Friday, January 13, 2006

There might also be a chance for us

In my discussions here and elsewhere in the bloggernacle, I find some people who don't seem to have any hesitation at all about criticizing Church leaders (i.e. Joseph Fielding Smith, Bruce R. McConkie, Boyd K. Packer, and Russell M. Nelson) for their views on death before the fall and other creation and evolution issues.

I would like to address this tendency by using an example from the life of President Wilford Woodruff. In so doing, I'm hoping that my blogging friends can see why it so surprises me when they cavalierly critize the apostles and prophets. Please note, this is not a post about the Word of Wisdom, it is about accepting the teachings of imperfect Church leaders.

From the life of Wilford Woodruff

On April 4th, 1880, during the Jubilee General Conference of the Church, Elder Woodruff spoke in the Assembly Hall. He was 73 years of age at the time and had served as an Apostle for over 40 years. Among other things, he said

I have spent the last year of my life on a mission. I have been traveling with our southern brethren; spent some time in the temple; been through Arizona, where the brethren and sisters are living in the United Order. I will say that I have been pleased with my visit to the southern country. In many of our settlements the people are endeavoring to keep the commandments of God, uniting together according to the order of the kingdom of God; and I will say here that from my experience among them I am pleased with the result, I am pleased with the fruits manifested by the people, and you know we judge a tree by the fruit it bears. I made my home in Sunset when I was not traveling. The people there are living in the United Order, as also in Brigham City and St. Joseph, and while I was in those settlements I never heard an oath, I never saw a quarrel, I never saw any man or boy smoke a cigarette, or use an ounce of tobacco, or drink whiskey, or drink a cup of coffee or tea, except what I drank myself. The idea of drinking coffee where nobody else was drinking it was a very poor example, I thought, for an Apostle; I therefore took, instead of coffee, water and milk, and have felt a great deal better. The promise is that those who keep the Word of Wisdom "shall run and not be weary, shall walk and not faint," and I can say I have enjoyed much better health than before. (Conference Report, April 1880, 11.)

The Word of Wisdom, a principle with a promise

The Word of Wisdom was received by revelation through Joseph Smith, at Kirtland, Ohio, February 27, 1833. That was the same year Wilford Woodruff was baptized at the age of 26.

On January 3, 1837, Wilford Woodruff was called to the First Quorum of the Seventy. Four months later, in a general meeting of the Church held May 28, 1837, the members “resolved unanimously that we will not fellowship any ordained member who will not, or does not observe the Word of Wisdom according to its literal meaning.” (See Gerry Avant, “Health Law Received One Hundred Fifty Years Ago,” Tambuli, Oct. 1983, 15.)

Wilford Woodruff was called to the Quorum of the Twelve on July 8, 1838 (see D&C 118:6), and ordained an Apostle on April 26, 1839. In 1851, President Brigham Young asked in general conference that the Saints covenant to keep the Word of Wisdom. His proposal was unanimously accepted and since that day, the revelation has been a binding commandment. (see Ezra Taft Benson, “A Principle with a Promise,” Ensign, May 1983, 53.) However, the Encyclopedia of Mormonism says before 1930 you didn't have to keep the Word of Wisdom to hold a temple recommend.

There is evidence that Church Presidents John Taylor, Joseph F. Smith, and Heber J. Grant wanted to promote adherence to the Word of Wisdom as a precondition for entering LDS temples or holding office in any Church organization; and indeed, by 1930 abstinence from the use of alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and tea had become an official requirement for those seeking temple recommends. (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, vol 4, s.v. Word of Wisdom.)

I've found no evidence that Wilford Woodruff ever preached against obedience to the Word of Wisdom. In 1880, he announced publicly that he had only recently quit his coffee habit and he used that occasion to reiterate the promise given to those who keep the Word of Wisdom. Nine years later, in 1889, he was sustained President of the Church. The 2006 Wilford Woodruff manual, on page 31, quotes him saying, "It is the will of God ... that we should obey the Word of Wisdom."

The teachings of imperfect Church leaders

My point is this, when we see an apostle or prophet doing or saying something that appears to be unjustifiably wrong, that does not authorize us to disregard his apostolic and prophetic teachings.

Then how should we react when we see faults in our leaders? I like the following observations made by Elder Dallin H. Oaks regarding the imperfections of mortal men who are called to lead in the kingdom (see Ensign, Feb. 1987, 72):

President Brigham Young described ... a circumstance in which he felt “a want of confidence” in the Prophet Joseph Smith’s financial management. After entertaining such thoughts for a short time, President Young saw that they could cause him to lose confidence in the Prophet and ultimately to question God as well. President Young concluded:

“Though I admitted in my feelings and knew all the time that Joseph was a human being and subject to err, still it was none of my business to look after his faults. ... He was called of God; God dictated him, and if He had a mind to leave him to himself and let him commit an error, that was no business of mine. ... He was God’s servant, and not mine.” (Journal of Discourses, 4:297.)

Elder Lorenzo Snow also observed some “imperfections” in Joseph Smith, but he also reached a positive conclusion about the Prophet:

“I thanked God that He would put upon a man who had those imperfections the power and authority He placed upon him ... for I knew that I myself had weakness, and I thought there was a chance for me.” (Quoted by Elder Neal A. Maxwell in Ensign, Nov. 1984, p. 10.)

Criticism of Church leaders

In the October 1972 General Conference, when he was sustained as President of the Twelve, President Spencer W. Kimball said (quoting President George Q. Cannon):

“The men who hold the Priesthood are but mortal men: they are fallible men.... [No one knows that better than they themselves.] No human being that ever trod this earth was free from sin, excepting the Son of God....”

This is true concerning all of the brethren, I am sure.

“Nevertheless, God has chosen these men. He has singled them out,... but He has selected them, and He has placed upon them the authority of the Holy Priesthood, and they have become His representatives in the earth. He places them as shepherds over the flock of Christ, and as watchmen upon the walls of Zion. And He holds them to a strict accountability ... for the authority which He has given to them, and in the day of the Lord Jesus they will have to stand and be judged for the manner in which they have exercised this authority. If they have exercised it wrongfully and against the interests of His work and the salvation of His people, woe unto them in the day of the Lord Jesus! He will judge them....” (Gospel Truth, p. 276.)

This same early apostle tells us that the Lord gives the authority to judge and condemn only to the regularly constituted councils of the Church and not to man generally; “and those who lift their voices ... against the authority of the Holy Priesthood ... will go down to hell, unless they repent.” (Ibid.)

It was President Wilford Woodruff who, in his closing years, made this statement: “I ask my Heavenly Father to pour out his spirit upon me, as his servant, that in my advanced age, and during the few days I have to spend here in the flesh, I may be led by his inspiration. I say to Israel, the Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as president of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the program. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so he will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from his oracles of God and from their duty....” (The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff [Bookcraft, 1969], pp. 212–13.)

This should give us deep assurance. (Spencer W. Kimball, “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet,” Ensign, Jan. 1973, 35; italics added; bracketed comments in the original.)

The emphasized sentences in the above quotation were spoken by President Woodruff in the October 1890 General Conference while serving as Church President. They are also found on page 199 in the 2006 Wilford Woodruff manual and included with OD–1 in the Doctrine and Covenants.


I believe we should avoid speaking against the authority of the Holy Priesthood. I believe we can overlook imperfections in our leaders, leaving judgment to the regularly constituted councils of the Church or to God. I believe we should thank God that He would put upon men who have imperfections the power and authority He has placed upon them, because we ourselves have imperfections and that means there might also be a chance for us.

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Friday, January 06, 2006

LDS leaders trumped by established facts?

Recently, during a discussion about "God and science" at M*, it was suggested (here) that, "at least as recently as 1987," Elder Russell M. Nelson was uninformed about evolution because he said something that "undeniably betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of evolution."  The comment continues,

The opinions of most LDS members and many LDS leaders are trumped by established facts.  I would love it if church leaders who become aware of this would publicly retract previously stated opinions, but that's not how things are done.  In this church, false notions aren't killed; they're simply allowed to slowly fade.  As I look at anti-evolution statements over the past several decades, I see this fading process in action.  (see here.)

According to this "fading process" theory, it must be quite an embarrassment to certain unnamed, but more enlightened and "aware," Church leaders when publications like True to the Faith or the 2002 (Harold B. Lee) and 2006 (Wilford Woodruff) Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society manuals are published containing views that have supposedly been "trumped by established facts."

The Church's current and official internet site must also be an embarrassment to these unnamed, enlightened Church leaders due to its "Gospel Topics" list of recommended resources about the "Creation" which is headed by Elder Russell M. Nelson's April 2000 General Conference talk on "Creation" in which he rules out evolution entirely by teaching the LDS doctrine of no death before the fall:

"The creation of a paradisiacal planet came from God. Mortality and death came into the world through the Fall of Adam. ... Eventually, 'the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.' (A of F 1:10.) At the Second Coming of the Lord, the earth will be changed once again. It will be returned to its paradisiacal state and be made new." (Ensign, May 2000, 84-86.)

Let's look at this paragraph in more detail.

(a.) "The creation of a paradisiacal planet came from God." To Latter-day Saints generally and to Elder Nelson specifically, "paradisiacal" means "terrestrial." Elder Nelson made this clear in the April 1990 General Conference when he said, "It is true that scriptures foretell the final days of the earth’s temporal existence as a telestial sphere. The earth will then be renewed and receive its paradisiacal, or terrestrial, glory. (See A of F 1:10.)" (Ensign, May, 1990, 17; italics added; see also D&C 77:6-7.)

(b.) "Mortality and death came into the world through the Fall of Adam." Looking at the words immediately before this sentence (see a.), the meaning is that the earth was changed when mortality and death came to the previously paradisiacal planet through the Fall of Adam. What he clearly did not say was that mortality and death came to only Adam and Eve and their posterity through Adam's Fall because the rest of earth had been mortal for millions, perhaps billions, of years prior to the Fall of Adam.

(c.) "At the Second Coming of the Lord, the earth will be changed once again. It will be returned to its paradisiacal state and be made new." The words "changed once again" refer back to earth's first change from a paradisiacal, or terrestrial, deathless state to its present temporal, or telestial, mortal state (see b.). Here he is clearly saying that earth will be changed back to its previous paradisiacal, or terrestrial, deathless state. "It will be returned to its paradisiacal state and be made new" is another way of saying that, before the Fall of Adam, the earth was paradisiacal and new and it will be "returned" [the act of bringing something back to a previous condition] to that same terrestrial, deathless state that existed before the Fall of Adam.

Elder Nelson has consistently taught his views on these issues over many years. I've quoted Elder Nelson here in 1987, 1988, 1991, 1993, and 2000, teaching no death before the fall. In the April 2001 general conference, Elder Nelson said, "I like to recommend ... short explanatory paragraphs in the Bible Dictionary, listed under ... 'Fall of Adam' (page 670, paragraphs 1–2)" (Ensign, May 2001, 32.)

The following year, Elder Nelson wrote, "I recommend ... selected paragraphs under Fall of Adam (page 670, paragraphs 1–2) ... in the Bible Dictionary" (Ensign, Mar. 2002, 17.) Here is what it says on page 670, paragraphs 1-2, in the LDS Bible Dictionary.

Before the fall, Adam and Eve had physical bodies but no blood. There was no sin, no death, and no children among any of the earthly creations. With the eating of the "forbidden fruit," Adam and Eve became mortal, sin entered, blood formed in their bodies, and death became a part of life. Adam became the ‘first flesh’ upon the earth (Moses 3:7), meaning that he and Eve were the first to become mortal. After Adam fell, the whole creation fell and became mortal.

According to Elder Nelson, there was no death before the fall and without millions, perhaps billions, of years of death and dying, evolution is ruled out completely. Elder Nelson has clearly stated his views about this using plain and simple language at least seven times during the past 19 years. Furthermore, it is not true that Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve is unenlightened or unaware, or that his views about evolution and death before the fall have been "trumped by established facts."

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