Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Path of Safety in a Chaotic World

This morning I was approached in private by a member of my ward about a doctrinal question. He prefaced his question by stating I had an "encyclopedic" knowledge of Church policies and procedures, doctrine and history. I can assure you who read these pages such is not the case, but then you would already know that.

Last week someone wrote me asking to validate a "story" he had found on the Internet about President Joseph Fielding Smith, who became president of the Church at age 93. While the story had elements of what "could be" truth - and isn't that always the definition of "half truths?" - it was one of those stories that was not attributed to a recognized and authentic source. I could do little more than label it for what it was in fact - a "faith-promoting rumor."

President Joseph Fielding Smith
It sent my mind back to the days surrounding the death of President David O. McKay, and the subsequent sustaining of President Joseph Fielding Smith. At age 93, President Smith was only three years younger than President McKay when he died. There was widespread speculation among members of the Church that perhaps in the wisdom of men President Smith would be side-stepped in the succession process and a younger man would be named as president.

Not only were these rumors afloat, and had been for some time about the so-called "crisis in leadership" in the Church, but the world at large was in turmoil. There were routine threats of bombs and murder plots bandied about, and some of these touched the Church as well. It was during this time that speculation about the blacks receiving the priesthood had reached an apex. Even BYU's participation in sporting events drew threats against the Church.

Harold B. Lee's principal biographer was my father, L. Brent Goates. He records: "The far-reaching and potentially disastrous climax came as feared in the Sunday afternoon conference session, when another bomb threat occurred as Elder A. Theodore Tuttle was at the pulpit preaching on the theme 'If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear.' A telephoned message was delivered to President Lee on the stand of the Tabernacle stating that a bomb would go off during that session. According to Salt Lake City Public Safety Commissioner James Barker, President Lee emphatically said to the policeman delivering the note in the Tabernacle: 'There is no bomb in here; relax.' The session continued uninterrupted.

"The responsibility for that instantaneous decision and the assurance of that conviction are mind-boggling. It is one of the most significant illustrations of the seer-like qualities of President Lee. It was his gift to be guided by an intuitive inspiration, which quality his associates of the General Authorities understood and deeply admired in him.

"Following this tense but spiritually rewarding Sunday afternoon session, the First Presidency and the Twelve met in the temple for prayer and began a twenty-four-hour fasting for divine protection. On this occasion they presented the names of new General Authorities to be announced the following day at the concluding session of conference. After approval by the Twelve, Elder Boyd K. Packer, the newly called apostle, and Elders Joseph Anderson, David B. Haight and William H. Bennett, nominees to be added to the Assistants to the Twelve, were called in, interviewed and given time to spiritually prepare themselves and their families for this historic happening scheduled the next day.

"On Monday, April 6, 1970, the solemn assembly became the highlight of general conference. President Tanner conducted the session in the morning and President Lee was assigned to present the same formal voting procedures which have been followed without deviation during the last century, whenever there was a reorganization of the First Presidency. Despite continued threats of demonstrations in this session there was a tremendous evidence of unity and power of faith, as everyone in the Tabernacle, the Assembly Hall on Temple Square, and in the Salt Palace, and all the unseen audience tuned in by radio and television, were invited to stand and, when requested, witness with uplifted hands their sustaining vote of confidence and loyalty. In the three buildings mentioned not a single hand was raised in opposition.

"President Lee's address concluded this solemn assembly after President Smith and Elder Spencer W. Kimball, newly sustained as Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve, had spoken. President Lee felt a great spiritual uplift in carrying out his key role in this impressive service. There was a marvelous spirit of acceptance and joy as President Lee, at President Smith's direction, presented the charge to Elder Packer (formerly an Assistant to the Twelve) and the three new General Authorities before they were ordained and set apart at the next Thursday temple meeting." (Harold B. Lee: Prophet and Seer, L. Brent Goates, 414-415).

That was April, 1970. A year later in April 1971, the Church's growth trajectory was astounding to most observers. The 3-million-member mark was expected to be achieved by July of that year. Internationally the Church's growth presented some interesting new challenges in providing seasoned leadership to stay abreast of the membership growth.

By April 1972, President Harold B. Lee reflected about how he had selected his topic in his journal. He spoke of "many lonesome hours pondering what the Lord would have me say at the forthcoming general conference. My decision was to undertake the subject heading 'Time of Decision,' the caution in controversies, political and otherwise, and to offer five guidelines suggesting how all might be guided to wise decisions in their personal and public life. I feel content after my diligent search." (Ibid., 415; emphasis mine).

In reference to controversies that would accompany the intense political campaign in the fall of 1972, President Lee outlined five certainties by which one could detect and know the path to safety in the search for truth. These were: (1) Follow the Light of Christ within us. (2) Follow the positive teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (3) Do your business by the voice of the people. (4) Seek for statesmanlike men. (5) Judge by the light of gospel truths.

The full text of that talk can be found here. I will not recite it all, but his guidance those many years ago is about as fresh as it could possibly be for our day, even a day in which stories about his life and teachings are constantly being revised incorrectly by unwise accounts that circulate from unauthorized sources. The caution is imperative - do not accept as unchallenged truth what you find on the Internet.

This is what he said about "controversy." It's timeless: "In its loftiest sense, controversy may mean disputations because of honest differences of opinion. In its most degrading sense it may mean quarreling, strife, and name-calling. An example of that which degrades is the bitter personal abuse that so frequently is heaped upon an opposing candidate. Name-calling is continued throughout the whole season until listeners are left with doubt and mistrust that honor and integrity are to be found in any of those who may eventually be elected. The obvious hazard is that when these elected leaders have been maligned and down-graded, the seeds of disrespect to authority and law and order are sown in the minds of youth, particularly, instead of respectful obedience to counsel and to the laws enacted by those whose integrity and honesty have been thus impugned."

As we think back on the presidential campaign season of last year, could we have seen the fulfillment of the very conditions he warned about back in 1972?

President Harold B. Lee
He continues, speaking as though it were 2013: "Today we are constantly hearing from the unenlightened and misguided, who demand what they call free agency, by which they apparently mean, as evidenced by their conduct, that they have their agency to do as they please or to exercise their own self-will to determine what is law and order, what is right and wrong, or what is honor and virtue.

"These are frightening expressions when you reflect upon what I have just quoted from the revealed word of God. A moment’s reflection will help you to see that when one sets himself up to make his own rules and presumes to know no law but his own, he is but echoing the plan of Satan, who sought to ascend to God’s throne, as it were, in being the judge of all that rules mankind and the world. There has ever been, and ever will be, a conflict between the forces of truth and error; between the forces of righteousness and the forces of evil; between the dominion of Satan and the dominion under the banner of our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ." 

In 2013, there may be no public policy debate more enticing to those who advocate "free agency" than the proponents of the LGBT agenda. This is not a "policy" debate like the blacks and the priesthood debate of the 60s and 70s era. This, instead, is a matter of doctrine. However, many "enlightened" sophists in the Church and outside it proclaim that equal rights under the law to the marriage laws of this country must be extended to any and all who would define marriage to suit themselves so it satisfies their free agency. Under the banner of "equality" access to rights granted by the Constitution, they would argue, must be extended in the domain of marriage definitions. It's a compelling argument in the public arena, but we cannot yield to it in eternal doctrines about the divine nature and origins of the family. The "equality" in the marriage debate is the inherent difference between men and women, and God makes them equal in that dichotomy.

Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh. … And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great mediation of all men [meaning the atonement of the Savior], or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil. . . (2 Nephi 2:27).

. . . the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other.” (2 Nephi 2:16).

I say this with all the love and tolerance for others' point of view I can muster: Do not confuse the seemingly plausible philosophies of men mingled with scripture regarding "agency" and "equality" with the revealed word of God. You can be tolerant of others without compromising the truth to comport with a twisted and contorted but seemingly reasonable and logical idea.

“Expedients are for an hour,” said Henry Ward Beecher, “but principles are for the ages.”

Said President Lee in this inspired sermon: "The Constitution of the United States has been mentioned several times by speakers in this conference as the basis of wise decisions in fundamental principles as applied to all matters pertaining to law and order, because it was framed by men whom God raised up for this very purpose. But in addition to that inspired document, we must always keep in mind that the greatest weapons that can be forged against any false philosophy are the positive teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ."

Then he offered this: "It has been well said that one does not teach honesty by telling a man how to burglarize a safe, nor do we teach chastity by telling a youth all about sexual activities." How unwise our public education curriculum has become by teaching that LGBT couples and adopted children can be defined as "families." Tolerate it in the expanse of a pluralistic society we must, but accept it as a "doctrine" in opposition to the revealed word is the course no serious disciple of Jesus Christ would pursue.

His counsel on who to look for as adequate candidates to represent us in our republic: "In a word, we must seek for statesmenlike men who will ask, 'Is it right and is it good for the country or the community?' instead of those who may merely ask, 'Is it politically expedient?'" I'll leave that interpretation to the reader.

He summarizes how we may always remain on the path of safety in this chaotic world in which we live: "And now, finally, the supreme of all certainties is God’s eternal plan as given in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Here we have given us the never-failing principles that will keep our feet firmly planted on the path of safety. By these eternal principles we can readily detect truth from error. In the earliest revelations of our dispensation we were told that the gospel teachings were given that 'inasmuch as they have erred it might be made known; And inasmuch as they sought wisdom they might be instructed.'” (D&C 1:25–26).

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