Scriptures and Theology
Do Church Authorities Speak Ex Cathedra?
All G.A. Statements Said to Be of God
From Affinity, October 1994, pp. 1, 4, 11.
In what seems to
be the latest salvo in the hierarchy's 1-war against LDS "intellectuals,"
Elder L. Aldin Porter, a member of the Presidency of the Seventy, told
church members at this month's semiannual General Conference that any
statement from the church's highest authorities comes from God.
Porter said, "When you see any document, any address, any letter, any instruction that is issued by the Council of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, it should be recognized for what it surely
is--the mind and the will of the Lord to his people in this day."
Mormons have traditionally made a distinction between doctrine--believed
to be revealed by God only to the Prophet--and policy--considered
to be changeable administrative decisions. Church members have been
taught that priesthood leaders are called by inspiration to serve in
church offices, but that they do so as inspired, yet fallible,
Latter-day Saints have often been critical of Catholic claims of Papal
infallibility, claiming it elevates a mortal to a "perfected" status
which only Jesus Christ occupies. Some were dismayed to hear what they
considered a claim by authorities to speak ex cathedra, (i.e.
for God), whenever they issue any statement.
To some, the fact that Porter said "First Presidency and--not
or--he Quorum of the Twelve," suggests that he referred
only to joint statements of the church's two highest bodies. Others
however, say that the distinction is insignificant, since Mormons already
believe that First Presidency pronouncements are doctrine. They see
the addition of "the Twelve" to the equation to be a clear shift in
Porter's stressing of divine will is likely intended to stem recent discussion among the membership of a variety of controversial topics, including homosexuality and the ordination of women. Several dissidents recently punished by high church authorities in the last 13 months have claimed that it was not their writings that were cited as apostate, but their refusal to do everything priesthood leaders told them to do.
"In essence," says one recent excommunicant "[we were] excommunicated for not treating the word of [the leader] as the word of God. [We] asserted the divine right to seek confirmation from the Spirit before following [the] counsel."
This latest move to shore up confidence in the ecclesiastical structure
seems to some to be the fulfillment of fears once expressed by Mormon
prophet Brigham Young when he said, "I am more afraid that this people
have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not enquire
for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they
settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their leaders
with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purpose of
God in their salvation. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering
of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking
in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation
continually." (Journal of Discourses, vol. 9, p. 150)
This principle was reinforced as recently as October of 1989, when Mormon
apostle, Elder James E. Faust quoted the above prophetic statement and
added, "We make no claim of infallibility or perfection in the prophets,
seers, and revelators." (Ensign, Nov. 1989, p. 11)
Young and Faust however, were not the only General Authorities who warned against investing too much in the words of church leaders. Seventeen-year apostle (1958-75) Elder Hugh B. Brown, who served in the Church's First Presidency as a counselor to David O. McKay (1961-70), worried about the tendency to ascribe divine origins to leaders' personal opinions.
In the book An Abundant Life, Brown said:
"With respect to
the people feeling that whatever the brethren say is gospel, this tends
to undermine the proposition of freedom of speech and thought. As members
of the Church we are bound to sustain and support the brethren in the
positions they occupy so long as their conduct entitles them to that.
But we also have only to defend those doctrines of the Church contained
in the four standard works.... Anything beyond that by anyone is his
or her own opinions and not scripture."
Brown further lamented:
afraid, however, that this is not as generally accepted or followed
to-day as it ought to be. Some of the brethren have been willing to
submit to the inference that what they have said was pronounced under
the influence of the inspiration of the Lord and that it therefore is
the will of the Lord. I do not doubt that the brethren have often spoken
under inspiration and given new emphasis--perhaps even a new explanation
or interpretation--of Church doctrine, but that does not become binding
upon the Church unless and until it is submitted to the scrutiny of
the rest of the brethren and later to the vote of the people."
The "vote" to which Brown referred is the principle of Common Consent established by Joseph Smith, but abandoned by the 20th-century church. It is still practiced in the RLDS church which, unlike its LDS counterpart, does not rule by decree.
Believers in the principle of "free agency," recently declared obsolete by church authorities, in favor of "moral agency" are finding it harder of late to express disagreement with leaders' opinions, without being accused of "apostasy" for not "sustaining priesthood leaders."
Some church members wondered if Porter's remark immediately following Boyd Packerówas meant as a signal to those who have lost confidence in the senior apostle, since he declared earlier this year that the church was being invaded by feminists, homosexuals and "so-called scholars."
How the Words of a Lesser-Known, Freelance Journalist Become the Inspired Words of God