Mar 25, 2016

8 quotes from Mormon leaders on independent thinking

Jana Riess
March 23, 2016

Mormon leaders on independent thinking
A guest post by Joe Murff

As most Mormons know, modern LDS Church culture places immense emphasis on conformity to official doctrine and loyalty to the incumbent officers.

In the words of BYU Law Professor Frederick Mark Gedicks, there is in the church:

…an insistence that individual religious conscience be subordinated to the church’s institutional interests.

…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.”

Let’s call this the subordination approach to Mormonism. Within this worldview, obedience to the leadership is considered right, and everything else is considered wrong.

But there’s a second school of thought that might be called the conscience-based or individualist approach. It has been advocated by a good number of LDS leaders in the past, as seen in the following quotes:

“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 S. Dilworth Young, First Council of the Seventy, 1945; quoted here, p. 17)“We have hitherto acted too much as machines, as to following the [Spirit*]. 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, 1847, quoted here, ​cover jacket)“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.” (John Taylor, 7 October 1872; “Discourse,” The Deseret News Weekly, volume 21, number 48)“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, 1954 CN-7/31/54)“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, 237-38).“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. (President Joseph F. Smith, 1902 October General Conference)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.” (President Joseph F. Smith, 1904 October General Conference)“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; as quoted by Elder Samuel O. Bennion, April 1941 General Conference, p. 32)

Perhaps the most compelling quote in this category speaks to us from the dust of ancient scripture:

“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)

Joe Murff is a second generation Mormon, and a technical writer by trade. After serving a mission in Milwaukee Wisconsin, he attended the University of Utah and completed an English degree.

As part of his research he has created the free downloadable PDF “Mormon Dissidents and Troublemakers,” highlighting ten individuals from Mormon history who have risked excommunication to speak out in dissent, including historian Juanita Brooks, anti-Nazi activist Helmuth Hübener, apostle Orson Pratt, and several contemporary figures.

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