Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Conscience vs. Following the Brethren

This is a tough post for me to write because I still don't know how I feel about this. Perhaps because the election has already passed, it is no longer relevant what I think. I am, of course, talking about voting on Proposition 102 in Arizona.

I consider myself a pretty reasonable person and always try to understand both sides of an issue, even if I initially don't agree with one side. I also consider myself a pretty orthodox member of the church and think it is inappropriate to criticize our leaders (we covenant not to, right?). With that in mind, I really struggled with this one. Being active on the internet, it was impossible to not notice the church's involvement on California's Prop 8. The church went so far as to provide
reasons for why it supported the respective propositions for CA and AZ. For the sake of this post and to prevent arguments over the merits, just assume that I thought that the arguments were weak.

Last Sunday, during a state-wide Stake Conference, President Packer reiterated points of his classic talk called "Follow the Brethren". He briefly mentioned the election and essentially said (paraphrasing) that if we are to follow the Brethren now, we should vote yes on Prop 102. It was rather vague and much of the talk seemed to be more about the fight in CA and less about AZ.

This post is not intended to argue the merits for or against Prop 102 (or 8 for CA readers). Instead, I ask what does one do if they do not agree with the reasoning behind the support? The church of course counsels us to vote our conscience. What if our conscience goes against President Packer's admonition? Does following my conscience mean that I do not follow the Brethren? Do not the Brethren tell us to follow our conscience? Understand, I am deeply conflicted over this and am not intending this to be critical of the Brethren.

I believe that there is safety in following the Brethren. But then I wonder if someone that was critical of the pre-1978 priesthood situation would have felt as if they didn't follow the Brethren at that time. Was that person not ultimately correct post-1978? Putting aside criticism of the Brethren (that would be inappropriate in any situation), should that person have seen himself as unsupportive of the Brethren because of that view?

Jeremy and I were going through some of these ideas earlier today over IM and so I think it helps me to put my thoughts down and solicit feedback. Again, this is not intended to argue the merits of each side. I only ask what one does when they feel that this conflicts with their conscience? I admire those who in the past were able to overcome their conscience and feelings about plural marriage and put their trust in the prophet. I wish I had that kind of faith.

(For what it's worth, when I had to decide, I came to the conclusion that I sustain the Brethren as prophets (even if I disagree) and as such, recognize that sometimes I have to sacrifice my own reasoning because they know more than me. Perhaps this was difficult for me and not for others for this particular issue. In the future, something else could be easier for me and unconscionable for someone else.)


Hans said...

Perhaps this is what Joseph Smith meant when he said: "God will feel after you, and He will take hold of you and wrench your very heart strings, and if you cannot stand it you will not be fit for an inheritance in the Celestial Kingdom of God." --John Taylor, Journal of Discourses 24:197.

I don't presume to say that my feelings are anything that these people went through, but I do feel conflicted.

Anonymous said...

You have shown a great deal of humility in your admission of faith in the bretheren. The Lord will always support us when we show such faith and I know he will bless you for it. I enjoy reading your blog and I will just wish you well and say keep up the good work.

Jeremy said...

I don't believe that the Lord has asked us to blindly follow the General Authorities. That would defeat the purpose of the Plan, in that we wouldn't have to think for ourselves and learn from our mistakes. Instead, we are invited to seek the Lord's confirmation on issues that are important to us.

Scriptural history is replete with examples of righteous individuals that ultimately had to seek for the Lord's confirmation regarding doctrines/issues that seemed to go against everything they felt was right and true. For example, Brigham Young desired death when asked to practice plural marriage. But he later gained a testimony of its principle.

In other instances, however, the Lord may require us to simply go on faith. For example, Abraham was required to end the life of the one who was promised to bring him endless posterity. He acted in faith, without knowing the full reasons why.

I, for one, praise you for your moral dilemma. It means that you are "thinking," studying it out in your mind, and trying to do what you think is right. You are not like the millions of people who entered the polling booths on Tuesday without a clue as why they were voting for a particular candidate or proposition. Sadly, most voted on Tuesday according to media hype and bias. Maybe there was something to the Founding Fathers' voting requirements...

Jeremy said...

Check out these blurbs from a talk first given at BYU and then later published in the Ensign. Keep in mind that Elder Maxwell was speaking almost 30 years ago.

"Make no mistake about it, brothers and sisters, in the months and years ahead, events are likely to require each member to decide whether or not he will follow the First Presidency. Members will find it more difficult to halt longer between two opinions.

"This is hard doctrine, but it is particularly vital doctrine in a society which is becoming more wicked. In short, brothers and sisters, not being ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ includes not being ashamed of the prophets of Jesus Christ. . . . Your discipleship may see the time when such religious convictions are discounted. . . . This new irreligious imperialism seeks to disallow certain opinions simply because those opinions grow out of religious convictions.

"Resistance to abortion will be seen as primitive. Concern over the
institution of the family will be viewed as untrendy and unenlightened....Before the ultimate victory of the forces of righteousness, some skirmishes will be lost. Even in these, however, let us leave a record
so that the choices are clear, letting others do as they will in the face of prophetic counsel. There will also be times, happily, when a minor defeat seems probable, but others will step forward, having been rallied to rightness by what we do. We will know the joy, on occasion, of having awakened a slumbering majority of the decent people of all races and creeds which
was, till then, unconscious of itself. Jesus said that when the fig trees put forth their leaves, 'summer is nigh.' Thus warned that summer is upon us, let us not then complain of the heat."

Neal A. Maxwell, “A More Determined Discipleship,” Ensign, Feb 1979, 69–73

Hans said...

Thanks for the thoughts both from Anonymous and Jeremy. I don't think I can say it much better than Elder Maxwell. At the end of the day, that's what we have to do if we sustain the prophets.

JLJ said...

I wonder if you would have been less conflicted if the church had not released its 'reasoning' and only asked for our support and effort.

Are we asked to "blindly follow?" No. But at times we are asked to sacrifice our consciences. Is this blind? Not if we are doing it with the firm confirmation that following the brethern is always correct.

I'm glad you brought up the plural marriage parallel. That part of church history has both stretched and sustained my faith. It is likely that those who refused to follow the prophet in accepting the call to plural marriage, would have found another reason, another time when obeying the prophet was too difficult. When we choose over and over again to follow the prophet we establish a pattern, a habit that makes it easier the next time.

I think I wrote "follow the prophet" one too many times. Now I've got that primary song chanting through my head.

Hans said...

Perhaps it would have been easier for me to accept had their been no reasonining. Perhaps I should clarify. I mean to see legal reasoning. As one trained as a lawyer, the "It's just wrong" argument is tough for me to swallow. It's something that I have to get over myself. A little adversity now and again is good for the soul.

Following the prophet is a habit and I agree that if one does not do it consistently, it's tough to do it when you are really called on the carpet.

Anonymous said...


As a citizen of the United States we are obligated to vote as we see fit--to follow our own conscience, not some one else's. One of the charges against Mitt Romney was that he would "follow the Brethren" in making decisions rather than exercising his own judgment or taking into account his constituency. The Church has made clear that it does not expect LDS government officials to "follow the Brethren" in making decisions, but to exercise their own judgment and take into account their obligation and duty to those whom they represent. (see Relationships with Governments)

My understanding is that that is the position of the Church with respect to individual voting, that Church members should vote their conscience, not someone else's, notwithstanding the implications to the contrary of the stake conference broadcast.

I do not think the Brethren want to be on record as stating that voters are expected to "follow the Brethren" even if a members conscience says otherwise, and indeed, in the follow up press release, the Church acknowledged that it did not expect members to do so:

"Before it accepted the invitation to join broad-based coalitions for the amendments, the Church knew that some of its members would choose not to support its position. Voting choices by Latter-day Saints, like all other people, are influenced by their own unique experiences and circumstances. As we move forward from the election, Church members need to be understanding and accepting of each other and work together for a better society."

Some members of the Church whom I know felt that their conscience would not permit them to vote for Proposition 102 (or 8, in California), notwithstanding the general counsel of the Church to "follow the Brethren." I respect them and appreciate their thoughtful decisionmaking, and I think that God and the institutional Church does as well.

From my reading of your post, your own conscience directed you to vote for the proposition (taking into account your personal convictions about Church governance), even though you had some skepticism about the reasoning. I respect you and appreciate your own thoughtful decisionmaking, and I think that God and the institutional Church does as well.


Sean M. Cox said...

Well done.
Personally, I'm not familiar with the "it's just wrong" reasoning. However, perhaps there's something of a geographical reason for that, as I'm in California, where the fight was much closer (and is still being waged in the courts).

As a Mormon, I understand that homosexual relations throw a monkey wrench into our eternal progression, and that, consequently same-sex marriage is a larger monkey wrench. The Lord defined marriage for me long ago in section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants. (Though that definition didn't exactly go over well, which is an interesting bit of precedent to consider in the present context.) The "why" would seem self-evident given our understanding of the plan of salvation and some of the otherwise peripheral-seeming principles of the Gospel.

As a citizen who tries to stay pretty informed (I read the decision in Marriage Cases, for example), I was further appalled by the lack of respect shown by my state Supreme Court in invalidating the definition of marriage, and I'm appalled by the assertions made by many that my religion has no business in the voting booth, and I see the political and legal machine moving against religion inch by inch, day by day.

Mr. Anonymous (the most recent one), of course neglects to take into account the added responsibility that is placed upon a servant of the people simply because he has a constituency. Furthermore, he also neglects the fact that following the brethren is, in fact, a form of following one's conscience.

You did well.

Anonymous said...

As far as I can tell the church was not proposing the removal of same-sex civil partnerships at all, or any of the other "equal rights" between same-sex unions.

As far as I can tell the only issue was over the re-definition of the word "marriage".

And to be clear, it was a re-definition, marriage HAS meant between a man and a woman.

So form one point of view it was a very small issue, a matter of a word.

But a most important one.

It seems that many opponents have not understood this point.


Hans said...

I think that it all comes down to the meaning of the word marriage as current civil union law provides all of the privileges of marriage to CA residents. To us it may seem a big deal to maintain the status quo, but to others it will just seem petty.

Anonymous said...

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Trevor said...

What if... the brethren really are watchmen on the towers and really can see the effects of certain present decisions on future events. And furthermore, can decide to DO certain things permissible by God so as to persuade and influence the people of nations, foreign and domestic, to make better decisions that can stave off destruction or at least delay it. John Pratt wrote a little article a while back with a relevant illustration and opinion to the present discussion. It can be found here:

Disclaimers: I don't believe in parallel universes; I think that is junk science. The points 3.1 and 3.2 towards the bottom of the webpage starts the illustration I'm keen on injecting into the mix here. Please read the short paragraphs there.

Prophets know of things to come, according to scripture. They do what God commands in leading and teaching the people to save them, physically and spiritually; short term and long-term (eternal salvation). If homosexual "rights" were accepted carte blanche ask yourself what the consequences on our society would be. Then look at Germany for an example. In 2001 they pass laws allowing same-sex partnership. In 2007... well look at this:

I see the influence of homosexual "rights" in society as one of those destructive forces that don't kill a society, but weaken it to the point of being easily killed by something small and typically harmless. HIV/AIDS is a perfect analog (it destroys the body's ability to ward off simple infections like colds and flues). Sodom and Gomorrah weren't destroyed for homosexual crimes alone, but for inhospitable acts! According to Hugh Nibley, "As Paul also reminds us, it was when the people of Sodom and Gomorrah denied passing strangers and even the birds of heaven their share of the fruit on the trees that Abraham cursed them in the name of his God; according to the Midrash, their sexual aberrations were second in wickedness to such meanness of spirit."

Another excellent post along the same vein is:

Personally, I believe that homosexuality is an addiction exaclty like alcoholism, gambling, porn, drugs, etc. Why shouldn't the brethren, Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ, invite us openly and directly to oppose destructive elements in our society. Do we love the individual who is faced with the trial of homosexual urges in this mortal life? Of course! Just as much as we love the alcoholic, and addict of whatever type. Let them all come with us to learn about Christ, so we can enjoy peace and rest in Him together. There is no other true solution to addictive thinking but submission to God (read Higher Power for AA, NA, CA, SA, etc. members) The only other alternative is false addictive substitutions without peace and rest. If we voted 'yes' for homosexual "rights" then we would essentially be enablers contributing to the mass delusion of gay and lesbian addicts/advocates. The prophets see the truth (things as they actually are and will be!) and warn us before hand to save us according to God's mercy and justice to his children, all of us!
Its hard when people don't want to be saved- just read Exodus or the Book of Ether. But we have the choice, always before us.