On July 24th (2008), at a sunrise service commemorating the first Mormon pioneers to enter the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, LDS Seventy Earl Tingey talked about some of the admirable traits of those first settlers. In addition to doing their duty, being willing to sacrifice for their beliefs, and raising “a righteous posterity” with faith and vision, Mr. Tingey praised these people for being “obedient to their prophets.”
Two weeks earlier (July 8, 2008), the BYU NewsNet web site published an article titled “Follow the Prophet.” In this editorial it was argued that “active Mormons” cannot and will not “disagree with the Prophet’s counsel.”
The context for the editorial was the June 29th statement by the LDS First Presidency asking Church members to do all they could to support California’s proposed marriage amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Some members had publicly disagreed with the Church directive; hence BYU NewsNet’s clarification of what it means to be an “active Mormon.”
The editorial stated,
“Regardless of their rationale for disagreeing, any ‘active Mormon’ sustains President Thomas S. Monson as the prophet, seer, revelator and mouth-piece of God. ‘Active Mormons’ raise their right hand during General Conference and sustain him and the other 14 apostles as the leaders of God’s church on the earth today. In sustaining, they are not voting for them or agreeing with their position, they are promising to support and listen to them.
“Consequently, ‘active Mormons’ know that when the prophet speaks, the debate is over. No matter how diligently someone reads their scriptures, attends church or pays a full tithe, unless they sustain President Monson, his counselors and the other 12 apostles, they are not ‘active Mormons.'”
The idea expressed in the editorial, that when the prophet speaks the debate is over, likely came from an address delivered at a Church-wide fireside meeting in 1978. There, Elaine Cannon, Young Women President, told the women of the Church,
“Personal opinions may vary. Eternal principles never do. When the Prophet speaks, sisters, the debate is over.” (Ensign, November 1978, page 107)
The idea rang true with Church leadership for in the August 1979 First Presidency Message N. Eldon Tanner titled the message “The Debate is Over” and wrote,
“I was impressed by that simple statement [of Mrs. Cannon’s], which carries such deep spiritual meaning for all of us…
Whose side are we on? When the prophet speaks the debate is over.” (Ensign, August 1979, page 2).
Mrs. Cannon’s words also appeared in “Lesson 12: Follow the Living Prophet,” from the Aaronic Priesthood Manual 1, page 39.
This is all in keeping with what an LDS prophet has spoken. President Heber J. Grant once said,
“Always keep your eye on the President of the church, and if he ever tells you to do anything, even if it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it…” (quoted by Marion G. Romney, Conference Report, October 1960, page 78).
It’s hard to accept as good counsel the directive to do what the LDS prophet says “even if it is wrong.” Of course, if Mormons understood the prophet to be infallible, that would be one thing. But the Mormon-on-the-street is quick to tell critics that the prophet is just a man, capable of giving his own opinion without identifying it as such. In that case, doing whatever the prophet says “even if it is wrong” becomes of serious concern. President Grant seemed to think, though, that the prophet was infallible; for after giving the above counsel he said, “But you don’t need to worry. The Lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray.”
Heber J. Grant died in May of 1945. The following month the LDS magazine Improvement Era had the following:
“Any Latter-day Saint who denounces or opposes, whether actively or otherwise, any plan or doctrine advocated by the ‘prophets, seers, and revelators’ of the Church is cultivating the spirit of apostasy….It should be remembered that Lucifer has a very cunning way of convincing unsuspecting souls that the General Authorities of the Church are as likely to be wrong as they are to be right. This sort of game is Satan’s favorite pastime, and he has practiced it on believing souls since Adam. He wins a great victory when he can get members of the Church to speak against their leaders and to ‘do their own thinking.’…When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. When they propose a plan—it is God’s plan. When they point the way, there is no other which is safe. When they give direction, it should mark the end of controversy.” (June 1945, page 354)
This sounds a lot like “‘active Mormons’ know that when the prophet speaks, the debate is over.” If these teachings are to be believed, any Latter-day Saint that does his own thinking is not only unworthy of the title “active Mormon,” but he is unwittingly cultivating a spirit of apostasy.
You might consider bringing this up the next time a Mormon objects to the teachings of a Latter-day Prophet with, “That’s just his opinion.”