Prophet of Convenience: Apologizing for past prophets
There seams to be a culture in the LDS Church where whenever something one of the prophets of the Church said that, in light of current thinking knowledge and social norms, is considered inaccurate or is in any was embarrassing for the Church or its members the statement is explained away by saying that, at that point, the prophet was speaking his own opinion and not speaking for God. Some people even try to say that the prophet didn’t say it at all, but that is a harder sell since most of what every president of the Church has ever said in public was well documented.
There are a lot of problems with trying to justify the church by saying the prophet was confused or speaking his own opinions, the number one problem being that if the prophet of the Church is what the Church teaches he is than he is always speaking for God and whatever he says is the same as if God himself had said it. Also, according to the Doctrine and Covenants, an official scripture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, that the prophet can never lead the Church astray, intentionally or otherwise.
If the president of the church were truly a prophet, God’s mouthpiece on earth, and were truly speaking for God as the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints believes he is, than it would be disrespectful at best and blasphemous at worst for the lay members to decide when the prophet was speaking for God and when he was giving his own opinion, or to suggest that he was confused when he said whatever it is they have the issues with.
If a prophet can tell the membership something that is not correct and think he is speaking for God, or even say something that is wrong in a manner in which the members of his time think he is speaking for God, than that would cast serious doubts on everything the latter-day prophets have ever taught, including the organization of the Church itself! If a prophet can get confused so easily and say things that are not the will of God than why follow him in the first place? Members of the Church can’t have it both ways, either the prophet is speaking for God and they must accept all he says, or he is not a prophet at all and the church is not what it claims to be. If the prophet is truly a prophet and God’s mouth piece than that is always true, even when it is not convenient or when it is a source of political or social embarrassment or friction.
If the prophet can’t lead the Church astray and what he said is the word of God than what Brigham Young, or any other prophet, said as the word of God would still be the word of God today because, as we read all though the Bible and LDS scriptures, God never changes.
Some people in the LDS Church think it is their job or their privilege to decide when a prophet and president of the Church was speaking for the Church for God, but if the lay members of the Church, or anyone in the Church other than the prophet, gets to retroactively decide when the prophet was speaking for God and when he was not, especially when the prophet himself said he was speaking for God, than that leaves the door open for all of his statements to be false.
Of course, it would also be a major issue if a prophet retroactively “corrected” what a previous prophet said because that would suggest that the earlier prophet had been wrong, that God had changed his mind, that the current prophet is wrong, or that the entire thing is made up in the first place, the last of which is the most likely.
It was clear that Brigham Young firmly believed that whenever he was behind the pulpit or speaking in any formal capacity that he was speaking the mind and will of God and was speaking for and in behalf of the entire Church.If Brigham Young, or any of the other prophets, was wrong about the things we don’t like than he was, in all likelihood, also wrong about the things we do like, and even wrong about the temple and what it takes to get to heaven, and wrong about God and heaven and everything else.
Under those parameters, it would only be by accident that the so called prophet was correct about anything at all, so you see the danger in cherry picking what to a accept and what to reject from the leaders of an organization that claim to have a direct line to God himself. If the leaders truly have a direct line to God than by choosing to disregard the things the members are choosing not to follow God, and if the leaders don’t have a direct line to God than that makes them the worst kind of liars who tell people God is talking to them so they can control people and take their money and therefore should not be followed.
When members of the Church say that a specific thing they don’t like, don’t agree with, or wish had not been said, was just Brigham Young’s opinion, they have to keep in mind that he either firmly believed he was always speaking for God or at least wanted everyone else to believe so, either way he claimed to be speaking for God.
“I know just as well what to teach this people and just what to say to them and what to do in order to bring them into the celestial kingdom, as I know the road to my office. It is just as plain and easy. The Lord is in our midst. He teaches the people continually. I have never yet preached a sermon and sent it out to the children of men, that they may not call Scripture. Let me have the privilege of correcting a sermon, and it is as good Scripture as they deserve. The people have the oracles of God continually. In the days of Joseph, revelation was given and written, and the people were driven from city to city and place to place, until we were led into these mountains. Let this go to the people with "Thus saith the Lord," and if they do not obey it, you will see the chastening hand of the Lord upon them. But if they are plead with, and led along like children, we may come to understand the will of the Lord and He may preserve us as we desire. Let us, then, you and me and all who profess to be Latter-day Saints, try to be Saints indeed. God bless you, Amen." - Journal of Discourses, Vol.13, p.95, Brigham Young, January 2, 1870
Another issue is when members try to say that Brigham Young or any of the other Church leaders did not actually say what they were reported as saying because it was written in The Journal of Discourses (JOD) and that it is not accepted as accurate by the Church, which only has a small amount of truth to it. The Church does not officially deny or refute any of what was written in The Journal of Discourses as inaccurate and the Church often uses large parts of the JOD as an original source when compiling Church Sunday School manuals, priesthood and relief society manuals and other official publications meant to teach Church doctrine or history in church meetings or seminary and institute classes.
No reasonable person could say that the Church does not accept The Journal of Discourses, however, the entire work has not been canonized as scripture which means that the leaders said what was written in the journal, but that the Church has seen no need to make it scripture, just the same as they don’t make current general conference talks scripture, despite the fact that they were given by official representatives of the Church in their official capacity and are to be recognized and accepted as the will of the Church and of God.
While the The Journal of Discourses was authorized by Brigham Young and officially published by the Church it is not currently considered to be a Church publication because that gives the Church the ability to say that some of it may have, but probably wasn’t, transcribed incorrectly or that a specific talk was not actually the doctrine of the Church if they ever find the need to do so for legal or other reasons.
The quote I used earlier from Brigham Young about all of his sermons being scripture is in no way disputed as being said by Brigham Young and was even used in several official BYU publications.
As mentioned earlier, it is official doctrine that a prophet and a president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints can never lead the Church astray, intentionally or otherwise, and can be found in the Doctrine and Covenants Official Declaration 1, which is a canonized publication of the Church and accepted as scripture with equal authority to The Book of Mormon or any other scripture.
If anything Brigham Young said in his official capacity led the Church or any of the members astray, or if anything he said was not the will or word of God, than the Doctrine and Covenants is a lie and we might as well throw out all of the teaching of all of the LDS prophets and apostles. I, obviously, don’t think the LDS leaders are truly prophets and apostles, but if the membership truly believes they are than they should not be attempting to decide when they were speaking for God and when they were not, and the only justification for doing so is that they don’t actually believe what the former prophets said was the word of God and still somehow wants to protect the Church at all costs, even if it means that some, if not all of it, is based on a lie.
In the Doctrine and Covenants we read that when the prophet says something we are to listen to all his words, not just the ones that are convenient or the ones we agree with, and that whatever the prophet says is the same as if God has said it. Since the Doctrine and Covenants, a book which we are told came to us as the word of God by his own power, than there is no justification for a member of the Church to decide whether the current prophet or apostle or any of those in the past were speaking for God or not and the only option it gives them is to receive the words and to obey them.
“Wherefore, meaning the church, thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me;
“For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.” - D&C 21:4-5
The above quoted section of D&C states that the Church is to follow the prophet, so long as he is walking in holiness before God, and considering the fact that Brigham Young was held by the Church to be the prophet for fourth years, and considering the verse from the D&C that says that if a prophet leads the church astray he will be removed from his position, we have to assume that either Brigham Young was walking in holiness before God and speaking his words or that the Church is not true. It is not intellectually honest to both say that he was a prophet of the most high God and yet gave inaccurate or inappropriate instructions that he believed or claimed to be from God. Either all of Brigham Young’s sermons were the word of God as he claimed, including the things that the members now desperately wish he had not said, or he was no prophet at all. I strongly hold that a lot of what President Young said was not even close to the word of God, judging by the Bible, and therefore he was not a prophet, but either way you slice it, you can’t both believe he was a prophet and that he was wrong when he spoke for God, and if you don’t believe that everything he said was the word of God you might as well leave the Church now.
When I was active in the Church and when everything I did revolved around the Church, we were studying the life of Brigham Young in the priesthood and relief society classes and came across the section on Young’s teaching on keeping the Sabbath holy, and a lot of those in priesthood class, and a lot of other people in my ward, disagreed with what President Young said and claimed it was too extreme and got extremely upset with me when I suggested that they either did not believe Brigham Young was truly God’s prophet or else they were willingly sinning by doing what he counseled them not to do. Even when I believed in the Church I thought it odd that people could somehow believe the Church were true and yet think it OK to not follow parts they don’t agree with.
“And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.” D&C 68:4
The reason I laid out such a strong case for accepting what the prophet says as the word of God is that a lot of what the prophets have said is, in and of itself, problematic and not easy to believe and some of it does not put the Church in good a light.
The quotes from prophets of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is that I share below is far from being an exhaustive list of things leaders have said that are racist, sexist, blasphemous or otherwise not the will of God or in line with reality, but they are sufficient to show why some latter day-saints try to distance themselves and the Church from such statements.
Joseph Smith said that there are men living on the moon who dress like Quakers and live to be nearly 1000 years old. Since he was wrong about the moon, is it safe to trust him regarding the way to Heaven? (The Young Woman's Journal, vol. 3, p. 263-264. See reprint in Mormonism--Shadow or Reality? by Jerald and Sandra Tanner, p. 4.)
Joseph Smith boasted that he did more than Jesus to keep a church together.
"God is in the still small voice. In all these affidavits, indictments, it is all of the devil--all corruption. Come on! ye prosecutors! ye false swearers! All hell, boil over! Ye burning mountains, roll down your lava! for I will come out on the top at last. I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him; but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet . . . " (History of the Church, vol. 6, p. 408-409).
“You must not think, from what I say, that I am opposed to slavery. No! The negro is damned, and is to serve his master till God chooses to remove the curse of Ham.” Prophet Brigham Young, New York Herald, May 4, 1855, as cited in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Spring 1973, p. 56
“The moment we consent to mingle with the seed of Cain the Church must go to destruction, - we should receive the curse which has been placed upon the seed of Cain, and never more be numbered with the children of Adam who are heirs to the priesthood until that curse be removed.”
- Prophet Brigham Young, Brigham Young Addresses, Feb. 5, 1852, LDS historical department
Cain slew his brother.... and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin. Trace mankind down to after the flood, and then another curse is pronounced upon the same race – that they should be the 'servant of servants,' and they will be, until that curse is removed; and the Abolitionists cannot help it, nor in the least alter that decree. How long is that race to endure the dreadful curse that is upon them? That curse will remain upon them, and they never can hold the Priesthood or share in it until all the other descendants of Adam have received the promises and enjoyed the blessings of the Priesthood and the keys thereof. Until the last ones of the residue of Adam's children are brought up to that favorable position, the children of Cain cannot receive the first ordinances of the Priesthood. They were the first that were cursed, and they will be the last from whom the curse will be removed. When the residue of the family of Adam come up and receive their blessings, then the curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will receive blessings in like proportion.
- Prophet Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, v. 7, pp. 290-291
President Joseph Fielding Smith Said man would never go to the moon.
“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.”
The Savior said that preceding his coming there would be signs in the heavens. No doubt there will be appearances of commotion among the heavenly bodies. We are informed by prophecy that the earth will reel to and fro. This will make it appear like the stars are falling. The sun will be darkened and the moon look like blood. All of these wonders will take place before Christ comes. Naturally the wonders in the heavens that man has created will be numbered among the signs which have been predicted—the airplanes, the guided missiles, and man-made planets that revolve around the earth. Keep it in mind, however, that such man-made planets belong to this earth, and it is doubtful that man will ever be permitted to make any instrument or ship to travel through space and visit the moon or any distant planet.
-Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions [1st edition] (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1957), 2:190-191 (italics added)
A few years later, at a Honolulu stake conference in 1961, Elder Smith reiterated this idea,
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.
-D. Michael Quinn, Elder statesman: A Biography of J. Reuben Clark (2002), 498.
With precious few exceptions, most of the time when people claim to have a direct line to God and that they know the mind and will of God, not just for their life but yours as well, they are either trying to control people or get something from them, or else they are mentally ill. It does not serve us well to listen to either of those types of people, and all we need is Jesus, and the Bible contains all we need to know about him. We don’t need any person to stand between us and God or to tell us the mind of God. Jesus is the only mediator between God and man and we don’t need a person to get us to Jesus, and if we want to know the mind of God what we need to know is contained in the Bible.