligned and belied by men who profess to be members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, neither intentionally nor otherwise. Now, I trust that you understand clearly what I mean. I do not know how I can make it much plainer or clearer, with the knowledge that I have of language.

–          Conference Report (October 1910): 2–3.

It is an interesting thing to note that lying and liars come under such condemnation. They get grouped with murderers, adulterers, idol worshipers and the like. We are warned against presuming that a little lie can be excused or winked at. Even lying to counter the suspicion that another lies is forbidden. Indeed, the ultimate fate is frightening:

Wherefore, I, the Lord, have said that the fearful, and the unbelieving, and all liars, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie, and the whoremonger, and the sorcerer, shall have their part in that lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death (D&C 63:17).

Such folk have a telestial destination, ultimately:

These are they who are liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers, and whosoever loves and makes a lie. These are they who suffer the wrath of God on earth. These are they who suffer the vengeance of eternal fire. These are they who are cast down to hell and suffer the wrath of Almighty God, until the fulness of times, when Christ shall have subdued all enemies under his feet, and shall have perfected his work; (D&C 76:103-107)

It is particularly sobering to note that President Smith also reproves those members who lie about him “intentionally…or otherwise.” Thus, to even unwittingly spread falsehood is a grave matter—particularly, one suspects, when with a little interrogation one could know better. “Lying” in the Church is forbidden, and it is perhaps no surprise that it is coupled with “backbiting” and “evil speaking”—when one intends to disparage or reduce the influence of someone, speaking behind their back and shading the truth become more attractive (or, as President Smith suggests, may incline us to too readily believe the worst of someone, or repeat falsehoods).

Why is lying so serious? I love the description offered by Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, a Canadian Roman Catholic priest. In discussing “blasphemy against the Holy Ghost,” he glosses a part of what Jesus may be cautioning against:

Be careful not to lie, not to distort the truth, because the real danger it that, by lying, you begin to distort and warp your own hearts. If you lie to yourself long enough, eventually you will lose sight of the truth and believe the lie and become unable any longer to tell the difference between truth and lies. What becomes unforgivable about that is not that God does not want to forgive, but that you no longer want to be forgiven. God easily forgives all of your weaknesses and will always forgive anyone who wants to be forgiven, but you can so warp your own conscience that you see God’s truth and forgiveness itself as a lie, as Satan, and see your own lie as truth and forgiveness. That is the only sin that truly puts us outside of God’s mercy, not because God refuses to extend mercy further, but because you can look mercy in the eye and call it a lie.

–          Ronald Rolheiser, Seeking Spirituality: Guidelines for a Christian Spirituality for the Twenty-First Century (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1998), 215.

Perhaps this is why Sherem is so alarmed at his state at having risked the unforgivable sin—because he “lied unto God.”

John Gee at BYU recently wrote some kind things about me, and some other people he had worked with. I don’t know all the people he mentions, but I do know some of them well. I can endorse what he said about them. And, I would add one other thing—those that I worked with (and I include Gee here) were a pleasure to work with because they were scrupulously, bend-over-backward honest. They never dissembled, and were always frank.

It is so much easier to work and relax around such people, for one always knows where one stands. Like Gee, I’m grateful for my association with them.

On our duties to those we forgive

Someone asked me recently about duties toward those who harm us seriously–the profound betrayals of trust, the abusers, and so forth.

To be sure, we are to forgive them. But, does this forgiveness necessarily involve a restoration of our previous relationship, in all its dimensions?

I do not think so. We must forgive everyone, but everyone is not entitled to our faith, our trust, or our intimacy. (They may regain it, of course, but that depends upon them and their actions, not upon us or our forgiveness.)

To use a well-worn example, Jesus forgave the Roman soldiers who nailed him to the cross, but upon his resurrection he did not visit those same soldiers and sit down to a meal of fish and honeycomb with them. They had not demonstrated themselves ready or worthy of such an association.

Surely the Lord does not expect us to expose ourselves again to repeated abuse or manipulation by a parent or spouse, for example. We have moral agency, and need not acquiesce in our own abuse or mistreatment. We forgive everyone; we would likely only trust or have confidence in someone who had repented and changed—and, sadly, not everyone does or will.

Joseph F. Smith illustrated the proper way between two extremes:

I feel in my heart to forgive all men in the broad sense that God requires of me to forgive all men, and I desire to love my neighbor as myself; and to this extent I bear no malice toward any of the children of my Father…

Some of our good Latter–day Saints have become so exceedingly good that they cannot tell the difference between a Saint of God, an honest man, and a son of Beelzebub, who has yielded himself absolutely to sin and wickedness. And they call that liberality, broadness of mind, exceeding love. I do not want to become so blinded with love for my enemies that I cannot discern between light and darkness, between truth and error, between good and evil, but I hope to live so that I shall have sufficient light in me to discern between error and truth, and to cast my lot on the side of truth and not on the side of error and darkness. The Lord bless the Latter–day Saints. If I am too narrow with reference to these matters, I hope that the wisdom of my brethren and the Spirit of Light from the Lord may broaden my soul…

There are those —and they abound largely in our midst —who will shut their eyes to every virtue and to every good thing connected with this latter–day work, and will pour out floods of falsehood and misrepresentation against the people of God. I forgive them for this. I leave them in the hands of the just Judge. Let him deal with them as seemeth him good, but they are not and cannot become my bosom companions. I cannot condescend to that. While I would not harm a hair of their heads, while I would not throw a straw in their path, to hinder them from turning from the error of their way to the light of truth; I would as soon think of taking a centipede or a scorpion, or any poisonous reptile, and putting it into my bosom, as I would think of becoming a companion or an associate of such men.

– President Joseph F. Smith, Conference Report (October 1907): 5–6; also in Gospel Doctrine (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1986), 337.

The mistake against which he speaks is that of a false, or we might say “wicked,” tolerance. We need not accept or endorse anything and everything simply to be thought “tolerant.” This kind of tolerance is dishonest–we pretend that certain actions do not bother us, when they do (or ought to). Additionally, it also winks at sin and may encourage it. It denies that serious matters are truly serious. It minimizes or denies sin, instead of recognizing its depth.

This is not forgiveness, so much as it is a denial that there is anything much to forgive.

If we are not careful, our supposed broadness of mind can lead us into the broad roads and wide gate that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13; 1 Nephi 12:17; 3 Nephi 14:13).