Sunday, October 31, 2010

Harold B. Lee: Follow the Brethren

President Boyd K. Packer

After the last General Conference, a whisper campaign against President Boyd K. Packer has been circulating through the Church.  It's reached our little hamlet.  Have you heard the buzz yet?  "Why doesn't he just keep his mouth shut about criticizing the gays and lesbians and let them get married if they want to.  It's none of his business.  They have their free agency.  This is just embarrassing."  And of course, there are many permutations and combinations spinning out from there. 

If you haven't yet heard some version of it, you my friend, are living under a rock.

Not a month later yet, and this is some of the media coverage: 
  • A crowd estimated at between 2,000-3,000 demonstrated outside the Church Office Building following Conference and demanded gay rights. 
  • A father writes a letter to the editor:  "Most knowledgeable [subtle -- you're not if you don't agree] Mormons and ecclesiastical leaders know that homosexuality is experienced honestly and involuntarily and is not amenable to significant change.  [To be fair, wouldn't he have to say the same thing about heterosexuals too?]  I'm confident they were uncomfortable with President Boyd K. Packer's most recent conference talk.  It is disappointing, however, to see them remain silent.  I look forward to the day when LDS Church leaders will reach out to our gay children, friends and neighbors, and figure out a way to enfranchise, rather than disenfranchise them."  (Emphasis mine).  President Packer teaches sin is sin and can be overcome, regardless of sexual orientation.  And he continues to call sinners to repentance.  Question:  Do we excommunicate adulterers?  Maybe we should rethink it, and "enfranchise them" instead.
  • A story that someone had started a Facebook page in support of President Packer.  I'm certain that person was well-meaning and wanting to show support for President Packer, but I'm guessing President Packer might think it a little absurd.  Does anyone really believe he cares much about what people think at this stage in his life as the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles?  He's teaching pure doctrine and he always has.  He's as pure a vessel as we have among the leaders of the Church.  He cares about what God would have him say, but I'm guessing he wouldn't give a dry fig for the opinions of others.  A popularity vote wouldn't be of much interest to him.  I've already highlighted the assessment of one observer many years ago in a previous post, who commented about the purity of President Packer's life for one so young.
    President Harold B. Lee
  • The Church calls a press conference to reiterate its stand on marriage and family.

Unrelated to this current controversy, someone asked me recently if I knew what theme or topic Harold B. Lee spoke about most frequently during his years as an Apostle and later as the President of the Church.  Because I have made a lifelong study of his teachings and sermons I replied without giving a second thought, "Follow the Brethren."

I will confess I have never added it all up, nor have I done a comparative study to validate my claim, but from what I observed and from what I know of the man and what made him tick I can assert my belief without much fear of contradiction.  The words of dead prophets are as valid today as they were when they were first uttered. 

Today, a sampling to make the point (the emphasis throughout is mine):

"When you see one who is tearing down and finding only the bad in men, seeing nothing of their good qualities, there you may see one whose heart is not pure, who finds it easy to criticize.  Shall I give you a test to try your own souls?  How did you react to the last conference?  Did you accept the declarations of the Brethren who spoke as the declarations of the prophets of the living God? Or did you make it a pastime in your private circles or around your family table to find flaws and express your displeasure at the fact that there was something said about politics or about labor and [you] wished the Brethren would keep their mouths shut about this and that?  Which was your reaction after the last conference?  You Latter-day Saints, the men who preside in this church are only prophets to those who accept them and their teachings as the prophecies from the living God.  It's great to live in a day when the prophets are leading us.  Moses, Paul, Peter — it was great in those days, but there were just as many critics and just as many who didn't receive them.  The Master said a prophet is not without honor save in his own country, and He might have added, in his own day and time (see Mark 6:4).  So today, these are prophets who lead us only if we accept them as such and apply their teachings in our lives. (THBL, 516; 50-09).

"Therein lies one of the greatest problems among those who are criticizing and finding fault and wanting exceptions, because they don't trust the Lord.  To say it another way, they are not willing to listen to the admonition of the Lord as He gave it as a preface to His revelations in this dispensation.  And these are His words:  'And the arm of the Lord shall be revealed; and the day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people' (D&C 1:14). (THBL, 516; 70-18).

"Oh, you Latter-day Saints, there was never a time when you needed to look so much to the leadership of this church to know the truth.  When one comes into your midst claiming revelation, and this one on this side a new interpretation, you have the good sense to remember what Paul said to the Ephesians.  The purpose of putting prophets, teachers, pastors, and evangelists in the Church was to keep us from running to and fro as children, tossed about by every wind of doctrine (see Ephesians 4:11-14).  If you want to be guided in truth, you follow the light the Lord has given us in the leaders He has set to preside.  And the first one to go to is your bishop and your stake president; and if, through them, you need an answer from the Brethren who preside in the Church, it will be forthcoming.  That is one of the safeties to keep you in the path by which faith might come." (THBL, 516; 53-01, 354-55)

"The safety there is in this church is in listening to the counsel that comes from the authorities of this church. The Master said something else that we have not listened to very well. He said:
"Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:
"And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.
"And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:
"And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it. (Matthew 7:24-27).
"What was the Master trying to say?  He was trying to present a great truth: that the storms of adversity, trying in difficulty, are going to descend upon every soul.  All of us — the good, the bad, the rich, the poor, the humble, the haughty — all are going to have the rains of difficulty, the floods of disaster, the overhanging clouds testing faith, the winds and blasts of slander, of misrepresentation.  Everybody is going to have those things.  That is a part of life.  The only ones whose houses will not fall will be those who have built their houses upon the rock.  What is the rock?  Listening to the words of God as they come from His own mouth or from the mouths of His prophets."  (THBL, 517; 53-06).

"I can imagine the ridicule and scorn that Noah suffered during the months he was building a great ship out in the middle of a comparative desert to house himself and his family and the selected of earth's bounties in preparation for the flood that through his faith in God's prophetic revelation he knew was coming to destroy the earth.  Don't you be as the foolish virgins with no oil in your lamps because of your unbelief in God's warning of things to come (see Matthew 25:1-12).  Dare to listen to the leaders of the Church, the prophets of God, without a revelation to whom God said He would do nothing (see Amos 3:7), despite the jeers of the worldly and unrighteous who have no faith and who dare not, because of their own sinning, believe that these threatened judgments might be so. Through your faith in the inspired revelations, you will always be given time to build an ark of safety that will eventually land you on a Mount Ararat. (THBL, 517; 45-09, 80).

"The great historian Will Durant once said, "In my youth I wanted freedom. In my mature years I want order."  There is nothing so important in the kingdom of God as order; yet the tendency today is to resist law and order, which must be maintained in the kingdom of God if we are to be pleasing in the sight of the Lord.  "Be one," the Lord said; "and if ye are not one ye are not mine" (D&C 38:27).  The only way we can be one is by following the leadership of the Church as the Lord has directed. (THBL, 518; 71-02, 215).

"A man came in to see me and said that he had heard that some man appeared mysteriously to a group of temple workers and told them, 'You had better hurry up and store for a year, or two, or three, because there will come a season when there won't be any production.'  He asked me what I thought about it, and I said, 'Well, were you in the April conference of 1936?'  He replied, 'No, I couldn't be there.'  And I said, 'Well, you surely read the report of what was said by the Brethren in that conference?'  No, he hadn't.  'Well,' I said, 'at that conference the Lord did give a revelation about the storage of food.  How in the world is the Lord going to get over to you what He wants you to do if you are not there when He says it, and you do not take the time to read it after it has been said?'
"The Lord is going to keep His people informed, if they will listen.  As President J. Reuben Clark Jr. said in a classic talk, 'What we need today is not more prophets.  We have the prophets.  But what we need is more people with listening ears.  That is the great need of our generation.' (In Conference Report, October 1948, 82)."  (THBL, 518; 64-04, 159-60).

"When the welfare program was being structured and some of us were trying to assist, President Heber J. Grant made one of the saddest comments a President of the Church could make.  I was invited to the office of the First Presidency, and as we presented the outline of the plan that was proposed, President Grant, who had listened in silence for quite some time, said, 'Well, there is just one thing wrong with it. It won't work.'  President David O. McKay, his counselor, asked, 'Why won't it work, President Grant?'  And he said, 'I am afraid it won't work because we can't trust the membership of this church to follow our leadership.  See what they did when I pleaded with them to vote against the repeal of the liquor amendment?  Until the Saints learn to follow our counsel, there is not much we can do about it.'" (THBL, 519; 66-01, 16).

"The Master, in His Sermon on the Mount, made another very expressive declaration when He said, 'Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God' (Matthew 5:8).
"You will remember that in His lifetime there were some who saw Him only as the son of the carpenter. There were some who said that because of His words He was drunken with strong wine — that He was a winebibber.  There were some who even thought Him to be possessed of devils.  Only those who were pure in heart saw Him as the Son of God.
"There are some who look upon the leaders of this church and God's anointed as men who are possessed of selfish motives.  The words of our leaders are always twisted by them to try to bring a snare to the work of the Lord.  Mark well those who speak evil of the Lord's anointed, for they speak from impure hearts.  Only the pure in heart see the divine in man and accept our leaders as prophets of the living God."  (THBL, 519; 47-05, 223-24).

"I listened to an excerpt of a testimony of a man who was a member of the Twelve and of whom President Grant had said that he never knew a man who had a greater gift of prophecy than did this man.  There was put in my hands a quotation from a sermon that he had delivered some fifty years before, which proved to be the last sermon he had ever delivered as a member of the Twelve.  Before another conference, he was dropped from the Council of the Twelve and subsequently left the Church.  This is what he said, in that last sermon:  'That person is not truly converted unless he sees the power of God resting upon the leaders of this church and it goes down into his heart like fire.'  And I repeat that to you here today.  The measure of your true conversion and whether or not you hold fast to those ideals is whether or not you are so living that you see the power of God resting upon the leaders of this church and that testimony goes down into your heart like fire."  (THBL, 520; 73-29, 90).

"I am reminded of an interview I had with one of you [teachers].  Maybe he is here tonight, and I am not sure but that I may have touched his soul as we talked that day.  We came around to the question as to whether or not he felt to follow the leadership of those who presided in the Church today.  He said with some hesitancy, 'Well, I didn't agree with President Clark when he gave his talk about 'Our Dwindling Sovereignty' up at the University of Utah.'  I repeated, 'I was there and I listened to President Clark.  You know, when I go to hear a great thinker on some subject, I don't go to criticize, I go to listen; but I suppose it would be difficult for a pygmy to get the viewpoint of a giant.'  And it was then that I seemed to bring him down to my level so that we could talk a little."  (THBL, 522; 68-07).

"The trouble with us today [is that] there are too many of us who put question marks instead of periods after what the Lord says.  I want you to think about that.  We shouldn't try to spend time explaining what the Lord didn't see fit to explain.  We spend useless time.
"If you would teach our people to put periods and not question marks after what the Lord has declared, we would say, 'It is enough for me to know that is what the Lord said.'"  (THBL, 522; 72-42, 108).

"We have some tight places to go before the Lord is through with this church and the world in this dispensation, which is the last dispensation, which shall usher in the coming of the Lord.  The gospel was restored to prepare a people ready to receive Him.  The power of Satan will increase; we see it in evidence on every hand.  There will be inroads within the Church.  There will be, as President [N. Eldon] Tanner has said, 'Hypocrites, those professing, but secretly are full of dead men's bones' (see Matthew 23:27).  We will see those who profess membership but secretly are plotting and trying to lead people not to follow the leadership that the Lord has set up to preside in this church.
"Now the only safety we have as members of this church is to do exactly what the Lord said to the Church in that day when the Church was organized.  We must learn to give heed to the words and commandments that the Lord shall give through His prophet, 'as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith' (D&C 21:4-5).  There will be some things that take patience and faith.  You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church.  It may contradict your political views.  It may contradict your social views.  It may interfere with some of your social life.  But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord Himself, with patience and faith, the promise is that 'the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name's glory' (D&C 21:6)."  (THBL, 526; 70-28, 126).

"As I have labored among the Brethren and have studied the history of past dispensations, I have become aware that the Lord has given tests all down through time as to this matter of loyalty to the leadership of the Church.
"I have been in a position since I was called to the Council of the Twelve to observe some things among my brethren, and I want to say to you:  Every man who is my junior in the Council of the Twelve I have seen submitted, as though by Providence, to these same tests of loyalty, and I have wondered sometimes whether they were going to pass the tests.  The reason they are here today is because they did, and our Father has honored them.
"It is my conviction that every man who will be called to a high place in the Church will have to pass tests not devised by human hands, by which our Father numbers them as a united group of leaders willing to follow the prophets of the living God and be loyal and true as witnesses and exemplars of the truths they teach."  (THBL, 522; 50-02, 51-52).

* * *

I am NOT a "Mormon apologist."  I once heard President Lee say, "Defending the truth is as useless as defending an Abrams tank with a peashooter."  

Rather, I believe as one of those junior members of the Council of the Twelve to whom President Lee made reference, President Boyd K. Packer is a giant among men who has been tried and tested in the furnace of affliction and not found wanting.  He is speaking the word of God.  It is unvarnished, unfiltered and unapologetic.  The gospel of repentance is easily discerned and embraced by the pure in heart with a testimony of Jesus the Redeemer.  It is an oasis in a dry and parched desert wilderness to those who thirst.  It is a banquet table of righteousness heaped high with truth for those who are hungry and faint from lack of nourishment.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson
I conclude with an inspired paragraph from Elder Todd D. Christofferson, whose remarks at the 2010 April General Conference about the importance of the scriptures in our lives bear precisely on the topic:

"In a complete reversal from a century ago, many today would dispute with Alma about the seriousness of immorality.  Others would argue that it’s all relative or that God’s love is permissive.  If there is a God, they say, He excuses all sins and misdeeds because of His love for us — there is no need for repentance.  Or at most, a simple confession will do.  They have imagined a Jesus who wants people to work for social justice but who makes no demands upon their personal life and behavior.  (See interview of Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, in Michael De Groote, "Questioning the Alternative Jesus," Deseret News, November 26, 2009, M5).  But a God of love does not leave us to learn by sad experience that 'wickedness never was happiness' (Alma 41:10; see also Helaman 13:38).  His commandments are the voice of reality and our protection against self-inflicted pain.  The scriptures are the touchstone for measuring correctness and truth, and they are clear that real happiness lies not in denying the justice of God or trying to circumvent the consequences of sin but in repentance and forgiveness through the atoning grace of the Son of God (see Alma 42)."  (Elder D. Todd Christofferson, "The Blessing of Scripture," Ensign, May 2010, 32-35).

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