Let’s start by reading a quote. As you read, think about how this makes you feel.
I tell you, this people that are commonly called Negroes are the children of old Cain. I know they are; I know that they cannot bear rule in the Priesthood, for the curse on them was to remain upon them until the residue of the posterity of Michael and his wife receive the blessings the seed of Cain would have received had they not been cursed, and hold the keys of the Priesthood until the times of the restitution shall come, and the curse be wiped off from the earth and from Michael’s seed. Then Cain’s seed will be had in remembrance and the time come when the curse should be wiped off.
Now, then, in the Kingdom of God on the earth, a man who has the African blood in him cannot hold one jot nor tittle of Priesthood. Brigham Young (5 January, 1852; The Complete Discourses of Brigham Young, ed. Richard S. Van Wagoner (Salt Lake City: Smith-Pettit Foundation, 2009), 1:468-71)
What does it mean to you that a prophet of the Lord said this?
Now read this quote:
We will never get a man into space. This earth is man’s sphere and it was never intended that he should get away from it. The moon is a superior planet to the earth and it was never intended that man should go there. You can write it down in your books that this will never happen. Joseph Fielding Smith
What does it mean to you that an Apostle of the Lord said this?
Let’s consider now what the Book of Mormon teaches us about the role of prophets. Read the following:
- 1 Nephi 1:4 - 15, 18
- Mosiah 11:20 - 25
- Mosiah 13:33 - 35
- Mosiah 15:10 - 13
- 3 Nephi 12:1 - 2
- Ether 7:23 - 27
The common attribute we see in the role of the prophets is preaching repentance. Their role is to testify of Christ, and inspire and guide people to have faith in Him, be baptized, and receive the Holy Ghost.
- After Jane has received the Holy Ghost, who is responsible for Jane’s repentance?
- How should Jane evaluate her decisions and track her progress toward salvation?
- What is a prophet’s role in Jane’s repentance and salvation after she has received the Holy Ghost?
Consider now this statement that Elder Richard G. Scott gave during an address about marriage to BYU students in 2011.
As I have thought back over our life together, I realize how blessed we’ve been. There has never been an argument in our home, never an unkind word between us. Richard G. Scott
- How successful do you think you will be living up to the Scotts’s example?
- Do you feel that this should be the standard for all righteous marriages?
Personally, I do not. Human beings are diverse and complicated, and one person’s conflict resolution style is often different from another’s. Relationship experts have observed that it is more important that relationship partners have compatible conflict resolution styles than that they never argue. (Unkind words are another matter).
So, if we are called upon to obey the prophets, are we condemned if we argue with our spouses? Or more generally, are we bound to obey and recognize every word that proceeds from the mouth of a prophet or apostle?
Of course not. The prophets, we learn from the Book of Mormon, are tasked with calling us to repentance and testifying of Christ. When we receive guidance and counsel for living our lives from them, we should recognize it for what it is: well-intended advice from someone who has developed a mature relationship with God. And the things they say are not always true or right. In some cases, the things they claim to be true are later rejected by the Church (i.e., Brigham Young’s statement from above) or can be objectively proven false (i.e., Joseph Fielding Smith’s statement regarding the moon). Prophets are prone to speaking their opinions and beliefs, and when they speak their personal beliefs, they run the risk of it being misinterpreted as doctrine.
The things they say are only binding when the Holy Ghost confirms to us that the Lord intends for us to obey.
This liberty to heed the prophets as we receive confirmation from the Holy Ghost comes with a very big caveat.
Read Helaman 13:24-33.
There are issues in the Church right now for which I am at risk of rejecting the prophets.
- Abortion – I vote pro-choice
- Same Sex Marriage – I believe it should be legal
- Women and Priesthood – I see no harm in them holding it
On these matters, I tend to praise church leaders who are more accommodating of my views, and am more critical of church leaderes who disagree with me. Are my biases preventing me from receiving the guidance of the Spirit?
If I am honest, my answer is, “I don’t know.”
So what do I do now?