Last week a provocative blog post listed the following scenarios and asked what faithful Mormons would do if presented with the following situations:
You are on a jury. The defendant is accused of heinous crimes. The evidence clearly indicates that he is guilty. The defendant is Mormon. The prophet comes to you and tells you to vote innocent. Would you do it?
The Church comes to you and asks for all of your “excess” possessions to pay off the prophet’s personal debts. Would you do it?
You hear two Mormon men talking about how they tortured two defenseless Muslims traveling though the Uintah National Forest. Your Bishop tells you to tell no one about it. The FBI comes to you and asks you if you have heard anything about the murders. Do you remain quiet?
The prophet declares he has received holy revelation which states that all LDS women must marry at the age of 16. You have a daughter who is 16. Do you sign for her to get married?
The prophet tells you that anyone who harms the Mormons is guilty of a sin against God punishable by immediate death. What do you do?
A new prophet is put in place. He makes some bold and aggressive statements. Certain people publicly disagree with him. One by one, those people meet fatal accidents. What do you do?
Those scenarios were a bit over the top for modern Mormons to relate to, but we do have other areas which test our faith. Back in the ‘60s, a Democratic friend threatened to leave the Church if Ezra Taft Benson ever became the prophet. She remains an active member. Fortunately, President Benson refrained from extreme political rhetoric once he assumed the mantle of the prophet which probably saved my friend’s membership.
It’s not necessarily bad when a prophet institutes a policy causing Latter-day Saints to do a 180 on their thinking. A lot of latter-day bigots had to change long-held beliefs about racial inferiority following the 1978 revelation on extending priesthood to all races. Even Utah legislator, Chris Buttars, made an about-face from his gay-hating rhetoric this year after the Church issued a statement supporting civil rights for gays and Lesbians.
But none of the above scenarios holds a candle to the test of faith that could rock the Church to its core. What if the prophet asked members to vote for a Democrat?
Obedience may be the first law of the gospel, but it’s never been popular in our family where we apparently have a genetic predisposition to believe we’re capable of making our own decisions. Humility R not Us. I’ve never understood the biblical symbolism of sheep and goats. Why are sheep the good example? They have to be led to food and water. Even rocks are smarter than sheep bleating obediently into the slaughterhouse. Independent and resourceful, goats are less easily led and less likely to starve if a herder doesn’t take them to food and water. Isn’t goatlike intelligence more essential for eternal progression than sheeplike obedience?
George served long enough in the military to despise arbitrary rules. Nor did growing up with five older siblings endear him to the idea of being told what to do. George loved being a temple worker until the TP ruled that all brethren with facial hair must shave clean or resign. That edict did not include elderly female workers which seemed unfair.
My dad’s side of the family disagreed with the practice of polygamy because my grandfather’s family suffered so greatly from great-grandpa’s marital excesses. Interestingly enough, neither my grandfather nor grandmother resented the handcart episode of church history although each had a parent or grandparent who suffered intensely from the poor advice that led to the tragedy of the Willie Handcart Company. The notion that we will be blessed for obeying our leaders even if they’re wrong probably didn’t comfort my ancestors freezing and starving near the banks of the Sweetwater. Mountain Meadows is another example of obedience gone wrong.
Now, I don’t mean to suggest that we’re a family of anarchists or criminals. We pay our taxes and wait our turn at stop lights. We know that laws which promote the common good sometimes conflict with our individual convenience. But we also know that rules sometimes promote the good of an organization without necessarily benefiting the overall common good of the national or world community. Most American Catholics seem to be quietly in this position regarding their church’s stance on birth control. And many Mormons feel this way about our church’s support of Prop. 8.
Leaders who can’t explain the reasons for the positions they take also make obedience challenging. I am still waiting for someone to show me the revelation that says blacks can’t hold the priesthood. And it’s hard to respect leaders who condescend. Our youngest son, Techie, launched his stand-up comic career at age eight doing impersonations of Sister Sweettones, the Primary president: “Now boys and girls, can you say ‘Reverence’? That’s such a big word. I’m proud of you.” I’m glad Techie doesn’t watch General Conference now. The words are different, but a level of condescension often flows from the Conference Center pulpit to my living room TV.
Part of the problem members of our family have with the “Follow the Leaders” edict might be the unrealistic emphasis Mormon culture places on the leaders’ direct access to God. If our youngest daughter, Aroo, ever had faith in the doctrine of the bishop’s power of discernment, it was disabused the time her best friend passed a temple recommend interview six months after asking Aroo to buy a pregnancy test for her.
Maybe my philosophy is: Follow your leaders when their advice coincides with the best information you can learn about the situation. Beware if they can’t support their recommendations with hard evidence. And run like hell if they pressure you to add a sister wife to the family or to waylay a caravan of immigrants moving through the territory.