Giving Up Choice

Once again, a Mormon commenter has got me thinking. Our friend ditchu posted this about about missionary safety:

But did they take respon[s]ibility for their own saf[e]ty? If they did then they would have taken upon themselves any blame in the results. If they did not, then they gave up their choice over to the church.

Allowing for ditchu’s never having served a mission and therefore not knowing what is asked of the church’s missionaries, I wanted to focus on the idea of giving our choices “over to the church.”

If you have spent any time at all in the LDS church, you know that the ultimate goal is to surrender one’s will to that of God. “Be ye therefore perfect,” we are taught, and, like Jesus, we are to ask God, “Not my will be done, but thine.”

Apostle Neal Maxwell explained:

The submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar. The many other things we “give,” brothers and sisters, are actually the things He has already given or loaned to us. However, when you and I finally submit ourselves, by letting our individual wills be swallowed up in God’s will, then we are really giving something to Him! It is the only possession which is truly ours to give!Consecration thus constitutes the only unconditional surrender which is also a total victory!

Thus, victory is achieved in obedience and denial of one’s own desires and intellect.

As a practical matter, this kind of surrender manifests itself in obedience to authority in the church. And we are told that such obedience should be unquestioning.

Obedience is a fundamental law of the gospel. It is not only the demonstration of our faith but also the foundation of our faith. But the philosophical standard of the world holds that unquestioning obedience equals blind obedience, and blind obedience is mindless obedience. This is simply not true. Unquestioning obedience to the Lord indicates that a person has developed faith and trust in Him to the point where he or she considers all inspired instruction—whether it be recorded scripture, the words of modern prophets, or direct inspiration through the Holy Ghost—to be worthy of obedience (Elder Robert C. Oaks, “Believe All Things,” Ensign, July 2005).

President Ezra Taft Benson told us that we should always obey the counsel of the president of the church, even if it’s wrong: “Always keep your eye on the President of the Church, and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it.”

In essence, then, the ideal in the church is to give our choice over to the church. To do as ditchu suggests would be to contradict the Lord and his prophets.


28 Responses to Giving Up Choice

  1. ditchu says:

    Great post. It is all about giving our will over to God. In the case of the missionaries who died, I tend to think they did put their lives in God’s hands and God choose to take them home. But you may think that nieve of me to think this way.

    Glad that some people are thinking about the things that really matter.


  2. ditchu says:

    Keep this in mind: you always have a choice. If you give that choice to the Church that is your choice. If you give your choice over to God, that is your choice. If you choose to not give your choice to anyone that is your choice and you are responcible for it.
    If these Missionaries in you other post gave their choice to God, and God choose to take them, where is the problem in that? One must have complete trust in whatever they give over their choice to. I do not suggest we all hand over our choices to the Church, However matching your will to that of God’s is key to a Christian’s life. I would tred lightly on the subject of how much to trust any orginization. I do not usually follow the Zelotous path and agree infatically with all the decisions and choices of LDS Leadership, however, if I agree I stand up for those things. If I disagree I showforth what I disagree about with the vigor I deem appropiate to the disagreement.

  3. sideon says:

    Not sure how I feel about absolute obedience in the face of a prophet being wrong, but it being a-ok with the Lord.

  4. K*tty says:

    This is Dichotomy 101. The prophet will never lead his people astray. But if he does, (but he never will), you will be blessed by following his folly.

  5. ditchu says:

    Wherein was the prophet wrong?
    Are you seeing wrong by the judgement of man or by the understanding of the will of God?

  6. bull says:

    Wow, that last quote is so 1984! I’m having trouble getting my mind around how obedience without question and without thought is someone NOT unquestioning, blind obedience just because you’ve developed a strong enough faith to implicitly trust authority without question or thought.

  7. bull says:

    ditchu, what you are describing is the classic religious mentality that basically makes it impossible for the church or God or whatever to be wrong. Summarizing, you give your life over to God or his representatives. If good things happen, the you are being blessed. If bad things happen you are being tried in your faith or God has some grander purpose that you can’t see.

    Of course, the alternate possibility is that God had nothing to do with it and stuff happened.

    In the case of the missionaries in Bolivia, they trusted their leaders. They were not in a position to know about many of the hazards they faced. If they had known they might have made different choices. Their leaders knew facts that they withheld or neglected to act on that caused the missionaries to make uninformed, dangerous choices about their conduct with tragic consequences.

    Call me faithless, but I fail to see God’s will in that. I see nearly criminal negligence by those put in a position of trust who were willing to allow missionaries to work in a life threatening situation in order for the church’s work to be able to continue uninterrupted.

    I was a zone leader in 1984-1985 in Bolivia. I received warnings from Bolivians that some of the student demonstrators were armed with sub machine guns and would have no compunction about shooting a missionary. I passed this information immediately on to the mission office. I don’t remember EVER receiving direction or warning from the mission office about this. The missionaries were basically left to their own devices and being 19 year olds they often made some incredibly stupid and life threatening decisions.

  8. I was discussing something similar to this with a friend just the other day. I pointed out the fact that we supposedly fought the “war in heaven” to defend our ability to have free agency. But now, the whole point of this existence is to willingly abandon that free agency to God. Didn’t we work really hard to avoid giving up our agency. I said this and my friend had no response, she said she’d have to think about it.

  9. runtu wrote:
    “Wherein was the prophet wrong?”

    Seriously runtu, are you claiming that prophets have never been wrong? I’m confused by your question. I hear the excuse, “but prophets are not infallible” all the time as a response to problematic doctrine from the past. So, to just name a few:

    * Bruce R. McConkie openly acknowledged that he was wrong about racist comments he had made previously once the revelation on the priesthood occurred. This means that Brigham Young and John Taylor, among many others, must have been wrong as well.
    * Various prophets were wrong when they said that polygamy would never be taken away from the church.
    * Joseph Smith was wrong when he prophesied that the civil war would result in the end of all nations.

    I could go on and on. Prophets have been wrong over and over.

  10. runtu says:


    Be careful in attributing ditchu’s comments to me. I certainly didn’t say what you think I did. The prophets have been wrong since the beginning.

    This goes back to one of my general laws of Mormonism: the current prophet is never wrong and never gives “just his personal opinion.” Once the prophet is dead, however, you’re free to dismiss anything he said.

  11. ditchu says:

    Please do not attribute my comments to Runtu.
    Also i was asking a question in this discource to find out what the prior post was saying. I am not beyond seeing the humanity and the error that goes with it. My Prophet is not beyond this human state, and thus is prone to error as we all are. So, not to make a big stink that any one other than christ is infaluable, I was asking an open question to the post above mine.


  12. bull says:

    And yet, questioning the prophets is a sure step down the road to apostasy. They’re not infallible, but we’re not supposed to question them. Dallin Oaks quite publicly stated on the PBS special that it is NOT acceptable to question church leaders, EVEN IF THEY ARE WRONG. The church has pretty well made that doctrinal by excommunicating prominent people that disagreed with the church. Note that the issue was not, and never was, whether or not the church was right or wrong. It was that the member opposed the church.

  13. Whoops! I am really sorry about writing runtu rather than ditchu. That was a total typo. I am super sorry.

  14. runtu says:

    Well, you know, it happens all the time, since ditchu and I are on the same page so often. 🙂

  15. ditchu says:

    If someone disagrees with an originization, one would not expect that person to continue their association with the originization. I do not see how it would be wrong to excumunicate a member if they protested against the docturine of the church. This is what happens in most groups of christianity. If you disagree with the group, why are you apart of it?

    If you disagree with the Docturine and teachings of a Church, but are a “member” to gain the benifits of that membership, most often you have missed the point that much of the benifit comes from the docturine/teachings and following the associated practices that the group agrees with. Take Drug use for instance. If you want the benifit of good health, but go against the Church’s policies about the not using illisit Drugs, You are fooling yourself. There are many examples I can create to illistrate this point but you all are smart enough to understand what I am getting at here.

    I do not understand why people would join a group that they disagree with and yet not disassociate with that group. I have done this politically. I was a member of one party and being ineffectual they could not get the job done, and they changed their policies and did more damage to my political position than good. So I switched parties. I will continue to disassociate myself with those I do not agree with.


  16. Ray Agostini says:

    This goes back to one of my general laws of Mormonism: the current prophet is never wrong and never gives “just his personal opinion.” Once the prophet is dead, however, you’re free to dismiss anything he said.

    A few things weigh against this idea, Runtu. When ETB proposed this idea in his Fundamentals in Following the Prophets, the Church distanced itself from this. It has not republished it. Hugh Nibley once advised that it’s okay to disagree, but that this disagreement should be “kept private”.
    While the idea that the prophet “is never wrong” may be common, this is not accepted by all. Professor England openly disagreed with several Church doctrines/teachings in his book Dialogues With Myself, and even confronted Joseph Fielding Smith, in a face to face interview, about the idea that Blacks were “not valiant” in the pre-mortal life. After examining the scriptures, JFS admitted to Gene England that there was no scriptural basis for believing this (though it continued to be taught), and he said “it was what I was taught”. Again, while the “follow and don’t question” view is strong, I don’t believe it correctly describes all Mormons. In reality, how many Mormons do follow without question? In this regard, don’t look at what people say or profess, but what they actually do. In my experience they pick and choose what they will follow.

  17. ditchu says:

    Thank you for that unique but important perspective.
    I however am a “Mormon” who seems to question everything. I usually do not take things at face value. Generally I’d look into the things I hear from the church leadership that don’t sound right to me. sometimes I find that I have misunderstood what they were saying as I have applied an incorrect context to these statments, but for most things comming from the leadership I have no disagreement with. I did not take this Book of Mormon thing lightly and just agree that it was real because others said it was. I read it and then decided at first that it is posible. about 7 years later I read it again anr did receive my own witness of its truthfulness.
    I confess that I do not understand everything in the history of the church or even everything in scripture, but I do not hold to a blanket acceptance policy.

  18. runtu says:

    Ray, I do think that people pick and choose what they believe, but no one ever expresses their disbelief or rejection of a particular item. To do so is to open yourself up to accusations of apostasy.

    Case in point: You hear all the time that Brigham Young’s horribly racist statements were just “personal opinion,” but no one dared say that about Hinckley’s “one earring” rule. Bednar went so far as to say that the wearing of earrings was an indicator of one’s faithfulness to the gospel. Obviously, a lot of people ignored the earring rule, but you won’t find anyone publicly stating their opposition. But people will publicly reject BY’s Adam-God stuff and his racism. That’s what I was talking about.

  19. ditchu says:

    Maybe this is the case where you live or even in SLC, But I have seen people voice their opposition, not that it was about anything important, but they did not ousted or riticuled like you are saying they would. All I know is that it is not the way you see it everywhere.


  20. runtu says:

    I said nothing about being ousted or ridiculed. I did say that people are counseled to keep their disagreements with the “brethren” to themselves, and those who are outspoken are sometimes disciplined (see, for example, what happened to Linda Newell and Valeen Avery merely for publishing an honest biography of Emma Smith).

    As I said, Ray is right that people do pick and choose what to believe, but we are taught not to do so publicly.

  21. bull says:

    ditchu, that is exactly what I have done. I disagreed with the church’s teachings and walked away. I understand all too clearly that they institutionally are uninterested in having errors pointed out, much less corrected.

    Unfortunately, it’s not black and white thinking like you suggest. What if, for example, you believe in the core teachings of the church and that it is the sole organization that can give you exaltation? What if you also happen to be gay and want to live in a committed monogamous relationship with your same sex partner and raise an eternal family? You believe the church is wrong on this point of doctrine, much like it was on blacks and the priesthood. Are you supposed to reject your testimony and spiritual witness and quit? That’s one example. Another might be women and the priesthood for which there is even less scriptural support than for denying priesthood to the blacks. Women have been excommunicated for even discussing this publicly.

    My point is, your statement only works if you don’t believe the church is true or if you believe that the church is either 100% correct or 100% wrong. It doesn’t work for cases like above where a person believes the church is mostly correct but wrong in some way that is critical for their personal happiness and salvation. In that case the person is in a Catch22.

    It’s not an issue for me because my issue is quite simply that I think the church is a fraud and institutionally and unrepentantly dishonest.

  22. ditchu says:

    There is something in the Church called personal revelation. If you do have one of these conflecting issues use the revelation the spirit shows you to decide what to do in your life. Again however you do have the choice. As far a women holding the preisthood, I personally think they hold the same creative power as the preisthood.


  23. ditchu, (phew! got it right it right this time)
    So what happens to the many, many people who have had personal revelation that conflicts with the church? The response that I’ve always heard is, “Well, you must be wrong, because you would never receive revelation that contradicts the church.” I think that’s a pretty weak rebuttal though.

  24. bull says:

    ditchu, I agree. For example, what about the Adam God doctrine? Brigham Young taught it for years and even demoted an apostle for disagreeing with him (Orson Pratt). The other apostles held their tongue, but when BY died you’ll notice it wasn’t taught any more. Mind you this is in the highest quorum in the church where the members are sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators. Apparently their “personal revelation” disagreed with the prophet’s. But they didn’t dare oppose him.

    So, you’re right. They church does have something that it calls “personal revelation”, but it isn’t terribly reliable and thus not terribly useful. Michael makes the point pretty well.

  25. ditchu says:

    Your last statment just blew your point away. “Personal revelation” is just that personal, not intended for others but for you personally.
    If it in not reliable then we should depend on the Prophet for all revelation, expecially since we cannot trust our own as it is unreliable.

    Accually I tend to lean on the edge of caution when I understand something differently that a church leader, maybe he has deeper insight than I currently do… So I investigate it further. I depend on my own “Presonal revelation” each day. most of the time it supports what comes from the church.

  26. bull says:

    So the way we are supposed to resolve disagreements with the church is through personal revelation, except if our personal revelation disagrees with the church, in which case our personal revelation is unreliable, in which case we should agree with the church.

    Ummm. OK.

    What I distill out of that is that while the church might not always be right you don’t think there is any reliable way to figure out when it is wrong so you should just always act as if it is always right. I’m not sure how that is practically different than believing it is infallible.

  27. ditchu says:

    you said our Personal revelation was unreliable, I was illistrating to you how that idea does not mesh with your other thoughts. You said it’s not reliable so if it is not how are we to deturmine what is right and true? The alturnitive is to blindly follow the church and do not question it. I thought it was clear that I was taking your statment to the next step and seeing where it would go. If you did not get that please reread my responce.
    I support personal revelation over any docturine of any church. It is by my personal revelation that I know what is right and true, not because some “old guy” stands up and says so. I do tend to follow the Prophet because my Personal Revelation usually tells me he is right. You personal revelation could tell you anything but that is for you not me. If your revelation is that the church is wrong, then follow your instincts, stand up for what you beleive and if needed leave the church. That is what I am saying!
    The next time you want to yell at me on a blog please read me more closely.


  28. Jelly says:

    holy crap guys. really. bull, you left the church. good for you. so… now you have to convince everybody else that it’s wrong? WHY? can we let people have individual beliefs please? tearing people down like this is not going to get anybody anywhere. it’s just going to make more confusion, more anger, more hate, and more war. ditchu, thanks for standing up for what you believe. Have you guys ever heard of group polarization? That is what this is. it’s a bunch of ridiculously opinionated people stating their opinions, and then being strengthened in those opinions, no matter what the opposing group says.
    I believe the church is true. And I believe the Prophet communicates with God. And yes, he is human. but… so are we. so, lets not judge.

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