In discussions with devout members of the Church, I have brought up the idea of blind obedience vs. informed obedience. I subscribe to the latter and rail against the former. I am concerned when one’s own moral compass is required to be shut off in order to obey.
In one of these discussions, I was rebuked with the following:
“If I am asked to obey, and it is wrong, the sin will be upon my leaders’ heads.”
Between May 21 and 28, 1842, the Nauvoo High Council met several times to investigate reports of adulteries instigated by John C. Bennett and his followers.1 For those not familiar with LDS Church history, John C. Bennett was a very influential man in Nauvoo. He helped secure Nauvoo’s Charter; became Nauvoo’s first mayor; was a General in Nauvoo’s Legion; was called as “Assistant President” to Joseph Smith.
John C. Bennett taught what was called, “spiritual wifery” – a term borrowed from some early American religionists such as those near the Blackstone Valley of Rhode Island and Massachusetts in the 1740s.2 Spiritual wifery, as taught by Bennett and his followers, to put it bluntly, was just a one-night stand without any vestige of a marriage ceremony.
During the May 1842 proceedings investigating Bennett and his followers, Catherine Fuller Warren affirmed Bennett’s practice of “spiritual wifery” as she was one to whom he had “proposed unlawful intercourse”.3 During the proceedings investigating Bennett, Catherine Fuller Warren stated the following:
“…He [Bennett] said there should be no sin upon me if there was any sin it should come upon himself….John C. Bennett was the first man that seduced me….”4
Hmm….Sounds sickeningly similar to what I was told by my acquaintance when she was defending, what I am calling, her blind obedience.
Informed obedience. That’s where it’s at brothers and sisters. Informed obedience.
Oh, ya, I almost forgot. John C. Bennett was excommunicated for his “spiritual wifery”.
1 Brian C. Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, Volume 1: History, pg. 560 – as reported by Thomas Bullock, May 26, 1844.
2 Ibid., pg. 560, footnote 62.
3 Ibid. , pg 561 – Catherine Fuller Warren, Statement before the Nauvoo High Copuncil, May 25, 1842.
If the just following orders defense was not good enough for the Nazis at Nuremburg, why on Earth would we think it was good enough for us?
While I agree with informed obedience, I’m not sure this is the best parallel with what happened with proposition 8, as was alluded by Paul’s posting of this link in connection with the SCOTUS and their ruling on DOMA. In the case of John C. Bennett, the spiritual wifery was not a directive from the first presidency or prophet himself, but rather one influential individual. Even by Mormon standards Catherine Fuller Warren had very little ground to stand on for her actions being acceptable. Her excuse is about as valid as “the devil made me do it”.
What happened with prop 8 came straight from the top and goes back to the Mormon cultural tendency to view the prophet as infallible and that everything they say is doctrine and the end of discussion.
I agree though that it was very ignorant and naive for members to follow that directive from the first presidency without thinking it through on their own. To me prop 8 was very much in contradiction to the teachings of Christ and that of the Book of Mormon.
The way I reconcile all that is to remember that the gospel of Christ is perfect and eternal, but the church is not perfect because it is being run by mortal men who make mistake and are trying their best to implement Christ’s teachings.
But John C Bennet was in the First Presidency.
Actually, Bennet just filled in for a bit while Rigdon was absent.
He was Assistant President of the Church and Counselor in the First Presidency besides being mayor of Nauvoo, General of the Nauvoo Legion and chancellor of the University of Nauvoo. I think the parallel still works.
I saw a meme that read like this: The Church is perfect but the members aren’t. Then it had “perfect”, “but” and “aren’t” crossed out so it read: The Church is the members. BRILLIANT.
You are confusing me.
That was in reply to Cody’s post “The way I reconcile all that is to remember that the gospel of Christ is perfect and eternal, but the church is not perfect because it is being run by mortal men who make mistakes and are trying their best to implement Christ’s teachings.”
Yet how are we to operationalize those contrasting terms/concepts?
Q.E.D.! Well said.
What does Q.E.D. mean?
In the math world QED is an abbreviation for a latin phrase “quod erat demonstrandum”(had to go look that up. I couldn’t remember how to spell any of it lol)- you put it at the end of a proof QED. It means “which was to be shown or demonstrated”.
When are you going to write for us again?
That’s a good question. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. That must mean it’ll be soon? I feel wretched for dropping the ball on the district show. It’s still all on my laptop – which now has a fried motherboard (thanks for that local tech guy!). Give me another topic? lol
I say the general notion of transmitted sin to the leader has never been correct. The first commenter is right in citing the Nuremburg finding as a foundation of morality. There has only been one “human” who can take upon him the sin of others truly, and that is Jesus. Everyone and everything else that pronounces removal of responsibility is a question of influence and maturity. Children are immature and powerless and therefore have no responsibility. Women were essentially powerless and so had no responsibility.
But when women or any person actually does have power and maturity, we cannot give away our sins, even to a volunteer. The idea of men being able to take sins from their families is rooted in the idea of men removing personal power from their family members, and many men have. Additionally, some people are immature, indoctrinated, damaged or have disorders that prevent them from being able to comprehend reality or others well enough to be held accountable, even when they are adults and if they have attained legal majority. But no, Bennett never could take sin from others. My own bishop never could suggest to me that when the Spirit tells me that all are included in the plan of happiness as created and he asks me to sin against that knowledge, that the sin would be removed from me and put upon the leadership of the church. In both cases (Catherine and myself) the party has power and maturity and the sin cannot transfer.
Actually, it can be argued that Catherine had less power than I do as she was a member of a more patriarchal society that did not allow her to vote, etc, etc, but it is doubtful that she would have been entirely disowned and penniless if she had refused. Well. I think. (how do I know what forces Bennett had, really?)
This is a complicated issue with members. We’re taught to listen and obey the prophet/apostles and to trust them. When the church asked people to support Pro 8 they obeyed because of those teachings. I find it interesting how often in a discussion of something fires of one of those lines that goes something like….”the prophet knows what the Lord’s standard/definition/policy/doctrine, etc is”. So if we accept this and the prophet/apostles tell us something or ask for something members feel obligated to obey. Questioning implies lack of faith. Makes it very tricky then doesn’t it when someone like Bennett said what he did to Catherine. Therein lies the quandary…. when is is ok to follow your own personal feelings/revelation/insights when they don’t match up to official word from SLC?