Listen to the Viewpoint on Mormonism 8-part series on this book that originally aired from April 23-May 23, 2012 by clicking on the following links:
To see Benson’s speech, go here.
By Eric Johnson
The following was originally printed in the Jan-Feb 2011 edition of Mormonism Researched. To request a free subscription, please visit here.
While he was serving as a church apostle, Ezra Taft Benson—who later became the church’s thirteenth president—gave a discourse in 1980 called “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet.” The thirty-year-old talk was dusted off and then quoted from twice during the October 2010 180th semiannual general conference; since there were only five million members compared to fourteen million today, this very well could have been the first time that the majority of Latter-day Saints had ever heard about Benson’s talk.
The first speech utilizing Benson’s talk was titled “Obedience to the Prophets,” which was delivered by Seventy Claudio R. M. Costa, a convert to Mormonism. A similar speech was given later in the conference by Seventy Kevin R. Duncan titled “Our Very Survival.” Before covering the fourteen points, Duncan told the conference crowd, “In the session this morning, Elder Claudio Costa of the Presidency of the Seventy so eloquently instructed us on these 14 fundamentals. Because they are of such great importance to our very salvation, I will repeat them again.”
Both men quoted all fourteen of the principles. Since the church is teaching that these points are fully applicable in the 21st century, let’s look at a few of them while providing applicable commentary from Costa (Duncan merely listed the fourteen points) and provide some of our own thoughts:
“First: The prophet is the only man who speaks for the Lord in everything.” A Mormon who disagrees with the LDS leader disagrees with God Himself, a very dangerous precedent.
“Second: The living prophet is more vital to us than the standard works.” Saying that “the living prophet is receiving specific revelations for us,” Costa said:
“I remember at least three of the living prophets, seers, and revelators who have spoken about my country, Brazil. One of these servants said that Brazil would become a great economy in the world and be free of inflation. At the time, we had two-digit inflation every month. It was difficult for many people to believe what the prophet said, but I believed. Brazil has had about 5 percent inflation each year for many consecutive years now. Brazil has become eighth in the world economy, and the country is doing great!”
What Costa so easily accepts as a fulfilled revelation seems naïve. In the same way, many Mormons have used Gordon B. Hinckley’s words at the October 1998 conference to say he was prophesying about the upcoming recession when he instructed his people to get out of debt. While this is certainly wise advice—I’ve been saying it for years, even during times of prosperity—Hinckley said during his talk that “I want to make it very clear that I am not prophesying, that I am not predicting years of famine in the future. But I am suggesting that the time has come to get our houses in order.” Yet when I have asked Mormons to provide examples of successful prophecies from the past two decades, this example is a popular choice. Regarding Brazil, Costa did not provide details of what he seems to indicate was a “specific revelation.” Based on the information he provided, the prediction regarding Brazil was no more accurate than an economist saying, “Inflation will be less (or more) in the future” or “Housing prices will go up.” Such a prognosticator is bound to be right somewhere down the road.
“Third: The living prophet is more important to us than a dead prophet.” Mormons who defend their faith often use this point to minimize anything that a former prophet said when it disagrees with the church’s (or the Mormon’s) current point of view. Are the words of Thomas S. Monson really more important than the words of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Malachi, Moroni , and Joseph Smith, all of whom are accepted as prophets in the Mormon Church?
“Fourth: The prophet will never lead the Church astray.” Costa quotes President Wilford Woodruff who said that God would never let any president of the LDS Church “lead you astray.” Yet consider that Brigham Young authoritatively told a church conference that if whites and blacks intermarry and have sex, “the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so” (Journal of Discourses 10:11). Since this isn’t believed today, it’s not considered authoritative. Did the people whom Young addressed believe it was true, as the people of his day accepted it? If so, wouldn’t this be an example of the prophet leading the people astray?
“Fifth: The prophet is not required to have any particular earthly training or credentials to speak on any subject or act on any matter at any time.” Costa said, “Do you think that the young Joseph Smith was a doctor in theology or science?” This is the classic straw man fallacy. Obviously a person does not have to have credentials in order to speak authoritatively on truth, if what he is saying is true. But if a person is going to speak on spiritual matters—as Young did when he said it would always be wrong for someone with white skin to have sexual relations with someone with black skin—he better be correct.
“Sixth: The prophet does not have to say ‘Thus saith the Lord’ to give us scripture.” How is a layperson supposed to differentiate between a prophet’s official pronouncements with his personal opinion?
“Eleventh: The two groups who have the greatest difficulty in following the prophet are the proud who are learned and the proud who are rich.” This apparently means that those who disagree with the prophet are usually proud or rich.
“Twelfth: The prophet will not necessarily be popular with the world or the worldly.” If you disagree with the prophet, the assumption is that you are part of the world. This, along with the previous point, is called an ad hominem logical fallacy.
“Fourteenth: [Follow] . . . the living prophet and the First Presidency . . . and be blessed; reject them and suffer.” The final point is a warning to those Mormons who disregard their leaders’ teaching.
Lest anyone doubt who’s in charge of calling the shots within the Mormon Church, these messages were meant as cautionary addresses. This is why they had Benson’s old sermon discussed not once, but twice, at the same general conference. There is an old adage that says, “He who has the gold makes the rules.” In Mormonism, it’s “he who plays the role of a general authority makes the rules.” While there are certain BYU professors, LDS scholars, and other laypeople who may think their brand of Mormonism is the real deal, the church’s leaders disagree.
Consider how Costa dutifully ended his sermon:
“We are privileged to have the words of our living prophets, seers, and revelators during this wonderful general conference. They will speak the will of the Lord for us, His people. They will transmit the word of God and His counsel to us. Pay attention and follow their instruction and suggestions, and I testify to you that your life will be completely blessed. Jesus is the Christ, our Savior and Redeemer. Thomas S. Monson is the living prophet of God, and the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are prophets, seers, and revelators. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.”
The message is clear. The question is, will those members who complain about particular doctrines or make them up themselves actually listen?
To read the original speech by Ezra Taft Benson, go here.
For additional articles on doctrine and theology, click here.