Monday, October 27, 2008

This Day I Have Chosen

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereinafter "the Church") has taken a rare political position in this upcoming election: its prophets have declared their support for California's Proposition 8, which provides that “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” The proposition has gained ground in California, largely due to the Church's efforts. The Church has asked members in California "that you do all you can to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating of your means and time to assure that marriage in California is legally defined as being between a man and a woman." I wholeheartedly support the proposition, both on moral and on religious grounds. It is not my purpose to debate the merits and demerits of traditional and same-sex marriage here. For that, I recommend to you the Church's official website on the issue.

My purpose here is to discuss the importance of following the living prophet. As members of the Church, we believe that there are "prophets in the land again" today. We sustain the fifteen men who lead the Church as "prophets, seers, and revelators." We believe that these men are called of God and speak for Him just as literally as did Moses in ancient days. We believe that their united word is as good as the word of the Lord. "What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same" (Doctrine & Covenants 1:38, emphasis added).

What a marvelous blessing it is to be guided by a prophet who speaks for the Lord! But how often we discount that great blessing! Elder Holland's words seem particularly relevant as we confront the issues facing Church members this election:

"Some sources have suggested that the Brethren are out of touch in their declarations, that they don't know the issues, that some of their policies and practices are out-of-date, not relevant to our times...I say with all the fervor of my soul that never... have I ever associated with any group who are so in touch, who know so profoundly the issues facing us, who look so deeply into the old, stay so open to the new, and weigh so carefully, thoughtfully, and prayerfully everything in between. I testify that the grasp this body of men and women have of moral and societal issues exceeds that of any think tank or brain trust of comparable endeavor of which I know anywhere on the earth...It is no trivial matter for this Church to declare to the world prophecy, seership, and revelation, but we do declare it. It is true light shining in a dark world" (Prophets in the Land Again, Ensign Nov 2006, emphasis added).

I do not desire to condemn anyone for their position on this issue. As a recent article in the Salt Lake Tribune reported, "Latter-day Saints are free to disagree with their church on the issue without facing any sanction, said L. Whitney Clayton of the LDS Quorum of the Seventy. 'We love them and bear them no ill will' " ("Prop 8: California gay marriage fight divides LDS faithful," Peggy Fletcher Stack, 10/26/2008). But I do know that those who ignore the word of the living prophet do so at their own peril. The prophets' involvement and strong position on this issue have been condemned as "over-zealous" and "divisive." They certainly are divisive--they divide those who follow the prophet from those who will not, whatever their personal beliefs may be. Personal belief is not the issue here. Obedience is the issue.

When Moses commanded the Israelites to paint their lintels with the blood of a slain lamb, their personal taste in decorating was irrelevant. The sight of blood may have been abhorrent to some families. Others may have resented the prophet's reaching into their personal lives. Others undoubtedly questioned the merits of his command, or found the issue of such little consequence as to not be worth their attention. In the end, all such objections were irrelevant. Those who were obedient were spared from the destroying angel. Those who ignored the prophet's command were not so lucky.

Part of believing that we have prophets in the land today is believing that their words are the words of the Lord. Part of sustaining the prophet is believing that he is "appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church...for he receiveth them even as Moses" (Doctrine & Covenants 28:2). If we have prophets, but do not sustain them, we might as well not have them.

My father is an excellent example of this attitude. A convert to the Church in his teenage years, he joined the Church and never looked back. If I had to use one word to describe my father, that word would be "valiant." I have never had occasion to doubt his testimony, his loyalty, or his dedication to the Lord and to my mother. In my father's mind, when the prophet speaks, the Lord's living oracle has spoken, and the discussion is over. To him, if the prophet says, "Jump!", the only acceptable answer is "Yes, sir! How high, sir?" We could all stand to learn from his attitude, myself included.

Some will lambaste me for encouraging this attitude of submission. Some will call it blind obedience. I prefer to regard it as making my decisions in advance.

Consider Elijah's words to the Israelites as he confronted the priests of Ba'al. "And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him' (1 Kings 18:21). Or Joshua's words to the Israelites upon entering the promised land: "And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:15, see also Moses 6:33).

I have made sacred covenants to follow the Lord. In doing so, I have crossed a line in the sand. I have chosen sides. I have succumbed to a divisive force. I have chosen between two opinions. I have chosen to serve the Lord. I have chosen to obey the voice of His prophets. My obedience then becomes an expression of my faith, and expression of my decision to serve the Lord, not a reflection of an inability to think for myself.

The prophet Isaiah said, "Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God. Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow" (Isaiah 50:10-11). I have come to understand that this is true.

I have learned that following the prophet brings joy and protection, and that following any counsel that opposes the prophet's counsel, however convincing, well-supported, or well-intentioned, brings sorrow and great spiritual danger. Many sincere people have tried to convince me that I can be just as happy, sucessful, and fulfilled by disobeying the counsel of the prophet as I will be by obeying it. I have taken flak from others when I have insisted that this is a lie. Their intentions may not be malicious, but their counsel is not true. In this issue, and in every other, no matter my personal desires, I will not halt between two opinions. I will not be ashamed of the gospel of Christ. I will not be ashamed to follow His prophets. For this day, I have chosen. "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."


"If you have not chosen the kingdom of God first, it will in the end make no difference what you have chosen instead." (quoted by Neal A. Maxwell, “‘I Will Arise and Go to My Father’,” Ensign, Sep 1993, 65)

3 comments:

  1. I agree wholeheartedly with the spirit of your declaration of obedience, and yet.... And yet, there are the example of Adam, Abraham, and Nephi, who were each presented with two options: follow the strict letter of the commandment, or follow something else. What shall we call that something else? The voice of God? Does the voice of God trump the word of the prophet? Thou shalt not kill...except when I want to see if you'll give up your cherished son...except when I want you to clean out the promised land...except when I want you to secure the plates for your people. Then by all means, whack away. What if this same-sex marriage issue is another example of sifting of the faithful? Some will take the Martha route and abhor same sex marriages, giving strict attention to the prophet's voice. Others will take the Mary route and see the practice with greater compassion, giving attention to the spirit that teaches unconditional love and compassion and patience with those who are not precisely "the thing." It's a win-win situation when more than one road leads to the top of Mt. Fuji. I hope that I am giving your view its due honor and allowance, but there's a stridence in your voice that grates.

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  2. I apologize for any "grating stridence," but I cannot apologize for my position. Nor can I believe that both following the prophet AND not following the prophet will lead to the same place. I have nothing against gays. I believe that the Lord has defined marriage through His prophets, and that is the end of the story.
    I find it disturbing that you have set up a false dichotomy--follow the prophet or follow "compassion and love." Christ embodied compassion and love, and this is His Church and these are His prophets. There is nothing un-compassionate about following the Prince of Peace.

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  3. I should add that I wrote my earlier comment from the viewpoint of having recently lost some very fine neighbors who lived in the house behind us. They were both men, long-time partners. One went in for a routine colonoscopy and was dead from colon cancer within months. The other was left completely bereft. I don't know any details of their finances, etc., but the surviving partner committed suicide within a couple of weeks of losing his friend. I do not promote same sex marriage, but I can't for the life of me see what's wrong with allowing people like my neighbors the right not to lose everything when their partner dies. To me it would be an act of compassion, quite apart from any discussion of homosexuality, to figure a way to protect such people. I see no reason why such protections can't be called marriage. I know this isn't what you're commenting on in your post, but I wanted to add it to give context to my mention of "compassion" in my earlier comment. Do unto others as we would have them do to us. It's a commandment, too.

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