Reform Action #6 of 20 (see overview page)
Remove the muted doctrine of prophetic infallibility from our scripture and teachings. (“Muted” meaning on the surface we say it’s not a doctrine we promote or believe, but we actually subtly promote it using muted language.) Church leaders and members often use the following excerpt from Wilford Woodruff’s Official declaration 1 (which aimed to end the church practice of polygamy) to suggest that God would never allow the church leadership to lead the church contrary to the will of God. Or in other words the prophet is infallible to leading the church astray.
The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty… (official declaration 1)
The idea that “The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray”, as delineated in (official declaration 1) is contrary to the principles of agency and directly contrary to the counsel of D&C 3:9–11 & D&C 20:32–33 and many other scriptures. D&C 3:9–11 explicitly teaches that if the prophet transgresses he will simply lose his [revelatory] gifts, be left on his own and “become as other men”.
10 But remember, God is merciful; therefore, repent of that which thou hast done which is contrary to the commandment which I gave you, and thou art still chosen, and art again called to the work;
11 Except thou ado this, thou shalt be delivered up and become as other men, and have no more gift.
The infalibilty of our leaders to lead the church amiss or awry is also directly contrary to the government of the church laid down in D&C 107, where revelation dictates what is to be done, should the leader of the church or any president of the High Priesthood “transgress”.
82 And inasmuch as a President of the High Priesthood shall transgress, he shall be had in remembrance before the common council of the church, who shall be assisted by twelve counselors of the High Priesthood;
83 And their decision upon his head shall be an end of controversy concerning him.
84 Thus, none shall be exempted from the justice and the laws of God, that all things may be done in order and in solemnity before him, according to truth and righteousness. (D&C 107:82–84)
Along with many other scriptures in the Doctrine and Covenants, section 107 not only suggest by revelation that divinity not only expects church leadership will sometimes “transgress” and lead others astray (Jer 50:6), but it also defines specifically how to deal with it when it occurs.
The very context of Woodruff’s statement is notably ironic. It turns God into an executioner of sorts who at some point in a church president’s uninspired leadership decisions, would take it upon himself to kill or “remove” that leader through some act. But the statement by Woodruff, made to legitimize the divinity of his decree for ceasing the church sanctioned practice of polygamy, immediately begs the question as to why “God” then allowed Joseph Smith to be “taken out of the way” shortly after instituting the practice in the first place! Shouldn’t Woodruff’s logic lead us to believe that if Joseph Smith was allowed to be ‘taken out of the way’ shortly after instituting polygamy, then it must have been because he was “leading the church astray?!” So then why if Wilford Woodruff actually believes this concept of divine execution of leaders who lead the church astray, didn’t he disavow polygamy from the earliest days of his presidency? WHY did he follow the practice until essentially forced by the government to disavow it, and then secretly continue to live it even after publicly disavowing it?
Scripture shows that this type of statement has been incorrectly typical of the church & political leaders of many dispensations (D&C 45:18; Alma 9:1–5), but is contrary to our founding revelations. (see D&C 121:37; 38:39, Jacob 4:14, Hel 13, ). Despite misconstrued arguments to the contrary, it is essentially a Mormon version of Papal Infallibility or the Divine Right of Kings. If such a doctrine were ever part of God’s program, there would have never been apostasy during any past dispensation led by a president of the High Priesthood. Although it is comforting to our pride to think we are different; the scriptures warn that we are not (D&C 38:39). The Doctrine & Covenants contains repeated warnings to Joseph, the early apostles and the early Saints that if they were unrighteous they could temporarily or permanently lose God’s favor. The scriptures suggest that the priesthood of EVERY dispensation falls into some level of apostasy from the moment it is established; because all men are fallible, and fallibility leads to loss of priesthood efficacy (D&C 121:37). As needed, prophets are commonly called from outside the popular priesthood to correct the course of both society and the church. Promises concerning the continuance of divine guidance and growth of the Church in scripture are always stated as being conditional upon the church’s righteousness.
Let the church vote on this doctrine (following the law of common voice), just as they should have been allowed to vote on polygamy & the priesthood ban on those of African descent. Guaranteed, the Spirit will lead the people to decide that this statement and doctrine was a product of the times and should not be considered binding as doctrine.
D&C 1:20 and D&C 68:3–5 makes it clear that all members have the right to speak the “mind and will of the Lord” when moved by the Holy Ghost, not just the “prophet”. Each member has equal right to revelation, but no revelation is binding upon any other member unless the spirit causes that other person to receive it (D&C 50:19–24), and bind themselves knowingly and specifically to it by covenant. Thus church-wide, binding commandments must be voted upon and ratified “by the common consent of the Church” & major commandments are to be “received by covenant” after in initiate has received confirmation.
The idea that every doctrine or policy made by the prophet is “the mind and will of the Lord” is unfounded. The scriptures make clear that this applies only to things dictated “when moved upon by the Holy Ghost”(D&C 68:3–5), and the best way to determine if that was the case is to have the Church vote on doctrine to assure the Holy Ghost has confirmed the truth to the Majority of the members (D&C 50:19–24). The Lord does not micromanage humanity or the Church. LDS doctrine suggests that only the archetypical Lucifer operates in such a dictatorial manner. The Lord rules all humanity by their desires and agency (Alma 29:4). A prophet declares his own highest truth according to the degree he has aligned himself with God’s Spirit on an issue, but all priesthood leaders must ultimately make policy which balances the desires and highest light of the people with their own highest light, or they invalidate their own priesthood (see the difference between priesthood and prophets).