Elder Stevenson visited my stake some weeks ago. During his time with us, he offered a message that, in part, echoed the message he gave at General Conference this past weekend.
We opened Doctrine and Covenants 1:17 together, which says:
“Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments”
“The Lord knows the end from the beginning,” Elder Stevenson told us, “and He knows what we face today.” Knowing the calamity that was to come – what Paul called “perilous times” – He gave Joseph revelations and commandments which then give us direction and safety. These perilous times, Elder Stevenson assured us, are more than offset by the “fullness of times.”
And that fullness continues today! In 2019, we might read that “I the Lord… called upon my servant Russell M. Nelson, and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments.” This is why we read, later in that section (vs. 30), that we are members of “the only true and living church.” We have prophets on the earth today, and the Lord speaks to them from heaven! Latter-day Saints believe, on balance, that their words are God’s words. That’s unique to the Restored Gospel and pivotal to every other truth claim made by the Church.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, speaking at Harvard Law School years ago, reiterated that the priesthood organization providing for saving ordinances is “our most distinguishing feature.” He taught:
“For today, we are unique in the modern Christian world regarding one matter which a prophet and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints called ‘our most distinguishing feature.’ That is, divine priesthood authority to provide the saving sacraments—the ordinances—of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The holy priesthood, which has been restored to the earth by those who held it anciently, signals the return of divine authorization. It is different from all other man-made powers and authorities on the face of the earth. Without it, there could be a church in name only, and it would be a church lacking in authority to administer in the things of God. This restoration of priesthood authority eases centuries of anguish among those who knew certain ordinances and sacraments were essential but lived with the doubt as to who had the right to administer them. Breaking ecclesiastically with his more famous brother John over the latter’s decision to ordain without any divine authority to do so, Charles Wesley wrote:
“ ‘How easily are bishops made, By man or woman’s whim: Wesley his hands on Coke hath laid, But who laid hands on him?’
“In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we can answer the question of ‘who laid hands on him’ all the way back to Christ Himself. The return of such authority is truly ‘the most distinguishing feature’ of our faith.”
(His question and answer portion, found here, also included a question, and fantastic answer, on the same subject.)
The presiding authorities of the Church hold the priesthood keys and authority to officiate in and direct the work in all the world, and the Lord gives them revelations and commandments. That is no small thing. It is because of this the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth.
“I Do Not Subscribe”
It is with that context that members became concerned with the approach taken by some prominent Latter-day Saints, the Sistas in Zion, towards President Oaks. President Oaks is a favorite scapegoat for progressive Latter-day Saints, given his messages often don’t quite align with their worldviews. I’ve reproduced the relevant tweets below, with links so that you can find the context (as long as they are not deleted later on).
As President Oaks spoke in the General Women’s Session, the live-Tweeting went like this:
What members find concerning about this is the attempt to steady the ark, so to speak. As we’ve discussed, President Oaks presumably was inspired about what to discuss. He is a member of the First Presidency, and he’s part of a quorum of leaders we consider “prophets, seers, and revelators.” He’s also an incredibly brilliant and capable person; I have no doubt had he wanted to discuss another subject, he would have done so. To correct him in this way is to suggest that his talk is not inspired.
It’s understandable Church members might be uncomfortable with those implications.
She later explained “Shade” like this:
At this point, Twitter accounts started to push back, and things got heavier, but the message was still largely one of focus – ‘Why must the focus be concentrated here? We’ve heard this message already.’
At this point, we turned a corner. No longer were we discussing matters of focus; instead, we were discussing matters of priesthood leadership and the separation that having two lines of communication creates from the Savior. I’ve heard this argument – from antagonistic mainstream Christians, typically – all my life. I was surprised to hear it coming from someone associated so closely with Church institutions and businesses.
They also replied with a GIF of Corey Booker saying, “First of all, I want to say, no. Actually, I want to translate that into Spanish. No.”
This deemphasis on prophetic importance continued. In response to someone responding, “To properly have faith in god you need a proper understanding of God’s nature and his gospel, which would be impossible without the restoration. So yes, in these days we absolutely need prophets to properly worship and follow Christ.” They replied,
They also tweeted,
And they also tweeted,
I think that it’s reasonable to wonder about why this is coming prominent Latter-day Saints. We’re not talking about the infallibility of prophets, nor about any long-since abandoned or fringe doctrine. We’re talking about “our most distinguishing feature”! This is utterly fundamental to everything that we as Latter-day Saints are and believe.
President Nelson literally asked all of us to seek that witness during his devotional at BYU just weeks ago.
You seem to have some serious misunderstandings about how the Lord operates and how his church works.
You can only receive personal revelation for yourself and your own stewardship.
While it is conceivable that the Holy Ghost could reveal to you something contrary to what the prophets are currently teaching, it would be for your own private preparation for coming changes, not for proclaiming to the world.
The Holy Ghost always honors priesthood keys and the stewardship of living prophets. If he did reveal to you that the prophets are mistaken, he would also prompt you not to go around undermining them.
[Excerpt from President Nelson’s talk, Protect the Spiritual Power Line]
And the Lord has asked us to follow LIVING prophets, not some future prophet that we anticipate will change things to match what we want.
When you publicly proclaim that the prophets are wrong because of your own personal revelation, you are setting yourself up as an alternative prophet, claiming to know the will of the Lord better than his official spokesmen.
You put yourself in the role of Hyrum Page. These things are not appointed unto you. (See D&C 28:2)
Publicly claiming that you have received revelation contrary to the prophet is itself a sign that your revelation is not legitimate.
This is for the Record
Why make such an issue about this? That’s a good question. This is really a Latter-day Saint blog but digress with me for a moment.
I quite like video games. Right now I’m working my way through the completely adorable remake of Link’s Awakening, but in my younger years, I spent a fair amount of time with standard FPS (first-person shooter) games. In one popular FPS, the antagonist turns out to be a U.S. military general named Commander Shepherd (can we have spoilers for a ten-year-old game?). Shepherd was guilty of some back-room-black-ops-type badness to start a profitable war (profitable for him, at least). The heroes of the game find him out and go on a high-risk mission to kill him and right his wrongs. As they approach the final showdown our main protagonist, Captain Price makes this (awesome) speech:
“This is for the record. History is written by the victor. History is filled with liars. If he lives, and we die, his truth becomes written – and ours is lost. Shepherd will be a hero, ’cause all you need to change the world is one good lie and a river of blood. He’s about to complete the greatest trick a liar ever played on history. His truth will be the truth. But only if he lives, and we die.”
Now, that’s a bit graphic but think about the message.
It’s difficult to say history is objective in the same way that we can say that science or mathematics are objective. Complex events with differing perspectives all influence how history is understood, and this difficulty is compounded as you increase the involved players and the surrounding controversy. That’s all without the added intricacy of different “versions” that depend, to a great degree, on who “wins” a conflict and therefore gets to contribute to writing the history of it.
The Sistas have largely spent their time since the Twitter blow up casting – or at least winking at – accusations of racism, alt-right political affiliation, or other horrendous things about those who took issue with their cavalier dismissal of priesthood leaders. That’s not accurate, and I’m not willing to let that record stand uncontested.
Now, I’m under no illusions about being able to write the history. 51,000 people follow the Sista’s Facebook page, and 18,400 people follow the Twitter account. That’s a great many compared to my handful of followers.
But I can write a history, an accurate history, and while the numbers may not be on my side, progression in the gospel is a very individual, personal process. It’s never about the numbers.
People are found as individuals. People are taught as individuals. People consider, as individuals, whether or not they want to join the Church and make the incredible sacrifices that go along with that decision. People are baptized as individuals. People grow and repent as individuals. And people experience the fruit from these decisions as individuals.
Whether this version of the conflict becomes the history, it’s the right history. If the Sistas want to help correct the history that they’ve helped propagate, we can talk about the merits of keeping this post public. Until then – this is for the record.
- “Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives” -President Russell M. Nelson, April 2018
- “Standing with the Leaders of the Church” -Elder Ronald A. Rasband, April 2016
- “Give Heed unto the Prophets’ Words” -Elder Quentin L. Cook, April 2008