My last Un-blog (Living and Dynamic) generated a few comments and questions that I would like to address briefly. The questions were, when is it appropriate to disobey a church leader whom you suspect is uninspired in what they are telling you.
The greater principle here is that church leaders are not in a position to command and order obedience. For this reason, obedience is not the right word when speaking of the lay member’s responsibility to church leaders. The right word is to sustain.
We are all familiar with D&C 121 in this regard.
36 That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.
37 That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.
38 Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God.
39 We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.
40 Hence many are called, but few are chosen.
41 No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
42 By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile.
The wonderful message of this passage of scripture is that the church cannot be run like a military organization. No influence or power can righteously originate with priesthood leaders. Their task is to persuade with gentleness and meekness, to teach and counsel, not command. Our job is to sustain them in every way possible, which means, as long as their counsel is inspired of God.
There is no top-down chain of command where nobody questions the “orders” coming from above.
There is a top-down line of authority, however, where each level of authority depends upon personal inspiration to interpret and apply the instructions they receive. When this “every level” inspiration is functioning, then mistakes are rarely made. People’s lives are not damaged by edict, and every person depends upon inspiration from God to perform their duties.
When this breaks down, as it occasionally has in localized situations, then the church ceases to function with inspiration. I believe the Mountain Meadows Massacre was just such an event. An uninspired leader made a wrong decision, and many followed him, even when they discerned what they were doing was wrong.
The reason this church is true, and the reason it thrives and grows is because every single individual has the gift of the Holy Ghost, and can discern truth and error for themselves. We “sustain” our leaders because we are similarly inspired by God, and we receive blessings and guidance for our obedience.
We are not being governed or ruled, we are being led by inspired leaders speaking to inspired followers.
There is blind obedience, and there is faith-filled obedience. Blind obedience is rendered without a witness from the Holy Ghost (and hence is blind) to the correctness or error of that which we choose to obey. Blind obedience is what fuels wars and propels waves of young soldiers to kill each other when given any other option, they might sit down and play chess and tell stories of home. Blind obedience is essential to any form of military command, be it boot camp or Armageddon itself.
Faith-filled obedience occurs when the follower receives a witness from the Holy Ghost that the leader is inspired and the counsel is correct. He still does not know the outcome, only that this is the will of God, and therefore will be blessed and guided by inspiration and gifted with eternal blessings.
When the follower does not receive such a witness, then the follower should suspect himself of error first, and make diligent preparations to return to divine favor before choosing to follow or walk away. When the follower has prepared, is prepared, and is receiving revelation on every other walk of their life, and can discern that a leader has erred, then their responsibility is to decline to follow. There is no option to oppose, to rebel, to militate against or counsel others, only to step aside – to personally and quietly decline.
Our chain of loyalty should always be thus:
- First and foremost to Jesus Christ
- The Church as an inspired institution
- General Authorities
- Local leaders
- Local members
What this means is, as an example, if a General Authority gives us an inspired instruction which our local leaders choose not to follow, our responsibility would be to follow the General Authority. This is important because every single dispensation but a very few have fallen into apostasy because they got their loyalties out of alignment. Apostasy has many checks and balances when we keep our loyalties in correct alignment. It has an open road otherwise.
Our ultimate loyalty should always be to our Savior, to His voice and inspiration when and only when we are absolutely sure it originated with Him. To be absolutely sure we must be like Nephi, a righteous man whose life was fully illuminated by revelation, who then sought and obtained multiple confirmations before killing Laban. Nephi chose to kill Laban based solely upon a prompting, which killing certainly was “wrong” by every law and gospel principle Nephi understood. Still, after he was absolutely sure, then he chose to obey and was eternally blessed for his courage. (See 1 Nephi 4:7-18)
Regarding my son and his dilemma on his mission, I am not in a position to judge the rightness of the mission rules. My son was compliant and obedient even when he felt to disagree. My discussion with the mission president led to an inspired course of action – which was to call down a miracle to bless my son for his obedience. Everyone involved kept their loyalties in correct alignment, and a miracle happened.
When I was on my mission and we were taught and even commanded to teach only the lesson plan, and not to interpose our own words or thinking, I found this counsel to be very unfruitful. Over the course of many months of struggling I often felt the presence of the Holy Ghost putting words in my heart, and I resisted them – which was sinful on my part. My loyalties were misaligned. I should not have feared man more than God. (See D&C 3:7-8). When I found the courage to do what was right – another miracle happened, I began to experience success, and my mission president was inspired to encourage me to continue in what I later understood to be the only way to teach the Gospel with power.
When we render faith-filled obedience miracles begin, angels descend and our lives are blessed with joy. When we render blind obedience, we stumble, struggle and are taught by the things which we endure, that there is a better way.