Mormonism and church leadership/Authoritarianism/Quotes

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    Quotes related to obedience to Church leaders

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Because of...the apparent imperfections of men on whom God confers authority, the question is sometimes asked,—to what extent is obedience to those who hold the priesthood required? This is a very important question, and one which should be understood by all Saints. In attempting to answer this question, we would repeat, in short, what we have already written, that willing obedience to the laws of God, administered by the Priesthood, is indispensable to salvation; but we would further add, that a proper conservative to this power exists for the benefit of all, and none are required to tamely and blindly submit to a man because he has a portion of the Priesthood. We have heard men who hold the Priesthood remark, that they would do any thing they were told to do by those who presided over them, if they knew it was wrong: but such obedience as this is worse than folly to us; it is slavery in the extreme; and the man who would thus willingly degrade himself, should not claim a rank among intelligent beings, until he turns from his folly. A man of God, who seeks for the redemption of his fellows, would despise the idea of seeing another become his slave, who had an equal right with himself to the favour of God; he would rather see him stand by his side, a sworn enemy to wrong, so long as there was place found for it among men. Others, in the extreme exercise of their almighty (!) authority, have taught that such obedience was necessary, and that no matter what the Saints were told to do by their Presidents, they should do it without asking any questions.

When the Elders of Israel will so far indulge in these extreme notions of obedience, as to teach them to the people, it is generally because they have it in their hearts to do wrong themselves, and wish to pave the way to accomplish that wrong; or else because they have done wrong, and wish to use the cloak of their authority to cover it with, lest it should be discovered by their superiors, who would require an atonement at their hands.

—"Priesthood," Millennial Star 14/38 (13 November 1852), 594–95; italics in the original. off-site

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What a pity it would be if we were led by one man to utter destruction! Are you afraid of this? I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually.

Brother Joseph W. Young remarked this morning that he wished the people to receive the word of the Lord through his servants, be dictated by them, and have no will of their own. I would express it in this wise: God has placed within us a will, and we should be satisfied to have it controlled by the will of the Almighty. Let the human will be indomitable for right....

Let all persons be fervent in prayer, until they know the things of God for themselves and become certain that they are walking in the path that leads to everlasting life; then will envy, the child of ignorance, vanish, and there will be no disposition in any man to place himself above another; for such a feeling meets no countenance in the order of heaven. Jesus Christ never wanted to be different from his father: they were and are one. If a people are led by the revelations of Jesus Christ, and they are cognizant of the fact through their faithfulness, there is no fear but they will be one in Christ Jesus, and see eye to eye.

—Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 9, p. 150, 12 January 1862. off-site

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Follow promptings of the Holy Ghost. There is only one safe and sure way for man to act. The Lord has given him free choice and has given him, gratis, the information which is the best choice to make and what will be the results of either choice made. The Lord has never condemned nor permitted destruction to any people until he has warned them. Warning is as universal as the need for warning. One cannot say he did not know better. Ignorance is no excuse in the law. Every normal person may have a sure way of knowing what is right and what is wrong. He may learn the gospel and receive the Holy Spirit, which will always guide him as to right and wrong. In addition to this, he has the leaders of the Lord's church. And the only sure, safe way is to follow that leadership—follow the Holy Spirit within you and follow the prophets, dead and living.

—Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 114.

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Apostasy often begins with criticism of current leaders. Apostasy usually begins with question and doubt and criticism. It is a retrograding and devolutionary process. The seeds of doubt are planted by unscrupulous or misguided people, and seldom directed against the doctrine at first, but more often against the leaders. They who garnish the sepulchres of the dead prophets begin now by stoning the living ones. They return to the pronouncements of the dead leaders and interpret them to be incompatible with present programs. They convince themselves that there are discrepancies between the practices of the deceased and the leaders of the present. They allege love for the gospel and the Church but charge that leaders are a little "off the beam"! Soon they claim that the leaders are making changes and not following the original programs. Next they say that while the gospel and the Church are divine, the leaders are fallen. Up to this time it may be a passive thing, but now it becomes an active resistance, and frequently the blooming apostate begins to air his views and to crusade. He is likely now to join groups who are slipping away. He may become a student of the Journal of Discourses and is flattered by the evil one that he knows more about the scriptures and doctrines than the Church leaders who, he says, are now persecuting him. He generally wants all the blessings of the Church: membership, its priesthood, its temple privileges, and expects them from the leaders of the Church, though at the same time claiming that those same leaders have departed from the path. He now begins to expect persecution and adopts a martyr complex, and when finally excommunication comes he associates himself with other apostates to develop and strengthen cults. At this stage he is likely to claim revelation for himself, revelations from the Lord directing him in his interpretations and his actions. These manifestations are superior to anything from living leaders, he claims. He is now becoming quite independent. History repeats itself. As the critics of the Redeemer still worshiped Abraham and the critics of Joseph Smith could see only the Savior and his apostles, and as the apostates of Brigham's day could see only the martyred Joseph, now there are those who quote only the dead leaders of the pioneer era.

—Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 462.

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I feel as though I would like to express a few of the sentiments and feelings that are passing in my mind. We have had much preaching, exhortation, correction, and reproof, and some might say a great deal of chastisement; though I call chastisement neither more nor less than reproof or correction. When we are corrected by our leaders, it is to set us right, to show us the wrong course, and induce us to pursue the right one. If I do wrong, if I get astray, it is perfectly right that some one should correct me; and when I am corrected, it is not right for me to justify myself; for, if I do, I sustain the course of an incorrect purpose. When I am corrected, it is my duty to listen, to reform, and walk in the straight and narrow way. If we will not learn by precept nor by example, we have to learn by the things we suffer. Is it not better for people to learn by correction than by bitter experience?

—Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 4, p. 334, 7 June 1857. off-site

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Much has been said about the domination of the "Mormon" Priesthood. In Europe, in the States of the Union, and even in Mexico it has been stated that "Mormons" are controlled like slaves, being obliged to yield obedience, right or wrong, to the behest of Church leaders. I bear my testimony that the statement is utterly untrue. No part of the Union possesses a freer and more independent people than these mountain valleys. Indeed I hesitate not to say that their equal in fearlessness of wrongful church, political or other influences cannot be found elsewhere. They neither crouch beneath public opinion nor cower before the pulpit and press. The names of prominent business men of Eastern cities, with whom for years our merchants have done business, appeared in the public prints as the vice-presidents of anti-"Mormon" meetings; thus making them seem to join in the raid against our people. When asked regarding the matter a number confessed that their names had been used without either their knowledge or consent. But they had not the moral courage necessary to stem the current of public opinion and run the risk of incurring the displeasure of the press by withdrawing their names; and, while disclaiming to me personally, any sympathy with the anti-"Mormon" raids, then so numerous in the East, they dare not publicly so express themselves. Now, while expressing sympathy for those who, under any circumstances, could be placed in such a position, I am bold to assert that nowhere in Utah among Latter-day Saints could such a thing be found. Such domination, ecclesiastical, political or social does not exist in Utah among the "Mormons;" possibly it may exist in the midst of those comprising their enemies, and known here as the "ring." Whatever may have been said or whatever may hereafter be asserted regarding the domination of the "Mormon" Priesthood, I know no people who regard more highly the individual rights of man or who are more willing to defend them than the people called "Mormons," who here, as elsewhere, have the moral courage to protect and defend their names while maintaining their individuality. I don't think they would hesitate to defend the oppressed whether Jew, Gentile or "Mormon," nor would they sacrifice in their lack of independence, principle or persons at the shrine of public opinion or popular prejudice. The "Mormon" Priesthood dominates the affairs of the "Mormon" people upon the principles of righteousness and equity. Outside of these it has neither power nor authority. I wish this were equally true with the religious, political and social organizations throughout the Union; but it is not, as I have already shown. When principle is sacrificed to prejudice there can be neither safety nor stability. Acting upon such a basis men become great in small things, but small in greater matters.

—Moses Thatcher, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 23, pp. 203–04, 8 April 1882. off-site

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To obey! To hearken! What a difficult requirement! Often we hear: "Nobody can tell me what clothes to wear, what I shall eat or drink. No one can outline my Sabbaths, appropriate my earnings, nor in any way limit my personal freedoms! I do as I please! I give no blind obedience!" Blind obedience! How little they understand! The Lord said through Joseph Smith: "Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof until long after the events transpire." (Scrapbook of Mormon Literature, vol. 2, p. 173.) When men obey commands of a creator, it is not blind obedience. How different is the cowering of a subject to his totalitarian monarch and the dignified, willing obedience one gives to his God. The dictator is ambitious, selfish, and has ulterior motives. God's every command is righteous, every directive purposeful, and all for the good of the governed. The first may be blind obedience, but the latter is certainly faith obedience. The patriarch Abraham, sorely tried, obeyed faithfully when commanded by the Lord to offer his son Isaac upon the altar. Blind obedience? No. He knew that God would require nothing of him which was not for his ultimate good. How that good could be accomplished he did not understand. He knew that he had been promised that through the seed of the miracle son Isaac should all the multitude of nations be blessed, and God having promised, it would be fulfilled.... It was not blind faith when the patriarch Noah built an ark some forty-two centuries ago or when the prophet Nephi built a boat about twenty-five centuries ago.... Here was no blind obedience. Each knew the goodness of God and that he had purpose in his strange commands. And so each with eyes wide open, with absolute freedom of choice, built by faith. Noah's family was saved from physical drowning and spiritual decadence, and Nephi's people were saved likewise. Is it blind obedience when the student pays his tuition, reads his text assignments, attends classes, and thus qualifies for his eventual degrees? Perhaps he himself might set different and easier standards for graduation, but he obeys every requirement of the catalog whether or not he understands its total implication. Is it blind obedience when one regards the sign "High Voltage—Keep Away," or is it the obedience of faith in the judgment of experts who know the hazard? Is it blind obedience when the air traveler fastens his seat belt as that sign flashes, or is it confidence in the experience and wisdom of those who know more of hazards and dangers? Is it blind obedience when the little child gleefully jumps from the table into the strong arms of its smiling father, or is this implicit trust in a loving parent who feels sure of his catch and who loves the child better than life itself? Is it blind obedience when an afflicted one takes vile-tasting medicine prescribed by his physician or yields his own precious body to the scalpel of the surgeon, or is this the obedience of faith in one in whom confidence may safely be imposed? Is it blind obedience when the pilot guides his ship between the buoys which mark the reefs and thus keeps his vessel in deep water, or is it confidence in the integrity of those who have set up protective devices? Is it then blind obedience when we with our limited vision, elementary knowledge, selfish desires, ulterior motives, and carnal urges, accept and follow the guidance and obey the commands of our loving Father who begot us, created a world for us, loves us, and has planned a constructive program for us, wholly without ulterior motive, whose greatest joy and glory is to "bring to pass the immortality and eternal life" of all his children? Blind obedience it might be when no agency exists, when there is regimentation, but in all of the commands of the Lord given through his servants, there is total agency free of compulsion. Some remonstrate that agency is lacking where penalties are imposed and condemnations threatened—to be damned for rejecting the gospel seems harsh to some and to take away free agency. This is not true, for the decision is ours—we may accept or reject, comply or ignore. In all of our life activities it is the same—we may attend college or stay away from the campus; we may apply ourselves to our studies or waste our time; we may fulfill all requirements or ignore them. The decision is ours; the agency is free. We may take the medicine or secretly pour it down the drain; we may yield our bodies to the surgeon's knife or refuse his service; we may follow paths or get lost in the jungle; but we cannot avoid the penalties of disobedience to law....

—Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, pp. 59–61.

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Latter-day Saints are not obedient because they are compelled to be obedient. They are obedient because they know certain spiritual truths and have decided, as an expression of their own individual agency, to obey the commandments of God.... Those who talk of blind obedience may appear to know many things, but they do not understand the doctrines of the gospel. There is an obedience that comes from a knowledge of the truth that transcends any external form of control. We are not obedient because we are blind, we are obedient because we can see.

—Boyd K. Packer, Conference Report, 1983 April, pp. 89–90.

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The devil does not want the will of the Lord done. He does not want the people united. He seeks for division, for contention and for strife. He hates the Latter-day Saints because they act together. All his followers hate them for the same reason. If we would split up and divide, refuse to listen to the counsel of the man of God, then the devil and his followers would rejoice. He tries to persuade the people that it is true independence to divide up and every man go for himself and to refuse to do as the servants of God say. But remember, this is a step towards apostasy. Whenever you see a man disobeying the counsel of the Lord through the Holy Priesthood, you may know that unless he repents he will apostatize. It is a sure sign of apostasy. A man may be an Apostle, a Seventy, a High Priest, an Elder or a Bishop, yet if he tries to divide the people and persuades them to disobey the Prophet of God, he will surely fall, unless he repents with all his heart. The Lord asks us to obey Him. He tells us how to do so. He does not ask for blind obedience, because He gives His Holy Spirit to all who ask for it to show them that it is right to obey.

—George Q. Cannon, “Satan Hates a United People," Gospel Truth, Vol. 1, pp. 210–11.

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"To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams." (I. Samuel xv: 22.) In an age of the world when independence is the proud boast of the nations, obedience is, by mistaken ideas of freedom, considered a mark of humiliation. To the reader I will say, in reality, true obedience to the Lord's commands is an indication of moral courage, union and power. It is not blind obedience that is referred to and maintained, but that type which characterized the ancient seers and saints, who, like the Messiah, were ready to say by word and deed, "I came not to do mine own will, but the will of my Father who sent me." The Latter-day Saints are credited with being obedient and submissive to authority, this fact being often used by their opponents as the occasion of reproach. Those who so use it surely must forget that God requires obedience; that the best embodiment of this principle, the most humble and yielding to the divine will, was the best and purest Being who ever dwelt in mortality, viz., the Lord Jesus Christ; He in whose mouth there was found no guile; who was perfect and without blemish in all the walks of life. While He was obedient to His Father's will and humble to the extreme, He was independent of the influence and persuasions of wicked men. The status of Latter-day Saints is conformable to this example. They are obedient to conscience, to convictions of right, to divine authority and to God, in whom they trust. While thus submissive, their persecutors have found them equally oblivious to the behests of wicked men, whether high or low. Men in the factories of the old world, working side by side at the weaver's loom, in the coal pit or elsewhere in following the various vocations of life—in this condition the Gospel preached by the elders of Israel has reached them. Alike, many of them have received convictions of the truth. They have said: "This is the truth; I must obey it or stand condemned." Other people have said: "It is true, but if I obey I will be ostracized, perhaps lose my employment and be an outcast from [p. 161] my father's house. Better that I reject the truth and live in peace, than take upon me this cross of obedience to unpopular truth." The courageous obey the Gospel, suffer persecution, prove themselves men, and will attain to eternal life. The other people referred to are slaves to their own fear of popular clamor and to the unseen powers of darkness which lead men to reject the plan of salvation. Of the first named class are the Latter-day Saints, a host of men and women who have left home, kindred and country for the Gospel's sake. They have endured persecution even unto death, privation and suffering in every form; have redeemed a desert and built up a commonwealth so fruitful with education, thrift and enterprise that any nation beneath the sun might well be proud of them. Their obedience and moral courage they bequeath to their posterity is a legacy better than diamonds or the honors and praise of a fallen world. They look back to their associates in early manhood who, for fear, rejected the truth, and find these, whether living or dead, in most cases unhonored and unknown. The obedience rendered by Latter-day Saints to the authority of the priesthood is not secured by virtue of any solemn obligation entered into by the adherent to obey the dictum of his superiors in office; but upon the nature of the Gospel, which guarantees to every adherent the companionship of the Holy Spirit, and this Spirit secures to every faithful individual a living testimony concerning the truth or falsity of every proposition presented for his consideration. "By one spirit have we access unto the Father." (Eph ii.) So that as all men and women who embrace the Gospel are entitled to an individual testimony of the truth, the same spirit guides into all truth reveals the things of the Father and imparts the inspiration essential to preserve mankind from a blind obedience to erroneous principles and false guides. The statement of the Savior, recorded in St. John vii: 17, covers the ground in the broadest light: "If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God or whether I speak of myself." This secures to every true Saint, if he is faithful, protection against imposture, the abuse of power and the false decisions of man-made councils. In [p. 162] this particular the Church of Christ is distinguished from all other system and institutions. He has promised to guide and direct, and that He "doeth nothing, but He revealeth His secrets unto His servants, the prophets." (Amos iii: 7.) This does not imply the infallibility of man, but it does imply the promise that no man or council of men who stand at the head of the church shall have power to lead the Saints astray. With this assurance, then, the people of God in every dispensation have been justified in rendering absolute yet intelligent obedience in the direction of the holy prophets. It is an undeniable fact in the history of the Saints that obedience to whatever has come, either by written document or verbally, from the presidency of the church, has been attended with good results; on the other hand, whosoever has opposed such council, without repentance, has been followed with evidence of condemnation.

—Matthias F. Cowley, “Obedience," in Talks on Doctrine, pp. 160–61.

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The Church does not desire blind obedience; rather, that we see things with the eye of faith. (Ether 12:19.) Elder John A. Widtsoe observed: "The doctrine of the Church cannot be fully understood unless it is tested by mind and feelings, by intellect and emotions, by every power of the investigator.... There is no place in the Church for blind adherence." Besides, real obedience is not blind. It reflects the reassurances of previous tutoring experiences from the Lord, inducing us to trust Him and His prophets, again and again. Our love of God is binding, not blinding, love. Being established connotes a continuum in our relationship with God and His prophets. President Brigham Young put it bluntly: "I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way." Those who are grounded, rooted, and established will not withhold their supportive influence from Church leaders. Neither will the faithful be deceived, as President Brigham Young promised: "I will say to my brethren and sisters, Were your faith concentrated upon the proper object, your confidence unshaken, your lives pure and holy, every one fulfilling the duties of his or her calling according to the Priesthood and capacity bestowed upon you, you would be filled with the Holy Ghost, and it would be as impossible for any man to deceive and lead you to destruction as for a feather to remain unconsumed in the midst of intense heat." Elder Boyd K. Packer said in a sermon on self-reliance that as we solve our own problems, we must do it "in the Lord's own way"; "If we are not careful, we can lose the power of individual revelation.... Spiritual independence and self-reliance is a sustaining power in the Church. If we rob the members of that, how can they get revelation for themselves? How will they know there is a prophet of God? How can they get answers to prayers? How can they know for sure for themselves?" When we approach our problems in His way, we are guided by His Spirit. Being settled in our discipleship, therefore, requires the successful utilization of the Holy Spirit as our guide both in our decision and as our comforter. We will need guidance in using our agency, but also deep comfort in coping with the disappointments of the day and in the seasonal sorrows of life.

—Neal A. Maxwell, We Will Prove Them Herewith, pp. 21–22.

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The same principle applies to persons and to the Church as a whole today. God has not established His Church to make of its members irresponsible automatons, nor to exact from them blind obedience. Albeit, blessed is the man who, while unable to fathom or comprehend in full the Divine purpose underlying commandment and law, has such faith as to obey. So did Adam in offering sacrifice, yet, when questioned as to the significance of his service, he answered with faith and assurance worthy the patriarch of the race: "I know not, save the Lord commanded me."

—James E. Talmage, The Vitality of Mormonism, p. 42.

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