Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Truest (and Scariest?) Mormon Doctrine -- D&C 121: 39

"We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion."

Recent events on the Goldbergish blog have me thinking about this principle.

Communism, with all its ideals of exalting the everyday worker, was not immune to it. Corporate capitalism, though more acceptable in most circles, has its own share of blood on the hands as a bitter confirmation of this doctrine.

Religion through the centuries has not been immune. And, as this scripture shows, that isn't something we can just wipe away under the rug as a symptom of the Great Apostasy. This passage is talking about early LDS leaders. Our own leaders sinned in this particularly dangerous way. And I see no reason to believe that, since the late 1830s, human nature has fundamentally changed.

How do you believe in an ideology or support an organization knowing full well that sooner or later some of its leaders will exercise unrighteous dominion--possibly at a terrible cost?

I don't know, but I have faith that there is an answer.

Is such faith essential to staying involved in any party, community, or church today?


  1. This is probably not actually the "truest" Mormon doctrine in an absolute sense--that distinction probably goes to love. I used "truest" in the title mostly for dramatic effect, but also because most of us have clear witnesses in our own personal experience of the wide reach of the doctrine discussed above.

  2. If I haven't told the story about how a mission president, some sister missionaries, and a man in my home ward colluded to spread lasting rumours that the women in my home ward had the Priesthood.... ask me about it some time. I think the story really illustrates these principles.

  3. You might perhaps contemplate the structure of church leadership in the context of this scripture. Its notable that groups like the FLDS, have maximum leaders endowed with dictatorial powers. That's not the case within the church which has a variety of checks and balances, both formal and informal. Unanimous consent by a cascade of quorums is a remarkable feature, virtually unknown in any other religion, but ensconced in Mormon epistemology is a much more powerful check against spiritual abuse--the doctrine of witnesses.

    While a significant minority of Mormons accept the idea that when the prophet speaks, the thinking is done, the doctrinal reality is quite different. Pres. Monson and the rest of the apostles may serve as witnesses for the truth of revelation, but we are entitled to several witnesses before accepting it ourselves, include a witness of scripture and of the Holy Ghost.

    In practice, those who abuse their authority soon find it dissipated because of this. Members simply refuse to cooperate, either passively, or overtly. I've seen this with misguided Bishops and Stake Presidents who soon find the pews empty and/or themselves unable to effect any influence.

    Of course true unrighteous dominion requires the possibility of force, which the church leadership simply doesn't have, but which the government has in spades. Joseph Smith was teaching leadership skills in the context of the church, but when applied to the government, we are dealing with totalitarianism.



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