Are Church Leaders More Fallible Than We Have Hitherto Supposed?

There are many ways church members react when they become aware of the difficulties with LDS church history and the reality that church leaders are more fallible than many had supposed.

As a young returned missionary my worldview was that the church was led by apostles and prophets. They were in contact with Heavenly Father and this meant that all the decisions, teachings, and directions church leaders gave were the mind and will of the Lord.

After my mission, I pursued an in depth study of church history and doctrine. I was interested in becoming a religion teacher and even dreamed of the time I might teach at BYU.

I recall the heartache and disappointment I felt each time my studies revealed something new about church history and doctrine that challenged my worldview. I was compelled to rethink my worldview. As I pondered and prayed about what the new information meant for me, I realized it would take time to sort things out.

Though my worldview of the church was challenged, my spiritual view was intact and wasn’t affected. In the era of Viet Nam war during army basic training I realized I was going to be put in harm’s way. This sobered me up and I decided to find out if there was anything to the Book of Mormon and the Joseph Smith stories I had heard growing up. I decided to pray for the first time in many years. Within a few hours I had a dramatic answer to my prayer. This answer to prayer was my bedrock foundation of my spiritual life, so the changing worldview of the church wasn’t a crisis for me.

As time went on, I studied and applied the Book of Mormon and other scriptures to form a new worldview of the church and church leaders. I saw that church leaders are like the prophets in the Book of Mormon. They are human, make mistakes, and struggle following the will of the Lord.

Consider Lehi and his family. Here is a prophet with a dysfunctional family on the Lord’s errand. Nearly every time the Lord commanded Lehi to do something there was contention and struggle, but ultimately the work of the Lord was accomplished.

Our day is no different than the times that Lehi and the other prophets lived in. We live in the same fallen telestial world they did. The scriptures paint the picture that this is a place of difficulty and trial. The laws of a fallen world don’t allow for the worldview I had prior and during my mission. Many church members nowadays have a worldview like I had, even some church leaders. The laws of a fallen telestial world requires that there be “opposition in all things”. This means the apostles and prophets are subject to the laws of this world and are subject to error and fallible.

If every decision, everything ever written, everything ever said by the apostles and prophets from Joseph Smith to the present day were exactly what the Savior would have decided, written, and said (if He were here), it would be perfect. That would be contrary to the laws of a fallen telestial world. The Lord chooses “the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty” (1 Corinthians 1:27). “Weak things” is referring to church leaders and members. 

Church leaders and members need to establish a worldview that is in harmony with the scriptures—there is opposition in all things—in a fallen telestial world. The Lord is leading His prophets based on the laws of a fallen world. Yet church members can have confidence the Lord’s work will eventually get done, just as we’ve been promised. 

There is growth and development in a fallen telestial world that isn’t possible anywhere else. That is why we are here in mortality. Would Nephi have been as great a prophet if he hadn’t had Laman and Lemuel for brothers? I believe the Lord provided him brothers who were rebellious for a purpose. Likewise, opposition in all its forms allows church members a leg-up spiritually, if they will abide the day faithfully, and learn to draw near unto the Lord and rely on Him for help, as Nephi did.

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