Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Follow The Prophet


Members of the Church of Jesus Christ Of Latter-Day Saints – more commonly referred to as Mormon - believe that their leader is a modern-day Prophet, imbued with the power of revelation from God.  With this teaching of modern-day revelation is the burden to always follow the teachings of the authorities, as their dictates come from the Almighty God himself. 
I was raised in a family with a literal interpretation of Mormonism.  My father was convinced that one day the U.S. government would fail and that Americans would turn to the Mormon leaders for guidance; that one day the entire world would know of and gravitate towards the Mormon faith; that modern-day revelation was real and that visions were a fact of life.  Above all, the President of the Mormon Church is venerated as the mouthpiece of God, qualified to receive revelations for the entire church. 
The lessons on un-wavering obedience to Mormon authorities start at an early age.  In the official lesson manual of the Mormon Church is a lesson titled “Follow The Prophet”, aimed towards the youth of the Church.  One of the quotes drawn from this lesson is by Marion G. Romney, talking about the past President and Prophet Heber J Grant:

“I remember years ago when I was a bishop I had President Grant talk to our ward. After the meeting, I drove him home. … When we got to his home I got out of the car and went up on the porch with him. 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"

Marion G Romney, in Conference Report, October 1960, pg 78                                                                                                                                                                        

Or as I sang as a little girl in Primary – “Follow the Prophet, follow the Prophet. Follow the Prophet, he knows the way.”  When my Primary teachers talked of the apostles and the prophet, I imagined the bearded sandal-clad, linen-clothed men of the New Testament.  I was shocked when I realized the apostles and prophet of whom my teachers spoke of were in fact the old white guys that showed up on the screen twice a year during the world-wide televised General Conferences.  Then I grew up and I began to crush under the burden of trying to follow the leaders’ will, as their teachings on the role of womanhood and striving for perfection stuffed  me into a tiny little box that just didn’t fit.  Like Cinderella’s ugly step-sisters, to fit into the narrow box of Mormon womanhood I needed to chop off pieces of me that just couldn’t fit inside that box. 
          The Mormon Church’s approach to dealing with the messy history of the prophets’ teachings is to deny the fact or to claim that the teachings of current prophets outweigh the teachings of old prophets.  The Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research (FAIR) made the following statement when addressing the messy and very uncomfortable topic of the teachings about race within Mormonism

          Past church leaders should be viewed as products of their times, no more racist than most of their American and Christian peers (and often surprisingly enlightened, given the surrounding culture). A proper understanding of the process of revelation creates a more realistic expectations of the Latter-day Saint prophet, instead of assumptions of infallibility foisted on the Saints by their critics.
          Previous statements and scriptural interpretations that are no longer in harmony with current revelation should be discarded. We learn "line upon line, precept upon precept," and when modern revelation has shed new light, old assumptions made in the dark can be done away with.”

To combat the openness of the Internet era, where the messy history of the Mormon Church is easily accessible and a source of chagrin to many faithful Mormons, members are now justifying that these leaders were “speaking as a man” or that certain beliefs are “folk doctrine”.  There is no way to draw a distinction between a leader “speaking as a man” or “speaking for God” – these distinctions all depend on the convictions of the individual interpreting the quotes, as well as the potential embarrassment factor of the quote.  And once again, I would like reiterate the lesson that the Prophet is considered the mouthpiece qualified to receive revelation from God for the entire church and that as members we were taught that the Prophet will never lead us astray. 
Perhaps Heber J Grant was “speaking as a man” when he had that conversation with Marion G Romney.  Or perhaps Marion G Romney was “speaking as a man” when he gave that speech.  Or perhaps all of the talks by the authorities that I attended as a youth will one day be dismissed as been “spoken as a man, rather than from God”.  But how can members distinguish between the two?  How do members balance the past teachings of the Prophets with the idea that the Prophet will never lead his people astray?  Were the Prophets leading the people astray with their teachings on race?  Was the Prophet leading the people astray with Proposition 8?  And if members don't agree with the teachings of the Prophet, what about the consequences of challenging authority?  But to admit that the Prophets can lead the people astray is to strike at the very root of Mormonism itself – question the legitimacy of the Prophets’ teachings and you question the very foundation of Mormonism. 
Some members are able to shrug off the confusions of doctrine, focusing instead on the good points – the plan of Salvation, the idea of eternal families, the idea of Christian love.  But I was not one of those members; I was a member that took the teachings literally.  My literal interpretation of the leaders – enforced by the attitudes of members around me – turned me into a person at war between my conscience and the teachings of my leaders. 



21 comments:

  1. I've long thought that the instead of the speaking as a man vs. speaking as a prophet analogy, it should be speaking to the church vs. speaking to the world. When they're speaking to the church, the GA's can say all kinds of batsh%# crazy stuff to get the members to obey. But when they're speaking publicly they have to tone it down/lie so they don't sound like kooks. For example when GBH told Larry King he wasn't a prophet, he was "an example," also that polygamy "wasn't doctrine."

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    1. I have noticed that - GBH was a good example of downplaying or misrepresenting what was taught as doctrine by authorities.

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  2. I think that just as in any religion, each member has to find their own path, and their own understanding. For many people the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a help in creating a relationship with God, but that is not true for everyone. Some do not believe in God, and so any church would be unnecessary and oftentimes painful. For others, the way the find God is not compatible with any church, or a specific church. For those who feel a church is important, finding a church that has the "truth," as you understand it, may tie into the church of education (or the church they were raised in).

    I think that the "only true church," mantra gets in the way of members and nonmembers looking and finding the place where they can look for and find a way and place to find God. I find a lot of love and comfort in the gospel because it is how I create and strengthen my relationship with Christ and Heavenly Father. A very small part of that comes from a specific meeting or teaching. That doesn't mean that I would be able to create the relationships I have, without the church and its teachings.

    *I* need this to become the person that I want to be. I am happier when I follow the gospel, as I understand and live it. Most of my life has not resembled the "ideal" taught in most LDS lessons. I think that for many people, the disconnect between lessons and real life is where things break down. If you have to pretend to be perfect, or believe that imperfection is somehow a failing. The LDS church does not do a great job of bridging between ideals and reality. I think that "Follow the Prophet" ends up in that space between reality and ideals.

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    1. Honestly, since this works for you, I think you're right to follow it. :)

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  3. Excellent post, PostMormon Girl! My dad is one of those that can "shrug off the confusion." I, like you, am not. To me, it is just another sign that the Mormon Church is indeed a man-made affair.

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    1. Thanks! My mother is also one who is able to shrug off the confusion. I was always quite literal, which was an issue for me.

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  4. In seminary, I was always taught that the most recent prophet's words are all that matter. It always begged the question of why we study the scriptures... not that I was ballsy enough to ask back then!

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    1. That would have made seminary much simpler! And far less exhausting!

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    2. Amandolin-

      I agree with PGM. :-)

      Where did you go to seminary? Maybe Oregon seminary teachers are just a "bunch of liberal whack jobs." (My cousins from Utah thought so when they heard we were reading peer reviewed articles about church history during our study of the Doctrine and Covenants.)

      I guess learning about the divisions in LDS history, debating theological ideas by learning enough about the modern prophets to have a great round table with JS, BY, JFS, and HWH. My seminary teacher was HWH, asking us questions (we knew what the questions would be, so we would be able to do the research and respond from their own talks and writings) about how to balance different priorities and conflicting parts of the gospel.

      Simply saying GBH is right, even if he has never spoken on a topic, would have required WAY less research!

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    3. I should probably mention at this point that I was kicked out of seminary class - twice. The first time because I made a few off-comments to the bishop's niece, indicating that I was uncomfortable about proseletyzing and the perfection syndrome (I got upset at a talk by a GA promising that all we had to do to become perfect was to pray and read our scriptures.) Not long after that, the bishop's family formed their own seminary class and I was forced to go to the seminary class the next town over. After a year of that, the stake president intervened and required that I be sent to the seminary class full of the bishop's family. That lasted a couple weeks, until I brought in a very touching story about a gay couple adopting a disabled child from a Russian orphanage. I've never seen such a look of hate on anyone's face as I did after reading that story - I thought the bishop's wife was going to kill me.

      Anyway, that is a long-winded ramble of why speaking up in seminary class can get you disciplined. (And I would like to point out that I grew up in a very liberal ward.)

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    4. Surprisingly, I was in middle jello belt. Mesa, AZ.

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    5. Amandolin-
      Have you always been there? If not, did you find other places to be as consistent in that interpretation? How were you encouraged to view think about things that are not officially talked about anymore?

      PMG-
      I thought that this post was very interesting, in light of this conversation. :-)
      http://irresistibledisgrace.wordpress.com/2012/09/28/longing-for-mormon-romanticism/#more-3287

      I address this issue, from different angles, in a couple more of the Mormon Moment Series posts that are coming up. I'll try to remember to put comments here, as each post goes up.

      (The series was originally going to be four parts, but I already have six written, and I am not anywhere near finished with the topics that seem most relevant to me. I am using the posts here at PostMormon Life quite a bit. Thanks for well written pieces that make good references both in the posts and the comments.)

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    6. I've been enjoying your Mormon Moment pieces - keep them coming!

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    7. Thanks PMG- If you, or any of your readers, are interested in doing a Guest Post for the Mormon Moment Series, I would be really interested. As you will be able to see in the Fourth post in the series, I am not only looking at "Happy Mormony" things, and as long as the language is respectful, and there are links brought in from current Mormon, post-Mormon, or religious centered blogs, that is what I am looking for.

      I would be really interested in either a post/essay the looks at a single issue from a post-Mormon perspective, or that is a response to some of my posts in the series, as long as it isn't just agreeing with me. ;-) I can agree with me all by myself.

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  5. If you get a few minutes, you might enjoy watching the videos in my post today. You are one of the superwomen that the last video is dedicated to! (Only a superwoman could get kicked out of seminary twice. ;-) You go girl!)

    http://poetrysansonions.blogspot.com/2012/09/a-few-things-i-have-been-watching.htm

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    1. I'll have to check it out! Although, in my defense, I was one of the very few students that showed up on time every-day (mostly) awake.

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  6. Okay, brace yourself for a rant.

    It's fascinating to me how, for those of us who leave Mormonism, it is such an evolving process. When I started studying the real history and discovered the policy of deliberate deception both embraced and knowingly perpetrated by the organization and its leaders, I felt a profound anger. More than that, I felt betrayed to the core of my being. It hurt more than I can express.

    Yet even then, when another ex-Mormon called LDS Inc. a cult, I was indignant. Somehow I still saw Mormonism as a legitimate religion. When another ex-Mormon told me he wanted his tithing back, I thought, "Why? That money is spent on good things, especially humanitarian aid." Pffft.

    Now I have such a different perspective. Whether it's a cult or not depends on one's definition. But I couldn't care less about labels. I'm more concerned with actions. They do speak louder than words.

    LDS Inc. is all about marketing. And it spends A LOT of $$$ to create an image for itself that has as much truth to it as a tampon commercial with a woman clad in white spandex leaping on the beach on the heaviest day of her period. LDS Inc. pretends the moaning woman wearing bulky gray sweats and curled in a fetal position surrounded by broken potato chips doesn't exist. This deliberate deception feels so dirty to me. Oh, but they give so much to the poor and the suffering. ... After milking their members for extra donations. It's all very savvy marketing, and giving aid to the poor and suffering makes them look good and even legitimate.

    That's why LDS Inc. issues a press release every time they send a hygiene kit. Alms in secret? Anyone? Trust me. Every penny "donated by the Church" [cough] is the result of a careful cost benefit analysis. The organization is not Christian -- although many of the people who belong to it are, and in that regard are the organization's most effective marketing tools. And I mean tools. LDS Inc. is a highly successful business that would be charged with securities fraud but for the fact that the product they are selling is spiritual snake oil and thus protected under the First Amendment. Seriously, if they had to file a prospectus with the Securities Exchange Commission, Tommy Monson would do time in federal prison. This is no exaggeration. I just don't understand why anyone wouldn't want to know that the organization they're investing a minimum of 10% of the gross in is lying to them as a matter of policy. I just don't get it.

    I get the need to find some spiritual (or whatever) meaning and purpose in one's life. However, suggesting LDS Inc. can give that to anyone makes me want to hurl. It is not merely an extremely wealthy and incredibly deceptive organization. It is also one of the most sexist and homophobic forces for bad that truly has the power to influence politics, public policy, and thereby f*** over peoples' lives. Why don't the members hold the organization accountable? Because that would be "unrighteous" and demonstrate a "lack of faith." Baa Baa.

    I'm not sure where I'm going with this but your excellent post struck a nerve, pmg. I just know there is something fundamentally wrong and potentially harmful and even dangerous about surrendering one's ability to think for him- or herself to one man, who clearly is dishonest with his followers and has an obvious conflict of interest. I would shake these people awake if I could, not even for them, but for all of the people hurt by the organization/man they so unquestioningly follow.

    Sorry for the long rambling post/rant. I should have just said "Follow the prophet? My a**."

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    1. Cognitive Dissenter- I am curious if you think that there are members of the church, in your experience, who are able to overcome the tendency towards dangerous levels of being sheep? (Not sure if there is a better short hand or not?)

      If you have seen members find a kind of balance, what has that looked like? If not, what would you like someone who *thinks* that to know and/or accept?

      (I am not asking as a debate, I really am curious if you feel like there is some balance that can/could be struck where the tenets of LDS doctrine could be positive, or at least not threatening, if certain understandings or perspectives were included.)

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  7. I find the idea of living, divinely-inspired prophets to be very dangerous. It makes accountability impossible, and it puts millions of believers at the mercy of all-too-fallible men with agendas.

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  8. Greetings! Do you happen to have any journalism experience or this is a pure natural talent of yours? Many thanks in advance for your answer.

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    1. No journalism experience.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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I love hearing comments and I welcome all viewpoints; however, I request that if you do choose to comment, please do so in a manner that is constructive and respectful of others.