April 01, 2017

What if God's Mouthpiece Isn't Actually Speaking For God? - Why I Feel Sad During General Conference

Mormons talk a lot about General Conference, which is happening this weekend.

In Mormonism, there is a tradition of turning to leaders for guidance, and there seems to be a cultural idea that the higher the leader, the better the guidance, so hearing from the highest leaders (especially the top of the top leader, the prophet, who they believe is God's mouthpiece) is seen as a real treat.

In light of this, I want to bring up the LDS break off sect, the FLDS. The FLDS group believes that Warren Jeffs is a prophet and that he speaks for God. They also believe in the Book of Mormon and the early Mormon prophets like Brigham Young and Joseph Smith.

How is following Warren Jeffs different than following Thomas Monson, the mainstream prophet? Mormons believe in following the prophet. Warren Jeffs' followers also believe in following him as their prophet. Both of them claim continuing revelation. Both of them claim to have priesthood authority that comes from God through Joseph Smith.

If Warren Jeffs is wrong, will his followers question him? If Thomas Monson is wrong, will his followers question him?

It really scares me to see this level of devotion to leaders in any religion, especially in these two religions because they hit so close to home for me.

Warren Jeffs has done horrible things. I think the Mormon church has also done horrible things, more so in the past than Warren Jeffs, but on a much larger scale.

To be clear, that doesn't mean I think that Mormons are bad people, just like I don't think Warren Jeffs' followers are bad people.

But I think that a belief that men can speak for God is harmful and dangerous. It's too much power for any one person or organization and is often abused.

General Conference time makes me sad because it reminds me of these issues and how it seems to be impossible for me to talk to Mormons about this without them feeling attacked. I don't mean this to be an attack. This is something that sincerely worries me and that I really do think is dangerous.

1 comment:

  1. The primary reason why many LDS people feel attacked by these types of comments is because so many do not understand LDS doctrine correctly. Many (myself included) were brought up on the adage, "When the prophet speaks, the discussion is over."

    This never has been reflective of actual LDS doctrine.

    The belief that any human speaks directly for God, that is, that every word they utter is an exact recitation of what God wants said, is dangerous.

    The LDS Church teaches that all of God's sons and daughters - all of us - can receive guidance from God.

    Individuals can receive direction for their individual lives, parents for their families, and Church leaders to guide them in helping those they are called to watch over.

    For the President of the Church, that is the whole Church.

    So yes, what the Prophet says in his official capacity carries a lot of weight. LDS people have faith that the Prophet has sought for and received direction from God.

    And then, (and this is crucial), when they hear something that applies to them, it is their responsibility to seek direction from God to know if it is right.

    As I understand the FLDS, (and I don't want to demean anyone), they look to Warren Jeffs as being a literal mouthpiece for God. They believe that whatever he says is exactly what God wants said.

    Members of the LDS Church look to their Prophet as a wise leader who strives to live close to God and to receive direction to guide the Church.

    It is understood, as LDS Church leaders have been emphasizing a lot more recently, that the leaders of the Church are humans just like all the rest of us; they are normal people who have been given big responsibilities. Because they are human, they do make and have made mistakes. They are not to be looked at as infallible. Members of the Church look to them for guidance, but ultimately the responsibility for deciding what is true and the will of God is between the individual and God.

    As I said in the preceding paragraph, the LDS Church in recent years has been putting a lot of effort into clarifying all of this, and recognizing that, yes, indeed, mistakes have been made by Church leaders in the past.

    Exactly why God allows these things to happen comes down to a matter of faith, and it is a matter that is very non-trivial. In a nutshell, it is that the purpose of this life is for every human to learn from their experiences in an environment of unfettered freedom. If God corrected every mistake, or even just a few of the "big" ones, there would be no freedom.

    But God's view is very long. He sees the way for it to all work out in the end. That is why the Son of God suffered not only for our sins, but also for the damage caused by the mistakes and sins of others. That is why the long view is even possible.

    That is why the name of the LDS Church is "The Church of Jesus Christ..." Jesus Christ is at the absolute center of absolutely everything.

    This is a huge matter of faith. The topic of how God makes up for all of the pain and suffering in this world is as big as eternity, and, I believe, is the central question of life.

    There are a number of issues that critics of the Church point out that are not in step with current popular opinion. In some cases, some of these criticisms illuminate some of the mistakes of the past. Many others fall into the category of "my ways are not your ways." God doesn't change His mind just because the way that He sees things has become unpopular. That can be a very hard thing to wrap one's head around (especially for social progressives like me).

    This is long, but simplistic answers to these important and valid questions do nothing but make matters worse. These are serious questions, and the answers are complicated and nuanced. Only serious, thoughtful answers will do.

    I speak only for myself based on my best understanding; I in no way claim to speak for the Church in any official way.

    But I hope that my insight has been helpful.