After watching all the sessions of the April 2023 General Conference, I can honestly say this is the one talk that stood out to me the most. Overall though, I did enjoy conference and it was a refreshing time to talk of Christ and rejoice in Christ like the scriptures mention that we should. My wife was even out of town so I easily could have used that as an excuse of some sort to avoid conference. It seems to me that in almost every conference there is always a talk on this subject which I am honestly confused about because it is so easily refuted by the scriptures. I do though understand the message and generally agree with it, however this is certainly one of those cases where the specifics are much more important than the general application. I have largely dealt with this topic already in my article/video “What It Means To Be a Prophet“. It certainly is helpful to review that also.
A Prophet Today
The talk begins with Elder Haynie describing how in his childhood he wanted to watch cartoons on a Saturday however mistakenly tuned into General Conference instead. He had a brief impression that President McKay was a prophet and then changed the channel to search for cartoons. I certainly can understand this experience and have no reasons to doubt it. In my childhood I honestly didn’t even know there was conference on Saturday as my family never watched it. I thought conference was Sunday only. After my mission though, I made the promise to God that I would be faithful to him at all times and in all places. This has manifest in many ways and forms however has been a tremendous blessing to me and my family.
He next continues with what is essentially the thesis of his talk. I think it is helpful to focus on this for a bit and dissect it for greater understanding.
Knowing by revelation that there is a living prophet on the earth changes everything. It causes one to be uninterested in the debate about when is a prophet speaking as a prophet or whether one is ever justified in selective rejection of prophetic counsel. … A prophet is someone God has personally prepared, called, corrected, inspired, rebuked, sanctified, and sustained. That is why we are never spiritually at risk in following prophetic counsel.Allen D. Haynie
I believe what he meant to say is that following God is very important, and we should put very high emphasis on doing so. Since true prophets are messengers of God then of course we should also listen to them and put very high emphasis in their words as well. However, what he said was we shouldn’t concern ourselves with whether a prophet is right or not we should just follow and obey. This is because God chose them to be a prophet and thus there is safety in that. Upon analysis, the only reason to never question anything a leader of the LDS church says or does is if they themselves can never be wrong or God will somehow prevent them from being wrong. Both are effectively the same thing however. If a prophet could be wrong, then of course we would want to analyze when they are right and follow that vs when they are wrong and not follow that.
I personally find this idea incredibly spiritually damaging because a person who believes this, is effectually giving their spiritual agency over to another person. If someone is guaranteed to never lead me somewhere I don’t want to be then I can blindly follow, and I am guaranteed to arrive at my destination. I can accept everything they say and do without question or reasoning with a guarantee that it is all true and of God. This of course leads to spiritual apathy since I no longer have to determine the truthfulness of things. Of course, the LDS church doesn’t say “blindly follow” or anything similar. However, if I don’t have to think and I just can follow then honestly why should I think at all? Is no thinking not easier than thinking if the destination in both cases is the same? If thinking is somehow beneficial then couldn’t I just figure that out later in heaven if I going to get there by not thinking anyways?
I personally saw this over the last few years, when God told people not to get an experimental medical procedure and the President of the LDS church did. He mentioned, without reason or evidence, that the procedure was “safe and effective” which is proven to be false today. If it was “safe and effective” and I am somehow mistaken, then I would love to see his reasoning or the revelation from God that he received.
However, if prophets or the church in general can never be wrong then we would expect the scriptures to mention that or at least demonstrate it through previous prophets. We have thousands of years of prophetic history so we would expect there to be some really good examples of groups of people that never went astray because prophets literally prevented them from doing so. After doing a very brief scripture search it didn’t look very positive for his thesis. I want to list a few examples and brief discuss them.
I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran; I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my counsel, and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings.Jeremiah 23:21-22
In this case it seems some prophets spoke and even prophesied however God wasn’t working with them. These prophets did not turn the people “from the evil of their doings”, therefore they were likely saying nice pleasing messages. Reassuring people that God loved them and everything was going to be okay. If the people had however used judgement then they could determine for themselves whether the message was true.
For the leaders of this people cause them to err; and they that are led of them are destroyed.2 Nephi 19:16
In this case the leaders of God’s people actually led the people astray causing the people to be destroyed by God. I thought this was not possible since there is safety in following the leaders. There are certainly a lot more scriptural examples where a man of God says something and God wants us to use reason and judgement in order to determine what to do. For instance, in Jeremiah 35, Jeremiah, a prophet of God asks the Rechabites to break a vow they made. They tell Jeremiah no and are blessed by God for refusing. Joseph Smith made a very important change in 1 Kings 13. That chapter details how one prophet delivered a message for God and then was tempted to break a commandment that God had given him. Another true prophet came to the first, as a test, and mentioned that it was okay to break the commandment. The first prophet decided that since the second prophet was a true prophet then he must be correct there he broke the commandment. As a result, God had the first prophet killed for disobedience.
If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, “Let us go after other gods,” which thou hast not known, and “let us serve them;” thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams; for the LORD your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.Deuteronomy 13:1-3
I don’t know how this scripture could be any more plain. If a prophet does miracles before us and then starts to teach false doctrines then we must ignore them because God is testing his people. God wants to know whether we are trusting in him or in man.
One thing we have missed today is a fundamental statement made by Joseph Smith and printed in the April 1st, 1844, edition of Times & Seasons. It is very important to realize that the word “any” was italicized in the original printing thus giving it high emphasis.
If any man writes to you, or preaches to you, doctrines contrary to the Bible, the Book of Mormon, or the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, set him down as an imposter.Times & Seasons, April 1, 1844
Joseph Smith clearly wanted to convey to the people that the scriptures were supreme over the teachings and statements of men. If this was not the case, then he could have easily clarified the statement to mention any man other than the leaders of the LDS church.
Elder Haynie continues and mentions:
Brothers and sisters, unlike vintage comic books and classic cars, prophetic teachings do not become more valuable with age. That is why we should not seek to use the words of past prophets to dismiss the teachings of living prophets.Allen D. Haynie
I will frankly never understand this idea. If it were strictly true, then why do we need the scriptures at all when we have a prophet? Why did Lehi need the brass plates, otherwise his children would “dwindle and perish in unbelief” when he and Nephi were clearly incredible men of God? Why did Joseph Smith teach from the scriptures when he was physically present with the people? Why was Sidney Rigdon asked to prove the words of Joseph according to the scriptures in D&C 35:22? If this is true then does it actually mean we can ignore everything the current LDS president says the moment they die, and we get a new leader? Without a doubt the scriptures are the iron rod mentioned in 1 Nephi 8. According to Joseph, as mentioned earlier, if any one teaches contrary to the scriptures then we should ignore them and “set [them] down as an imposter]”. We can’t do this without placing supremacy on the scriptures themselves.
Follow the Prophet
Elder Haynie next shares a funny example of following the prophet exactly. I totally understand this is meant as a joke and was a fun way to demonstrate a principle however it has very dangerous implications and shows clearly the overall culture surrounding this concept. He continued his talk by relating how President Nelson flattened a water bottle and then everyone else at the table flattened theirs the same way to match. President Eyring however flattened his differently, so President Nelson showed him the proper way. Elder Haynie jokingly asked, “Is flattening your plastic water bottle a new recycling requirement of the cafeteria?” President Oaks responded, “Well, Allen, you need to follow the prophet.”
I assume nothing would have happened to anyone if they didn’t flatten their bottles according to the way that President Nelson did, however Elder Haynie brings attention to the value of matching his example by stating, “we can learn from the prompt response of President Oaks and President Eyring to President Nelson’s example”. Again, I understand this is a joke and not a requirement of any sorts. However, if someone does something a certain way and it immediately is adopted by the group and held up as an example of emulation then that is no longer guidance, but worship. If President Nelson was wrong in his flattening technique and President Eyring’s way was better than is it okay to correct President Nelson? Is it okay to say that most of recycled plastic goes into a landfill anyways so you probably don’t need to flatten it horizontally or vertically?
Elder Haynie’s last point is that if parents make a certain choice then it can compound with their children. He states,
When parents ignore the counsel of the living prophet, they not only lose the promised blessings for themselves but, even more tragically, teach their children that what a prophet says is insignificant or that prophetic counsel can be picked through in a smorgasbord fashion without concern for the resulting spiritual malnutrition.Allen D. Haynie
I believe what he means is that as we deviate from God then our children can continue that deviation. I totally agree with that and have gone to great efforts to instill a love of God and his word to my children. However as has been shown already, strictly obeying the words of the LDS leaders doesn’t offer any kind of spiritual protection. It does however lead to a false sense of security. If children are taught, they don’t need to concern themselves with the scriptures, since they have living prophets and they don’t need to worry about the truthfulness of a message then of course this can compound over time. If a people do this for long enough, then they could start to teach that “When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done” as was publish in the June 1945 Improvement Era. If a people do this for long enough, then they could start to teach that a leader of a church is better than all the scriptures, which happened in this talk and in 1980. If a people do this for long enough, then they could start to teach that following a church leader guarantees them spiritual safety, which happened in the April 2001 general conference.
All Is Well
Without a doubt God has guided his people, currently guides his people, and will continue to guide his people. However, this doesn’t mean that we assume everything a particular religious leader says is of God or even correct. This idea is the antithesis of the gospel of Christ which is about spiritual change and growth. Moses, in Numbers 11:29, mentioned that God wanted all his people to become prophets. Honestly why would this be necessary if following Moses was sufficient? Why would Joseph mention we shouldn’t follow someone if they deviate from the scriptures, if a living prophet was the only thing we need? Why would Deuteronomy 13 state that even if someone does miracles, if they teach against what God wants then we should ignore them?
The idea that we can listen to a leader, follow them, and then are guaranteed spiritual safety is so easy and comforting. It requires almost nothing more from us than sitting in a meeting and following the crowd. However this is the exact thing that Nephi was warning us about in 2 Nephi 28:21.
And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say, “All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well;” and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.2 Nephi 28:21
Is all not well if we can just listen to a leader and we are safe? Is all not well if because we have a living prophet in our midst then we can just hang on their every word and put far less emphasis on the scriptures? Is all not well if we don’t have to study anything out for ourselves and we can just follow the crowd? I am not suggesting we should ignore anything an LDS leader says. However, I am saying that we must be aware of when they are speaking the words of God and instead speaking the pleasing words of men.