This post is written in response to Sister Bryndis Roberts’ guest post found on the blog Flunking Sainthood.
When I served as a missionary more than three decades ago I had a personal revelatory experience that forever shaped my outlook on prophets, seers, revelators, and apostles. A year into my mission my companion and I approached a lady walking down the street. We stopped her, and I asked whether or not she would be interested in hearing about God and His prophets. She politely said no, we excused ourselves, and went on our way. Almost immediately it hit me; I was asking the people of Japan to believe something I was not sure I believed myself, and I knew then and there that either I must gain a testimony of the prophet Joseph Smith and his work of the restoration, or I had to go home. You can read the full story here.
A few years ago I struggled again, only this time with the Church’s stance on illegal immigration. Admittedly, I didn’t know everything the Church had published, but I knew some things. I also knew that I believe in being subject to the laws of the land (Article of Faith 12), and that individuals coming into our country outside the legal and proscribe manner were violating our sovereign laws and should be dealt with. My stake president and I were driving to have lunch one day and I expressed this concern to him, to which he gave a very short, but very succinct response- “Kelly, you need to get yourself right with the prophet.” I went home and had a discussion with my wife, who held the same position I did, and then I did a little more research on the position of the Church, made it a matter of thoughtful prayer, and came to the conclusion that I was simply not smart enough to solve the problem of immigration, or that I could do anything about it individually.
But I followed the advice of my wise stake president and determined that based on my belief in and testimony of prophets, seers, revelators, and apostles, I would follow the prophet I turned my faith to God, and to the wisdom and foresight of the prophets, and although I still do not accept the illegal entry into our country, I see wisdom in finding a path that keeps families together, and that teaches our members to be obedient to the laws of the land. In Doctrine and Covenants, we read
Wherefore, meaning the church, thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he [the prophet] shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith. For by doing these things the gates of hell shall not prevail against you. (D&C 21:4-6)
During the October 2014 General Conference of the Church, Elder Lynn G. Robbins of the Seventy gave a talk entitled Which Way do You Face? The first and most poignant doctrine Elder Robbins teaches is that “trying to please others before pleasing God is inverting the first and second great commandments.” He goes on to say
We seek respectful coexistence with those who point fingers, but when this fear of men tempts us to condone sin, it becomes a “snare” according to the book of Proverbs (see Proverbs 29:25). The snare may be cleverly baited to appeal to our compassionate side to tolerate or even approve of something that has been condemned by God.
Elder Robbins continues- “Some members don’t realize they are falling into the same snare when they lobby for acceptance of local or ethnic ‘tradition[s] of their fathers’ (D&C 93:39) that are not in harmony with the gospel culture.”
It is my personal position that the answers to Sister Roberts’ questions lie not in navigating the intersection of politics, social justice, and religion. They don’t rest in finding “a balance of courage, conviction, compassion, and compromise.” And while we are free to choose how we will believe about any subject or position, we must choose wisely. No, the answers to Sister Roberts’ questions lie in the advice given In the August 1979 Ensign, where former member of the First Presidency N. Eldon Tanner quoted Sister Elaine Cannon, former General Young Women President as saying “When the Prophet speaks, …the debate is over.” He continues by saying that
Today there are many issues under debate as controversies rage all around us. It should be evident to all that we need divine direction, as men and women who argue their causes seem to be unable to come to workable or peaceable solutions. It is sad indeed that the world does not know or accept the fact that in our midst is a prophet through whom God can direct the solution of world problems.
In the June 1981 Ensign, Ezra Taft Benson, then President of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, gives 14 fundamental principles for following the prophet. Fundamental number five reads: “The prophet is not required to have any particular earthly training or diplomas to speak on any subject or act on any matter at any time.” The seventh fundamental reads: “The prophet tells us what we need to know, not always what we want to know.” He then quotes President Harold B. Lee: “You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may conflict with your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life … Your safety and ours depends upon whether or not we follow … Let’s keep our eye on the President of the Church.” (Conference Report, October 1970, p. 152–153.) The ninth fundamental reads: “The prophet can receive revelation on any matter- temporal or spiritual” and the tenth reads “The prophet may well advise on civic matters.”
Our personal feelings, political beliefs, and the traditions of our fathers may conflict with the words of the prophets. However, isn’t putting off the natural man, as hard as it may be, the end goal? Trust me, I understand it is hard, I struggle constantly against the things of the world. But I testify that there is peace in accepting the word of God through His chosen prophets. It takes faith that God speaks to His children today, and that His chosen oracle for our time is Thomas Monson. It may be the case that we do not understand all things, and that we will continue to wonder about things we have long held positions on that are seemingly contradictory to the position of the Prophet. But I reiterate that peace will come to those who “follow the prophet,” for “he knows the way” (Childrens’ Hymn 110). It will be difficult, but when we turn to God and say “I will follow Your prophet, and will align myself with Your teachings as given through Your prophet,” peace will attend.