After discussing plural marriage for several pages, Letter to A CES Director moves on to pinning the words of past prophets against living prophets, something Ezra Taft Benson warns about in his landmark talk Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet. He uses the examples of the Adam-God theory, blood atonement, plural marriage, blacks and the priesthood, and Mark Hoffman to bolster his thesis that prophets cannot be trusted because they have contradicted each other.
Before getting into the particulars of what Runnells has mentioned, a quote from the Prophet Joseph Smith would be very helpful here:
This morning I read German and visited with a brother and sister from Michigan, who thought that "a prophet is always a prophet;" but I told them that a prophet was a prophet only when acting as such. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg. 286)
This quote is often used but sadly often forgotten. Everything that comes out of a Prophet's mouth is not the mind and will of the Lord. Prophets are humans, and humans have opinions on things that may be wrong; we all do. If a prophet does not say "Thus saith the Lord" or take up an idea for a sustaining vote, then he is offering his opinion which is not binding on the Church. That is not to say that the prophet cannot give advice that is useful that is non-binding on the church; often he and those sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators will. However, not everything that a prophet says has scriptural stature. B.H. Roberts, a former member of the Presidency of the Seventy, made this point when he said:
"Relative to these sermons [Journal of Discourses] I must tell you they represent the individual views of the speakers, and the Church is not responsible for their teachings. Our authorized Church works are the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. In the Church very wide latitude is given to individual belief and opinion, each man being responsible for his views and not the Church; the Church is only responsible for that which she sanctions and approves through the formal actions of her councils. So it may be that errors will be found in the sermons of men, and that in their over zeal unwise expressions will escape them, for all of which the Church is not responsible.” (Letter written November 4, 1887, London, Millennial Star 49. 48 (November 28, 1887)There are many wise things in the Journal of Discourses, Conference Sermons, BYU addresses and the like; I and others are often uplifted by what we hear and read in these speeches. But, there is no doctrine of infallibility in this Church, errors can and do happen. We would do well to remember that if an idea is not in scripture or sustained as binding on the Church, then it is an opinion and nothing more.
|Brigham Young, Lion of the Lord|
The Adam-God theory is an idea that reoccurs often in Anti-Mormon literature; the only thing that occurs more are the ideas of eternal progression and plural marriage. In several sermons, Brigham Young talks about the station of Adam, who we know from modern revelation was also Michael, the Archangel. In one sermon he states that Adam is "our Father and our God, and the only God with whom we have to do." President Young also incorporated this idea into the temple endowment ceremony, but it was removed soon after his death. This view was controversial in President Young's administration, as apostles Orson Pratt and John Taylor repeatedly said that there was no evidence for the idea (Pratt had to be censured by Young before he would stop denying it), and the idea was never sustained as binding on the Church by common consent. Thus, there is and never was an "Adam-God doctrine" only an "Adam-God theory". The idea was also rejected by President Spencer W. Kimball and Elder Bruce R. McConkie, who labeled the theory a "deadly heresy".
It is not clear entirely what President Young meant by this theory. He only spoke of it a few times, and at other times he seemed to contradict the view that Runnells is accrediting him. Even if Brigham Young did believe the doctrine as Runnells is describing, this would only prove what the Prophet Joseph Smith and B.H. Roberts stated previously; that men who lead this Church at times have erroneous ideas and that a prophet is not infallible. So, whether President Young believed the theory or not is of little consequence or interest.
Blood atonement is next mentioned IN short, blood atonement is the teaching that certain sins go beyond the atonement of Christ and a persons blood should be shed if they commit them and to have any chance at redemption. Brigham Young did teach this idea and the idea capital punishment; there is no question in my mind about that. And once again, the teaching was never sustained by common consent. President Young's ideas are not much different from the ones enunciated by Christ himself when he said that some sins were beyond forgiveness (Matt 12:31-32). Considering that Brigham Young claimed to be a special witness of the said Christ, it only makes sense that he would be in agreement with his teachings. Runnells' real problem seems to be with the principle of the atonement itself rather than Brigham Young's teachings on the issue. There are many different theories on the atonement (Compassion, Moral, Penal Substitution, Ransom for example) of which Brigham Young's is only one.
As mentioned previously, Brian Hales did a post on plural marriage in this series which can be found here. I would like to address a quote that Runnells borrows from Brigham Young that is popular in anti-Mormon tracts: "The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter
into polygamy." It would seem based on this quote that men must be polygamists in order to receive exaltation, a belief still held by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, this is not the entire quote. Here is the full quote in context:
We can see from the quote in its entirety that Brigham Young was not saying that plural marriage had to be entered into in order to go the celestial kingdom, but rather that you had to accept that principle and any other principle the Lord revealed in order to be admitted to that kingdom. Runnells' representation of the quote is plainly dishonest.Now, we as Christians desire to be saved in the kingdom of God. We desire to attain to the possession of all the blessings there are for the most faithful man or people that ever lived upon the face of the earth, even him who is said to be the father of the faithful, Abraham of old. We wish to obtain all that father Abraham obtained. I wish here to say to the Elders of Israel, and to all the members of this Church and kingdom, that it is in the hearts of many of them to wish that the doctrine of polygamy was not taught and practiced by us. It may be hard for many, and especially for the ladies, yet it is no harder for them than it is for the gentlemen. It is the word of the Lord, and I wish to say to you, and all the world, that if you desire with all your hearts to obtain the blessings which Abraham obtained, you will be polygamists at least in your faith, or you will come short of enjoying the salvation and the glory which Abraham has obtained. This is as true as that God lives. You who wish that there were no such thing in existence, if you have in your hearts to say: “We will pass along in the Church without obeying or submitting to it in our faith or believing this order, because, for aught that we know, this community may be broken up yet, and we may have lucrative offices offered to us; we will not, therefore, be polygamists lest we should fail in obtaining some earthly honor, character, and office, etc.” The man that has that in his heart, and will continue to persist in pursuing that policy, will come short of dwelling in the presence of the Father and the Son, in celestial glory. The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy. Others attain unto a glory and may even be permitted to come into the presence of the Father and the Son; but they cannot reign as kings in glory, because they had blessings offered unto them, and they refused to accept them. (Journal Of Discourses 11: 268-269)
The issue of Blacks and the Priesthood is of course near and dear to my heart (I have written on it recently here) as a black Latter-day Saint, and suffice it to say that there is no evidence that the policy came by revelation, though it was ended by revelation. Having said that, I have come to believe that this line of argument is a red herring. The policy is of no interest unless a person affirms that the LDS Church has unique priesthood authority and that the president of the Church holds the keys of that priesthood. Otherwise, who cares if the Church does not give its non-existent power to men of color or anyone else? It is a non-issue because there is no such power.
The case of Mark Hoffman has to do with artifacts, not revelation. The Church, like any other organization, wants to own artifacts related to its history, and assuming that Hoffman had such artifacts they would of course want them. Not being linguists or archaeologists, they were fooled by forgeries. It was an honest mistake, which could happen to anyone. Ancient prophets were also fooled, such as Joshua when the Gibeonites fooled him and escaped being slain in battle (Joshua 9:3-15)
Finally, Runnells mentions to the term "Follow the Prophet." I refer the reader to President Benson's talk mentioned earlier, but with a caution. The term "Follow the Prophet" is a catchy slogan, but it is incomplete. The term should be "Follow the Prophet as he follows and points to Christ." We do not literally follow the prophet around the Earth, or believe his every opinion is binding on us. However, we recognize that he is the only person who can speak for the Lord in everything, has the keys of the priesthood, and the person who has the right to direct the affairs of the Church. We would do well to pray for him and listen to his counsel, but also be aware that everyone can make mistakes and that we will have to revise our view of things (even on major issues) from time to time.