The Idolatry of Following the Brethren

I sometimes feel LDS church members are guilty of idolatry.  Perhaps it is not completely the members fault; We have been told so much to “follow the brethren” that we have built them up as idols, and fail to “study it out in our minds, and ask God if it be right.”  Early church leaders were also concerned about blindly following, and here are some quotes.

  1. If He should suffer him [Joseph Smith] to lead the people astray, it would be because they ought to be led astray. If He should suffer them to be chastised, and some of them destroyed, it would be because they deserved it, or to accomplish some righteous purpose. That was my faith, and it is my faith still.”–Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 4:298
  2. President George Q. Cannon expressed it thus: “Do not, brethren, put your trust in man though he be a Bishop, an Apostle, or a President. If you do, they will fail you at some time or place; they will do wrong or seem to, and your support be gone; but if we lean on God, He never will fail us. When men and women depend on God alone, and trust in Him alone, their faith will not be shaken if the highest in the Church should step aside. They could still see that He is just and true, that truth is lovely in His sight, and the pure in heart are dear to Him.“Perhaps it is His own design that faults and weaknesses should appear in high places in order that His Saints may learn to trust in Him and not in any man or men. Therefore, my brethren and sisters, seek after the Holy Spirit and the unfailing testimony of God and His work upon the earth.” Millennial Star Vol. 53 #43 p. 674″
  3. President Joseph Smith read the 14th chapter of Ezekiel–said the Lord had declared by the Prophet, that the people should each one stand for himself, and depend on no man or men in that state of corruption of the Jewish church–that righteous persons could only deliver their own souls–applied it to the present state of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–said if the people departed from the Lord, they must fall–that they were depending on the Prophet, hence were darkened in their minds, in consequence of neglecting the duties devolving upon themselves, envious towards the innocent, while they afflict the virtuous with their shafts of envy.” TPJS pp. 237-38
  4. President Joseph F. Smith said, “We talk of obedience, but do we require any man or woman to ignorantly obey the counsels that are given? Do the First Presidency require it? No, never. What do they desire? That we may comprehend all true principles for ourselves;” Journal of Discources (JD) 16:248
  5. Brigham Young said: “What a pity it would be, if we were led by one man to utter destruction! Are you afraid of this? I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually.” JD 9:15
  6. “How easy it would be for your leaders to lead you to destruction, unless you actually know the mind and will of the spirit yourselves. That is your privilege.” JD 4:368
  7. “And none are required to tamely and blindly submit to a man because he has a portion of the Priesthood. We have heard men who hold the Priesthood remark, that they would do anything they were told to do by those who presided over them, if they knew it was wrong; but such obedience as this is worse than folly to us; it is slavery in the extreme; and the man who would thus willingly degrade himself should not claim a rank among intelligent beings, until he turns from his folly. A man of God who seeks for the redemption of his fellows would despise the idea of seeing another become his slave, who had an equal right with himself to the favour of God; he would rather see him stand by his side, a sworn enemy to wrong, so long as there was place found for it among men. Others, in the extreme exercise of their almighty authority have taught that such obedience was necessary, and that no matter what the Saints were told to do by their Presidents, they should do it without asking any questions. When Elders of Israel will so far indulge in these extreme notions of obedience as to teach them to the people, it is generally because they have it in their minds to do wrong themselves.” Millennial Star, vol.14 #38, pp.593-95
  8. “I do not wish any Latter-day Saint in this world, nor in heaven, to be satisfied with anything I do, unless the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, the spirit of revelation, makes them satisfied. I wish them to know for themselves and understand for themselves, for this would strengthen the faith that is within them. Suppose that the people were heedless, that they manifested no concern with regard to the things of the kingdom of God, but threw the whole burden upon the leaders of the people, saying, ‘If the brethren who take charge of matters are satisfied, we are,’ this is not pleasing in the sight of the Lord.” JD 3:45
  9. “There are those among this people who are influenced, controlled, and biased in their thoughts, actions, and feelings by some other individual or family, on whom they place their dependence for spiritual and temporal instruction, and for salvation in the end. These persons do not depend upon themselves for salvation, but upon another of their poor, weak, fellow mortals. “I do not depend upon any inherent goodness of my own,” say they, “ introduce me into the kingdom of glory, but I depend upon you, brother Joseph, upon you, brother Brigham, upon you, brother Heber, or upon you, brother James; I believe your judgment is superior to mine, and consequently I let you judge for me; your spirit is better than mine, therefore you can do good for me; I will submit myself wholly to you, and place in you all my confidence for life and salvation; where you go I will go, and where you tarry there I will stay; expecting that you will introduce me through the gates into the heavenly Jerusalem“. . . Now those men, or those women, who know no more about the power of God, and the influences of the Holy Spirit, than to be led entirely by another person, suspending their own understanding, and pinning their faith upon another’s sleeve, will never be capable of entering into the celestial glory, to be crowned as they anticipate; they will never be capable of becoming Gods. They cannot rule themselves, to say nothing of ruling others, but they must be dictated to in every trifle, like a child. They cannot control themselves in the least, but James, Peter, or somebody else must control them. They never can become Gods, nor be crowned as rulers with glory, immortality, and eternal lives. They never can hold sceptres of glory, majesty, and power in the celestial kingdom. Who will? Those who are valiant and inspired with the true independence of heaven, who will go forth boldly in the service of their God, leaving others to do as they please, determined to do right, though all mankind besides should take the opposite course. Will this apply to any of you? Your own hearts can answer.” JD1:312

What are your thoughts about these quotes?


16 comments on “The Idolatry of Following the Brethren

  1. Let’s just move the discussion right where the hammer hits the nail squarely on the mark-

    Are we blindly following or placing as idolatry the counsel concerning SSM and the new policy in the church handbook of instructions?

  2. It should come as no surprise that I completely agree, MH.

    As a matter of fact, I think one of the most important pieces I ever wrote was on this very topic: “The Church’s Cardinal Sin of Blasphemy/Idolatry”


  3. Thanks Clean Cut. It’s always good to see you!

    I want people to act like Levi Savage in the most stirring part of the movie 17 Miracles. Levi knew heading west to late in the year would lead to deaths of hundreds in the ill-fated Willie and Martin handcart disasters (which I liken this policy to.) He was SEVERELY chastised by both leader James Willie as well as Apostle Franklin D. Richards and accused of lack of faith. Following this chastening, Savage responded.

    “What I have said I know to be true; but seeing you are to go forward, I will go with you, will help all I can, will work with you, will rest with you, and if necessary, will die with you. May God in his mercy bless and preserve us.”

    Here’s what I wrote in 2011 concerning Levi Savage and James Willie.

    Mormons have a culture of “sustaining your leaders.” Savage was called out and scolded for not having faith. In hindsight, we all know that Savage was right, and Willie was wrong.

    Some sobering statistics from that disaster. In all, 68 of 404 (17%) died in the Willie company. It turns out that the Martin company left 10 days after the Willie company and more than 145 of 576 (25%) perished in the Martin company. These were preventable deaths. I don’t have to tell you how the suicide lines were at capacity following the announcement of the policy.

    Sometimes the leaders need to lose the hubris and humbly listen to the members. Sometimes we need to act like Levi Savage to try to prevent unnecessary deaths, as well as unnecessary spiritual deaths that will result from this wrong policy. How many deaths will it take to get this policy changed? At least Brigham Young learned from the Willie/Martin handcart disasters, and he strongly rebuked Franklin D. Richards for his decision to tell the saints to go west. I just would like the policy changed sooner rather than later. We’ve had thousands of church members leave over this policy, but so far the First Presidency isn’t acting like Brigham Young and changing a bad policy.

    I want the policy to be removed. Countless children will be harmed by not having the Gift of the Holy Ghost during their important teenage years. I can’t fathom why people think this is no big deal.

  4. I LOVED that scene in the movie. Levi Savage should be a hero.

    As for today’s policy and the way Mormons think they have to right to tell gay people it’s about love when in reality gay people just feel hate–it’s crazy. In fact it was such a big deal to me that it’s what shook me enough to put the LDS church in the rear view mirror. In a way I’m grateful for the handbook policy, because it would have eaten at me and no amount of prozac would have been enough to help me with the anxiety and depression.

    Now I’m surprisingly more at peace and completely free of angst. I didn’t even realize how much angst I had by trying to make my values fit into the LDS box. It feels good to be free of that, quite frankly.

    “Why I Love the LDS Church Enough to Both Criticize It AND Step Away From It”


  5. Clean Cut,

    I’m always sad when people step away, but I completely understand. It’s always fun to see you at conferences. We need to get together more often!

    Unfortunately, I think it is much easier for our current leaders to gloss over spiritual deaths than physical ones. But make no mistake, there will be physical deaths due to this policy. They just won’t be as spectacular as the Martin-Willie Handcart deaths.

    This policy is like the priest who passes by the injured man who is rescued by the Good Samaritan. I’m trying to be the Good Samaritan, despite the calls of those who question my faithfulness. I’ll gladly be called names if I can help save the spiritually injured and I do believe God blesses my words and actions on this issue.

    God bless Levi Savage. May we all have the courage to follow his example.

  6. MH,
    Dont compare the decisions made by those in the handcart company with SSM policy. They are completely different things.

  7. The honest question to ask is – does this change in policy place people into danger where lives get taken or lost? Not sure if there is an actual scientific study that shows children of gay parents taking their lives because of the decisions their gay parents made that prevents them from becoming members until they are older. Likewise, I don’t think there is an actual scientific study showing gay children committing suicide because they can’t be married in temples with their gay partners.

  8. Rob, you’re missing the point (again.)

    Utah has the nation’s 12th highest rate of youth suicide, according to a 2009 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On average, two teens a day are treated in Utah emergency rooms after suicide attempts, state health department data from 2008 to 2010 showed.

    Read more at Reuters http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-suicide-utah-idUSBRE84618H20120507#LBx57DpRdwKU0jj3.99

    Rob, while it is valuable to talk to people who have a different point of view, to me this feels like having a conversation with someone as Jesus said in Mark 8:18. “Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not? and do ye not remember?”

    For someone who seems to be willingly blind to the plight of gay youth or children of gays, I just don’t know how fruitful this discussion is, because you simply have no compassion, and I just don’t know how to open your eyes and ears. You honestly sound hateful and without the charity or the Love of Christ, purposely minimizing or ignoring the spiritual damage this policy does to gays.

  9. MH,

    The study you cited says nothing about the effects of the policy. Utah actually has a lower suicide rate than states immediately surrounding it. Seems like the church actually has a better influence than other factors in the suicide belt.

  10. Yeah, I knew talking to you would be a waste of time.

  11. MH,
    No, you just misrepresent reality. Please show the actual study how this new policy increases suicides. Im all ears. You cant just spout off making unwarranted claims. Please show some actusl proof otherwise I know your just blowing smoke.

  12. Rob, if I felt you offered anything valid in your defense of this policy, I would respond. I’ve been blogging for nearly 8 years, and I guess I’m weary of ridiculous challenges, and I recognize when I’m not going to make any progress in the discussion. If I respond, it wastes my time, and will only harden you in your position. Neither of these are worth it to me.

    Bring something enlightening to the table if you really want a response. (I think you’ve done that on my blog before, but not lately.) “Please show some [thought to your responses] otherwise I know you[‘re] just blowing smoke.” I don’t want to cough through your smoke any more. You have no idea what reality is. I dare you to spend some time at a suicide hotline for LGBT people. I think that is the only way you will truly gain any empathy for the pain they go through. But it is obvious to me with your “show me the statistics” that you have no capacity for empathy on this topic, and therefore a productive discussion is beyond reach. I’m really not going to waste my time anymore.

  13. MH,
    It was you who is saying this new policy is killing teens. So where’s your proof? That’s all I am inquiring about. Where is the research that shows an increase in teen suicide due to children living with gay parents who now have to wait to be baptized?

  14. Heretic,

    The number one cause of suicide is depression. Do you know what it’s like to listen to the instructions of the brethren as a depressed person? I do. There have been times when it’s like opening a red hot umbrella in my gut. Are they responsible for my pain? No. I think they do the best they can to walk the fish-line of a tightrope between saying what must be said and saying it with compassion.

  15. Deseret News reports that the LDS church is aware that this policy is causing deaths.

    The LDS Church responded Thursday to an unverified report about suicide deaths among Mormon LGBTs.

    “We mourn with their families and friends when they feel life no longer offers hope,” senior church leaders said through a spokesman.


    “Every soul is precious to God and to the church and the loss of life to suicide is heartbreaking,” church spokesman Dale Jones said.


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