I happened to read an article yesterday in the SL Tribune about the history of men wearing & then not wearing beards in the LDS church (of which I am an active member). Interesting article, but it was actually one of the comments that caught my attention. A woman was responding to a faithful LDS man who had said something to the effect of, "Whatever the prophet tells me to do, that's what I will do." To this woman that comment was very scary. She responded by saying "That's insane, I wonder if you realize how dangerous that attitude is".
I was thinking about her reaction. I assume it comes from a well-intentioned place. She believes, and rightly so - that an attitude of complete submission and obedience to a leader is very unwise, even dangerous. Why, they might ask you do something terrible, and you would just blindly follow along.
However, the prophet of the church is not a dictator, or a politician, or some corporate CEO. He didn't get to where he is through ambition, or political maneuvering. He's not even a little bit unkind.
Here's a man, quite an old man really, who has been properly vetted through decades of selfless christian service to others. He is a man who has dedicated his life to following the Lord Jesus Christ, and to striving to get others to do the same. The only message he preaches is to follow and become more like Christ.
And in any case we don't subscribe to "blind obedience" in our church. Every member of the church is expected to gain a personal witness. Through prayerful pondering and private study and searching, they will come to learn from personal revelation if the prophet is truly called by God.
I suppose this woman believes us to be oppressed in some way. She probably assumes that we are unable to live life to its fullest, to enjoy all the wonderful things that we could enjoy outside of the church. I wonder what exactly she thinks we are missing... wine? smoking? recreational sex or drugs? These things might bring temporary pleasure, but how much lasting happiness and fulfillment have they really brought anyone?
I thought about my own life and where trying to live the gospel has brought me. I'm certainly not perfect, but I have made a concerted effort nearly my entire life to be good and to follow the Lord's commandments as given through the scriptures and modern prophets. I think, as a by-product of following the Lord, I can point to several blessings in my own life that I enjoy. I have a wonderful and committed wife to share my life with. We've been together now for 18 years. We have 5 great kids. I run my own business, I also teach web programming at a small college. In my free-time I like to read, paint, play guitar (both acoustic and electric), run, ski, camp and hike. Last year my wife and I took a trip to Europe, and added onto our house - and rather miraculously were able to pay for both adventures.
Service in the church has taught me more about caring for other people and helped me to get involved in others lives. It has given me communication skills, leadership skills, improved my teaching, and probably prepared me in a variety of ways for my different professional endeavors. It's taught me to value education and encouraged me to pursue higher education. In addition, it has kept me free from troublesome issues that so many of my peers face. I have no addictions to various drugs, alcohol, or even coffee (which can be debilitating, not to mention expensive). I have no alimony payments to make, no crushing debt, no diseases (sexually transmitted or otherwise), no unplanned children or abortions on my conscience.
Again, I don't want to give the impression that I'm perfect, certainly not - I only mention these basic difficulties and challenges to illustrate my point. Who is in bondage and who enjoys freedom? Overall life for us is incredibly satisfying. We certainly have our share of problems and trials.. but so many things are good and flow directly from our trying to follow the counsel of the modern prophets of the church. If this is being oppressed, I'll take it.
I have found that many of the so-called "freedoms" are actually traps. Many adults in their relationship to God are like teenagers who decide to rebel from parents and drop out of school. Seeking their personal freedom and thinking that they know what they are doing, they break every parental rule in their quest for freedom and fun. Eventually they come to realize that each poor decision is only boxing them in, and cutting off future opportunities. Ironically their restless search for freedom has trapped them into a life with serious obstacles and a very limited future.
There are some great chess analogies here as well, but I will refrain..
The story of Lehi's dream in the Book of Mormon is so relevant. It's an allegory about a group of people who struggle along a straight and narrow path, grasping firmly to a rod of iron. They pass through mists of darkness which are designed to try to get them to lose their way. Many lose their grip on the rod, and fall away. Eventually a small group of them struggle and make it to a wonderful tree with the most glorious fruit they have ever tasted. Meanwhile, across a great gulf, there is also a large and spacious building. This building is filled with many people who are finely dressed, pointing at the ones enjoying the fruit, and mocking them. Some of the people enjoying the fruit, when they saw that they were being mocked, they were ashamed and fell away. But the smart ones just disregarded the mocking. Eventually the building falls and is destroyed.
This little story is full of meaning, and perfectly illustrates what happens in our day over and over again.
Down through the ages, God has always called prophets among his people, except during periods of apostasy (when people rejected God and his prophets entirely). I noticed this scripture today in my study:
16 Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein.
Here the bible records the words of the Lord as they came to the prophet Jeremiah. Refusing to acknowledge prophets, and choosing not to listen to them is certainly not something new. Most of the history of Israel as recorded in the bible is a history of a people rebelling against God's true servants, and the judgments and consequences that followed.
We can connect that scripture with this from Peter:
For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. (2 Peter 1:21)
God has not changed. He hasn't given us the bible and then fallen silent. There is this important verse from Amos:
"Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secrets unto his servants the prophets." (Amos 3:7). In our day he has called prophets again, the same as he has done in the past.
We read in the Book of Mormon the account of Alma and his people found in Mosiah 23. They came under the power of a very wicked king named Noah, and a group of wicked priests. Alma in fact was one of these priests - but he was converted through the preaching of the prophet Abinadi, who was later put to death by king Noah and his priests. Through a series of events Alma and his people escape the rule of king Noah, and eventually get away from the priests. When Alma's people finally break free, they desire to make Alma their king. But Alma has learned a valuable lesson:
13. And now as ye have been delivered by the power of God out of these bonds; yea, even out of the hands of king Noah and his people, and also from the bonds of iniquity, even so I desire that ye should stand fast in this liberty wherewith ye have been made free,and that ye trust no man to be a king over you.
14 And also trust no one to be your teacher nor your minister, except he be a man of God, walking in his ways and keeping his commandments. (Mosiah 23:13-14)
So we are counseled even in the Book of Mormon to "trust no one" to be a teacher or ruler over us. The only exception is if the individual is a man of God (truly), and is actually following God in his daily walk. Blindly following someone is very dangerous.. but following a legitimate prophet of God is life-saving. The only real question to be answered then becomes: Is the president of the Church really a prophet of God? That is the question for the honest investigator of truth to seek out. I testify that such an answer can be found through study, and prayer.