Too long ago, I sat in the back of a 7th grade science classroom while my teacher droned on through the hot September air something like, “blah blah something and oxygen and the blah this and that catalyst into the solution blah blah reducing the something something something reaction….etc.” I was barely paying attention and was wishing I were somewhere cooler and more interesting and then suddenly realizing, “Should I be taking notes?” So I wrote, “Catalysts” at the top of my notebook page and continued staring in the direction of the front of the room in a state of complete non-attention.
Suddenly, he moved to another part of the desk where a large flask sat on a tray and he’s pouring something into the liquid that’s already inside and, with a frothing-whooshing sound, foam erupted from the top and nearly hit the ceiling. The spectacular jet that settled into a massive pile of foam around the formerly visible flask had the desired effect on the classroom. In one instant, the classroom was no longer a hot, muggy prison of boredom. It was a room full of locked eyes that were all just inches in front of a mass of 13 year old brains that are silently screaming, “What the hell just happened!?”
His recap, very likely, consists of the same thing he was lecturing about before. Except now, we were an audience wrapped up in his every word. Stuff like, ‘the solution in the flask had a lot of oxygen and it gives the oxygen molecules off slowly, but with the catalyst that was poured in, the solution gives off all its oxygen at once…captured in bubbles of dish soap’…. Whether my teacher had realized it or not, he had just produced a catalyzing event via a catalyzing event.
I was open to learn the concepts in spite of my discomfort and boredom. I learned, and have always remembered, that a catalyst lowers the energy required for a reaction to take place and therefore speeds them up. And that’s a really good thing as it turns out. Almost every action in every system in our body depends on catalysts and enzymes to keep things working right. No reactions happening in our body is death.
Now, forty-something, I experience a catalyzing event that brings everything I’ve ever read in mormon literature (the good along with the bizarre and contradictory) frothing and surging to my cortex in a sudden instant with the question, “Can a prophet lie?”
I suppose my former self and a few apologetics would still try to dance around the head of that pin. Well, the prophet isn’t perfect; no one is. Every human makes mistakes. Only God is perfect. That’s why we have modern-day prophets…they can fix human error, but the doctrine is perfect.
Yet, there is that doctrine that “the prophet will never lead the church astray”, right?
I think somehow, mormons think that there should be some allowance for error when it comes to the leaders of the church. However, there is a crystal-clear divide between a prophet stating either of the two following statements:
“Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot.” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, v. 10, p. 110)
“No officer, I had no idea how fast I was going” (no known reference)
One is clearly a mandating of the ‘perfect’ will of God and the other is a mark of human error. For now, I’ll let the reader sort out which is which.
So the question isn’t really whether Brigham was speaking as a man or as a prophet about the “African race” – and by the way, there’s a whole lot more where that quote came from. The question is whether Brigham was leading the church astray when he said it or whether the current leadership is leading the church astray when they attempt to negate or cover it with words like “theories of the past” or explain it away as a product of the time in which he lived.
So can a prophet lie? NO. He can make a mistake, but if he preaches that mistake to the church, he is intentionally propagating a crap-shoot opinion to the millions that may blindly follow while knowing full well that God didn’t say it. By definition, he would no longer be a prophet any more than some random racist is a prophet. To spout off lies and opinions like this would be to negate the entire foundation of the church….that ‘God is real and that he speaks his will to the living prophet and the living prophet communicates that to the church.’
God, in his infinite wisdom, would not put that trust in one so prone to error. The moment such an utterance spewed out to the congregation, God would have put in motion the gears of change that would put a less volatile and more compliant prophet in place. How good would a “restoration of the truth” be if it was riddled with false opinions preached as God’s word?
In my late teens, I read many books to prepare to go on a mission. My dad’s bookshelf had an impressive looking series called Journal of Discourses. I read them all and found them to be an interesting mix of dynamic preaching, dry filler, and what-the-heck. I remember jumping over the filler and ignoring the WTH and focusing on doctrinal snippets like I was studying for a future verbal test in which I had to know the answer to every question I might be asked. Later in life, I would discover throughout my teaching of hundreds of priesthood and sunday school lessons that most mormons have never actually read much of what has been written beyond the Book of Mormon itself – and even then barely. For the leadership of the church, perhaps that’s a good thing and perhaps there’s a good reason why they don’t want the general membership reading the discourses of Brigham Young. It would lead to conflicts between the membership like the one illustrated in the reviews on the Deseret Book website:
No cherry-picking required. You could make an entire book summarizing the non-faith-promoting doctrine contained within just these several volumes.
In case you don’t have $450 to buy it, you can find it here for free.
So, having read it for myself, I have to ask myself that if that doctrine were preached over the pulpit today, would I “follow the prophet”? Conversely, I also have to ask if I were a member of the church when Brigham was a “living prophet”, if I would be justified following him then.
I am the fortune of my past, but, as yet, a mere farthing of my future. The catalyst can be something as simple as asking the right question.