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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Heber J. Grant's 1931 comment about science: Part 2, Unanimity

This is the second in a series of posts that examine the context of Heber J. Grant's 1931 comment about science:

"Upon the fundamental doctrines of the Church we are all agreed. Our mission is to bear the message of the restored gospel to the world. Leave geology, biology, archaeology, and anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research, while we magnify our calling in the realm of the Church."

Part 1 of the series, Ambiguity, is here.

In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, doctrine is established and major decisions are made by fifteen men, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

"With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications." (LDS Newsroom, May 2007.)

"The First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles, called and ordained to hold the keys of the priesthood, have the authority and responsibility to govern the Church, to administer its ordinances, to expound its doctrine, and to establish and maintain its practices. Each man who is ordained an Apostle and sustained a member of the Council of the Twelve is sustained as a prophet, seer, and revelator." (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, pp.77 & 84.)

These two quorums, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, function on the principle of making unanimous decisions.

John A. Widtsoe was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve from 1921 until his death in 1952. In 1939, he wrote about the requirement for unanimity in the presiding quorums of the Church:

"The Rule of Unanimity. In trying all matters of doctrine, to make a decision valid, it is necessary to obtain a unanimous voice, faith and decision. In the capacity of a quorum, the three First Presidents must be one in their voice; the Twelve Apostles must be unanimous in their voice, to obtain a righteous decision upon any matter that may come before them, as you may read in the Doctrine and Covenants. Whenever you see these quorums unanimous in their declaration, you may set it down as true....

"The Significance of Unity in Decisions and Their Subsequent Administration. And every decision made by ... these quorums must be by the unanimous voice of the same; that is, every member in each quorum must be agreed to its decisions, in order to make their decisions of the same power or validity one with the other—a majority may form a quorum when circumstances render it impossible to be otherwise. Unless this is the case, their decisions are not entitled to the same blessings which the decisions of a quorum of three presidents were anciently.... The decisions of these quorums, or either of them, are to be made in all righteousness, in holiness, and lowliness of heart, meekness and long-suffering, and in faith, and virtue, and knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and charity.... And in case that any decision of these quorums is made in unrighteousness, it may be brought before a general assembly of the several quorums, which constitute the spiritual authorities of the Church; otherwise there can be no appeal from their decision.—D&C 107:27-32." (Priesthood and Church Government, 1939, pp. 97 & 189.)

Stephen L. Richards was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve from 1917 until his death in 1959. In 1938, he spoke in general conference about the way decisions are made in the presiding quorums of the Church. James E. Faust quoted the following from Stephen L. Richards in an Ensign First Presidency Message.

"They [the First Presidency] are the supreme court here on earth in the interpretation of God's law.

"In the exercise of their functions and delegated powers they are controlled by a constitution, a part of which is written and a part of which is not. The written part consists in authenticated scripture, ancient and modern, and in the recorded utterances of our latter-day prophets. The unwritten part is the spirit of revelation and divine inspiration which are appertinent to their calling.

"In formulating their interpretations and decisions they always confer with the Council of the Twelve Apostles who by revelation are appointed to assist and act with them in the government of the Church. When, therefore, a judgment is reached and proclaimed by these officers it becomes binding upon all members of the Church, individual views to the contrary notwithstanding. God's Kingdom is a kingdom of law and order." (Ensign, Aug. 1996.)

Other apostles have also talked about the need for unanimity in the presiding quorums of the Church. Gordon B. Hinckley, for example, said, "If there is a lack of unity, there follows an absence of action." (Ensign, Nov. 1990.)

James E. Faust said this about the decisions made by prophets, seers, and revelators:

"How, then, one might ask, can we be so sure that, as promised, the prophets, seers, and revelators will never lead the people astray? One answer is contained in the grand principle found in the 107th section of the Doctrine and Covenants:

"'And every decision made by either of these quorums must be by the unanimous voice of the same....

"'The decisions of these quorums, or either of them, are to be made in all righteousness, in holiness, and lowliness of heart, meekness and long suffering, and in faith, and virtue, and knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and charity;

"'Because the promise is, if these things abound in them they shall not be unfruitful in the knowledge of the Lord' (D&C 107:27, 30–31).

"The requirement of unanimity provides a check on bias and personal idiosyncrasies. It ensures that God rules through the Spirit, not man through majority or compromise. It ensures that the best wisdom and experience are focused on an issue before the deep, unassailable impressions of revealed direction are received. It guards against the foibles of man." (Ensign, Aug. 1996.)

On another occasion, James E. Faust explained that there is no "loyal opposition" in the presiding quorums of the Church:

"In some legislative assemblies of the world, there are some groups termed the 'loyal opposition.' I find no such principle in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Savior gave us this solemn warning: 'Be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine' (D&C 38:27). The Lord made it clear that in the presiding quorums every decision 'must be by the unanimous voice of the same; that is, every member in each quorum must be agreed to its decisions' (D&C 107:27). This means that after frank and open discussion decisions are reached in council under the direction of the presiding officer, who has the ultimate authority to decide. That decision is then sustained, because our unity comes from full agreement with righteous principles and general response to the operation of the Spirit of God." (Ensign, Nov. 1993.)

The requirement for unanimity in the decisions of the presiding quorums of the Church was given by the Lord to Joseph Smith in March 1835. According to John A. Widtsoe, this pattern was being scrupulously followed 100 years later. Even today, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve work on the principle of making unanimous decisions.

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