William James

William James
We must get by on what truth we have today, and be willing to call it error tomorrow.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

On The "Infallibility" Of Prophets

The comment was made:

"File this under "damned if you do and damned it you don't." The critics say that our Presidents and Apostles are not Prophets by citing there weaknesses and mistakes, while excusing the failings of their own leaders by saying they are just men. Where did the notion that a Prophet was without sin and never mistaken about anything come from anyway? I know of the O.T. scripture which states that if a Prophet, makes "prophecies" and they come to pass he is not a Prophet. But who would ever think that a Prophet whenever he speaks is always speaking as a Prophet? The standard that others want to impose on our leaders is one where every word they speak (even if ordering dinner) is doctrine. What Prophet in any age could be held to this standard?

I have also been fascinated by the story of Samson from the O.T. Here an Angel of the Lord, sent by God to the wife of Manoah, to declare that she would have a son (who was Samson) and he would begin to deliver Israel from the Philistines. We all know what a disaster he (Samson) was, married outside the covenant (a Philistine), riotous living, cavorting with harlots, etc, etc, etc. In this story â??Godâ? who knows the all things, did he not foresee this? Here are the scriptures that tell of the beginning of this story. I would list the ones of Samsonâ??s sins and how he did not deliver Israel from the Philistines, but there are just too many. Notice how this story is also laced with WoW standards.

Does this mean (using the story of Samson) that God is not a Prophet? If he could be mistaken then why not a man?"

To which I responded:

As I see it, the issue is not about whether prophets, who by definition are human beings, are fallible in the sense that they, too, sin and are imperfect. The issue is the reliability of the alleged prophetic utterance, especially when it comes to doctrinal pronouncements. It is plain to see that in nearly all if not all instances, prophets are necessarily influenced by their own background and personal opinions and values that they have developed over a lifetime (take, for example, comments by Brigham Young which would never be uttered in public by any General Authority because of how racist the comments sound, yet apologists often dismiss these by saying things like, "Well BY was just a product of his time," etc.). It is the proper thing to admit the fallibility of prophets, but if we are going to go that route, we must also accept what logically flows from that: because prophets do err, we are within our right to question, to probe, and to openly debate the authenticity and accuracy of purported revelations. The problem in the LDS culture is the stifling of questioning and open discussion, through a heirarchical system which pretends prophetic infallibility for purposes of current doctrine. Interestingly, the level of pretended or assumed infallibility varies depending upon the circle in which the subject comes up. In sacrament meeting or in the temple, the prophet is somehow viewed as infallible; yet in discussions with non-members or on boards like this, members are much more likely to openly concede and discuss prophetic fallibility. We cannot have it both ways; we cannot concede the fallibility of prophets while simultaneously punishing members for questioning or disagreeing with the prophet.

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