Is Mormonism ditching Prophets? A look at the 2013 edition of the LDS Scriptures

No Business like Joe BusinessIs the Mormon Church turning from “living prophets” to academia to gain traction in the 21st century? Are Mormons turning to prophets for homiletic inspiration and academics for professional credibility in the 24/7 internet world? Does the Mormon message of prophets mean anything anymore?

The unique claim of Mormons is that they are led by “living prophets.” Prophets are integral to their claim to be a “Restoration” church, prophets are what distinguish Mormonism and prophets are foundational to their claim to, alone in this world, have authority to speak and act for God. It is understood, historically, that when a Mormon scholar speaks on Mormon issues, no matter how illustrious his or her career, how impressive their curriculum vitae, it is still “only their opinion,” albeit a professional opinion. Prophets alone make doctrine.

The Strange World of Mormon Prophets

However, Mormon prophets have come up with pretty wacky ideas and practices. The list is long: Polyamory, polygamy, polyandry, banking scandals, institutional racism, the Mountain Meadows Massacre. The exposure of the much vaunted Book of Abraham – “written by [Abraham’s] own hand” according to Joseph Smith – as an Egyptian Book of Breathings circa 50BC to 50AD. The infamous forgery scandals that hoodwinked Gordon B Hinckley and led to the tragic Salt Lake City bombings of 1985.

Mormon prophets have increasingly proved a liability and it has been the church’s practice to bury their dead prophets’ ideas along with them. Mormons are used to explaining away the embarrassing statements and practices of past leaders, from the sexually predacious Joseph Smith and the monomaniacal Brigham Young, through the rabid dogmatism of Bruce R McConkie, the bogus claims of Paul H Dunn and his “Early Life and War Experiences,” to the inability of Gordon B Hinckley to stay away from TV cameras, opening his mouth only to change feet.

I want to point out two developments I consider significant in this regard with the publication of their 2013 edition of the Mormon scriptures. Mormon prophets are so wrong as to be a liability and Mormons now admit it, and the Mormon Church is looking to academics to do what, in a more innocent time, prophets once did.

Declaration 2

On June 8, 1978 a statement was issued from church headquarters declaring the long standing ban on men of African descent holding the Mormon priesthood lifted. This statement is found in all subsequent editions of the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C), along with the earlier declaration of 1890 abandoning, officially, the practice of polygamy.

What is effectively a colour bar has been a thorn in the side of the Mormon Church and stood for most of that church’s history. Historically, it has been founded on Mormon Scripture and teaching. Generations of Mormon leaders have developed and at length taught the reasons for the bar to black priesthood holders.

In the 2013 edition of the D&C, to the original declaration has been appended a preface purporting to explain the background to this development:

The Book of Mormon teaches that “all are alike unto God,” including “black and white, bond and free, male and female” (2 Nephi 26:33). Throughout the history of the Church, people of every race and ethnicity in many countries have been baptized and have lived as faithful members of the Church. During Joseph Smith’s lifetime, a few black male members of the Church were ordained to the priesthood. Early in its history, Church leaders stopped conferring the priesthood on black males of African descent. Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice. Church leaders believed that a revelation from God was needed to alter this practice and prayerfully sought guidance. The revelation came to Church President Spencer W. Kimball and was affirmed to other Church leaders in the Salt Lake Temple on June 1, 1978. The revelation removed all restrictions with regard to race that once applied to the priesthood.

Gone is the, the elaborate story of war in heaven, less noble pre-mortals, the curse of a black skin, talk of the negro being a descendent of Cain and a representative of Satan on the earth, key elements of the Plan of Salvation. Worse, gone is the confidence in prophets as the church openly “admits” it has no idea why this teaching held sway for almost 150 years of its 180 year history. Where once any Aaronic priesthood holder (age 12-17) might have explained it now even prophets cannot.

This is nonsense, of course, and they know and understand full well the elaborate theological arguments for the bar. As you scan the faces of Mormon General Authorities on the stand at conference time you are looking at men who grew up being taught and went on to teach the Mormon mythology regarding ignoble premortal lives, the consequent “curse” of black skin and its resulting proscriptions. This is a public relations exercise designed to distance today’s church from its own history, rather like Nazi’s burning documents when it became clear the war wasn’t going their way.

What is significant is the unqualified admission that prophets at the head of God’s only true church cannot understand or explain Mormon doctrine. Further, Mormon Church history, which has always been in the hands of a fastidiously “record-keeping” Mormonism, can shed no light on the matter. It comes to something when feigning such ignorance is better than owning your own church’s history and teaching.

Mormons, it seems, cannot look to their prophets, nor can they rely on their own historical records to help them understand their own church and doctrine. Where, then, are they to look for guidance? If not to prophets, past or present, where are Mormons to look for revelation? That’s the next post.

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15 Responses »

  1. It is the age old problem, one might have thought the Mormons would have learned their lesso from the RCs but apparently not.
    When you place a “man” at the head of your organisation and declare him to be God’s representative on earth, you should not be surprised when the faithful start to believe you and naturally assume that the word of at man is the word of God, being transmitted directly and uncorrupted.
    However when this “man” be he pope, president or prophet, gets old and gaga, or is just plain wicked and begins spouting bigoted tripe and irrational idiocy those whose likelihoods depends upon perpetuating the myth have to come up with a rational and believable explanation for the embarrassing prognostication of said, p., p. or p.
    There are two commonly used ones

    1) He was speaking not in his official capacity but just as a man.
    2) it was a different time and so the rules of today did not apply then.

    The problem with 1) is that how is anyone therefore to know when ANY prophet etc. from any age was speaking as a prophet and when as only a man?
    Invariably throughout recorded history, ANYTHING uttered by such a holy man has been written down and venerated as scripture, does this mean all scripture is in doubt as to its ecclesiastical veracity?

    the problem with 2) is even more unsettling as this draws in to contention the unchanging nature of God.
    If bigotry was okay with God then, why is it wrong now? If plural marriage was right in the past and is wrong now, did God change his mind? If so how is he unchanging? Where all of the polygamists suddenly evicted from heaven when the rules changed, if so does this mean that no ones salvation is certain, for if the rules change in the future, the good life you lead, might suddenly change in to having been a pernicious and sinful one, because God changed his mind again.

    Of course this is all rubbish, Prophets, popes and Presidents are simply vainglorious men and always speak as such some with the best of intentions some with wholly selfish ones. Good is good and evil is evil, and people are both, times and laws change because people become more or less civilised but any one can now when something is cruel, evil or unjust, as humans we are hard-wired to know this, in order to survive.
    So if there is a God take the advice of Jesus and judge him and judge his nature by the example of his fruits, those fruits being the unceasing and immutable laws of nature and the universe.

  2. This is a nice attempt to bring up old and well refuted positions just to get some readers and it worked. I read it, not I will shelve it with all the other distractions from my faith. You come with the same old arguments and false misleading statements, and I bore of it. I don’t know why I keep expecting to find something new. just a new bottle for the same old nasty water.

  3. That is a classic Mormon response Rodric. Don’t address the issue just make an empty assertion suggesting no worthwhile point has been made, “Move along now, nothing to see here,” and hope no one notices it is just an assertion and quite empty.

    I assume, from your attempt at urbanity that you are alright that a major doctrine of your church, taught by generations of church leaders, thundered from Mormon pulpits from Tabernacle to local ward, contained in countless Mormon publications and manuals and mandated by threats of dire and eternal punishments if disregarded, is not only abandoned but, inexplicably, prophets who taught and lived it cannot even explain its origin, or describe the apologetic that nurtured it.

    You insult readers of this blog, treating them as though they have an IQ of 24, believing they will be reassured by your weasel words. Try again and this time have a little respect for your elders and betters.

  4. Dear Rodric

    I read your answer to Mike’s post with some interest.
    It is for instance interesting that you as (I presume) a faithful member of the LDS church, come to sites like this and continue to read and “shelve” many arguments against the faith.
    You say that you “don’t know why I keep expecting to find something new” perhaps you are not expecting, perhaps you are in fact hoping?
    So many things are obviously off kilter with the LDS that it does not surprise me that every year many such as yourself begin looking for answers, not from your leaders but from outside sources, such as the many ex-Mormons, who use sites like this to help recover from the mentally and emotionally damaging experience of having been faithful LDS.
    We ALL like you railed against “distractions from … faith”, the rabid ravings of “anti-Mormons” and “the same old arguments and false misleading statements”.
    I’ll assume you have raised your concerns with your chuch authorities and found the only answers the church could give was to first deny without offering alternate explanations that made any sense, refute secular wisdom as unreliable and then to advise you to pray, strengthen your testimony by having faith in the prophet and finally to tell you don’t associate with those who preach this “devil’s doctrine”. In short, they told you to stick your fingers in your ears and go “la la la not listening” until the noise stopped.
    You did not heed this, congratulations; that is great, you obviously have enough good sense to know that is no answer and you have enough intelligence to go and find the answers you need elsewhere.
    You won’t like them.
    You’ll rail against them too, we all did.
    Nevertheless, in the end if you are a seeker after truth you will see the irrefutable evidence mounting up to such an extent you will have to listen and you will abandon the false teachings of the LDS and you will find your life so much the better for opening the gilded cage door and setting yourself free.
    Keep asking Rodric, keep questioning, question the answers you are give, even if you are told not to (which the church will tell you). Do not be satisfied with blind faith, no honestly benign being would grant you free will and a powerful enquiring mind then condemn you for using it.

    • The only evidences I see are that the church is true. You are correct that I am looking form something wrong. I cannot believe that this Gospel is so good for me! It seems to good to be true. I do not know what I would do without the things that I know to be true. My life is much richer for knowing God and being a member of His church,

      I am afraid that I will find something that will cause me to doubt. I admit that, but I have not. As long as I can speak directly to God I am always assured not to be deceived. Sin will be my downfall–unrepented sin that is since I sin daily.

      I am lucky to know of the plan of happiness and the general leaders of the church who teach the gospel in plainness and simplicity. I would hate to loose it. Unrepentant behavior usually comes before apostasy. Sometimes apostasy is due to misunderstandings that lead to sin.

  5. Rodric is right. This article was just another way to bring up some of the same ole arguments. Your claim that Mormon prophets have come up with the wacky ideas of polygamy (who came up with this??? check your Old testament), institutionalized racism (No doctrine of the Church did this and the LDS church struggled like every other Christian church of that time with that issue), Moutain Meadows ( are we really still getting our info from September Dawn???), etc, etc….. are simply your misguided accusations. Lastly, your example of what is gone from the 2013 edition of the Book of Mormon you make reference to the whole Descendant from Cain, being less noble, etc…. Was this in the actual Book of Mormon 2012 edition??? It has been taught yes, but it has never been in the actual Book of Mormon manuscript. The reason that it was taught, was because it was a popular teaching in almost all Christian circles during those times… It is still a popular theory , but never was it made Doctrine…… Just my opinion of what I think of yours.

    • I suggest you might have missed the point Will. These are not, “the same old arguments” since it is commentary on innovation and development in the Mormon understanding of these things as recently as this year of 2013. Let me take your points as they come:

      1. It is usually assumed by Mormons that Christians don’t know their Bibles so you make the comment on polygamy (who came up with this??? check your Old testament) as though this is going to be a revelation. I know full well the history of polygamy, both in the Old Testament and in the Mormon Church. Abraham was not a polygamist as Mormons fondly believe and I challenge you to show from the Old Testament where God commands polygamy. Where is the Old Testament equivalent of D&C 132?

      2. On the issue of racism, last time I looked what a church teaches is doctrine and the Mormon church comprehensively taught that men of African decent carry the mark of Cain and are cursed and barred from the priesthood for most of its history. The men who now insist “we have no idea where this originated” are the same men who taught it and so must be liars. If your happy to buy the lie that is on your conscience but at least have the sense to recognise it for what it is.

      3. The film September Dawn has given lazy Mormons an easy out when this subject comes up. The reality is the Mountain Meadows Massacre has been established fact historically for a very long time. Maybe you should stop watching the movie and research it for yourself. I could pass on some links if you like.

      4. Your remarks regarding the Book of Mormon and the Mark of Cain teaching is confusing. I was not claiming the doctrine was removed from the Book of Mormon. I was pointing out that it was a fundamental doctrine of the church and in the new preface to 1978’s Declaration 2 Mormon leaders claim they have no idea where it came from even though, before 1978, they all taught it.

      But given the opportunity I ought to point out that the Book of Mormon rather reinforces my argument. It clearly portrays the dark skin as a curse from God for disobedience. Take one example, 2 Nephi 5:21

      “And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white and exceedingly fair, and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.”

      This is the wording in the 1981 edition, the 1966 edition, the 1888 edition and the facsimile copy of the first edition (p.73), all of which I have before me as I write this.

      This is as good an “official” teaching promoting racism as any but, of you have any doubt you will find the story of Egyptus and the Canaanites in the Book of Abraham. There is an article about on the Mormon Chapbook

    • The problem with your response Will is that you are comparing the LDS church with other Christian churches. You are even throwing the old testament and Blaming September Dawn for the bad reputation that covering of Occurrences of MMM gave to the church. The horrible reputation about Mountain Meadows Massacre and the actions of the church was there way before the movie. And be fair, you cannot put the church in the same position as other Christian churches and then go on the first Sunday of each month and share your testimony that Your Church is the one and only true church. That Sir, makes no sense.

  6. Dear Will
    Polygamy is s old as human civilisation, this is true, but it’s reintroduction contextually in to the LDS was brought about by the prophet and his then close councillor John Bennett, based upon the very OT references that to mention.
    The Church was institutionally racist and it was not alone in this, however it was alone in remaining institutionally racist among Christian churches as far as the granting of the priesthood was concerned in 1978.
    As for it it was or was not doctrinal we are faced with the age old problem again of what IS LDS scripture and what isn’t. Words of the prophets? Journal of Discourses? Even the D&C has doubt cast on it now, as of the 2013 edition.
    Brigham Young certainly thought it was church doctrine to deny the priesthood to black people and to limit their place in heaven to that of servants, as did many of his successors.
    Mountain Meadows? Well their is enough secular and church history out their for anyone with sense to make their own mind up on that one (September Dawn not included).
    Cain? Well this one is so embarrassing, even in “The Miracle of Forgiveness” by Spencer W. Kimball, the prophet was claiming, on the authority of an earlier apostle, that Cain still walks the earth today and is often mistaken for Bigfoot so that he can see the punishment his crime has brought on his darker skinned descendent. When two APOSTLES CLAIM THE SAME THING, ONE OF THEM A PROPHET, HOW IS THAT NOT TO BE SEEN AS CHURCH DOCTRINE?

  7. Just to keep it alive… I come to sites like this usually by mistake, but my purpose is to find and read all information that I can. I am interested in the claims of people about my faith who are not of my faith. I am trying to find a smoking gun.
    I was irritated the day I wrote that post also. (Smile)

    There is no proof to refute the teaching of false or unrevealed or substantiated doctrines by well meaning members of the church in leadership and out. We have an open cannon. There are bound to be assumption that are based on falsities since the Lord and reveal something more to explain a once obscure scriptural statement.

    Faith in the testimony that each individual receives from God cannot be discounted in the face of misunderstanding. A theophany in the form of the Holy Ghost by most LDS Christians prevents us from leaving at every change.

    If Moses questioned every revelation from God, our scriptures would be very scant. At some point Moses began to trust the things he received in visions and voices and feelings. That same standard exists with God today, personal revelation.

  8. Rodric,

    Maybe you could define for me “open canon.” It would be helpful if we understood each other before leaping to conclusions.

    • Sorry It has been so long. By open cannon I mean we believe that Go continues to reveal things and we are open to extra scripture being added to our standard works which are the Bible, The Book of Mormon, the Doctrine & Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price.

      • Hi Rodric, I understand what you are saying but where is the evidence of this open canon? Where exactly is this extra Scripture? The ‘Standard Works’ have not been added to for almost 100 years. The last Mormon prophet whose words were added to these books purportedly received his vision in 1918.

  9. Sorry It has been so long. By open cannon I mean we believe that Go continues to reveal things and we are open to extra scripture being added to our standard works which are the Bible, The Book of Mormon, the Doctrine & Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price.

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