An Anonymous Response to My Post on Criticism

I hope an Anonymous Reader will not object to me highlighting his/her comment as a post.  I think too often many readers may miss some of the great comments made by others.  Some comments, in my opinion, are so often far more insightful than the actual post that may have begun the conversation.

As I have previously stated, my desire is to both discover and expose truth.  I’m finding in this process that this desire is shared by many others in the church.  The discovery of truth I think can both a personal and group effort.  As such, I find these types of comments a wonderful benefit to this endeavor.

I think many readers are like myself.  We want to find and embrace all truth and yet many of us are still very much trying to figure things out.  We no longer fear opposing views nor do we fear seeking the “mysteries.”  We are reluctant to “declare” most things as doctrine or to declare that we “know” anything.

We believe in, and are awaiting, true messengers that are promised to those who become firm minded in every form of godliness (Moroni 7:30).  We do not seek “a form of godliness” only to “deny the power thereof” (JS-H 1:19).  We seek the form of godliness.  Nothing less.  I think I will say more on this in a next post.

Thanks to all those who read and comment.  I’m learning a lot from you, even if and when we don’t always agree on every point.  May God bless us in finding Him, before it is everlastingly too late.

From Anonymous Reader:

Overall, excellent post Anon Bishop. However, there is one minor point I take issue with. The quote from Joseph Smith: “That man who rises up to condemn others…that man is in the high road to apostasy” (Chapter 26, History of the Church (volume/page marker 3:385), please take a closer look at the context of that quote and reconsider how you are using it.

Joseph prefaced his words just prior to saying those words as follows:

“O Ye Twelve! and all Saints!…”

His train of thought from that introduction to the warning in question is one fluid and connected idea, per the word “key”. He was clearly talking to all the Saints when he is talking about the danger of apostasy due to “finding fault with the Church”. He clearly meant that to be a prohibition against publicly finding fault with him, or publicly criticizing the direction the Church was taking.

While it is true that the overall speech in 3:385 is directed specifically to the Twelve (this is made clear on page 383), he broadens his audience just before issuing the warning about apostasy. For this reason, I think that Paul Toscano’s assertion in his Dialogue article is not careful in this regard (although I think his article is powerful and inspired overall).

In the end, my conclusion is that Joseph Smith was mistaken in his assertion about apostasy. Rising up and finding fault with the Church is not a harbinger of personal apostasy: such a correlation does not exist and is not an “eternal key” of truth. The scriptures are full of “fringe” characters who rose up and found fault with the people of God (“the Church”), because the Spirit impressed them to stand their ground and speak truth to power when the people of God weren’t living up to their covenants. Such critics did not commit apostasy, they were true to the end (Samuel the Lamanite, Abinidi, Lehi vs. King Zedekiah and the mainstream Jewish culture, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Alma the Elder vs. King Noah, etc).

I think that Joseph was overly sensitive to criticism, and he taught mistaken doctrine about it. One reason that he was prone to imperfection in this matter: the kind of criticism he received was often tinged with murderous and violent overtones, and it often involved intentional lies or unflattering exaggerations by those who were bent on doing him harm and destroying the fledgling organization he was trying to hold together. He had to manage crisis after crisis, had to deal with many officers in high positions whose words and actions threatened to tear the Church apart and destroy whatever tenuous unity existed. He very much wanted the relentless train of crises to subside, and at times he mistakenly taught that strict obedience to the top mortal leaders and zero criticism of them was the way to achieve that peace and stability. It was a natural and carnal impulse on his part, a craving for easy answers, a silver-bullet doctrine or “key”. It did a lot of harm, because those who came after him aggressively championed his “strict-obedience-to-leaders” idea (for example, see To his credit, he also taught good doctrine on this point on more than one occasion (see quotes below).

The righteous criticism that is being spoken from the city walls by people like yourself is the kind of criticism that needs to be spoken. Thank you for your willingness to give your insights and testimony to the world –please keep up the good work.

The unity that currently exists in the Church is largely artificial. Carnally pleasing doctrines like “follow the prophet” rule the day. However, I think that the tide is slowly turning towards individual responsibility. One day, when more Saints have woken up due to reading websites like this one (and Pure Mormonism, etc), we will have a spiritual coming of age, and the majority will begin to expect and demand leaders who teach spiritual self-sufficiency rather than spiritual subordination.

One day, a critical mass of active members will hopefully begin to vote in opposition against anyone who preaches “follow mortal leaders”. This signal of non-confidence will rock the leadership to the core and will hopefully motivate them to repent. Either that, or God will replace them, once enough Saints are awake to merit it, with leaders who are awake and who understand the principle of spiritual self-sufficiency. This is how the law of restoration works: we get the leaders we deserve. At present, the majority of the Saints deserve leaders who teach spiritual subordination, because the majority is guilty of spiritual subordination, so we have blind leaders in that regard (the blind are leading the blind).

One day, the following teachings will achieve primacy and we will have leaders who champion these truths (you and others like you are the tip of the spear in returning these teachings to their rightful place):

“You must work through the Spirit. If that leads you into conflict with the program of the Church, you follow the voice of the Spirit.” (Elder Seymour B. Young, First Quorum of the Seventy 1882-1924).

“Do not, brethren, put your trust in man though he be a bishop, an apostle, or a President; if you do, they will fail you at some time or place; they will do wrong or seem to, and your support will be gone; but if we lean on God, He will never fail us. When men and women depend upon God alone and trust in Him alone, their faith will not be shaken if the highest in the Church should step aside”. (George Q. Cannon, First Counselor in the First Presidency, Deseret Weekly, 43:322, Mar 7, 1891).

“We have hitherto acted too much as machines, as to following the President. I will confess to my own shame that I have acted contrary to my own judgment many times. I mean hereafter not to demean myself, to not run contrary to my own judgment. When President Young says that the Spirit of the Lord says thus and so, I don’t consider that all we should do is to say let it be so.” (Elder Orson Pratt; see Conflict in the Quorum ​by Gary James Bergera, 2002).

“If we have presidents or apostles or anybody that we do not like, let us vote them out, and be free men, and cultivate and cherish in our bosoms the principles of liberty.” (President John Taylor, 7 October 1872; “Discourse,” The Deseret News Weekly, volume 21, number 48.)

“And if thine eye which seeth for thee, him that is appointed to watch over thee to show thee light, become a transgressor and offend thee, pluck him out.” Mark 9:46, JST

“President Joseph Smith read the 14th chapter of Ezekiel–said the Lord had declared by the Prophet, that the people should each one stand for himself, and depend on no man or men in that state of corruption of the Jewish church–that righteous persons could only deliver their own souls–applied it to the present state of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–said if the people departed from the Lord, they must fall–that they were depending on the Prophet, hence were darkened in their minds, in consequence of neglecting the duties devolving upon themselves.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, page 237-38).

12 thoughts on “An Anonymous Response to My Post on Criticism

  1. Bishop Anon Post author

    Thanks for the link Micah. This is an excellent article for those who haven’t yet read it. I agree that it’s more likely that Joseph either didn’t preach the doctrine at all or was misquoted. I think Joseph erring in doctrine is less likely although I appreciated Anonymous Reader’s perspective. I like it when people think outside the box as he/she has. Thanks to you both!!

  2. Erin West

    Some interesting thoughts: on finding fault, sometimes I think it means simply to create fault where there is none. Nit-picking would be another way to define that. Look at the scriptures surrounding section 88:124, it’s targeting a lot of human weaknesses. The Lord is point out our faults and telling us to stop it. Is He “finding fault” in that He is nit-picking? No he is instructing us, pointing out factual faults as proof we have things we need to fix. That is different from picking a bone with somebody. We are also told scripture is to be used for reproof. So at times we may be called to point out some very serious faults, in ourselves first and then to others. All things have to be done through prayer. This was a great post. Was Joseph right in what he said, if he said it at all? Probably not. He was human too though, and he was chastised by the Lord quite a bit. So obviously he was doing something to bring the Lord’s tough love on him. Maybe this was an example of that?

  3. Erin West

    That is an interesting thought. Look at what happened in the Book of Mormon when the Nephites became prideful. What did they do? Persecute the humble within their own ranks. The humble and repentant were of the church of God. With the way things are today though, we’ve conflated that church with the LDS church, making them one and the same.

  4. JM

    Anon Bishop,

    Thank you for making my reply into a post. That was really meaningful to me, and I’ve learned a lot from Micah’s response. I was not aware that there was controversy about the provenance of the apostasy quote. The Remnant website definitely has some interesting and in-depth analysis.

    To some extent, the chaos surrounding this apostasy quote reminds me of Blake Ostler’s Expansion Theory (, in which the scriptural record sometimes gets altered by those who officially organize, translate, or abridge it, so that it more closely matches their own world view. It might be that Willard Richards inserted the apostasy quote into his record of Joseph’s speech because he believed that Joseph had previously taught it, and so he felt it wasn’t out of line to add it into the speech. In that light, it might have been well-intentioned editorial interference, albeit unjustified and improper on Richard’s part.

    In any case, I’ve located other potential evidence that Joseph taught the Saints to put faith in their mortal leaders, and I think these quotes deserve to be part of the discussion:


    “I will inform you that it is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or any one, to receive instruction for those in authority, higher than themselves; therefore you will see the impropriety of giving heed to them” (


    “He reproved those that were disposed to find fault with the management of the concerns of the Church, saying God had called him to lead the Church, and he would lead it right” (History of the Church 4:603–4 (volume 4, chapter 35) — Joseph Smith on Apr. 28, 1842, in Nauvoo, Illinois; reported by Eliza R. Snow; quoted in Sunday School Manual: Teaching of the Presidents: Joseph Smith)

    To the best of my understanding: Joseph was annoyed that some members were upset about women laying on hands and healing the sick. His opinion was to allow the women to do it if they felt inspired to do so, and he was not pleased with those who disagreed with him. I feel he was right in this case to be annoyed with the narrow-minded critics, but his statement is worded so forcefully that it must logically be taken as a general rule or doctrine, to never question the President, which is how the current leaders seem to treat it.


    “Do Not Accuse the Brethren” Section Four 1839-42, p.193: “I charged the Saints not to follow the example of the adversary in accusing the brethren, and said, “if you will follow the revelations and instructions which God gives you through me, I will take you into heaven as my back load. If you will not accuse me, I will not accuse you. If you will throw a cloak of charity over my sins, I will over yours–for charity covereth a multitude of sins.” (November 7, 1841.) DHC 4:445-446. []

    I think that this statement is sufficiently forceful that it can be interpreted to be a prohibition against any public criticism of the top leadership of the Church. It is not good doctrine in my opinion. It makes no distinction between petty faultfinding and doctrinal disagreement.

    In the Incident at Antioch, Paul publicly criticized Peter for being irrational and dogmatic about various Jewish rites that Peter was trying to enforce upon new converts. Peter’s dogma was causing a serious problem and Paul’s “rebellion” brought the issue into full light of the whole Church so that it could be properly handled (Galatians 2 and Acts 15). Paul’s correct doctrines eventually prevailed over Peter’s misguided ones, and progress was made. But in light of the above quotes by Joseph Smith, it could easily be argued that Paul was out of line, was acting like “the devil”, was not being charitable, was not “forgiving” Peter for his mistakes, was improperly giving instructions to his superiors, attempting to “receive revelation” for them.


    “I am still the President, Prophet, Seer, Revelator and Leader of the Church of Jesus Christ. God, and not man, has appointed and placed me in this position, and no man or set of men have power to remove me or appoint another in my stead, and those who undertake this, if they do not speedily repent, will burn their fingers and go to hell.” (Joseph Smith on Feb. 19, 1837, in Kirtland, Ohio; “History of Wilford Woodruff,” Deseret News, July 14, 1858, p. 85)

    Most likely Joseph was right to rebuke his enemies in this instance, but the doctrine he used to do it was imperfect. Two years prior he had received a pure and simple revelation which outlined how subordinate officers could in fact remove him from his position, according to the law of God: D&C 107:82–84.


    “Look to the Presidency and receive instruction.” (

    At face value, this is a “give your obedience to your leaders” doctrine. I think a much better statement would have been “Look to the Spirit to judge whether or not the Presidency is giving you good instruction”.


    “You will receive instructions through the order of the Priesthood which God has established, through the medium of those appointed to lead, guide and direct the affairs of the Church in this last dispensation” (

    As with the above, this seems to be an “always follow and obey the current leaders” doctrine. A better doctrine would be: “Priesthood leaders will do their best to give you God’s word, but always check with God before you obey them, to make sure they are right in their teachings.”


    Your website arguably “gives instruction” to those who are higher than you in the Church. You are publicly calling them to repentance, correcting their doctrinal mistakes, etc. While I am convinced that you have both the right and the moral obligation to do this, it does appear that some of Joseph Smith’s teachings don’t support your approach, and that some of his teachings paint you as a wolf or apostate.

    In my mind, the essence of the matter is this: once it is firmly established in the minds of the Saints that they cannot trust the teachings of Joseph Smith or any other priesthood officer above their own conscience (the Light of Christ), that is when spiritual progress can occur.

    For that reason, I think it is important to firmly oppose Joseph Smith on the points of doctrine noted above. This of course is not a categorical rejection of him. I consider him to be first among modern prophets in importance and doctrinal purity. If we as a people had latched onto his inspired teachings which contradict these imperfect teachings of his, we wouldn’t be in our current predicament.

    The whole matter really boils down to the fact that there are two major approaches to teaching faith. They are mutually exclusive approaches, and Joseph Smith seems to have taught both of them at various times:

    Approach One: It is imperative that you place your faith in mortal priesthood leaders

    Approach Two: It is imperative that you place your faith in your own conscience (the Light of Christ), after you have done your absolute best to obtain God’s will (i.e., sought with real intent) in any particular matter

    Relevant to this matter is a Law Review article written by Professor Mark Gedicks of the BYU Law School in 2003. He notes that the following ethos has long existed within the Church:

    “An insistence that individual religious conscience be subordinated to the church’s institutional interests.” (The “Embarssing” Section 134, BYU Law Review,Volume 2003, Issue 3).

    He further explained:

    “I do not know if the LDS general authorities ever gave passionate sermons on holding sacred the freedom of conscience as it is characterized by Section 134, but they do not give such talks today. As Latter-day Saints know, contemporary general authority sermons emphasize obedience to ecclesiastical authority and loyalty to the institutional church above virtually every other value.”

    Professor Gedicks then suggests that the Madisonian concept of conscience that is championed in Section 134 is not compatible with present Mormon thinking, culture, or doctrine. He is right, they don’t sync up very well.

    This is because the Madisonian concept of conscience asserts the primacy of personal conscience over all other claims to authority. It holds that those who subordinate their consciences to outside claims of authority are acting immorally and that they lack integrity.

    It so happens that the Madisonian concept of conscience was in fact embraced by a good number of our early leaders. They delivered forceful sermons on the topic and they clearly believed that it was inspired of God. To make this point, I offer the following quotes (some of which will be redundant with regard to my first comment, but there are several additional quotes here as well):

    “What a strange people these Mormons are. They are like a flock of sheep; if I should jump into Hell, I believe they would follow me!” (Joseph Smith, in reference to the secular block-voting of the Saints, Macomb Journal, January 25, 1837, p.2)

    “President Wilford Woodruff is a man of wisdom and experience, and we respect and venerate him, but when ‘Thus saith the Lord’, comes from him, the Saints investigate it: they do not shut their eyes and take it down like a pill.” (President Charles W. Penrose, First Counselor in the First Presidency, Millennial Star Vol. 54 #12 p. 191)

    “We desire that the Latter-day Saints will exercise the liberty wherewith they have been made free by the gospel of Jesus Christ; for they are entitled to know the right from the wrong, to see the truth and draw the line between it and error; and it is their privilege to judge for themselves and to act upon their own free agency with regard to their choice as to sustaining or otherwise those who should exercise the presiding functions among them. We desire the Latter-day Saints to exercise their prerogative, which is, to vote as the Spirit of the Lord prompts them on the measures and the men that may be presented to them.” (1904 General Conference, President Joseph F. Smith)

    “We desire that the brethren and sisters will all feel the responsibility of expressing their feelings in relation to the propositions that may be put before you. We do not want any man or woman who is a member of the Church to violate their conscience. We would like all to vote as they feel, whether for or against. (1902, General Conference, President Joseph F. Smith)

    “We can tell when the speakers are moved upon by the Holy Ghost only when we, ourselves, are moved upon by the Holy Ghost. In a way, this completely shifts the responsibility from them to us to determine when they so speak”. (President J. Rueben Clark, CN-7/31/54)

    “Men and women should become settled in the truth and rounded in a knowledge of the Gospel, depending upon no person for borrowed light, but trusting only upon the Holy Spirit, who is ever the same.” (President Joseph F. Smith, 1904; as quoted by Elder Samuel O. Bennion, General Conference, April 1941)

    “It is the privilege of every Elder to speak of the things of God; and could we all come together with one heart and one mind in perfect faith the veil might as well be rent today as next week, or any other time, and if we will but cleanse ourselves and covenant before God, to serve Him, it is our privilege to have an assurance that God will protect us at all times.” (

    An “Address to the World” from the First Presidency (President Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder, Anthon H. Lund, in 1907), adopted by unanimous vote of the Saints: “The charge that the Church shuns enlightened investigation is contrary to reason and fact. Enlightened investigation is the very means through which the Church hopes to promote belief in her principles and extend the beneficent influence of her institutions. From the beginning, enlightened investigation has been the one thing she has sought.” {–analysis from LDS researcher Stephen Stone: “For this bold invitation to truth-based investigation of the church to be meaningful and genuine — not just rhetorical— the church would need, of course, to institute internal policies that not only encourage it, but prevent punishing or discouraging any sincere truth-seeker who might wish to conduct a fair-minded examination of the church and submit their findings to a candid world. Yet, a member of the church today who might undertake just such an examination and publish it widely risks excommunication for “apostasy,” no matter the truth of his or her findings. By any reasonable standard, if what is published is true — and is not privileged communication — its writer should be protected by the church, even encouraged, under the clear sentiments of its 1907 Address, in the interest of promoting the “enlightened investigation” the Address categorically invites. Instead, any member who goes public with truth about the church that is significantly unflattering — bearing in mind that the church, like any institution, is prone to error, excess, and self-contradiction — is likely to be censured, even cut off from the church, by overly-sensitive church officials. Since criticism of the church is unavoidably (or at least implicitly) criticism of its leaders, such an extreme notion would proscribe all honest assessment of the church by those who know it best: its members. It would also prohibit all negative votes by members during “sustainings” — depriving them of their divine right to hold their leaders to account.” –A Mormon Story, Installment 2, 5 August 2012}

    “O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm.” (2 Nephi 4:34)

    “If we have presidents or apostles or anybody that we do not like, let us vote them out, and be free men, and cultivate and cherish in our bosoms the principles of liberty.” (President John Taylor, 7 October 1872; “Discourse,” The Deseret News Weekly, volume 21, number 48.)

    “And if thine eye which seeth for thee, him that is appointed to watch over thee to show thee light, become a transgressor and offend thee, pluck him out.” Mark 9:46, JST

    “You must work through the Spirit. If that leads you into conflict with the program of the Church, you follow the voice of the Spirit.” (Elder Seymour B. Young, First Quorum of the Seventy 1882-1924).

    “President Joseph Smith read the 14th chapter of Ezekiel–said the Lord had declared by the Prophet, that the people should each one stand for himself, and depend on no man or men in that state of corruption of the Jewish church–that righteous persons could only deliver their own souls–applied it to the present state of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–said if the people departed from the Lord, they must fall–that they were depending on the Prophet, hence were darkened in their minds, in consequence of neglecting the duties devolving upon themselves.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, page 237-38).

    “Do not, brethren, put your trust in man though he be a bishop, an apostle, or a President; if you do, they will fail you at some time or place; they will do wrong or seem to, and your support will be gone; but if we lean on God, He will never fail us. When men and women depend upon God alone and trust in Him alone, their faith will not be shaken if the highest in the Church should step aside”. (George Q. Cannon, First Counselor in the First Presidency, Deseret Weekly, 43:322, Mar 7, 1891).

    “We have hitherto acted too much as machines, as to following the President. I will confess to my own shame that I have acted contrary to my own judgment many times. I mean hereafter not to demean myself, to not run contrary to my own judgment. When President Young says that the Spirit of the Lord says thus and so, I don’t consider that all we should do is to say let it be so.” (Elder Orson Pratt; Conflict in the Quorum by Gary James Bergera, 2002).

    “Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men, save their precepts shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost.” (2 Nephi 28:31)

    “No man can serve two masters.” (Matthew 6:24)

    All of the above quotes express the concept of faith in a way that is focused on the principle of personal responsibility; they powerfully establish a Madisonian or “individualist” approach to the gospel.

    In contrast to what I consider in the above quotes to be inspired, invigorating, and “Madisonian” way of framing the gospel, our current doctrine in the Church involves a profound subordination of individual conscience:

    “The Saints can have faith in their leaders and vote unanimously on all propositions, knowing that the things presented for their sustaining vote were approved of the Lord to their leaders before being presented to the membership of the Church” (Ensign, May 1974, Alma P. Burton, BYU Professor of Church History and Doctrine).

    “Keep your eye on the President of the Church, and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it. But you don’t need to worry. The Lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray’” (Current Aaronic Priesthood Manual, Lesson 24 “Follow the Prophet”; Conference Report, Oct. 1960, p. 78; ).

    “There is one thing which we should have exceedingly clear in our minds. Neither the President of the Church, nor the First Presidency, nor the united voice of the First Presidency and the Twelve will ever lead the Saints astray or send forth counsel to the world that is contrary to the mind and will of the Lord” (Current Aaronic Priesthood Manual, Lesson 24 “Follow the Prophet”; Conference Report, Apr. 1972, p. 99)

    “We should do those things the prophets tell us to do. President Wilford Woodruff said that a prophet will never be allowed to lead the Church astray: “The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place” (Current Gospel Principles Manual, Chapter 9).

    “Will the prophet ever lead the Church astray? The Savior will never allow the President of His Church to lead the people into sin or apostasy.” (Current Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, pg. 389-90).

    “Always stay within the mainstream of the Church.” (Marvin J. Ashton, “On Being Worthy,” Ensign, May 1980, 20; also found in various speeches by Elder Bruce R. McConkie and quoted frequently by Robert Millet in various official CES publications).

    [As prophets do their best to lead the Church], “human nature may express itself on occasion, but not to the permanent injury of the work.” (President Boyd K. Packer, BYU Devotional and Fireside Speeches, 1990-1991)

    “We will not lead you astray. We cannot.” Elder M. Russell Ballard (BYU Devotional and Fireside Speeches)

    “Beware of those who speak and publish in opposition to God’s true prophets and who actively proselyte others…” (Elder M. Russell Ballard, Beware of False Prophets, October 1999 General Conference).

    “It is my province to teach to the Church what the doctrine is. It is your province to echo what I say or to remain silent. You do not have a divine commission to correct me or any of the Brethren. The Lord does not operate that way. If I lead the Church astray, that is my responsibility, but the fact still remains that I am the one appointed with all the rest involved so to do. The Lord’s house is a house of order and those who hold the keys are appointed to proclaim the doctrines. Now you know that this does not mean that individuals should not do research and make discoveries and write articles. What it does mean is that what they write should be faith promoting and where doctrines are concerned, should be in harmony with that which comes from the head of the Church. If they err then be silent on the point and leave the event in the hands of the Lord. One of the side effects of preaching contrary to what the Brethren preach is to get a spirit of rebellion growing up in your heart. This sort of thing cankers the soul spiritually. It drives people out of the Church. It weakens their faith. Some day all of us will stand before the judgment bar and be accountable for our teachings. And where there have been disagreements the Lord will judge between us. I advise you to take my counsel on the matters here involved. If I err, that is my problem; but in your case if you single out some of these things and make them the center of your philosophy, and end up being wrong, you will lose your soul. …I think I have said enough in this letter so that if you are receptive and pliable, you will get the message. If you are not, rebellion will well up in your heart.” (Elder Bruce R. McConkie to Eugene England, 19 February, 1981)

    By means of the above statements and many other similar ones that are used within the Church, we are consistently taught to dismiss our own best efforts to obtain truth if those efforts bring us into conflict with the current official doctrines or norms. We are taught to always follow and submit to the top officers: to trust them implicitly. Such submission is how faith and humility are primarily understood in the Church at present. It is a collectivist approach to faith and in my view it involves dangerous and degrading “all is well in Zion” overtone (2 Nephi 28) and involves idolatry (

    I am optimistic that some day we will return to the Madisonian approach to conscience and faith, like so:

    “…Sadly John Dehlin and Kate Kelly are apostates under the accepted definition… What needs to change then is the definition. And that can happen when we (the institutional church as well as it’s members) allow people to take responsibility for their own salvation. Let us as members from top to bottom discern what to believe or not believe. Let the institution teach and make a great case for the very basics that Jesus taught and then encourage open discussion on the rest. Under this model we would all become more loving and less didactic and calcified in our opinions and our ability to have the spirit work within and among us. It would reduce pride and encourage acceptance and meekness. Our numbers could grow as people feel understood, loved, un-judged, and accepted as they are. We could bring to our teaching not only inspired words from our own but also the best thinking by the best and brightest in the world who have demonstrated remarkable integrity. These people would be from all disciplines and beliefs. We could dive into the scriptures and explore them from such perspectives while continually seeking meekness and charity. We would have a simpler church both in structure and in doctrine. I see such a need to revisit how and what we teach as well as the doctrines and carefully consider if they are truly bringing us closer to Christ or distancing us from him. …I remain an active and believing member of this faith and am grateful for John and Kate’s courage as well as their insights. I have followed their movements and have cheered them on. I pray God will bless them and that somehow good things will come from this trying time. I pray that we will all be patient with one another when we make mistakes. And that are hearts will be full of the pure love of Christ. Love will win the day!”

    (–Jay Griffith, from a Mormon Matters discussion in June of 2014

    I think for most people it is a frightening proposition to leave the shelter of the collectivist worldview and to adopt a Madisonian worldview in which one’s own conscience (one’s own best efforts to understand the will of God) became the final authority on any given issue. Terryl Givens has explained it this way:

    “We want a standard that is infallible because it relieves us of the burden of continually exerting ourselves to use discernment. The way that Dostoyevsky put it so beautifully is that “We want some person to be a keeper of our conscience”. The hard lesson is that there is never a moment when you can delegate your volition to another individual.”

    A carnal impulse is at play when we rely upon the doctrines of the priesthood officers above us. In our lust for safety and security, we want the accountability to be on someone else, rather than having to figure out the will of God for ourselves. It feels safer to follow the leader than to take an honest look at all the variables that exist and move forward based on our own best efforts to obtain truth. And while some of the most important variables do happen to be the words of past and present prophets, we still must judge the value of those words by the light of our own lamps, never trusting in other mortals for our final answers.

    The commandments and priorities of each prophet, living or dead, have varying degrees of value and inspiration. Some of those words are crucial to our salvation, and other of those words will lead us into mists of darkness. The burden is upon us to obtain the Spirit and discern rightly which words are actually from God and how to apply them in our lives.

    The transition from collectivist dependence to individual responsibility is something that I think that less than 5 percent of the Saints have achieved. This does not cancel out the many good and inspired things that are happening in the Church. We are doing a lot of things right. But the things we are doing wrong are of a grievous nature, and in my opinion it is a mistake to be silently complicit in those things, hence the reason I like your website. I think that your website represents a de facto vote of opposition against the current leaders, and I think that public votes of opposition are righteous and merited at present.

    While I no longer agree with the collectivist approach to faith, I do understand how powerful it is, — it creates a level of unity that is very potent. I was raised with the collectivist approach, and I lived according to it for many years. I would argue that the unity it creates, potent though it may be, is an artificial kind of unity, and that it creates false priorities, gives unwarranted “holiness” to the status quo, and gives undue importance to temporary officers and their titles.

    True unity can only be achieved when individuals are encouraged to follow their own consciences, and are given sufficient space to do so. We are far away from that ideal at present.

    Since our consciences are a manifestation of the Light of Christ (an idea that is according to our current doctrine, but our current leaders don’t put much emphasis on it), it is perfectly righteous and appropriate to trust in ourselves when the following condition is in place: when we have searched with real intent on whatever issue happens to be at stake.

    Those who are willing to search with real intent about any particular matter will at some point, either sooner or later, discover the pure truth of that matter. That is the immutable nature of God: to always reward whole-hearted investigators with light and truth.

    Some day, I think that those who preach the collectivist, anti-Madisonian approach to faith will no longer be called into leadership positions in the Church; they will be considered misguided and spiritually weak or ignorant. People will cringe and be ashamed that they ever uttered such things as “always follow the mortal prophet”. Be we have a lot of work to do before we get there.

    One of the core assumptions that underpins the collectivist approach to faith is that being called to high priesthood office is a sign of God’s favor.

    As a counterpoint to this assumption, scriptural history reveals that there are many times when mediocre and/or abusive leaders are divinely selected or allowed to rise to power as a punishment to the people (Mosiah 11:1–5; 1 Samuel 8:7–22, Ether 1-12; 3 Nephi 1-10; Kings, Chronicles, Ester, Nehemiah, Micah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and many other books of scripture).

    It might even be argued that poor priesthood leadership occurs more often that not (D&C 121). Throughout scriptural history, the people of God are often led into trouble by the duly appointed priesthood leaders within their societies. It generally takes outside intervention of “unauthorized” messengers to call the people to repentance (Samuel the Lamanite, Abinidi, John the Baptist, Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc).

    If the above interpretation is correct, it would appear that the equation the Lord uses to select or allow mortal officers to rise to power is not aimed at choosing the most righteous or intelligent men among us, nor is it aimed at limiting the amount of false doctrine that will be taught to us. Instead, the purpose seems to be this: to give us officially appointed leaders who will reflect back to us our spiritual maturity as a people (Isaiah 28:13).

    It might seem cruel or unfair that the Lord would give us leaders who he knows will mislead or abuse us in some areas of the gospel, but this is what the law of restoration seems to require: that we get the leaders that we deserve (D&C 130:20–21). If, for example, the majority of us are racist, the Lord must allow racist leaders to rule over us.

    Meanwhile, there is always good doctrine available from a variety of unofficial sources, minority dissenters, and outsider messengers. Those who have “ears to hear and eyes to see” will draw value from these unofficial sources of truth and begin to repent, and start to form the critical mass that is necessary to persuade the larger group to accept true doctrine in whatever issue is at stake.

    The law of restoration operates in a compartmentalized way: individuals and groups might be righteous and blessed in some areas of their lives, while simultaneously being ignorant and cursed in other areas.

    For example, most reasonable people will admit that Brigham Young was a violent, racist, and ignorant person in some ways, but they will also acknowledge that he was a virtuous and magnificent person in some areas. His virtues and weaknesses, for the most part, seem to have mirrored the character of the average Saint of his time. This aspect of the law of restoration, that our leaders will generally possess the same qualities and weaknesses that define the majority of the group, should make us perpetually wary of the status quo: it should motivate us to frequently reassess what we believe and why we believe it.


    I suppose one angle that could be brought out in favor of the “don’t give instructions to your leaders” doctrine is that leaders do have dominion over Church property, they preside during live meetings, and those meetings should not be interrupted, even when the presiding officers are teaching false doctrine. The proper approach, as I think you would agree, is that they should be challenged outside of Church property, in secular forums. Along these lines, Maxine Hanks has noted:

    “Many of the requirements in the letters to John and Kate are totally unrealistic — that they should take down their web sites and renounce their public views. While all of us can improve our communication, temper ourselves in ways that are more sensitive or professional or effective, none of us should ever silence ourselves, our truth, our convictions in the public sphere of ideas, which is where they belong. This is why I cited the difference between secular and sacred spaces — it’s reasonable to ask Ordain Women to refrain from bringing public dissent about doctrine into church spaces (Temple Square and wards). But it’s unreasonable to ask OW to cease their public discussion or dissent, since the public, secular sphere is where discussion and debate belongs.”​

    One exception to being oppositional during live meetings would be when votes are asked for, then we should reverently manifest our opposition with an upheld hand, because the presiding officers have opened the floor to allow it.

    More about this here:

    It’s a website I’ve been working on for a while, but it’s far from being complete. If anyone has time to help me with it, let me know.

  5. rockwaterman1

    You have done us all an immeasurable service, not only with your post above, but by providing such a plethora of quotes in your additional comments here. I’ve recently considered addressing this topic on my own blog (and may yet do so, borrowing heavily from you, if you don’t mind). But for now I’m satisfied that when anyone brings up this heresy, I’ll be able to point them to this location as well as Adrian Larsen’s well reasoned argument that Joseph most likely never said those words in the first place.

    I would point out one area that I feel could use clarification, and that is in your quote in point number four above, where Joseph Smith declares, “I am still the President, Prophet, Seer, Revelator and Leader of the Church of Jesus Christ. God, and not man, has appointed and placed me in this position.”

    Where most of us go wrong is in applying that statement as having application to any succeeding president of the Church. Although God indeed appointed Joseph Smith and placed him in that position, we have no record of God ever having anointed any subsequent president to a similar position.

    Brigham Young was never anointed by God to lead the church; he was elected by a slim majority of the Saints, and even then they did not elect hims Prophet, Seer, and Revelator. They didn’t even elect him president of the Church. All they did that afternoon in Nauvoo was assent to his view that authority to make decisions for the church lay in the Twelve Apostles as a group.

    Today we tend to presume somehow that since Joseph Smith was God’s anointed, so is Thomas Monson, yet we make that presumption having never been given any revelation from God that would tell us this is so. Heber Grant reminded the Saints that to his knowledge no man had seen the Lord since Joseph Smith. So if president Grant was not privy to the same gifts and privileges as Joseph Smith, why should we assume without evidence that anyone who succeeded him has. And pertinent to this discussion, why should we assume it wrong to bring any of this up?

    This is as good a place as any to remind ourselves that “evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed” means to lie about that person with intent to defame. Joseph Smith was the victim of numerous lies, and had every reason to warn those who were “speaking evil” of him. On the other hand, those of us telling the truth about the present Church leaderes are no more guilty of “evil speaking” than was the prophet Abinadi.

  6. Bishop Anon Post author

    Thanks again Anonymous / JM for taking the time to add so much to this discussion. I love the quotes and links and hope people will find them hidden beneath the much less interesting post ;). If not, I’ll have to publish this comment as a post as well.

  7. James Lloyd

    This post was an answer to our prayers. We were not happy with the 1st Presidency Message in January’s 2015 Ensign and emailed our adult children and their spouses about it and some responded with the usual “the apostles would never lead us astray” and expressed concerns about us. So, we offered prayers again to make sure we are not erroneous in our thinking and found your post which brought peace again to our souls and felt it was heaven-sent.

  8. Bishop Anon Post author


    Thank you for example of courage in seeking truth. It is both difficult and ironic to be in a position to feel the need to defend the truth often against those who are its stewards.

    God bless you my friend.


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