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Blind Obedience

I never realized the origin of the idea that if you follow the counsel of your Mormon priesthood leaders, even if it’s wrong, you will be blessed:

President Marion G. Romney tells of this incident, which happened to him: I remember years ago when I was a Bishop I had President [Heber J.] Grant talk to our ward. After the meeting I drove him home….Standing by me, he put his arm over my shoulder and said: “My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church, and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it.” Then with a twinkle in his eye, he said, “But you don’t need to worry. The Lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray.” [In Conference Report, October 1), p. 78]

This is as quoted in Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet which was quoted from during last Sunday’s sacrament meeting. I was actually shocked to hear someone say that. The idea is so bass-ackward that I thought I had just imagined it. “People couldn’t be that wrong headed. I must have been dreaming that up.” Never underestimate the power of religious fundamentalism, I guess.

Combine that with the belief that priesthood leaders of all levels are inspired and the following gem (via Talking to God) and you have a perfect recipe for blind obedience and another Mountain Meadows Massacre.

What’s the point of personal revelation then? Just follow the prophet. He knows the way.

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  1. Jonathan Blake said,

    September 27, 2007 @ 10:29 am

    I’ve got to stop paying attention in sacrament meeting. It’s just pissing me off.

  2. Lincoln Cannon said,

    September 27, 2007 @ 6:49 pm

    Appeals to blind obedience also bother me quite a bit — to put it lightly. ;-)

    Here are some more positive thoughts from Mormon authorities . . .

    “But there remained two of the men in the camp, the name of the one was Eldad, and the name of the other Medad: and the spirit rested upon them; and they were of them that were written, but went not out unto the tabernacle: and they prophesied in the camp. And there ran a young man, and told Moses, and said, Eldad and Medad do prophesy in the camp. And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Moses, one of his young men, answered and said, My lord Moses, forbid them. And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the LORD’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them!” (Bible, Numbers 11: 26-29)

    “And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” (Bible, Revelation 19: 10)

    “‘Do you believe Joseph Smith, Jun., to be a Prophet?’ Yes, and every other man who has the testimony of Jesus. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith 119)

    “Salvation cannot come without revelation; it is in vain for anyone to minister without it. No man is a minister of Jesus Christ without being a Prophet. No man can be a minister of Jesus Christ except he has the testimony of Jesus; and this is the spirit of prophecy. Whenever salvation has been administered, it has been by testimony.” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith 160)

    “President Joseph Smith read the 14th chapter of Ezekiel — said the Lord had declared by the Prophet, that the people should each one stand for himself, and depend on no man or men in that state of corruption of the Jewish church — that righteous persons could only deliver their own souls — applied it to the present state of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — said if the people departed from the Lord, they must fall — that they were depending on the Prophet, hence were darkened in their minds, in consequence of neglecting the duties devolving upon themselves . . .” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith 237-238)

    “This morning I read German and 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.” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith 278)

    “What a pity it would be if we were led by one man to utter destruction! Are you afraid of this? I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually.” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 9: 149)

    “How easy it would be for your leaders to lead you to destruction, unless you actually know the mind and will of the spirit yourselves.” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 4: 368)

    “I do not wish any Latter-day Saint in this world, nor in heaven, to be satisfied with anything I do, unless the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, the spirit of revelation, makes them satisfied . . . Suppose that the people were heedless, that they manifested no concern with regard to the things of the kingdom of God, but threw the whole burden upon the leaders of the people, saying, ‘If the brethren who take charge of matters are satisfied, we are,’ this is not pleasing in the sight of the Lord.” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 3: 45)

    “Now those men, or those women, who know no more about the power of God, and the influences of the Holy Spirit, than to be led entirely by another person, suspending their own understanding, and pinning their faith upon another’s sleeve, will never be capable of entering into the celestial glory, to be crowned as they anticipate; they will never be capable of becoming Gods. They cannot rule themselves, to say nothing of ruling others, but they must be dictated to in every trifle, like a child. They cannot control themselves in the least, but James, Peter, or somebody else must control them. They never can become Gods, nor be crowned as rulers with glory, immortality, and eternal lives. They never can hold sceptres of glory, majesty, and power in the celestial kingdom. Who will? Those who are valiant and inspired with the true independence of heaven, who will go forth boldly in the service of their God, leaving others to do as they please, determined to do right, though all mankind besides should take the opposite course. Will this apply to any of you? Your own hearts can answer.” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 1: 312)

    “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 . . .” (Apostle George Q. Cannon, Millennial Star 53: 658-59)

    “He is a prophet, I am a prophet, you are, and anybody is a prophet who has the testimony of Jesus Christ, for that is the spirit of prophecy.” (Wilford Woodruff, Journal of Discourses 13: 165)

    “We talk of obedience, but do we require any man or woman to ignorantly obey the counsels that are given? Do the First Presidency require it? No, never.” (Joseph F. Smith, Journal of Discources 16: 248)

    “And none are required to tamely and blindly submit to a man because he has a portion of the priesthood. We have heard men who hold the priesthood remark, that they would do anything they were told to do by those who presided over them, if they knew it was wrong; but such obedience as this is worse than folly to us; it is slavery in the extreme; and the man who would thus willingly degrade himself should not claim a rank among intelligent beings, until he turns from his folly. A man of God… would despise the idea. Others, in the extreme exercise of their almighty authority have taught that such obedience was necessary, and that no matter what the saints were told to do by their presidents, they should do it without asking any questions. When Elders of Israel will so far indulge in these extreme notions of obedience as to teach them to the people, it is generally because they have it in their minds to do wrong themselves.” (Apostle Samuel Richards, Millennial Star 14: 593-595)

    “President Wilford Woodruff is a man of wisdom and experience, and we respect him, but we do not believe his personal views or utterances are revelations from God; and when ‘Thus saith the Lord’, comes from him, the saints investigate it: they do not shut their eyes and take it down like a pill.” (Apostle Charles W. Penrose, Millennial Star 54: 191)

    David Ransom: As the world leader of the the Church, how are you in touch with God? Can you explain that for me?

    Gordon B. Hinckley: I pray. I pray to Him. Night and morning. I speak with Him. I think He hears my prayers. As He hears the prayers of others. I think He answers them.

    David Ransom: But more than that, because you’re leader of the Church. Do you have a special connection?

    Gordon B. Hinckley: I have a special relationship in terms of the Church as an institution. Yes.

    David Ransom: And you receive . . .

    Gordon B. Hinckley: For the entire Church.

    David Ransom: You receive?

    Gordon B. Hinckley: Now we don’t need a lot of continuing revelation. We have a great, basic reservoir of revelation. But if a problem arises, as it does occasionally, a vexatious thing with which we have to deal, we go to the Lord in prayer. We discuss it as a First Presidency and as a Council of the Twelve Apostles. We pray about it and then comes the whisperings of a still small voice. And we know the direction we should take and we proceed accordingly.

    David Ransom: And this is a Revelation?

    Gordon B. Hinckley: This is a Revelation.

    David Ransom: How often have you received such revelations?

    Gordon B. Hinckley: Oh, I don’t know. I feel satisfied that in some circumstances we’ve had such revelation. It’s a very sacred thing that we don’t like to talk about a lot. A very sacred thing.

    David Ransom: But it’s a special experience?

    Gordon B. Hinckley: I think it’s a real thing. It’s a very real thing. And a special experience.

    (Compass Interview, 9 November 1997)

  3. cybr said,

    September 28, 2007 @ 12:24 am

    Don’t start on the Mountain Meadow Massacre unless you also had family there.

  4. Jonathan Blake said,

    September 28, 2007 @ 9:09 am


    Thank you for reminding me that Mormonism isn’t synonymous with the authoritarian streak that seems to prevail today. The early Mormon church seems to have been a lot more egalitarian. At least the rhetoric was. :)

    I imagine the “follow the living prophet” meme got started with Official Declaration 1 when such a stark change of doctrine would have caused a lot of controversy. To keep the community together, the church leadership seem to have stressed public obedience and support of the hierarchy, the center of the community. It seems like a good survival strategy for the institution of the church rather than wise doctrine for individual salvation.


    I’m not sure why I shouldn’t denounce an act of senseless violence like MMM unless my ancestors were involved. Similar reasoning would forbid me from discussing the Holocaust, for example.

    I will retract one thing that I said: there is one thing lacking for the creation of a similar MMM. Mormons don’t generally fear for their lives anymore, so I doubt that a priesthood leader could convince many people to kill men, women, and children. But he could convince them to ostracize a homosexual child or pay 10% of their income to an institution that doesn’t disclose how they use the money.

  5. cybr said,

    September 28, 2007 @ 9:53 am

    I’m not saying denounce the act. I’m saying don’t spout a bunch of rhetoric to me about what happened there. My mother’s family comes from Enterprise which is just north of M.M. We had a relative who was involved in it. Journals from the family talk about how it effected him and his families. How those individuals involved were never the same. How it effected their families as well. Acknowledgment that they should have waited for word from Salt Lake. Regret for the actions taken those days. I’d blame the LDS church for the actions of a few like I blame the Catholic church because of Irish militants. I’m just saying don’t try and spout off reasons about what you think you know about that event, I’ll be more than happy to verbally anybody a new one.

  6. Jonathan Blake said,

    September 28, 2007 @ 10:25 am

    I’m no expert on the history but a few things are apparent, even to those casually acquainted with the massacre. People followed their priesthood leaders in perpetrating the slaughter of 120 men, women, and children who had surrendered to the Mormons. I agree that it was a tragedy for not only those who died, but also for those who were spared, those who did the killing, and the killers’ families and friends. A number of things could be learned from this whether or not you blame those who did the killing.

    The one thing that I want to point out here is that priesthood leaders can lead people to do horrible things. We should never follow someone just because of their position in the church. I object to that obedience which is contrary to conscience. Yet we have some people in the church preaching exactly that, some of them in positions of authority (I’m looking at you, Romney, Benson, and Oaks).

  7. cybr said,

    September 28, 2007 @ 11:08 am

    Show me where I’ve said blindly follow?

  8. Jonathan Blake said,

    September 28, 2007 @ 11:28 am

    You never did, and I never implied that you did. You seem to be responding to something that I’m not trying to say. If you don’t disagree with my point about blind obedience, then are you objecting to the my use of MMM as an example of priesthood leaders causing the people to commit an atrocity?

  9. cybr said,

    September 28, 2007 @ 11:54 am

    And, I don’t even have a position of authority. Don’t believe me? Ask my wife, she’s in charge.

    Of course I seem to not be be following the masses of the blog, “oh, I agree with you Jon.” “You’re right Jon.” And, I’ve even arguing non-religious points and can’t agree with you. But, then you’ve got your mind set as to what kind of blind Mormon follower you think I am, that you’ll never agree with me. But, that’s fine. I fit in here about as well as I fit in at church. I didn’t go to seminary, can’t stand BYU, dread the idea of living in Utah (except the kind of jobs I’m looking for are more abundant up there in Provo), got picked on by other youth for not fitting in, and I didn’t even get past the first year of Boy Scouts. I bet I’ve had even less LDS friends than you. Sure, I may like individuals like Gordy, but that doesn’t mean I take every word he says as Gospel. I’d be more inclined to follow Jonathan G. Kimball’s sermons. But, if you want to start accusing me of being a Peter Priesthood, you can fuck off. I’m tired of asshole family members (you don’t even tip the iceberg in that regard), and I deal with enough shit at work.

    Preach your religious humanistic rhetoric all you want. It’s hard to swallow when I can’t even see a reason to believe in humanity anyways. That’s my fatalist side. My religious side has been that I believe the search for the divine has given me some minute hope for humanity where I cannot find it in humanity itself. And, you haven’t proven to me that the humanistic atheist religion (yes I called it a religion) is any better than any other asshole human concept on this planet. Self included.

  10. cybr said,

    September 28, 2007 @ 11:56 am

    You never did, and I never implied that you did.

    I object to that obedience which is contrary to conscience. Yet we have some people in the church preaching exactly that, some of them in positions of authority (I’m looking at you, Romney, Benson, and Oaks).

    I thought you were talking about me.

  11. Jonathan Blake said,

    September 28, 2007 @ 12:15 pm

    (I’m looking at you, Romney, Benson, and Oaks).

    I thought you were talking about me.

    Ah! Well my little ambiguity certainly went sour. Wars have been started for less. Damn the English language! Perhaps I should write this blog in Lojban. :)

    By the way, you don’t have to agree with me to be welcomed here, and humanism being a religion depends on the definition of religion. :)

  12. Cybr said,

    November 29, 2007 @ 3:20 am

    Ambiguity my ass!

    I am sure you meant your Engrish to be plain enough for a janitor to understand. Otherwise you wouldn’t have worded it the way you did.

    For somebody who dislikes labels, you’re more than happy to label me. Very well Horton, you win.

  13. Jonathan Blake said,

    November 29, 2007 @ 5:23 am


    I’ve notice a tendency to take things personally. I think you’re giving me too much credit for control of my language. I have no way to prove that I didn’t mean to refer to you when I said “I’m looking at you, Romney, Benson, and Oaks”—the “you” referring to the appositive phrase “Romney, Benson, and Oaks”, not to anyone else. I can’t prevent you from believing that it wasn’t a mistake on my part however much I would like you to believe me.

  14. Jonathan Blake said,

    November 29, 2007 @ 11:28 pm

    Just for the record, I’m tempted to take offense at the insinuation behind “plain enough for a janitor to understand”. My father worked as a janitor for a time to keep food on our table. He was one of the smartest men that I knew personally. His father also worked as a janitor, cleaning the schoolhouse in their small Utah town to earn enough money to provide for his family. I don’t assume that I have to dumb something down for a janitor to understand.

    But I’m only tempted to take offense. Get thee behind me Satan! ;)

  15. Jonathan Blake said,

    November 30, 2007 @ 7:17 am

    Get thee behind me Satan! ;)

    BTW, this is only my attempt at humor. I’m not offended. I’m not upset. I’m not accusing anyone of being in cahoots with demonic principalities, powers, or dominions. Besides, I don’t believe in Satan. :)

  16. Cybr said,

    November 30, 2007 @ 1:44 pm

    No, just for me. And just for the record, I was not referring to you father. I was referring to just my ole self.

  17. Jonathan Blake said,

    November 30, 2007 @ 1:48 pm

    I understand, but when you insult yourself as a janitor (even in jest), you also say something about how you regard other janitors. Water under the bridge.

  18. Cybr said,

    November 30, 2007 @ 2:32 pm

    Then I guess I should just insult myself as myself, for who I am, and you should be just fine with that.

  19. Cybr said,

    November 30, 2007 @ 2:33 pm

    but it was also in reference to one of your bookmarks from earlier where even uneducated janitors can be atheists.

  20. Jonathan Blake said,

    November 30, 2007 @ 2:44 pm

    Ah yes, the janitors-as-atheists post. In that instance, janitors were used as a surrogate for the average Joe doing a job with few rewards outside of the paycheck. A reader asked what consolation atheism could offer to someone whose job offers so little fulfillment. I’ll let Ebonmuse answer because he says it better than I would, but in this case, janitors weren’t being singled out because of lack intelligence. They did imply that janitors generally lack formal education, but not a lack of intelligence.

    In any case, I didn’t mean to imply by linking to that article that even janitors can figure out that God doesn’t exist (or anything like that).

  21. Cybr said,

    December 4, 2007 @ 1:05 am

    No, you just needed to dumb it down for me. You don’t have to be nice to me just cause I’m your brother-in-law. This loser here (me) obviously needs it simplified.

  22. Jonathan Blake said,

    December 5, 2007 @ 9:57 am

    I can’t say that I don’t go easy on family subconsciously, but I try to fair and courteous to everyone—except spambots and other human simulacra who make me talk to myself.

  23. Cybr said,

    December 16, 2007 @ 11:18 pm

    then all I can say is,
    Shitsurei shimasu

  24. chandelle said,

    December 17, 2007 @ 7:52 am

    hm, interesting. :D

    well…ah…if i could interject here. one of my greatest frustrations in the church was that whenever “revelation” or “prophecy” didn’t fit from one prophet to the next, or as a general rule (such as BY’s rampantly repugnant racism – hey, alliteration!), quotes such as the endless stream of them above would be whipped out. phrases like, “god doesn’t expect us to take EVERYTHING from the prophet – can’t you think for yourself?” and, “he was speaking as a prophet then – not as a man” were pulled out from all sides in defense of the man. we are encouraged to receive revelation on our own. but indeed, agency is truly restricted here, for if anyone receives personal revelation that a prophet was wrong, that a prophecy was wrong, or even that the church is not wrong or at the very least not where the person should be, then you haven’t been praying correctly, or you’ve received the wrong revelation – or even revelation from the devil. in other words, personal revelation is accepted and trumps all else UNLESS IT DISAGREES WITH AUTHORITY. which brings up the question of why we have personal revelation at all if we can just seek all of our answers from the church? just because we should receive assurance that those answers are correct? then i guess we’d better get the “right” revelation, eh? it’s a wicked double-bind and it is, ultimately, what drives many of us out of the church. for many of us, prayer and seeking answers from some supernatural force were integral parts of our journey out of the church – many of else felt very clearly that some doctrines of the church were just plain wrong and nothing could reconcile that for us. but we were told that WE were wrong, not to trust ourselves, not to trust OUR experience of god. which is a devastating experience. now, i don’t believe in anything even remotely like a judeo-christian god, but i still accept those “revelations” that the church was false as pure and accurate intuition. best decision i ever made was to follow my instincts and eradicate that self-loathing, self-effacing, self-denial of the church.

    i like a perfect circle. this song always makes me think of the church:

    go back to sleep…
    go back to sleep…
    i’ll be the one to protect you from your enemies and all your demons.
    i’ll be the one to protect you from a will to survive and a voice of reason.
    i’ll be the one to protect you from your enemies and your choices, son –
    they’re one in the same.
    i must isolate you…
    isolate and save you from yourself.

  25. chandelle said,

    December 17, 2007 @ 7:54 am

    oops, that should have said, “even that the church IS wrong.” not a freudian slip, i promise. :D

  26. Jonathan Blake said,

    December 17, 2007 @ 8:12 am

    Cybr, no apologies necessary.



    The formula is always given as “find out for yourself”, but when your answer doesn’t square with “the church is true” (whatever that means), the assumption is always that it’s your fault because their own answer couldn’t possibly in error. It shows a lack of humility that they assume that they must be right, and it shows fear that they can’t even contemplate the idea that they might be wrong. It also shows the deep problem with personal revelation: ultimately it is going to lead to contradictory answers. Whose answer is right? If the prophets’ answers are always right, then what happens when prophets (inevitably) contradict each other? If the current prophet is always right, then LDS doctrine is deeply relativistic and the church needs to stop promoting itself as offering timeless truths.

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