(December 17, 2015)
We recently have heard a great deal of complaining by some Members of the Church about the policy that has been promulgated. They focus their criticism (honestly, some focus but some likely mask) on the policy rather than the underlying principles. They complain that the changes that were made should not have been made via policy but instead should have been made via revelation (presuming the two to be different in all – or at least this – cases). They like to say that this wasn’t the way Joseph Smith led the Church.
This Section, though, is clearly Joseph Smith setting policy. In no place does he indicate that what he is speaking is direct revelation. Instead he is applying the revelations (and the scriptures) to the facts and determining a policy that works and is consistent with those revelations and scriptures. This is exactly the kind of behavior those critics condemn.
The other thought that I had as I read this Section was on Joseph’s statement that “[f]or him to whom these keys are given there is no difficulty in obtaining a knowledge of facts in relation to the salvation of the children of men.” I am tempted to deal with this in relation to my personal situation, because I am in a situation were the facts that I know with certainty (because I was there and experienced them, along with contemporaneous journals and extensive efforts to ensure I wasn’t engaging in self-deception) were, at the very least, difficult for a Priesthood leader to obtain (and, to be honest, he got them flat out wrong).
But rather than make it personal, I can instead draw from other circumstances. There are explicit examples where Priesthood leaders have gotten things wrong (we are not in the business of believing in infallible leaders, after all). It does no good for us to look at our leaders as if they are always wrong, or even occasionally wrong (much less wrong on a given piece of counsel). But we must also acknowledge that Priesthood leaders get things wrong from time to time (and the honest and fair ones admit this – even the Brethren admit to mistakes).
So how is that consistent with this statement by Joseph Smith? Priesthood leaders can get facts wrong in a couple of ways as I read this. First, notice the clarifying clause – “in relation to the salvation of the children of men.” There are some facts that would not satisfy this clause, and thus were outside of this promise. Second, the knowledge is promised to be not difficult to obtain, but it still doesn’t magically distill upon the Priesthood leader. Bias, inattention, or unwillingness to listen all could play a role in these sorts of mistakes.
Having been in the unfortunate position of having one of these mistakes bring about such turmoil in my life, though, I can testify that even the worst mistakes can still be a blessing in our lives if we allow the Lord to carry us, we trust Him, and we hold close to our Priesthood leaders even when those Priesthood leaders make mistakes.