An infallible “priesthood line”?

I finally caught up on the talk given by Dallin H. Oaks at the most recent Conference, “Two Lines of Communication.” I’d been told that the talk references the Protestant “priesthood of all believers,” and a blog post elsewhere argued that the talk was meant as a response to recent LDS feminist rumblings, so I thought I’d check it out.

The talk rates a “meh” from me. In spite of mentioning the existence of the Protestant doctrine of priesthood, Elder Oaks does little to address it or explain why belief in linear authority is superior, and I know this is an old song from me, but I think that his statement that the gift of the Holy Spirit “does not come merely by desire or belief” arguably clashes with what the Bible teaches on the subject (John 7:38-39). In any case, it wasn’t really a good or a bad talk for me. It was mostly just assertion of LDS beliefs on these matters, which (for the most part) I have little interest in arguing with.

What I did find confusing about the talk though: he seems to argue that communications received through the “personal line” are not allowed to disagree with communications received through the “priesthood line.” He even hints that personal revelations that disagree with the teachings of the church come from Satan:

Similarly, we cannot communicate reliably through the direct, personal line if we are disobedient to or out of harmony with the priesthood line. The Lord has declared that “the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness” (D&C 121:36). Unfortunately, it is common for persons who are violating God’s commandments or disobedient to the counsel of their priesthood leaders to declare that God has revealed to them that they are excused from obeying some commandment or from following some counsel. Such persons may be receiving revelation or inspiration, but it is not from the source they suppose. The devil is the father of lies, and he is ever anxious to frustrate the work of God by his clever imitations.

[SNIP]

Some members or former members of our church fail to recognize the importance of the priesthood line. They underestimate the importance of the Church and its leaders and its programs. Relying entirely on the personal line, they go their own way, purporting to define doctrine and to direct competing organizations contrary to the teachings of prophet-leaders.

If the “personal line” is never allowed to correct or disagree with the “priesthood line,” does this not mean that the “priesthood line” is infallible?


Comments

An infallible “priesthood line”? — 32 Comments

  1. This talk threw me for a loop, as well. I discussed it at length with my husband after the session. I heard it the way you heard it; he didn’t interpret it that way at all. He’s never had a revelation that contradicted the counsel of his priesthood leaders, and has a hard time even imagining that kind of situation. I have had revelations that contradicted general priesthood counsel, and can think of plenty of reasons why a person might have that happen. I intend to continue treating my salvation as my own responsibility, and will expect priesthood leaders to spend their time on general advice, rather than on my particular situation in life.

  2. To be honest, the LDS stance on personal revelation not contradicting the official leadership always struck as more pragmatically motivated than scripturally motivated.

    Sure, you can make an argument from implication from the scriptures. But I think that’s as far as it goes.

    But I do see the pragmatic value in the stance. Joseph Smith ran into this when his own movement threatened to dissolve into a charismatic mess of individualism gone wild. Stomping down on things was quite certainly necessary. So it’s not something that troubles me as much as it might.

  3. Jessica ~ I don’t think I ever welcomed you to the blog, so . . . welcome to the blog! (I know you first commented back in May, but belated welcome just the same.) I don’t blame you for taking the stance on this you do.

    Seth ~ I agree that it’s pragmatically motivated.

    I just think that if Mormon leaders want their members to treat their counsel as infallible, they should pony up to accepting the theological baggage that goes with that.

  4. Without saying so directly, I think that Elder Oaks does acknowledge the possibility of fallibility of the priesthood line:

    But if we are solely dependent on one particular priesthood leader or teacher for our personal testimony of the truth instead of getting that testimony through the personal line, we will be forever vulnerable to disillusionment by the action of that person. When it comes to a mature knowledge or testimony of the truth, we should not be dependent on a mortal mediator between us and our Heavenly Father. [emphasis added]

    And he points out that even Joseph Smith didn’t always have a pipeline to God:

    History provides us a vivid example of the importance of the Lord’s servants being in tune with the Spirit. The young Prophet Joseph Smith could not translate when he was angry or upset.

    Oaks seems to be talking about something similar to checks and balances in government. If there weren’t the possility of error (in either line), checks and balances wouldn’t be necessary.

  5. Several comments: When I heard his talk the subtext that seemed most clear with the part about people claiming revelation when they were out of line with their priesthood leaders was people who were in adultery more than in doctrinal disputes–this seems to be the situation that has come up anecdotally the most often anyway. I suppose one way to look at the balance between own revelation and institutional revelation is that it is like having two eyes, generally it improves the perspective and sometimes one of them has something in it. Some of the comments reminded me of the part of Rough Stone Rolling where Bushman was talking about the council system and how it sort of brought balance to the individual versus institutional revelation puzzle.

  6. I think Elder Oaks acknowledges the possibility of a fallible priesthood holder. I doubt he would acknowledge the possibility of institutional fallibility.

    Which is a shame, because it sets up unrealistic expectations for people and completely destroys the potential for institutional repentance when mistakes *do* happen.

  7. Hales, that’s interesting about adultery; it wasn’t the subtext I had at all for his talk. What in particular made you assume that’s what he meant?

  8. Would “frequently,” “regularly,” or “typically” make you feel better? Or do you just want me to say you’re a special snowflake?

    Whether or not every single Mormon accuses dissenters of adultery or not is irrelevant. It’s still definitely de rigeur.

  9. I don’t recall hearing anyone accuse my various dissenting relatives of adultery. Deviant sexual behavior, perhaps, but never outright adultery. I knew one person who committed adultery and claimed some sort of “personal exemption”, so I can see how that might be an issue. Perhaps this is more of a local phenomenon, in your area? I’ve had dissenting friends and relatives in several states, after all.

  10. Well, it doesn’t help that some who leave the Church actually DO self-destruct, and decide to ditch their old morals right along with their old religion.

    Which provides practicing Mormons with plenty of convenient anecdotes.

    But Kullervo is right that segments of Mormonism do assume that adultery is probably a part of the typical apostate experience. I think there are probably a few handy General Authority quotes making the same assertion somewhere…

  11. I don’t recall hearing anyone accuse my various dissenting relatives of adultery. Deviant sexual behavior, perhaps, but never outright adultery. I knew one person who committed adultery and claimed some sort of “personal exemption”, so I can see how that might be an issue. Perhaps this is more of a local phenomenon, in your area? I’ve had dissenting friends and relatives in several states, after all.

    Please.

  12. There is the problem of personal opinion of Church leaders passed on as revelation. Like, I had one Bishop tell me that autism in my sons is the result of me being a bad parent, that his children didn’t have it.

    Then, I get another Bishop who says otherwise.

  13. Honestly, Kullervo, I have no idea what you are referring to. I have no sarcasm, no irony on this, just the absence of your experience. I don’t expect you to have had the same life experiences I have had, certainly you don’t expect that of me? If you’d like to cite examples, I’d be willing to learn more.

    On a subject more related to the original post, what sorts of reactions do y’all have to the changes between the spoken and the written versions of Pres. Packer’s talk?

  14. I think it just reflects a change (most likely made by Packer himself) to make the talk reflect the current existing LDS stance of the Church not taking a position on the question of nature vs. nurture with respect to homosexuality.

  15. #16 TYD ~ Thanks. I read about half of it now; I’ll finish it later tonight.

    #17 Jessica ~ I may be a cynic, but I think other church leaders realized that the those parts of Packer’s sermon were either unattractive or untenable and talked him into toning it down accordingly.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the line about “Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone?” was not on the teleprompter to begin with.

    I should also say that I’ve heard the attempts to parse Packer’s original talk in a way that rescues Packer from saying anything wrong from the outset, and I find these arguments rather obtuse. It’s all part of a larger trend that I’m noticing: Latter-day Saints frequently acknowledge specific places where deceased leaders got things wrong, and they’ll readily agree that current leaders can theoretically make mistakes, but trying to get them to admit to some specific places where a living General Authority messed up is like pulling teeth.

    I apologize in advance if that’s harsh, but I’ve felt pretty frustrated with this as of late.

  16. Actually, Ms. Jack, I’m with you on that. My impression was that he’s declining quickly, and rather than wait until his demise to revise, they did it ahead of time.

    The science of a biological basis for homosexuality is coming fast and furious now, but I’m inclined to think Packer will pass away still firm in his belief that it is a choice. I hope to live long enough to be validated in my own, contrasting belief.

  17. Jessica, it’s routine practice for all General Conference speakers to review their conference talks the DAY AFTER conference ends, giving them an opportunity to clarify their meaning.

    While we don’t know whether other apostles fielded some suggestions or not, it would be no surprise if the clarification came from Elder Packer himself.

  18. Latter-day Saints frequently acknowledge specific places where deceased leaders got things wrong, and they’ll readily agree that current leaders can theoretically make mistakes, but trying to get them to admit to some specific places where a living General Authority messed up is like pulling teeth.

    Publicly and specifically disagreeing with the 1st presidency or one of the twelve on a doctrinal point is still the most reliable way to land yourself in a disciplinary council. Since Mormons value their church membership, very few are going to take that risk.

  19. Because Mormons always accuse dissenters of adultery.

    Whether or not every single Mormon accuses dissenters of adultery or not is irrelevant. It’s still definitely de rigeur.

    Kullervo, don’t tell me this is the best you’ve got. I know you can do better. Definitely.

    Such persons may be receiving revelation or inspiration, but it is not from the source they suppose

    Jack, I was very surprised to hear this from a Mormon leader, considering its the same line I’ve heard from Protestants concerning my own personal revelation. If LDS want to start playing the same game – I think it will not end well.

  20. Dear Jack,

    I thought it might be relevant because it seemed to engage some of the questions you were asking above; also, it was a response to another talk by Elder Oaks and at the end it mentions Elder Oaks personal response to Armand.

    Best,

    TYD

  21. If LDS want to start playing the same game – I think it will not end well.

    Yeah, it’s way annoying to have someone tell you, “God didn’t really say to you what you thought He said.”

    I mean, I totally recognize I could be mishearing the message. I’m only human, after all.

    Then again, so are you.

    (“You” in this instance being directed, of course, toward whoever it is who’s telling me I misheard a message from God.)

  22. The science of a biological basis for homosexuality is coming fast and furious now, but I’m inclined to think Packer will pass away still firm in his belief that it is a choice. I hope to live long enough to be validated in my own, contrasting belief.

    Dear Jessica. This comment sounds like so many of the comments made by non-scientists. Those who buy into the propaganda of the gay-agenda, and who don’t study these things out as enlightened by the Spirit of God will always be misled by the philosphies of men. Study, if you will, the models on the plasticity of the mind. No educated scientist (without a bone to pick) would hang their reputation on the “Born that way” HYPOTHESIS. It’s sad to see so many gullible people confusing by the constant repetition of a hypothesis as truth. I’m sorry, but constantly claiming that gay people are “Born that way” doesn’t make it true. Even if it were, just because I was born with anger tendencies doesn’t mean I shouldn’t resist them. And it would be highly hypocritical to suggest that gays don’t need to suppress their sins (of homosexuality) and I do need to suppress mine (of anger). Of course, most liberals today are all about hypocriticality… so I won’t be suprised…

  23. I don’t really dispute the science, because I don’t think the science ultimately has anything to say on the subject of whether homosexuality is right or wrong.

    Science never does have much to say about human morality.

  24. @ Psychochemiker: Most people seem to have a general personality (quiet/talkative, funny/serious ect) which doesn’t change much as they get older so the idea that the brain is so plastic doesn’t seem to hold water. People such as Mary Cheney who were born in conservative households in conservative communities can still end up Lesbian supporting the idea that its biological. But the best evidence is the twin studies where they looked at twins who had been raised apart and saw that there was a strong correlation between the sexual orientations of the twins.

    Conservatives can be hypocritical as well, such as when they say that the Bible verses regarding homosexuality mean Gay Marriage has to be banned but the Bible verses supporting slavery are just being misinterpreted. Funny how your own personal view, not what the Bible says, largely determines how you feel about these verses.

    @Seth R: The science does matter because if people are born gay I think it’s wrong to punish them for it. Marrying someone of the same gender doesn’t hurt anyone so I think that if it makes these people happy it should be allowed. (another way Conservatives can be hypocritical: They want freedom, but not freedom for gay people).

  25. Rolling, I don’t want government endorsing marriages between gay couples for the same reason I don’t want government endorsing marriages between heterosexual couples – because I don’t think endorsement of marriage is a legitimate function of government at all.

    I want government out of the marriage license business altogether.

    As to whether gays should have tax breaks, hospital visitation, etc… sure. I have no beef with that.

    But I still don’t think the science really has anything much to say about morality – in and of itself.

  26. I agree that science can’t answer morality questions, despite what Sam Harris says (science tells us what is, not what ought to be). However, the morality does depend on what type of event you are in (hitting a random person over the head with a shovel is wrong, but hitting a person who is trying to rape your daughter in order to stop him is okay). Since science tells us what type of events we are in, science does have a part to play in figuring out which moral path to take.

    As for what you said about marriage, I agree with you. Progressives, Libertarians, and others who agree should hope that we can convince others to hold similar principles so that other similar rights aren’t infringed upon.

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