It’s pretty much guaranteed that this scripture will show up in my Facebook feed every time general conference rolls around.

What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same. (Doctrine & Covenants 1:38)

It’s actually a well-known scripture among members outside of the realm of conference as well. Seminary attendees will recognize it as a “scripture chase” scripture. And I remember referencing it often as a missionary. It’s woven throughout the curriculum of the church.

So when it is conference time, it’s not surprising to hear the invitation to “Come, listen to a prophet’s voice… and hear the word of God” (Hymn #21). Our local leaders counsel us to pay special attention to the word of God spoken by our modern-day prophets and apostles (“whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same”).

So what happens if the “word of God” is changed a little (or a lot!)? Is it okay? When the print version of Elder Christofferson’s talk from this past conference (October 2013) appeared online, I noticed a change:

Original: “Some feminist thinkers view homemaking with outright contempt, arguing it demeans women and that the relentless demands of raising children are a form of exploitation.”

Revised Version: “Some view homemaking with outright contempt, arguing it demeans women and that the relentless demands of raising children are a form of exploitation.”

In regard to this specific edit, The Salt Lake Tribune reported the following:

Slight editing of conference sermons is not uncommon, LDS Church spokeswoman Ruth Todd said Wednesday. “The Monday following every General Conference, each speaker has the opportunity to make any edits necessary to clarify differences between what was written and what was delivered or to clarify the speaker’s intent.”

Church editors had suggested to the apostle that “referencing ‘some feminist thinkers’ would inevitably be read by many as ‘all feminist thinkers,’ ” Todd explained in a statement. “Elder Christofferson agreed and has simply clarified his intent.”

christofferson-hAre we okay with editors clarifying or suggesting changes to the word of God? When I first heard Elder Christofferson’s talk, I was really disenchanted with his use of the word “feminist” because, well, I am a feminist. But when I publicly voiced my concern, I was quickly referred back to verse 38, specifically, “whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.”

What? When I don’t feel comfortable with something that is said over the pulpit, I am almost instantly labeled as an apostate kicking against the pricks, but when a group of editors suggest a change, nobody seems to care. In fact most members would probably be okay with this group of editors/advisors suggesting any improvement in the Church. But what about when a group of lay members suggests something to our leaders? How are they treated? Not too long ago a group of members was asking that women be invited to pray in conference. The majority of the Mormon world freaked out: “You can’t suggest things!”; “How dare you say that women are not treated equally just because they can’t pray in conference!”; “I’m a woman and I don’t want to pray in conference!”; etc.

The problem with taking that phrase of verse 38, “whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same,” so literally is that we tend to place our human leaders, who, by the way, do make mistakes, on the same plane as God. Are they gods? Are they perfect? Of course not. They make mistakes (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Come, Join With Us,” October 2013 General Conference). They have their biases and their worldviews just like everybody else.

So maybe in the future we should ease off on “whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” a little, and while we’re at it, let’s ease off on labeling feminists as apostates. Let’s be kind! Let’s remember Elder Christofferson’s own words: “it should be remembered that not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine.” (April 2012 General Conference)

If you’re still not sure whether all of this is really a big deal or not, following are some other examples of conference changes.

Boyd K. Packer speaking once again on gay marriage and same-sex attraction:

packer1“Some suppose that they were pre-set and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn temptations toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember he is our father.” (Boyd K. Packer, “Cleansing the Inner Vessel,” October 2010 General Conference)

While various edits were made throughout his talk, in the above paragraph the word “temptations” was changed to “tendencies” and the question “Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone?” was removed entirely.

poelman-betterNow let’s talk about Elder Poelman’s famous (infamous?) conference talk given in October 1984. He gave, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful and inspired talks entitled “The Gospel and the Church.” However, the “Church” was of a different opinion and not only was his talk edited, but Poelman had to re-record his talk to an empty tabernacle. (Don’t worry the cough tracks were added for authenticity!) Things got much more complicated for the Church with the invention of the VCR – members noticed when things were changed! DANG VCRS!! Here is the talk side by side so you can see the differences. Again, I completely loved his unedited talk; it is one of the reasons I remain a Mormon.

(Differences between the two talks are highlighted in red. Deletions from the original talk are set off by strikethrough Font, while additions in the Ensign version are Underlined.)

 

Conference Version  Version Published in the Ensign and on Video Tape
Both the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church of Jesus Christ are true and divine. Both the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church of Jesus Christ are true and divine,
However, there is a distinction between them which is significant and it is very important that this distinction be understood. and there is an essential relationship between them that is significant and very important.
Of equal importance is understanding the essential relationship between the gospel and the Church. Failure to distinguish between the two and to comprehend their proper relationship may lead to confusion and misplaced priorities with unrealistic and therefore failed expectations. This in turn may result in diminished benefits and blessings and, in extreme instances, even disaffections. Understanding the proper relationship between the gospel and the Church will prevent confusion, misplaced priorities, and failed expectations and will lead to the realization of gospel goals through happy, fulfilling participation in the Church. Such understanding will avoid possible disaffection and will result in great personal blessings.
As I attempt to describe and comment upon some distinguishing characteristics of the gospel and of the Church, at the same time noting their essential relationships, it is my prayer that a perspective may be developed which will enhance the influence of both the gospel and the Church in our lives. As I attempt to describe and comment upon the essential relationship between the gospel and the Church it is my prayer that a perspective may be developed which will enhance the influence of both the gospel and the Church in our lives.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is a divine and perfect plan. It is composed of eternal, unchanging principles and laws which are universally applicable to every individual regardless of time, place, or circumstance. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a divine and perfect plan. It is composed of eternal, unchanging principles, laws, and ordinances which are universally applicable to every individual regardless of time, place, or circumstance.
The principles and laws of the gospel never change. Gospel principles never change.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a divine institution administered by the priesthood of God. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the kingdom of God on Earth administered by the priesthood of God.
The Church has authority to teach correctly the principles and doctrines of the gospel and to administer its essential ordinances. The Church has the authority to teach correctly the principles and doctrines of the gospel and to administer its essential ordinances.
The gospel is the substance of the divine plan for personal, individual salvation and exaltation. The Church is the delivery system that provides the means and resources to implement this plan in each individual’s life. The gospel is the divine plan for personal, individual salvation and exaltation. The Church is divinely commissioned to provide the means and resources that implement this plan in each individual’s life.
Procedures programs and policies are developed within the Church to help us realize gospel blessings according to our individual capacity and circumstances. Under divine direction, these policies, programs, and procedures do change from time to time as necessary to fulfill gospel purposes. Procedures programs and policies are developed within the Church to help us realize gospel blessings according to our individual capacity and circumstances. Under divine direction, these policies, programs, and procedures may be changed from time to time as necessary to fulfill gospel purposes.
Underlying every aspect of Church administration and activity are the revealed eternal principles as contained in the scriptures. . Underlying every aspect of Church administration and activity are the revealed eternal principles as contained in the scriptures.
As individually and collectively we increase our knowledge, acceptance, and application of gospel principles, we become less dependent on Church programs. Our lives become gospel centered. As individually and collectively we increase our knowledge, acceptance, and application of gospel principles, we can more effectively utilize the Church to make our lives more gospel centered.
Sometimes traditions, customs, social practices and personal preferences of individual Church members may, through repeated or common usage be misconstrued as Church procedures or policies. Occasionally, such traditions, customs and practices may even be regarded by some as eternal gospel principles. Under such circumstances those who do not conform to these cultural standards may mistakenly be regarded as unorthodox or even unworthy. In fact, the eternal principles of the gospel and the divinely inspired Church do accommodate a broad spectrum of individual uniqueness and cultural diversity. The eternal principles of the gospel implemented through the divinely inspired Church apply to a wide variety of individuals in diverse cultures.
The conformity we require should be according to God’s standards. Therefore, as we live the gospel and participate in the Church, the conformity we require of ourselves and of others should be according to God’s standards.
The orthodoxy upon which we insist must be founded in fundamental principles and eternal law, including free agency and the divine uniqueness of the individual. The orthodoxy upon which we insist must be founded in fundamental principles, eternal law, and direction given by those authorized in the Church.
It is important therefore to know the difference between eternal gospel principles which are unchanging, universally applicable and cultural norms which may vary with time and circumstance.
The source of this perspective is found in the scriptures and may appear to be presented in a rather unorganized and untidy format. A necessary perspective is gained by studying and pondering the
scriptures.
The Lord could have presented the gospel to us in a manual, systematically organized by subject, perhaps using examples and illustrations.
However the eternal principles and divine laws of God are revealed to us through accounts of individual lives in a variety of circumstances and conditions.
Reading the scriptures, we learn the gospel as it is taught by various messengers at different times and places. Reading the scriptures, we learn the gospel as it is taught by various prophets in a variety of circumstances, times, and places.
We see the consequences as it is accepted or rejected, as its principles are applied or not to varying degrees and by many different people. We see the consequences as the gospel is accepted or rejected by individuals and as its principles are applied or not.
In the scriptures we discover that varying institutional forms, procedures and regulations and ceremonies are utilized, all divinely designed to implement eternal principles. The practices and procedures change; the principles do not. In the scriptures we discover that varying institutional forms, procedures and regulations and ceremonies were utilized, all divinely designed to implement eternal principles. The practices and procedures change; the principles do not.
Through scripture study we may learn eternal principles and how to distinguish them from and relate them to institutional resources.
As we liken the scriptures unto ourselves we can better utilize the institutional resources of the modern restored Church to learn, live and share the gospel of Jesus Christ. As we liken the scriptures unto ourselves we can better utilize the institutional resources of the modern restored Church to learn, live and share the gospel of Jesus Christ.
A favorite scriptural source for is the Old Testament Book of Leviticus. A favorite scriptural source for is the Old Testament Book of Leviticus.
It is basically a handbook for Hebrew priests and contains many rules, regulations, rituals and ceremonies which seem strange and inapplicable to us. It is basically a handbook for Hebrew priests and contains many rules, regulations, rituals and ceremonies which seem strange and inapplicable to us.
It also contains eternal principles of the gospel which are familiar and very much applicable to everyone. It also contains eternal principles of the gospel which are familiar and very much applicable to everyone.
It is interesting and enlightening to read the 19th chapter of Leviticus, noting both the principles and the rules and practices. It is interesting and enlightening to read the 19th chapter of Leviticus, noting both the principles and the rules and practices.
In the first two verses we read, “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel…..” (Leviticus 19: 1-2) In the first two verses we read, “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel…..” (Leviticus
19: 1-2)
Here is the principle of revelation. Here is the principle of revelation.
God speaks to his children through prophets. God speaks to his children
through prophets.
He does so today. He does so today.
Continuing, the Lord says to Moses, “….say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2) Continuing, the Lord says to Moses, “….say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2)
Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, said, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) Here is an eternal gospel principle. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, said, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) Here is an eternal gospel principle.
There follow other eternal principles, some form the Ten Commandments. There follow other eternal principles, some form the Ten Commandments.
Also included are rules and programs intended to implement these principles among the ancient Hebrews in their particular circumstances. Also included are rules and programs intended to implement these principles among the ancient Hebrews in their particular circumstances.
For example, the divinely directed responsibility to care for the poor is taught. A program is presented, vis. providing food for the poor by leaving the gleanings of the crops and not reaping the corners of the fields. (Leviticus 19:9-10) Current programs to care for the poor are much different. The divine law is the same. Yet another principle underlies both programs, ancient and modern, i.e. those being assisted are given opportunity to participate in helping themselves to the extent of their capacity. For example, the divinely directed responsibility to care for the poor is taught. A program is presented, vis. providing food for the poor by leaving the gleanings of the crops and not reaping the corners of the fields. (Leviticus 19:9-10) Current programs to care for the poor are much different. The divine law is the same. Yet another principle underlies both programs, ancient and modern, i.e. those being assisted are given opportunity to participate in helping themselves to the extent of their capacity.
In verse 13 the principle of honesty is taught accompanied by a rule requiring employers to pay employees for their work at the end of each day. In verse 13 the principle of honesty is taught accompanied by a rule requiring employers to pay employees for their work at the end of each day.
Generally, today that rule is not necessary. Generally, today that rule is not necessary.
The eternal principle of honesty is implemented by other rules and practices. The eternal principle of honesty is implemented by other rules and practices.
Verse 27 contains a rule about personal grooming, it is clearly not applicable to us. Verse 27 contains a rule about personal grooming, it is clearly not applicable to us.
However, we also have standards of dress and grooming. However, we also have standards of dress and grooming.
Neither is an eternal principle; both are intended to help us implement and share gospel principles. Neither is an eternal principle; both are intended to help us implement and
share gospel principles.
The principle of forgiveness is set forth in the same chapter of Leviticus, verse 18, concluding with the second great commandment, “….thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself.” with the added divine imprimatur, “…I am the Lord.” The principle of forgiveness is set forth in the same chapter of Leviticus, verse 18, concluding with the second great commandment, “….thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself.” with the added divine imprimatur, “…I am the Lord.”
Every church member has not only the opportunity, right, and privilege to receive a personal witness regarding gospel principles and Church practices, but has the need and obligation to obtain such assurance by exercising his free agency, thereby fulfilling one purpose of his mortal probation. Every church member has the opportunity, right, and privilege to receive a personal witness regarding gospel principles and Church practices.
Without such assurance, one may feel confused and perhaps even burdened by what may appear to be simply institutional requirements of the Church. Without such a witness, one may feel confused and perhaps even burdened by what may appear to be simply institutional requirements of the Church.
Indeed, it is not enough that we obey the commandments and counsel of Church leaders. We should obey the commandments and counsel of Church leaders;
In response to study, prayer and by the influence of the Holy Spirit we may seek and obtain an individual, personal witness that the principle or counsel is correct and divinely inspired. but also through study, through prayer, and by the influence of the Holy Spirit, we should seek and obtain an individual, personal witness that the principle or counsel is correct and divinely inspired.
Then we can give enlightened, enthusiastic obedience, utilizing the Church through which to give allegiance, time, talent and other resources without reluctance or resentment. Then we can give enlightened, enthusiastic obedience, utilizing the Church through which to give allegiance, time, talent and other resources without reluctance or resentment.
Happy, fulfilling participation in the Church results when we relate institutional goals, programs and policies to gospel principles and to personal eternal goals. Happy, fulfilling participation in the Church results when we relate Church goals, programs and policies to gospel principles and to personal eternal goals.
When we understand the difference between the gospel and the Church and the appropriate function of each in our daily lives, we are much more likely to do the right things for the right reasons. When we see the harmony between the gospel and the Church in our daily lives, we are much more likely to do the right things for the right reasons.
Institutional discipline is replaced by self discipline.
Supervision is replaced by righteous initiative and a sense of divine accountability. We will exercise self discipline and righteous initiative guided by Church leaders and a sense of divine accountability.
The Church aids us in our effort to use our free agency creatively, not to invent our own values and principles, but to discover and adopt the eternal truths of the gospel. The Church aids us in our effort to use our free agency creatively, not to invent our own values and principles, and interpretations but to learn and live the eternal truths of the gospel.
Gospel living is a process of continuous individual renewal and improvement until the person is prepared and qualified to enter comfortably and with confidence into the presence of God. Gospel living is a process of continuous individual renewal and improvement until the person is prepared and qualified to enter comfortably and with confidence into the presence of God.
My brothers and sisters, by inclination, training and experience, most of my life I have sought understanding by the accumulation of facts and the application of reason. My brothers and sisters, by inclination, training and experience, most of my life I have sought understanding by the accumulation of facts and the application of reason.
I continue to do so. I continue to do so.
However, that which I know most surely and which has most  significantly and positively affected my life I do not know by facts and reason alone, but rather by the comforting, confirming witness of the Holy Spirit. However, that which I know most surely and which has most significantly and positively affected my life I do not know by facts and reason alone, but rather by the comforting, confirming witness of the Holy Spirit.
By that same Spirit I testify that God is our Father, the Jesus of Nazareth is the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh and that he is the Savior and Redeemer of all mankind and each of us. By that same Spirit I testify that God is our Father, the Jesus of Nazareth is the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh and that he is the Savior and Redeemer of all mankind and each of us.
Through his atoning sacrifice, redemption and exaltation are offered as a free gift to all who will accept by faith, repentance and sacred covenants. Through his atoning sacrifice, redemption and exaltation are offered as a free gift to all who will accept by faith, repentance and sacred covenants.
May each of us continue to learn and apply the eternal principles of the gospel, utilizing fully and appropriately the resources of the divine restore Church. May each of us continue to learn and apply the eternal principles of the gospel, utilizing fully and appropriately the resources of the divine restore Church.
In the words of the Nephite leader Pahoran, “… may we rejoice in the great privilege of our church and in the cause of our Redeemer and our God.” (Alma 61:14) In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen. In the words of the Nephite leader Pahoran, “… may we rejoice in the great privilege of our church and in the cause of our Redeemer and our God.” (Alma 61:14) In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

I will talk more about this subject in an upcoming post called “The Conference Conundrum: What is Doctrine?”

Born and raised in Northern California, Paul received his education at Ricks College and BYU with a BA in Spanish, minor in PE Coaching. Paul served his LDS mission during the years 94-96 in Rosario, Argentina. He now runs a skate shop in Provo, UT. He’s married and has 4 boys.

All posts by