By Sharon Lindbloom
Surveys and polls have been conducted among Mormons in recent years regarding the controversial question of whether or not women should be ordained to the all-male Mormon priesthood. LDS Church leadership has been resistant to the idea, explaining that the issue is a doctrinal one (which implies that a revelation would be required to open the priesthood office to women). Accordingly, a vast majority of Mormons surveyed have historically indicate that they do not favor women in the priesthood, with only 10% of those polled supporting the idea of ordaining women.
But in December (2015) the results of a new poll were released indicating that 77% of Mormons are supportive of the ordination of women to the LDS priesthood. Only 8.7% were shown to be opposed. What happened???
The Salt Lake Tribune reports:
“In the past, various pollsters, including Pew Research Center, found that only about 10 percent of Mormons nationwide favored female ordination in their church.
“But these scholars [who conducted the latest survey] argue that question didn’t address uniquely Mormon views about the authority of the faith’s leaders when it comes to gender issues.
“‘The Lord has directed that only men will be ordained to offices in the priesthood,’ LDS apostle Dallin H. Oaks has said, and the Mormon faithful believe only God, speaking through his prophets, can change that.
“So this recent poll asked an alternate version of the question: ‘If the [governing] First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles were to receive a revelation allowing women to hold the priesthood, I would be …’ Response options then ranged from strongly supportive to strongly opposed.”
So this is what happened. Mormons were not polled about their view of women in the priesthood; they were polled about their view of LDS leadership. And the overwhelming majority indicated their commitment to follow the prophet.
The LDS Church does not claim infallibility for its leaders, and when asked, neither do Mormons in general. However, in practice, Mormons are taught to (and most do) trust their leaders implicitly. This has been the historic position of the Church, and even in the face of stated objections to the contrary, it continues unabated today.
Consider a recent post by Angela Fallentine (at Mormon Women Stand) titled, “Why You Can’t Be Loyally Opposed to the Church.” The example Ms. Fallentine builds on is same-sex marriage, but her broad topic is about trusting and following Mormon leaders.
“…the heart of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is the belief and faith in prophets’ and apostles’ ability to lead and direct the Lord’s kingdom here on the earth. This is one of the most fundamental and foundational parts of the restoration of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints…
“Keep trying to align your will with God’s on these issues, and trust the prophet. Consecration usually includes putting our wills and desires on the altar, even when we don’t see the future or a way forward…
“At the end of the day, I’m convinced that it is impossible to be a ‘faithful dissenter’ or ‘loyal opposer’ to the Church and still maintain deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ and His prophets.” (Italics and underline retained from the original.)
Of course, the Christian position is similar, in that Christians trust what God has said in the Bible. Christians endeavor to align our wills and desires with scripture while trusting God, even though we may not see the full picture. One obvious difference is that Christians fully trust the never-changing written Word of God, while Mormons trust the Church and what they understand to be continuing (i.e., changing) revelation.
The interesting thing here is that the LDS Church acknowledges that Mormon leaders (including prophets) have sometimes gotten it wrong (for examples, see here, here, and here). In those cases, the Church falls back on the claim that its leaders aren’t infallible; but in practice, Mormons are expected to behave as if they are. Consider a few of the quotes from LDS leadership that Ms. Fallentine provided for her readers:
President Ezra Taft Benson: “One who rationalizes that he or she has a testimony of Jesus Christ but cannot accept direction and counsel from the leadership of His church is in a fundamentally unsound position and is in jeopardy of losing exaltation.”
Elder M. Russell Ballard: “In the Lord’s Church there is no such thing as a ‘loyal opposition.’ One is either for the kingdom of God and stands in defense of God’s prophets and apostles, or one stands opposed.”
Elder Bruce R. McConkie: “No true Latter-day Saint will ever take a stand that is in opposition to what the Lord has revealed to those who direct the affairs of his earthly kingdom. No Latter-day Saint who is true and faithful in all things will ever pursue a course, or espouse a cause, or publish an article or book that weakens or destroys faith.”
(For additional statements by LDS leaders advocating the teaching, “When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done,” see “Is It Wise to Place Blind Trust In Mere Mortal Men?”)
Latter-day Saints are in a difficult position. While being warned to beware of false prophets, they are condemned if they question their leaders; while being told their prophets have been wrong in the past, they are told that their prophets cannot lead them astray. Mormons might find solace for this dilemma by taking the advice of seventh LDS President Heber J. Grant who taught,
“Always keep your eye on the President of the church, and if he ever tells you to do anything, even if it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it…” (quoted by Marion G. Romney, Conference Report, October 1960, page 78)
But what if Heber J. Grant was a false prophet? What if he was wrong?