Elder Ballard spoke last week to a very large crowd in the Marriott Center. You can read his entire talk here.
In his remarks, Elder Ballard spends a significant portion of his time “praising the Saints” he says “as Paul did” in Biblical times.
Elder Ballard suggests that the Utah County saints are the most faithful, most affluent, and most blessed among all of God’s people. He makes the case that our vast wealth in Utah County, and access to hospitals along with our great athletic teams and the Arts and Universities and spacious buildings are the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy that the desert would blossom as a rose.
It quickly becomes clear that this talk is meant to be of the Boise Rescue variety, wherein Elder Ballard begins to focus on false prophets (i.e. Denver Snuffer) and the need to follow the Brethren, who, as he reminded us in his last conference talk, “cannot lead us astray, the Lord will simply not allow it.”
But there’s a feigned change to his tone when Elder Ballard expresses sympathy for those of us with unanswered questions or concerns:
We have heard stories where someone asking honest questions about our history, doctrine, or practice were treated as though they were faithless. This is not the Lord’s way. As Peter said, “Be ready always to give an answer to every man [or woman] that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.”
We need to do better in responding to honest questions. Although we may not be able to answer every question about the cosmos or about our history, practices, or doctrine, we can provide many answers to those who are sincere.
I have to chuckle when Elder Ballard says “We have heard stories…” as if to suggest he and the Brethren have had nothing to do with the way Denver Snuffer, Adrian and Tausha Larsen, Rock Waterman, and dozens of others have been treated for “their questions.” Denver Snuffer’s Passing the Heavenly Gift, for example, is one of the most honest books I’ve ever read that asks sincere questions about the Church’s history. Is he not being treated by the Brethren as “faithless”? all the while ironically, attempting to provide answers the Brethren have not provided, with the hopes of keeping people from leaving the Church.
But here is the revealing highlight for me from the talk. Elder Ballard explains what he does when he has questions:
When I have a question that I cannot answer, I turn to those who can help me. The Church is blessed with trained scholars and those who have devoted a lifetime of study, who have come to know our history and the scriptures. These thoughtful men and women provide context and background so we can better understand our sacred past and our current practices.
Now I get that some of you may rightly argue that Elder Ballard doesn’t mean to suggest that he never asks the Lord when he has a question. But, don’t you find it peculiar that one who calls himself a “prophet” doesn’t go out of his way to emphasize that when he has a question, he asks the Lord, with whom he speaks regularly? That’s what it means to be a prophet right? Is this not the message of the restored Gospel? That God once again speaks, even face to face, with His servants the prophets…?
This is certainly Nephi’s counsel when his brothers had interesting and difficult historical questions about the House of Israel and the Olive Tree from Lehi’s dream?
And I said unto them: Have ye inquired of the Lord? And they said unto me: We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us. Behold, I said unto them: How is it that ye do not keep the commandments of the Lord? How is it that ye will perish, because of the hardness of your hearts? Do ye not remember the things which the Lord hath said?—If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you (1 Nephi 15:8-10)
What’s interesting is that Nephi doesn’t ask his brothers if they’ve asked the prophet Lehi for an answer to their question. And he doesn’t ask them if they’ve thought about writing a letter to the Rabbinical scholars from Jerusalem for an answer. He asks, “Have you inquired of the Lord?”
Conversely, Elder Ballard teaches us that when they have tough questions, they don’t always take those questions to the Lord, they often take them to trained scholars, but remind us to rely upon them, the “living prophets,” for the answers.
Maybe soon the Brethren will just cut to the chase and teach: “Follow the Trained Scholars” for they cannot lead us astray.
Elder Ballard concludes his talk with:
It is hard for me to understand why anyone turns to other voices on the internet without first turning to voices of the scriptures or the voices of the living prophets and apostles.
Well, that would be because it’s a lot easier (and safer) to go online to see what trained scholars say than it is to get an appointment with an apostle who apparently is only going to defer to the trained scholars anyway and who might just instruct your stake president to excommunicate you.
The best advice from this talk is to consult the scriptures and I would add “the Lord” as we have questions. Despite what others may say, He is the only one we can trust.