My friend Scott asked on Facebook for my response to two posts by J. Max Wilson, one on rejecting living prophets by following future prophets and the other on the limits of prophetic fallibility. I’ve been meaning to blog something along these lines anyway, so here’s my response.
We were always a peculiar people, but the culture of the world seems to be diverging more and more from the doctrines the prophets teach, which means those doctrines (and those prophets) will keep growing more embarrassing and unpopular and awkward.
And yet I think this is good for the Church. It helps people with lukewarm beliefs decide whether they really do believe that God speaks to prophets today and that we can trust both the prophets and their message. It’s all about the prophets.
As for the fallibility card, I’d rather play it safe and follow the current prophets, because assuming that they’re wrong and that future prophets will correct them is, as Max said, a shaky, dangerous path. Yes, continuing revelation means some things have changed since Joseph Smith’s time. But a lot of things haven’t. Yes, future revelation may allow same-sex marriage and ordination of women and even a lesbian, female prophet. But it may not. To my understanding, God has told us to live by the revelation we’ve actually received, not the revelation we hope we’ll receive someday.
The question, then, is whether God wants us as a people to urge the prophets to try to receive new revelation on these matters. Yes, revelation usually comes in response to questions, and God does want us to ask questions. But people are acting as if the prophets haven’t already been asking these questions of God all along. Considering that God seems to believe they have good judgment (since he called them as prophets in the first place), I think we can safely assume they’ve asked.
(Sidenote: I don’t feel comfortable demanding transparency from the prophets as to whether they’ve asked God about these matters, etc. Suits notwithstanding, this is the church of God, not a public corporation or a secular government. If we believe they’re prophets, we should trust them to do what God called them to do.)
We obviously need to treat each other with Christlike love and respect in all of this, but some ideas are in fact wrong and dangerous (whether blatantly or subtly so) and need to be spoken against, especially in this day of calling good evil and evil good. In a way it feels like we’ve entered a new(ish) war against the prophets, and that’s no good. God does call prophets and we can in fact trust them. And when what they’re saying is very unpopular, we should then trust them all the more, because it’s far more likely that the world has strayed than that the prophets have fallen.