In a recent meeting Elder Bednar was supposedly asked a question by a sister missionary about women and the priesthood. He’s said to have given his own thoughts about the subject and when he concluded, the sister asked a follow up question. “Are there any scriptures that talk about this subject?” Elder Bednar responded, “I am scripture.”
Now in fairness to Elder Bednar, I’ve heard this account from two different sources both in attendance at this meeting, and thus I relate the story relying upon second hand information. If any readers have also heard this same story, please correct or confirm the details.
My first reaction to such a statement is not good. Yet I fully understand as an LDS person raised in the church, that Elder Bednar is only stating what we teach. “When a ‘prophet’ speaks by the power of the Holy Ghost, it is scripture.” Elder Bednar obviously considers himself a prophet and many of us sustain him in that calling.
But, we are also taught that “when any person speaks by the power of the Holy Ghost, it is scripture.”
So why give more credence to the words of Elder Bednar than say… someone else claiming to speak by the Holy Ghost? The standard LDS answer is “because God’s house is a house of order and that’s why keys are so important. Whoever has the keys AND speaks by the power of the Holy Ghost is who you listen to.”
For nearly 170 years (post-Joseph), these men we sustain as Prophets, Seers, and Revelators have been able to more or less say “Let it be written, for I am scripture.” Their Conference talks are immortalized and their words are given as lessons and talks and made into refrigerator magnets all around the world for years and decades to come.
The Immortalized Words of General Conference
But to what end?
For me when someone (and I mean anyone, besides The Lord) says something akin to “I am scripture” the effect is to shut down any and all further communication or questions. The same can be said of many statements we tend to make as Mormons.
I’m reminded of a missionary companion who liked to one-up investigators who disagreed by “boldly” bearing his testimony. Its effect? The conversation usually stopped awkwardly. He taught other missionaries this principle too. “Whenever you can’t answer a question, just bear your testimony (really hard).”
One time we were having a great discussion with a Catholic gentleman. He was hung up on The Book of Mormon. His questions and concerns were sincere. Then it came. “Sir, I know The Book or Mormon is true beyond a shadow of any doubt and that this church is the only true and living church on the whole earth!” This man replied with his own testimony. “Well, I know The Book of Mormon is NOT true and that your church is NOT the only true church on the whole earth!” My companion was taken aback. I waited for him to say “IS NOT!” like a 4-year old who has no logical arguments left. Fortunately he didn’t.
To be fair, our investigator wasn’t saying he “knew” anything. He was merely demonstrating how strange and immature such grand statements sounded to him and how off-putting they were. The conversation usually just ends.
Even to members of the church familiar with such bravado, the effect of these traditional tactics can be very damaging.
To say “I know God lives,” five times in a row, for example, while increasing the pauses in between sentences, while climactically raising the tone of your voice each time, may just lead someone to believe you have literally stood in the Lord’s presence. This was a technique I observed from the late Elder Loren C. Dunn. If he had not actually seen God, would this be a good thing to do? Might this cause people to treat someone as a light and heap upon them their praise?
I spoke to a brother recently who provides security detail for the Brethren when they come to his area. He is a trained police officer. He told me that when an Apostle, Prophet or even a Seventy come nowadays, there are members who try to find out what hotel they are staying in so they can stalk them and try to meet them. He recently had to rescue a visiting GA from an overly excited LDS crowd, literally removing him from danger. The spared GA told this brother that it’s getting worse and worse as they travel around the world.
Curious, I asked why he believed members reacted like this around the Brethren. He said “It’s like they’re rock stars and people think that because they know the Savior, that if they can just touch them, something amazing will happen!” He then went on to say that a full grown man from his stake boasted that he shook Elder Ballard’s hand and was “never going to wash it again.”
Such adoration and idolatry is anti-Zion and anti-Christ. All of us can learn a lesson from this. Maybe you or I are not tempted by GA celebrity status, but our own claims may cause others to look to us as a light instead of to Him.
The Savior’s Example
The Savior of the world epitomized meekness and humility. When he was called “good,” he objected and deflected all praise to God (Matthew 19:17). When he gave talks, he quoted scripture, giving all recognition to the prophet he quoted. This despite the fact that it was He, the Great Jehovah, who had given the quote to begin with. Unlike any mortal, “prophet or not,” Jesus IS literally the Word of God. He, and only He, is Scripture.
When Jesus taught He did not often make bold self-promoting proclamations to induce obedience or to enhance his bona fides. Clearly He was entitled to, but He more often said:
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment. (Matthew 5:21) or “Blessed are the meek…”
He could have just as easily said “I am the Great Jehovah who once commanded you, Thou shalt not kill…” or “I the God of Heaven and Earth command you to be meek now before I pull your temple recommend.”
Jesus does not use His power and authority to compel obedience and adoration.
Although perfect Himself, He invited others to “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
Jesus speaks in plainness and humility.
And then shall ye know that I have seen Jesus, and that he hath talked with me face to face, and that he told me in plain humility, even as a man telleth another in mine own language, concerning these things… (Ether 12:39)
Notice that Moroni’s claims are also plain, overt, and factual. He doesn’t leave the audience guessing whether he did or did not see the Lord.
Some Ideas to Consider
Whether leader or layperson, none of us is perfect. We can benefit from each others’ feedback and prayers. It’s a humbling and difficult experience to recognize or be made aware of our weaknesses. The Brethren need not feel threatened, condemned or judged by our feedback. They deserve our help as much as we deserve theirs. Furthermore, it is incumbent upon us to discern when they or anyone act and speak in the Lord’s name, otherwise we do them no favors and we only damn ourselves.
Here are just a few suggestions that I think would help us as members to NOT idolize the Brethren as well as to not set ourselves up as lights unto the world (2 Nephi 26:29).
We should never mislead people about what we know. We should not exaggerate our claims. If we haven’t seen Jesus or Angels, we should not make people believe we have. We should not mislead others about it by speaking in circles or by emphasizing how special our witness is. Let’s be honest and humble and direct ALL praise to our Lord. Only He can save.
Most of us can all do better in deflecting compliments and praise. Jesus said we should not even call one another Rabbi, which is to say Master or Teacher (Matthew 23:7). In my ward the CES contingency take turns suggesting that the other is one of the “Great Master Teachers of the Kingdom.” I believe such things to be devilish and destructive and yet all of us are tempted to heap praise upon each other. It’s our culture.
We should not often call people by their full names preceded with titles. Let’s drop the words president, elder, beloved, prophet, seer, revelator, general authority, etc. from our vocabulary when addressing someone. EVEN Jesus said to not call Him good! Do we really suppose He would have liked to be called Our Beloved President Jesus (add initial) Christ, Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, while in mortality? To do so is to desecrate Him; His calling. Why should we be greater than He? He was called “Jesus.” That should serve as our model when speaking to or about each other, no matter our calling. Titles and initials inflate egos.
Church Leaders not speaking at General Conference would send a powerful message if they did NOT sit on the stand. In fact, they could even dress normally, i.e. not to the nines in expensive suits and dresses (fine twined linen?) and they could serve as Ushers and Parking Attendants and assist the infirm. They should consider standing at the doorways rather than sitting in plush red seats where all can see. Didn’t the Savior teach us to be servants especially when we are viewed as greatest? (Matthew 32:11). Let the poor and the elderly sit in those seats.
General Authority families should not be given preferential seats at General Conference. They should not occupy the entire front section of the Conference Center as they currently do. These people should get in line with the rest of us for tickets. Why not let first year converts or investigators sit in those seats? Or the handicapped?
NO calling in the church should EVER BE REMUNERATED nor should anyone receive a stipend who teaches or serves in the church (Mosiah 18:24). The church knows that its 80,000+ missionaries and its 3+ million active members of the church tell everyone that what makes us different from all other churches is that no one is paid. The Brethren KNOW this is what we tell people. And yet some of us KNOW this is not true. It’s simply wrong to encourage the lie by not correcting the record. It’s dishonest. It’s immoral. It would be one thing perhaps if the brethren were merely being supported. This is simply not true. They earn very large sums of money as a direct result of their callings. The church needs to come clean and set the record straight and deal with the consequences.
ALL transactions and expenditures ought to be made available for members to see. Every contract, every piece of property bought or sold, every trip, every personal expense, every stipend, every salary, every bonus, every royalty ought to be made public.
Church leaders should not fly First Class as I have witnessed on more than one occasion. For those of you that don’t think this possible, here is a recent picture of President Nelson.
He’s apparently on an International flight from SLC to Germany, traveling with Elder Hallstrom accompanied by their wives and someone who appears to be Elder Nelson’s bodyguard (far right in the picture) ALL flying First Class. Retail price of each ticket? $13,000. Coach price? $1300. What would be wrong with sitting in a regular seat with normal folks? It would sure save a lot of tithing money. One ticket at this price is equal to two years of tithing for a person who makes $65,000 per year. Fifty people could have flown for the price likely paid for these five tickets! One ticket would pay for an entire mission for a young man or young woman who cannot afford it.
Are these men so frail and so important that they can’t sit in a normal airplane seat? Why not just pay the extra $100 for more leg room? “But everyone would bother them if they were in coach” one might argue. But, isn’t that their calling? To preach the gospel whenever they can? I’ve heard more than one apostle say we should pray when we get on a flight that we will be able to share the gospel with someone seated next to us. How does the future prophet of the church do that here surrounded by his wife on his right and protected by hired muscle on his left?
Church leaders should not be served the sacrament first, but rather should bless it and administer it as servants to the congregation as the D&C teaches.
There are many small but important changes the church could make that I believe would both help the church to better conform with scripture as well as prevent people from leaving. Again, brothers and sisters, it’s our duty as members of Christ’s church to sustain these men in their callings by sharing our concerns. We need not be angry or revile against anyone. We can share our concerns with love. If we don’t, then who will? Anti-Mormons? It is far better that we encourage positive change from within by “common consent” than have it imposed upon us by the wrath of God, when it’s likely too late. We who believe in the Restoration must open our mouths. Those in the chief seats would do well to stop trying to silence those who offer their concerns. It’s our church too. The Savior’s message to the church leaders of his day seems to still apply to us in our day. Will we heed the call of our Master?
And Jesus said unto his disciples, Beholdest thou the scribes, and the Pharisees, and the priests, and the Levites? They teach in their synagogues, but do not observe the law, nor the commandments; and all have gone out of the way, and are under sin. Go thou and say unto them, Why teach ye men the law and the commandments, when ye yourselves are the children of corruption? Say unto them, Ye hypocrites, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye. (JST Matthew 7:6-8)